One summer night after my junior year, my girlfriends and I went to a bar known for its outdoor deck and dance scene. Laughing and getting down to pulsating beats paired with silly rap lyrics, it wasn't long before I felt a body behind mine. I turned to see who it was. The only thing white about the man who was "getting low" behind me was his enormous smile revealing his larger-than-life teeth. He extended a hand and introduced himself as Quinn. We danced a few more songs and spent the rest of the night flirting. Quinn's real name is Qinisela. He goes by the American version because he thinks it's easier for new people to pronounce. He was born in Mali, Africa and grew up in Paris, France. He was in Philly earning his M.B.A in finance. Quinn wore cowboy boots, dressy slacks that were too big for him and a fitted T-shirt with ugly swirl designs on it. He asked for my number.
The next day, he took me on my first grown-up date. Our night ended at a diner with mirrored walls and bright lights. Under them I could see the muscular definition in Qinisela's arms and better inspect his sexy skin that was the color of my parent's fears. Between water refills and a shared plate of quesadillas, we realized we had nothing in common. He liked numbers; I liked letters. I liked to match my pants to my shirt; he didn't. I'm white. He's not.
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For a year, our differences kept us busy. I introduced him to books and art. He taught me how to say the f-word in French. He cooked African cuisine and introduced me to plantains for dessert.
I told my mom I was dating someone. I used Qinisela's American name. When she asked where he grew up, I said France, quickly choosing to edit out the part about Africa. Throughout my relationship with Qinisela, I lied by omission (the worst kind of lying, in my opinion) every time his name came up in conversation with my parents. The Frisky: When Should The Parents Meet Each Other?
"When are we going to meet this Quinn?" my mom asked one weekend I was visiting home.
I told her my relationship with Quinn was off and on. For once, that was the truth. He graduated and found a sought-after desk job crunching numbers and salivating over spreadsheets. I was running my student magazine, planning photo shoots and designing advertisements.
College ended and I was back home with my parents in-between four years of make-believe independence and a lifetime of uncertainty. One afternoon, my mom asked if I ever heard from Quinn. The desire to please my parents suddenly became secondary to my desire to tell the truth.
"Mom, I have to tell you something," I said. "Quinn is black."
The jaw of my strong-willed, outspoken Italian mother dropped. Silence filled our picture-perfect, antique-inspired living room. My mom threw her hands up in a bewildered, flabbergasted fashion. She wanted to know why I never told her before. I said that if my boyfriend had been white, I wouldn't have needed to tell her. I told her I was scared of her reaction. I apologized for hiding the truth.
"Where is your backbone?" she yelled. I answered by standing up straighter, feeling the bones in my spine harden.