[Mahlena wrote this short story. Share with a Friend. 🙆🏾]
“I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”
“What is the right thing?”
“The words that make me sound like a sensitive person who you can have a fun dinner with.”
At the candlelit table on the back porch of Valeria Wu’s, Sunshine cut her tomato and mozzarella egg roll into bit size pieces. “I want to show you that I’m interested in Matt the person, not Matt the label. Labels? I’ve been doing research, so I don’t come off like the well-meaning ignoramuses I’ve encountered in the past, making assumptions about who I am based on one aspect of my life.”
“I’ve found that if you’re doing the work to stay informed,” Matt said, swallowing his beef and broccoli, “you’re not the type of person I have to worry about.” He wiped a spot of marinara sauce off his tie. “What are the labels that you don’t want to define you?”
Sunshine released her utensils onto the black tablecloth. “Where do I begin? Divorcee. People I’ve know my whole life treat me like I’m either sitting in my living room devouring a pint of rock road surrounded by rescued feline companions, or prowling dive bars to trap all the Ds in my V.”
“All the Ds?”
“Every available D. Then there’s Single Mom. Conjures up descriptions of poverty stricken women, struggling to survive, raising their unfortunate children on a wing and a prayer. As if my parenting abilities are dependent on my marital status.”
“My mother was single,” Matt chimed in. “Still is, as far as I know. I turned out fine.”
“You turned out great.”
“My dad’s never been single. He’s always had a woman on deck, which is why my mom left him”
“Single dads are different,” Sunshine noted. “If they see their kids on holiday and every other weekend, they get a medal.”
“Real American heroes.”
“I’m being a bummer. And I shouldn’t compare my minor agitations to what you must go through. And now I feel presumptuous for assuming that you necessarily go through anything.”
“I do, trust me.”
“I’m not good at being a cool girl on a date, or anywhere else,” Sunshine lamented. “You’re only the third person I’ve gone out with in the past decade.”
“I don’t date much either. I’ve focused on working on myself since I completed my transition. But I was drawn to you. I know we’d have some things in common.”
“Well, I’m not divorced, since I’ve never been married. I don’t have any children. But I have definitely received countless inappropriate questions comments, and concerns from family members, friends, acquaintances, strangers.”
Sunshine ate her shrimp fried calzone as she continued listening to Matt.
“I try not to let it phase me, but there are times…” He took a sip from his water goblet. “Did I tell you I used to be an actor?”
“I started when I was a senior in college.”
“So, last year?” Sunshine joked.
Matt guffawed. “I’m not that young.”
“New rule. I need to start carding guys before we go to a second location.”
Sunshine calculated in her head. “I could have given birth to you. Though it would have wrecked my GPA in tenth grade.”
“Does that bother you?”
“It’s awesome. New experience for me. Plus, you’re darn cute.”
Matt blushed as he waved away her compliments.
“You used to be an actor?” she asked.
He nodded. “I had an agent, booked some commercials, auditioned for a few pilots. But when I wanted to move on from the shirtless, lascivious, Latin lover roles and play characters that had depth. Or actual lines. Or clothes. I got push back. Casting directors told me I was too trans, too cis passing, too ethnic, not Hispanic enough, too dark, too light, too articulate. Like Dominicans can’t speak English?” Matt set down his butter knife. “Now I’m a bummer.”
“I have two thoughts,” Sunshine replied. “Okay, three thoughts. A, I like hearing your truth. Two, I’ve been too this or too that. Growing up I was too Korean for my white classmates and too much of a banana for the kids in my neighborhood, which, how was I supposed to be more Korean? My parents are Korean. My grandparents are all Korean. Except for my father’s biological father, who was some kind of American, according to his biological mother. There were multiple candidates. My great-grandparents were born in Korea. How could I be more… Luckily, living here in Hennessey Park, I don’t have to deal with that nonsense anymore, if I stay within the city limits.”
“This place has been more welcoming than other cities I’ve lived in before,” Matt observed. “What’s your third thought?”
“Have you met Wilbur Post before?”
“Isn’t he the internet star who makes those throwback musical videos?”
“Yes!” Sunshine exclaimed. “He has stories like yours from when he started acting. He took a break from the traditional TV system for a while.”
“Do you know him?” Matt asked.
“He’s married to my friend Charm. She’s a new friend. We’re on the PTA together. Wilbur runs the Hennessey Park Community Theater, and his productions look like they’re straight off of Broadway. You two should talk; you’d like each other.”
“I’ll set it up.” Sunshine typed a reminder on her phone. “Charm said he’s working on a New Jack Swing Hamlet project, which my other new PTA friend Priya told me she wrote songs for. Which surprised me, because Priya’s so tightly would that I hadn’t thought of her as an artist. Then Charm played me one of the tracks, and it was so good. It’s been invigorating meeting people I haven’t known for years. I don’t have to live up to their preconceived notions of who they think I am. It’s a new day.”
“You seem happy.” Matt was smiling.
“So happy.” She was laughing.
“It’s a sunshine day.”
Sunshine groaned into her egg roll. “I thought dating a 20-something would help me avoid the Brady Bunch quotes.”
He regarded her quizzically. “The Brady Bunch?”
[What's your favorite episode of The Brady Bunch?
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