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Danny and Cindy Try to Work Things Out

“Do you love him?” Cindy’s mother had asked. The question bewildered her. Cindy wasn’t sure she even believed in love. She understood simpler things, like respect, admiration, obedience, affection and loyalty; indeed, her mother displayed those qualities towards Dr. Wu and he, to a lesser extent, towards her.

But love? In Tina Turner’s words, what’s love got to do with it? Did Mrs. Wu “love” Dr. Wu? Like all children, Cindy found it impossible to imagine that her parents had ever been young, driven by physical instincts and passions. It was possible that the Wu’s had developed something called “love” over time, a bond impervious to outside forces, made stronger through mutual tenacity. Was that the sense Mrs. Wu meant when she tearfully asked Cindy if she loved Danny?

It all required too much thinking.

She had a date with Danny that evening. They’d have a drink at Playa Bar, then walk up to the Grand Lake Theater for the new Avengers movie. She got there first, found a spot at the bar; he arrived a short time later. She saw him come in, look around, then beam when he spotted her looking at him. He kissed her gaily on the mouth: young lovers, still in the throes of excitement and glamor. He’d have a gimlet. She wanted only sparking water with lime.

Playa was very noisy; they didn’t talk much. Afterward, they turned right up Grand towards the theatre. Cindy had wondered when to bring up the topic: later, or sooner? There was no sense in postponing it.

“My parents aren’t happy about me seeing you.”

Danny was startled. “Really? I thought your dad liked me.”

“It’s not a question of liking you or not liking you. He probably does like you. You’re very likeable. But you’re not Chinese.”

Danny stopped walking. “Wow” is all he could say.

“I know. It’s so stupid. But it’s the way they were raised. They always figured I’d marry an ethnic Chinese and give them ethnic Chinese grandbabies.”

“They seem so progressive in so many ways.”

“Oh, they are. They contribute to Greenpeace and the ACLU. Dad still has an Obama-Biden sticker on his Volvo. But in this particular matter, they’re super-conservative. No one in our extended family has ever married outside the race, except for my cousin Alix, and look what happened to her.”


“She married a white guy she met in college. It lasted for less than a year. They went through an ugly divorce. All the grandparents and aunties said, ‘See, we told you.’”

“So, because a cousin of yours made a bad marriage, that means that no one else in your family should ever get together with a white person?”

“When you put it that way, it sounds absurd. And it is. But, yeah, that’s basically how they think.”

Danny pointed to a park bench. “Look, let’s ditch the movie and talk this through.” It was a warm evening, not yet dark; a golden honey glow suffused the land. On the great lawn sweeping down to the Lake, people sprawled on the grass. Dogs ran and played. Joggers pushing baby carriages chugged down the path. Beneath the pergola an elderly group of Chinese men and women did tai chi. People in skiffs glided soundlessly on the water. Pelicans and shrieking gulls searched for a final snack for the night. Danny gazed across the Lake, to the apartments, churches and houses spilling up the hill: Oakland’s Riviera was very beautiful.

They sat quietly for a few minutes, then both began to talk at the same time.

Danny: “The thing is—”

Cindy: “Look, I—”

And they laughed. “You go first,” Cindy said. Danny took a deep breath. “I don’t want to be the cause of friction between you and your parents. You know I like you. A lot. We have fun together. I don’t know where this is going, and I don’t need to know. I just want to see you. But this thing with your parents is obviously troubling you.”

She nodded. “They’re being so unfair.” Danny couldn’t argue with that.

“You know what I’d like to do?” he asked. “Move in together. You’re 25 years old and capable of making your own decisions.”

“But how could we do that? You sleep on a couch with two roommates. I barely make enough at Lyft to get by.”

“We could always move to, like, Montana.” Cindy glared at him. “Just kidding!” he said. “Damn these frigging rents in Oakland.”

“I was reading where the average one-bedroom is now close to $3,000.” She was thinking. “You make good money. I could always drive more.”

“You’re already driving like, what? Eleven hours a day. You’re exhausted every time I see you. What are you gonna do, drive eighteen hours a day?”

“No, you’re right. I could get a job. A real job, with benefits. Even if it paid just $3,000 a month, we might be able to make it work.”

“What could you do?”

“I dunno. My degree is in art.” Cindy had gone to California College of the Arts, majoring in painting. “Not exactly a lot of demand these days for artists.”

It was the same conversation thousands of young couples were having in Oakland and throughout the Bay Area: How to find someplace affordable to live. But, as everybody was finding out, solutions were woefully scarce. Danny’s fingers found Cindy’s on the bench’s wooden planks where they rested. They intertwined. In silence, holding hands, subsumed in the golden, slumbering light, they gazed at the thousands of windows across the lake, each gaudily reflecting the western sun, and thought: we will never look out from those windows as our homes. And they despaired.

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