Tallahassee, FL – January 22, 2013
She went by Renee when she first came to the United States. She was in the middle of Nebraska, in a country she didn’t know, and someone told her she needed an American name. Renee made things easier. But Renee isn’t her name so she switched back.
“It’s Yingxue, like insurance,” she said to me the first time we met.
I barely heard what she said over the music–something about insurance–and I had no idea what she was talking about. I was nervous, we were squeezing onto a dance floor, and I only knew a single turn. The insurance business could wait.
That single turn is all we did for an entire song. I apologized mid-dance, but she never stopped smiling and told me not to worry, everyone does that turn over and over again.
Now she just laughs and says she only put up with it because I was cute.
The next week I learned another turn and we danced again. I had three turns the week after that. Eventually, we just danced bachatas and talked about life whenever they played merengue.
I called her my sister as a joke once or maybe she started calling me her brother first, I don’t remember. It sounds odd, a Chinese woman and a half-Cuban, quarter-Italian American bonding over a Dominican dance, but the world is a wonderful place and picking your siblings is one of the perks of being an only child.
“You have to cook me dinner when I get back to town,” I told her seven months ago.
Her house is the best Chinese restaurant in Tallahassee. We’d meet up there before we went out dancing. She’d cook spicy food and we’d gossip about boys and girls we liked. When she had to tone down the spices for other people we’d look at each other and say “Americans!” while shaking our heads like siblings.
I miss those moments. I sat down at her table tonight and felt at home again. She dished out rice with a flat spoon and put a huge pot of spiced chicken out. We caught up about her wonderful boyfriend and the trip so far. I tried to get her to give me a painting she made of a salsa dancer. It felt like old times.
Yingxue has no idea why I want to paddle a kayak across the country. Her voicemail is, “Hi, this is Yingxue, I’m jewelry shopping, leave me a message.” She’s lost without her GPS. She doesn’t climb mountains. She doesn’t paddle oceans or explore canyons. I don’t think she’s even slept outside a single night in her life.
But she’s one of the best adventurers I’ve ever met. She’s getting a phd in genetics. She’s lived in a foreign country for half a decade. She started salsa dancing when someone told her it was the quickest way to become sexy. She’s the best bachata dancer I know. She believes in love and romance and jewelry. Her adventure is nothing like mine, but she is true to it, true to herself. That is what I love about her above all. That is what inspires me. That is why I can stand next to her and believe I can do anything.
The world has plenty of Renees, it needs more Yingxues.