This piece is featured in Issue No. 8 CUTIE BIPOC ISSUE

Creative Nonfiction

Lessons from an Immigrant Mother

CW: suicide

When I was ten, Amma told me never to date a (white) man. I laughed and asked her why, and she said “They’ll just take from you.” 

That year, I had my first (white) crush. Graydon Spool. 

He was new to Pinewood Elementary. All I knew about him was that his mother was a makeup artist for the latest Harry Potter movie. Everyone thought that was so cool. I hadn’t even read the books, but I found him funny and cute and at ten years old, that was enough. 

He played the clarinet in Music and I played the alto-sax. I wasted hours daily envisioning the beautiful harmonies we could make. He sat next to my best friend in class—the smartest and most beautiful girl in our grade. She was too focused on school to care about the boys that flocked to her, but I noticed. 

Every day at recess, I would try to get close to Graydon. After three months of clocking him on the playground and trying to make a dramatic entrance into his line of vision, I succeeded. Albert, his best friend, challenged my friends and I to a game of tag. 

Graydon came after me first. ‘I was an easy target’, he said. I was too distracted by the fact that he was talking to me to respond. The next thing he said to me was, “I know you coloured people don’t really change colour, but I can see you blushing.” 

I started to learn what Amma meant that day. 

I fell in love a few years later with another (white) guy, Greg Thompson. He was kind and respectful and went out of his way to talk to me. It almost made up for pretending to love Star Wars to lock in his attention. 

Our relationship lasted a whopping three weeks. Technically, a couple months, but after three weeks he became distant, avoiding conversation and pretending not to see me in the halls at school. When he finally got the courage to end things, he said he didn’t like me anymore. He said he wanted to be friends, and then ignored me the rest of the year. 

My ex-best friend (who I had just had a terrible falling out with) and I started talking again. While attending a party that I begged Appa to go to, she came up to me and said, smugly, “Greg told me he broke up with you because he’s always liked me.” Clearly, she wasn’t over our little altercation. 

Things changed with time. Greg and I started talking again, leading me to believe that maybe somewhere in the distant future we would find our way back to one another. So I waited patiently, attended every high school reunion, was active in all the group chats, waiting for that fateful day. 

That dream died when he did. Suicide. He hung himself in a shed. They say he didn’t leave a note, but his family wanted to keep the details of his death private. Almost a thousand people attended his funeral. They created a scholarship in his name at the University he attended. There’s an annual bike

ride dedicated to him, with donations going to mental health organizations all over the province. A lot of his ex-girlfriends were bawling at the funeral, reminding me I wasn’t the only one holding out hope. 

For some naïve reason, I thought Amma’s advice only applied to cishet (white) men. So I was less guarded when I met Josie at work. We actually matched with each other on Tinder, making work awkward for us for a few weeks. Eventually, I asked her out. 

At the time, I had moved in with my good (white) friend, Liam, who I also had a crush on. I met him when he went by Lisa, and as I slowly started to fall for him, he slowly started to come out to me, as trans. His trust in me made my heart swell for him. And of course, both Liam and I were living with You. 

In my nervousness, when asking Josie to meet up at the bar, I invited Liam to tag along in case it got awkward. 

It did. 

The only ice breaker we had was talking about cats, mainly between Josie who was living with three cats in an illegal basement apartment and Liam, who had brought his two fur babies to live with us at our place. Eventually we strayed from talking about furry creatures and started discussing our interests, dreams, and histories. When I finally got the conversation going, Liam leaned in and whispered in my ear, “You have more game than I thought.” If it wasn’t for the colour of my skin, he might have seen me blush. 

To this day, Josie is the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes on. 

She’s also the worst person I have ever met. 

Two weeks into dating, she ghosted me. Or, tried to. Work made that almost impossible. Eventually she switched her shifts and I barely saw her. No replies to texts, no pokes on facebook—radio silence. When I finally confronted her about it, she said she was in an open relationship with another woman, which turned out to be a lie. She had been cheating on her girlfriend for two years, and I was one of many. 

It was hard trying to forget her, but not all hope was lost—there was still Liam. Liam, who kept me on the back burner, Liam, who would flirt with me whenever we were alone. Liam, who would also apparently make fun of how in love with him I was when I wasn’t around. Of course, it wasn’t until You and I started dating that I found that out. 

Liam’s advances were confusing. First, it was invitations to cuddle in the morning until he had enough energy to face the day, something he did with “all of his female friends”. Then, it was telling me about his sex dreams I starred in. Then, it was telling me about all the other women who were interested in him. The more he was trying to be himself, the less of a person I became to him. Eventually, he went cold, his new girlfriend hating the fact that we lived together. At first, I took pride in her hatred of me; it meant she was threatened. But her constant presence eventually served as a reminder that I would never be her. I would never be (white) enough for all the Graydons, Gregs, Josies or Liams of the world.

But then You came into the picture. 

When we first met, I sensed a friend in you, never saw you as a threat, just a loveable guy. You hated that, said that was why you always got friendzoned. It didn’t help our case that I was still into Liam when we started getting to know each other. That wasn’t why I started pursuing you though. I genuinely fell in love with you. I don’t know if you can say the same after all these years. Even if you did, not a soul would know. 

I was lonely with you. I thought the comfort of the warmth of your 6’2'' body next to mine would make up for my lack of trust in you, and everybody else. I remember your frame swallowing mine each night while I lay there, frozen, unable to move under the weight of you, thinking, “this is fine.” 

Every time you fucked me, it felt like you were colonizing my body. To this day, I’m not sure if it was something I allowed to happen, or something you made happen. 

You were always trying to get me to prove myself to you and your friends. It was like auditioning for the role of girlfriend every day, and always coming up short. It was like being cast as a diversity hire anyways. It was just as motivating, just as tokenizing. 

Do you remember telling me I needed help when we broke up, like you didn’t need the same? You, withholding love, vulnerability, and acceptance until you got what you wanted from me (power). Me, withholding feelings, emotions, and honesty until I knew you were in it for real (you never were). 

I guess I only have myself to blame. I keep falling for broken (white) people, people I think I can fix or change. In a way, I think you do the same. 

There’s a lot more that I want to say, but in short? 

I wish I had listened to Amma.

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Ari Para

Ari is a second generation Sri-Lankan-Canadian, Hindu, non-binary, queer artivist based in Scarborough, Ontario. They are a theatre artist and a writer with a passion for reading and learning. Ari recently published a book called Dear Body, a collection of poems about overcoming challenges in their lives without sacrificing who they are. \\ IG: @ariirispara