Ever heard the saying “once you go black, you never go back?”
Well eventually I did go back, but my college years without doubt gifted some of the most meaningful relationships so far in life. And the most intense headaches too.
Before starting this passage, let’s set something straight. Probably, I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship while in college; I had too much going in my new life on my mind wasn’t always entirely set on being fully committed to one person. I mean, I always believed in the idea of true love and I’ve never disrespected any woman I was with. I’ve always been loyal and tried to put my best effort in every relationship, but being a foreign student living in an American college campus, it’s something that doesn’t happen every day.
With that being said, I began my sophomore year with a girlfriend, from Italy. I had met her during my summer break, and I somehow believed it was possible to make our relationship work despite the thousands of miles that would have divided us throughout most part of the year.
Our plan before saying goodbye was to spend the Christmas holidays in New York City and enjoy New Year’s Eve in Times Square together. We eventually did, but those days also meant the end of us after only six months. Well, our relationship was probably over a couple of months before that trip, but she had already booked the flight, so we had to make the vacation work.
The gates of the single life were opening wide in front of me, but one of my biggest issues during those years was jumping from one relationship to the next way too quickly, without enjoying all the good fun my university had to offer.
My brain liked more the idea of being with someone, sharing with them some of the best moments of my already glorious experience overseas.
Even better if those moments could potentially destroy your reputation with their parents.
During Thanksgiving break all students return to their homes to celebrate one of the biggest American feasts of the year. I had nowhere to go – going back to Italy for just a week wasn’t an option and I dreaded being left alone on campus.
Luckily for me, my good friend Tionna came to the rescue. Just a few days before the break, we were walking to class while I was explaining my sad situation. I guess the pitiful scene of me eating turkey in an empty school cafeteria provoked an impetus of generosity in her, “you should come to my aunt’s house with me,” she said.
Even before allowing me to reply, she made a quick call and it was all set: I was going to spend my first Thanksgiving in a Black household.
To show my gratitude for the hospitality, I decided to cook for the whole family one of my best, heart-winning dishes: baked pasta. And to really show off, I decided to shop for ingredients imported directly for Italy. The result was the most expensive dish I’ve ever made in my life, with a total expense of $90 for a small tray.
Turkey, mac&cheese, sweet potatoes, green beans, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and my pasta filled the table. The abundance of food gave me an intense sense of joy and reminded of a typical Italian Christmas family gathering: lots of food, lots of drinks, lots of loud people.
I was feeling blessed, I was feeling like I was home. I was also feeling Tionna’s cousin, who arrived at home the day prior.
We talked a lot during the day, and we happened to find many common interests. We were both student-athletes, we enjoyed traveling and writing, she “looooveeed” Italy.
So, while everyone was enjoying their full bellies in the living room after dinner, I decided to help S. (Tionna’s cousin, who shall remain unnamed for now) cleaning up the table. I was carrying the leftovers to the kitchen and she was accurately placing them in the fridge.
When she was done with the last tray, I did what a smart person would never think of doing in a house where I was the guest and stranger. I grabbed her and kissed her, by the fridge, with her whole family in the room next to us.
To my surprises, she neither pushed me away, nor punched me in the face. She smiled.
“Maybe that’s not the right place,” was the only thing she said.
I agreed. A kitchen fridge wasn’t the most romantic background for our first kiss and somehow I had to make up for it.
The next night, Tionna’s decided to throw a party at her friend’s house. We all went, as it was the best way to end an already memorable Thanksgiving break. To start the night in the right way, I took a few shots of vodka before everyone arrived.
By 11 p.m. the house was packed and the kitchen table was full of liquor, which I was enjoying way too much.
And so on.
I was having a blast, laughing, dancing, feeling included the most I’ve ever been before in a foreign country. The mood changed swiftly though, when I started feeling dizzy, sweaty and I couldn’t see straight in front of me.
I needed some fresh air, so I rushed outside and sat on the front porch. S. was right behind me. She put her arm around my shoulders to make sure I was ok and wasn’t getting too cold in the chilly November night.
“Maybe we should ask your mom to come pick us up,” I suggested in one of my last moments of clarity.
She made the call and her mom arrived in a span of time that could’ve went from three minutes to three hours. I wobbled to the car and collapsed on the back seat. I couldn’t tell the face she made after seeing me in a statefar from the polite, clean-looking guy she got to know the days before.
It was dark and I was in no condition to raise my head face her look. I kept my head down, trying hard to make the world around me stop spinning.
“Are you feeling better?” S. asked.
I thought I was, but all that came out of my mouth was some weird noise and then something that was probably my dinner, lunch, breakfast and something left from Thanksgiving Day.
I had just puked in the mom’s car backseat of this girl who I liked very much but only met two days prior.
My chances, and my reputation, were probably crushed. There was no way to recover from that, or at least I thought.
I woke up with most of the clothes I was wearing the previous night. I the proceeded to apologize for my lack of savoir-faire and spent the interminable hours waiting to go back to campus in a comatose state of self-pity and shame.
I thought I was never going to see again that girl, her mon and for sure her mom’s car.
But I did, for little over a year after that night. Her mom forgave me for the “accident” – I guess the baked pasta I cooked won her heart after all – and S. became my first Black girlfriend.
I shared many great moments with her, but most importantly she was present during one of the most intense times of my life.
But that’s another story.