Mel, the illustrator and artist-half of our duo, married her high school sweetheart this weekend. I’m over the moon happy for her and Antoine (Tony) because it’s been a long and not always easy journey. They met junior year in high school but didn’t date until November of their senior year—five and a half years ago. This was in Suzhou, China….
One day in the fall of 2013, I asked Mel about a boy she had started hanging out with. She told me he was only a friend. The only boy she would ever consider dating seriously was a guy in her class named Tony. At the time, Tony and his family lived around the corner from us in the same housing compound. I’d only seen him once in a photo, but I’d heard Mel and her friends giggle whenever his name entered conversation.
A couple weeks later when I asked about Tony, Mel blushed and became a little sheepish. This wasn’t typical. Mel was not coquettish or bashful. She’d as soon punch a guy (which unfortunately had happened) as kiss him. I pried, and she told me Tony had been visiting her art cubicle at lunch to talk. She was truly overcome. That’s when I knew this was no ordinary crush.
Knowing we wouldn’t be staying in China forever, I warned Mel the relationship could end badly. She experienced a difficult break-up when we moved to China. “Do you want to go through that again?” I had asked.
She shrugged. “Tony’s different. I’ll deal with it when the time comes.”
So, they dated and learned that even with their differences, they had so much in common. China is a relatively safe and inexpensive place for teenagers to explore. This meant evening ebike rides through the city, hanging with friends at quaint coffee/tea shops, dinners outside under twinkling lights, video games, walks through the park. She would record her senior year as the best and most memorable year of her life. Until June. Until a week before graduation.
One morning after her dad left for work, Mel asked me, “What’s wrong? There’s something going on between you and Dad.” Most of my friends had already returned home for the summer, and with family so far away, I’d been harboring a secret. Alone and growing more distraught by the day, I revealed that her dad asked for a divorce. One question led to another, and instantly her life shifted from safe and happy to crippling and confusing.
Once you turn eighteen, you’re no longer able to stay in China if you aren’t in school or working. Mel and Tony had already registered for classes at the local University so they could spend at least one more year together, but if the divorce happened and I stayed in the States, Mel wasn’t sure she wanted to return and live with her dad.
My future had dissolved, devoid of everything except hope. I clung to my faith, knowing I would be okay . . . eventually. But as I struggled to wrap my brain around that concept, I didn’t have the strength or mindset to help Mel prepare for what her new life in China might entail. I only knew one thing:
She had to go back.
There was no option. She needed to return, attend the University, and be with Tony. She had to try to make it on her own, or she might live with regrets.
So, when fall came, her dad picked her up, and she moved 6,000 miles away to live with him in a high-rise apartment. Her dream-romance with Tony continued, but her surroundings–once steeped in faith and family–had disintegrated into a depressive darkness. Mel floundered in the wake of her dad’s new lifestyle and the cold emptiness of his apartment.
I tried to help her cope by texting every day (my morning, her evening). We’d have long conversations about what happened throughout her day. I listened, offered encouragement, sent care packages, and even wrote a short story for her 19th birthday that loosely featured her, Tony, and Mel’s favorite cryptid. But it wasn’t enough. One November day, she saw her dad dining with another woman then broke her toe (well, someone stepped on her foot, but we won’t name names <wink>). She broke down and admitted she wasn’t ready to live 6,000 miles away from home.
I remember the day well because on this side of the globe, the water pump had gone out of my Durango on the way to work. The tow truck driver took me home. While I waited for a rental to arrive, Mel and I Skyped. She poured out her heart.
“I think I need to come home. Tony and I talked about it, and he agrees.”
Sometimes life is cruel, and what you want most, you can’t have. In early December, after four months of being in China, Mel left Tony and returned to Ohio. He promised to come see her. In theory, I believed him, but I wouldn’t—couldn’t—misplace my hope. Disappointment hurt too much. But I kept my opinion to myself. Thank goodness, because (with the help of his wonderful parents), Tony kept his word. Over the next four years as he completed studies at Liverpool University in Suzhou, China, and then in Liverpool, England; he visited twice a year and chatted with her daily. He and Mel Skyped, played online games, and GREW as a couple.
Mel visited him last November in the UK. He asked. She said yes. The rest, they say, is history.
A Busy Month
Tony graduated, acquired a job in London, and got married. All within the last month. Wow!
As soon as they fulfill their visa requirements, Mel will join him in London. I talked to Tony about how cool it will be to live in such a fantastic city. There will always be something to do and someone to do it with. He said, “My focus is to get Mel over there as soon as possible, so we can be together permanently.”
I’m so happy and proud. Tony and Mel are an outstanding couple, touching lives by being good, humble, and hard-working individuals. The next few months will fly by, and I’ll be parting with my daughter once again, but this time it’ll be on happy and exciting terms.
So few people can successfully pull off this kind of long-term, long-distance arrangement. It requires a love so trusting it outweighs the heartbreak of every goodbye. But when two people, who so perfectly compliment one another dedicate themselves to a common goal, it works.
So, what do you think? Would this make a good YA novel?
I’d probably start with her boarding the plane for China the first time in 2012. Here is the truth of how her journey began:
Numb and brain-fogged at 6:00 a.m. on August 28, 2012, Mel tossed her backpack into a gray bin and shuffled through the body scanner at the local airport. I followed behind.
“You got to be kidding me,” one officer said to another. I glanced at the x-ray monitor and glimpsed the offending item before the screen went black. Amidst her cords and other items lay a perfectly shaped handgun.
The older, grandfatherly type officer asked Mel to step aside. I scoured my brain, trying to decipher the image. We didn’t own a handgun. She hadn’t set her bag down or even gone to the restroom.
After questioning and a swab of her backpack, the officer finally said, “We saw a gun. Do you have anything that resembles a gun?” Mel thought for a few seconds, then realization dawned on her face. She opened her diary. Taped to one page was her boyfriend’s gun-shaped house key.
Mel thought she would die leaving behind her friends and first real boyfriend. Poor girl was clinging to a familiar past unaware of the adventures that awaited her.
I love happily-ever-afters, and this is a good one. Here are some pictures from Tony and Mel’s humble house wedding on June 8, 2019.