By Danie D. Taylor
I met XBFJ in 2002 during my first job after college.
I disliked him immediately.
I don't know why, but I remember exactly what he was wearing. His blue button down shirt and khaki cargo shorts were (in my mind) the business school manifestation of "the man." I was the fresh graduate of a journalism program at a liberal arts college. I had been trained on all the ways "the man" was constantly working to stifle our messaging to the people. And even though he and I were working for the same media company and supposedly had the same agenda, I was wary of his blue-shirted presence. At the same time, It was my second or third day on the job. So I dismissed him.
Still, he was there. There was no way to make friends at my new job and not spend time with him. Ours was a relationship born of convenience. We were both under 21. We worked the same hours and had the same days off from work. There was no "courting," as I remember it. We never admitted to "dating," though we did go on dates, and only with each other. Our friends (specifically his friends' girlfriends) would ask "what are you guys?" XBFJ wouldn't answer. I said we were "just hanging out."
"Danie. It's been two years. How long are you gonna call it 'hanging out?'" - My dad, sometime in 2004.
Time passed. XBFJ and I were a proper couple. We were two silly peas in a pod. We shared a healthy distrust of "the man." We loved music. He was the whimsical to my practical. He believed that everything was always going to work out. Somehow he was always right. I fell in love with his optimism.
We lived in Fargo, North Dakota. Based on the numbers, I was bound to end up in a mixed race relationship with a Lutheran of Norwegian descent. That's just math. But XBFJ was the right Norwegian for me. He understood his privilege and my potential disadvantages. I was once pulled over on my way to his place. I was going 34 in a 25. It was preposterous. I didn't get a ticket because, well probably because I didn't deserve one. No one else was on the road. It was a waste of time and I was annoyed. When I told XBFJ and his friend Chris, XBFJ said "Chris, do you want to tell her? Or should I?"
"I'll tell her." Chris said, "Danie, you're black."
They stared at me while I caught up, stammering "but I, I... really? You think..."
Fargo wasn't the neutral zone I had thought.
I wasn't as on my own as I thought either.
More time passed. Things got serious. We became "official." I met his parents. That's probably when I began waiting for the race shoe to drop. I think it started innocently enough with a question from my mom.
"How did they treat you?"
She was genuinely curious. It was obvious XBFJ liked me - and that was hard for my family to grasp. I grew up on the East Coast. Both sets of grandparents were from South Carolina. My brother and I were the only ones in our generation to go to school in the suburbs (read: with white people). Members of my family had never really interacted with white people, other than to avoid them and imagine their racist agendas. That's only a mild exaggeration. My family wanted to know how XBFJ's family treated me, because they wanted real insight into white people and their subtle racism. I left them disappointed.
There was nothing insidious to report. XBFJ's family was great to me from the get. They respected (and mocked) my dietary restrictions, which were admittedly dumb. They asked me about my family and my upbringing. I didn't feel as though I were being judged for being black, or for dating XBFJ. They just accepted me. We ate. We drank. We laughed.
"Really? Wow. Has he ever dated a black girl before?"
My mom, my dad and my aunts all asked. There had to have been a reason XBFJ's family wasn't taken aback by my role in his life. It didn't add up for them. Somehow that made me start to question my math.
I started thinking something was coming. I began expecting insurmountable hardship. I began wondering when we were going to be faced with something that couldn't be conquered with optimism. I asked XBFJ what he was going to teach our imaginary babies. I got nervous whenever we left town. We were heckled in Minneapolis once. XBFJ would have fought, had he not been outnumbered. I was being told (by people who had never been in my position) that I would not get a happily ever after. They just couldn't tell me why.
Eventually it was time to meet his grandparents. "This is it," I thought. There's only one thing my family finds more nerve-wracking than white people. And that's old white people. That basically translates to instant racist. I can only guess why that is. It just is. Before I went to meet the grandparents, my mom asked "do they know you're black? You don't want to give anybody a heart attack."
Like the parents, XBFJ's grandparents and extended family were wonderful. I felt good being with them. I hugged his grandpa as we left and he asked "if he pops the question, are you going to say 'yes?'" I could have cried. No, XBFJ and I did not plan on getting married. We did not need "the man" to recognize our shared household. But it felt good to be asked what I would do if I were asked.
XBFJ and I moved to Las Vegas, and then to San Francisco, where our relationship died of natural causes. We grew up. We grew apart. After "hanging out," for almost eight years, we were done. We've been friends for years and we're still two silly peas in a pod. I see his parents when they come to town and he sees mine. My mom constantly asks if he has a girlfriend. Once, I was able to say "yes."
"Is she white?"
"I think so, yeah."