Evolving love and hitting those damn milestones
September was a month for meeting the family. In between learning names, sensibilities, stress levels, and favorite foods, I remember a time (only a month before) when my boyfriend was not ready for me to meet his family, and frankly (probably) didn’t want me to at all. “Family is something I am very apprehensive about,” he told me again on Monday. “My personal life doesn’t overlap with my family life … so to have you in my living room for so long … it’s a lot for me.” The moment he’s talking about consisted of us sharing stories, music, and baby pictures in his parents’ living room the night we celebrated his dad’s birthday. It’s all a lot for me too, but in different ways than it is for him, my partner (I assume — scratch that — I know. Maybe?).
We had dinner, just the two of us, in Orange County with my father on the ninth, watched the Canelo v. GGG fight on the fifteenth at my boyfriend’s grandparents’ house, and celebrated birthdays on the twenty-third and on the twenty-fourth (the first for his dad, and the second for my kid sister). We went to see his grandparents in the early morning on the twenty-eighth, and then around 9:30 a.m., left to a funeral together in East Los for my cousin, and later, to my grandma’s house in Montebello for lunch. Conversation topics ranged from mining in Chihuahua and la cultura, to breast augmentation and having children out of wedlock, to the dichotomy between Judaism and Catholicism and the radical political line versus the reactionary one. I recognize now that maybe the reason why the both of us might be a little sick or fatigued this week is because we just spent the last month proving ourselves not only to each other’s families, but to each other. “I’m up to bat,” Gabriel tells me, “and I could strike out.”
I recognize that what I have to prove to him and his family is that I have the capacity, the time, the energy, and the longing to understand him and love him — his dreams, his insecurities, his faith, his passions, the man he wants to be. That I can be strong and that I can sacrifice. That I’m not just worthy of being with him at this stage, but potentially at future, more permanent stages. I recognize also that through my boyfriend’s attempts to know my family, to allow them to gauge the man he is in their way, he is also trying to prove the same things to me and to them. I’m beginning to think that this whole process being “a lot” is an understatement.
While my father and boyfriend flex their d—ks to each other and argue about communism and American individualism on the 9th, I pick through the tortilla chips sitting in front of me. Add more salt. My father ends the night by cracking racist jokes he might actually be serious about. When we get home, Gabriel and I spend half an hour in the car, reassuring each other of our shared connection to our gente, our mutual appreciation and respect for one another. We share I love you’s.
On the fifteenth, I downplay my interests when his dad questions me about them, feeling out the partner of his first and only son. Gabriel is quick to counter my humility. “They’re sending her to Jordan this semester,” he tells his dad. I ignore him.
We are sitting on bouncy couches in the den of his grandparents’ house, and Canelo and GGG dance on the TV. Before the fighting, awkward laughs, and the oooooh!’s, I sit with Gabriel’s nina and his sisters, watching them wrap baby shower gifts for one of their cousins. Canelo wins, which is a surprise to my boyfriend and everyone else in the room, so he’s pretty excited about it. He decides to blast norteños while we cruise down Beverly at ten o’clock at night back to Campus. And while he sings to me, shamelessly, and with so much of everything else — love, passion — I think to myself, this is why I love this man. We laugh.
A few nights later, while we’re working late on our school paper, his mom calls about a birthday dinner for his dad that’s supposed to take place the following Sunday. And she wants to meet me. Gabriel reassures me and tells me I’m fine, that I don’t need to start worrying, and that his mom is nervous, too — which I don’t believe. On Sunday the twenty-third, we drive to a Mexican restaurant in West Covina and my palms are sweating. And my palms don’t sweat. While we’re sitting there at the restaurant, Gabriel to my right and his mom to my left, with his sisters and dad sitting across from me, I begin to question myself. Are you surprised?
I begin to hope that during all of this, during the questions and the chewing and the mucho gusto’s and the how are you’s, none of them can read my mind. What would they think? Gabriel is smiling bigger than usual, his sisters bagging on him and his parents joining in.
What would his family think about me loving their son? About their son potentially loving me back — a light-skinned Chicana? A light-skinned Chicana that is not a woman of God? Are my jeans too tight? Too faded and old? What do they think about the top I’m wearing? What would they think about me wanting to do everything with their son — and I mean everything? What would they think about me being comfortable, not just with their son, but possibly in their presence as well? About me wanting to know them? To be known by them? What would they think about me wanting them to take me in as their own? To teach me? To trust in me?
The doubts, insecurities, and fears subside when we sit around the kitchen table in his parents’ home to sing his dad “Happy Birthday” after dinner. I’ll save the majority of the details for us, but after yellow cake and ice cream and candles, we gather in their living room for gifts, baby pictures, and music. However lame it might sound saying here, I feel so comfortable and so light in this moment, so much so that when my brother sits across from us the next day, cold and stiff, I don’t let it bother me. The twenty-fourth, as it is every year, is spent celebrating my sister. This year’s celebration is fairly quick — which I am used to, as I too was a divorced child (who had a schedule) at one point in time — but we make the best out of it. The next time I see my brother, he tells me he’s disappointed in my boyfriend and their first encounter. According to him, Gabriel is too quiet and too reserved — he should’ve said more to him, specifically. I don’t say much to my brother after that.
The last family event of September started with us driving to his grandparents’ house in the early morning on Saturday the twenty-eighth, so that he could help his cousins and tios put together a new bed for his grandpa. While the boys — or men — did that in the den, I sat with Gabriel’s nina, and talked with her the way we do now. More of his family members would come to visit and stay, and eventually, I was surrounded by an army of people — an army of Perez. And as I’m sitting here, again I’m wondering if they can sense or smell the fire within me, hoping that they can’t. With every new face that entered his grandparents’ home, the more stiff I became, until Gabriel would pop his head in.
He was in the process of getting ready for my cousin’s funeral — slacks and ironed shirt on, face shaved, hair done — and every time he would come out of the bathroom, I wished he would just come over to me and kiss me or touch me — anything so I could relax. I wouldn’t begin to relax until his cousin Chris started to bag on him, the way his sisters do, the way everyone in his family does. It definitely helped.
Funerals are funerals, but I try my best to keep it together — while also introducing Gabriel to my extended family, making sure he is okay, and making sure my mom is okay, specifically. My cousin Abraham was killed in Lee County prison on the fourteenth and though he was never able to meet my boyfriend, he was fond of him in every way you can imagine — despite their limited interactions occurring only through me and across screens. After the funeral, we drive the 12 minutes to my grandma’s house. We talk to my grandparents; we eat. We take pictures. I’m starting to think that this side of my family — my mom’s side, the Mexicano side — really likes Gabriel. I think my mother knows that I love him. If she tried to ask me about it, which I doubt she ever will, I think about how I’d respond to her. I recognize that I am approaching the cusp of my romantic life, faster than I can control. What does she think this will mean for her and the other women in my family, who have all raised me to be the woman I am, just the same? How will this affect them?
On the way home from my grandparents’ house — our last family event of the month, Gabriel and I talk to each other about how the day went. We gush over it, make fun of it, and tell jokes. We stop to pump gas at an ARCO near my mother’s house after dropping her off (Gabriel loves her, and she loves him back, more), and while Gabriel squeegees the windshield, I take Instastories and post them. He asks me if I want anything from the gas station. I sneak a kiss while we’re sitting at a red light. We bump 50 Cent and Kaskade.
Some hours later, we release our energy out on each other in the backseat of his car — the pent-up energy — and in that expression, we continue to manifest for the future. We laugh some more. I feel on top of the world with him some more. Healthy (and evolving) relationships are new to me, and September was all about realizing that. Like, holy sh–t. I’m learning at the same time that I’m evolving with this person — healing, loving. It is a lot, but I don’t think I’d want it any other way.