I do not hate Janelle’s imaginary rooster.
Hate is a strong word according to our old-fashioned Japanese family's tradition that frowns on extracting negative words from the English vocabulary to express our emotions.
"We must always be calm and neutral," says Nana, our ninety-five-year-old grandmother who has taught us how to keep our composure in the face of adversity so we emit nothing but joy, good luck and prosperity.
So out of respect for the beloved matriarch in our family, allow me to rephrase the first sentence of this story.
There, that's more positive.
In English, it means “Hello” which comes in handy when I have to strike a conversation with older Japanese folks during parties hosted by my family. Unfortunately, it's also one of only five words I half-understand from our Japanese vocabulary.
I grew up in New York and like most Asian Americans born in the States - those that I know of, at least - I am detached from my roots. I don’t read, speak or understand our native language and have done absolutely nothing to learn it.
"Yellow on the outside, white on the inside," my friends would often joke about me while Nana gives them the thumbs up and looks at me with sad eyes, shaking her head in disappointment.
But that’s all in the past.
I'm about to get married to a Filipina and because of that, I'm beginning to appreciate my Asian culture.
With a big grin plastered on my face like I’m the poster boy for all the teeth whiteners, toothbrushes and mouthwashes that have ever made landfall on my bathroom sink, I listen to my fiancée's voice streaming through my cellphone.
I put the speaker on, turning the volume up on full blast.
Janelle who is on the other side of the planet, almost ten thousand miles away from me, is rambling about her imaginary rooster.
She said she dreamed about it last night.
Apparently, the rooster is her personal bearer of bad news and was responsible for warning her about what she was about to discover inside her ex-fiancé’s apartment three years ago, on her very first trip to America.
Long story short, she and her ex-fiancé broke up.
That same night, I met her while she was recuperating at my favorite tea house in Houston, my second home.
And ever since then, I’ve been thanking my lucky stars.
Although I didn’t attempt to make origami and hang them from my bedroom ceiling (nah I didn't go that far), I did think of sending her ex a yearlong supply of beer, paid tickets to his favorite ball games, and a free Netflix subscription.
Just to tell the world I’m grateful.
And why shouldn’t I?
If it weren’t for the poor guy messing up, I wouldn’t have met the sweetest, smartest, and prettiest Filipina girl I have ever come to know and love.
Never mind if she’s also the quirkiest.
Dreaming of a rooster?
I mean, seriously, who does that?
“Janelle, what does your imaginary rooster have to do with our wedding?” I say over the phone, careful not to speak the wrong word and ruin our conversation.
The very trigger that causes enormous panic on the weaker side of my male brain.
“Babe?” I say trying to sound cool and collected like the hotshot architect, badass rock star vocalist and race car daredevil I’m known for in my circles. But now all the dumber part of my brain ever wants to do is to scream like a little girl being chased by a spider.
“Is the wedding still on? Do I need to catch a flight right now? Even if I’m clad only in my boxers at two o’clock in the morning?” says my foolish brain.
“Wait. Hold up. What’s the matter with you James? Act cool, you dweeb,” says my saner self in silence.
I pause to collect myself.
After all, that’s the beauty of long distance relationships.
Because we’re far away on the other side of the world, we always have the edge to plan our next move without the other person knowing what a disaster we really are. We can always act stupid and uncool behind the walls of distance without compromising our dignity.
I hear noise on the other line.
“I’m still here, silly. I was just trying to think of a way to share my weird dream with you without sounding crazy,” she says.
I sigh in relief.
“I need to meet the girls for lunch. Call me back tomorrow, babe,” she tells me. “And don’t forget to take your breathing meds before you go to bed. You’re so forgetful, I swear, I’m already tempted to hire a private nurse for you,” she adds.
“As long as she’s ninety-nine-years-old so she doesn’t get attracted to me?” I tease her.
“Correct,” she laughs.
“Well, at least you've made that clear. Don't worry. I’ll make a short list,” I grin.
“Oh no. James, I gotta go. Jay Anne is calling,” she says. “I’ll text you when I get to the restau. Love you, babe,” she purrs.
“Love you too,” I say kissing my phone in the process, making sure she doesn’t hear the sound of my lips smacking on the screen.
Then she hangs up.
I put my phone down, on the dresser, next to my plane tickets.
Tomorrow, I’m flying out to the Philippines.
And in seven days, our wedding will take place.
I glance at myself in the mirror and my dread begins.
Next comes my usual dilemma.
Do I tell her about this? Am I brave enough to reveal this annoying truth about me?
“I’m a grown man. Of course, I’m brave,” I assure myself loudly while I pack for my trip, throwing shirts, jeans, socks, underwear, electronic devices and toiletries inside my suitcase in no particular order.
But my monologue continues in my brain.
I’ll tell her about it.
But not before the wedding.
She and her girlfriends have already planned everything.
And trust me, no man dreams of facing the ire of a scorned group of bridesmaids who had just been told their efforts were useless because the stupid groom was inconsiderate enough not to screw up after, not before, the wedding.
So yeah, that’s a negative.
If it were up to me, I'll tell Janelle right now. Never mind if the wedding gets postponed because of it. I don’t mind waiting.
I will marry her anytime, anywhere, anyway.
But facing an angry bride and her bridesmaids combined?
Can't handle that.
I continue packing hoping my plan doesn't backfire on me.
I think about Janelle's imaginary rooster.
Perhaps her dream has bearing, after all.
Maybe it’s a flag for what she is about to learn about me, rooted in one particular story that I've never told her.
A story that began all the way back one summer, in the streets and crannies of our old neighborhood in Brooklyn, fourteen years ago to be exact.
Excerpted from FOBOLOUS 2: The Sequel (Title In Progress), an upcoming novel by Rainne Mendoza.
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