The unbelievable happens: I get a boyfriend.
Almost six months after we started a relationship and almost four since he had officially asked me to be his girlfriend, the word ‘boyfriend’ still feels alien to my never-been-girlfriend-to-anyone tongue.
“Hu-wat?!” You say, “A first boyfriend at twenty?! That’s as uncommon as virgins these days!”
Alas, I speak the truth. Particular members of the male species had always just been “my romantic interest”, “some guy I’m seeing”, “this dude I like”, and even “that boyfriend-material guy friend”.
In my head, I expected my first boyfriend to (be):
- Korean or Japanese or Chinese
- a great dancer
- a guitar player
- have the stereotypically narrow ‘Asian’ eyes
- stand at 5”8 so I could tiptoe when we kissed
- drive a BMW
- have silky straight hair; and finally
- a top pop idol singer.
In reality, instead, I landed a 5’11 radio announcer:
Rasheed Clarke sat two seats away from me in my Making a Book class during third year in university. He helped me in class with his stupid advanced knowledge in InDesign, and he made me laugh with his stupid funny comments. He had long, stupid dark eyelashes that outlined his stupid brown almond-shaped eyes, and he always wore a stupid green toque.
We were friendly, we talked. And — Poof! — one summer day after the semester, we walked down Burnhamthorpe Trail together on our first date.
Having girlfriends who had boyfriends prepared me for the general dynamics of a relationship:
Promise to call here; he didn’t call there.
I love you this; Screw you that.
What my friends couldn’t teach me, however, was how to react when you and your boyfriend are in the middle of an afternoon walk, and he’s hit with the urge to shit.
– – –
Rasheed and I revisited the dusty path of Burnhamthorpe Trail one Sunday afternoon. We watched the fishermen along the riverbank. We entered a grove of trees and sprinted out of it, pretending to escape from a murderer. We took off our shoes, he hiked up his skinny pants to his knees and we crossed the Credit River. We settled on the grassy field of Erindale Park and made out. We walked back as the sky dimmed.
Rasheed and I held hands, talking while we walked. We might have even done that vomit-inducing cheesy thing where you swing your hands together.
And then it hit.
And Rasheed let go.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Cramps.” He mumbled.
“Do you need to sit–?”
“No. Walking helps.”
“Do you need–?” My hands fidgeted.
“No. No. Just….” He bit his lip.
Rasheed clutched his stomach. I offered my hand. He brushed it away. His face steeled, his eyebrows furrowed, and his smile left.
My boyfriend has Ulcerative Colitis.
Rasheed has an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The causes and cure remain unknown. There are times when he hardly seems to have it, and when he suffers from it most. UC strikes whenever and its symptoms include diarrhoea, rectal bleeding, cramps, fever, malnutrition…
It was the first time I witnessed his UC blatantly invoke him to relieve himself.
Rasheed asked me if it was a porta-potty. I didn’t know.
I squinted my eyes at the block letters as we approached: “UR… IN… LUCK. Portable–”
“How fucking appropriate,” Rasheed mumbled as he fished out the car keys from his pocket and dropped them in my hand.
I walked back to Abacus and hopped in, trapping myself inside the passenger seat. Rasheed recently had a flare-up, where his Ulcerative Colitis symptoms became more active for weeks, subjecting him to sprints to the toilet countless times a day. Ten minutes passed before I hopped back out and walked to the portable washroom. Rasheed emerged and passed me by.
We drained two water bottles onto his hands, for him to wash.
Rasheed stared at the water, at the bottle, at the grass, at his hands, never at me.
He thanked me and walked back to the car.
But I tugged his shirt, cupped his cheeks with my hands, and pecked his lips.
Rasheed held his hands behind his back, away from me. “I can’t touch you.”
“I know,” I laughed, “It’s okay.”
– – –
No, I don’t have hero-complex. No, this is not pity.
This is someone advising me prior to my relationship with Rasheed that he is “too sick to date” and me replying, “If I had a male reproductive organ, this is when you suck it.”