Leaving the theater on Wednesday night, I checked my phone and saw that my mother had called during the show. She left a message:
“Zhen Bao,” she sang her Chinese nickname for me, which translates almost directly to “Precious Treasure” (why are you smirking – I am.) “It’s been such a long time since we’ve talked. How are things? Good with you and Mr. Tom? Call me back when you have time.”
Back at Tom’s, I went downstairs to return the call.
She was at Costco with my father. I could picture the cart filled with bulk sized boxes of oatmeal and bags of whole wheat toast, a rotund watermelon rocking from side to side, and a prickly pineapple poking a bunch of large bananas for their morning smoothies, which my father makes for not just my mother, but my aunt and uncle too. They come each morning to do flexibility and strength exercises with my mom, and after, everyone sits down to eat the breakfast my father prepares. A morning routine revolving around love and gratitude.
“How is everything?” my mother asked.
“Great, great, really good,” I said, “We just came back from a musical, and yesterday, we had dinner with friends. It was our one year anniversary yesterday!”
“Oh!” My mother laughed, and repeated this to my father.
“One year,” he snorted, “so what.”
“One year!” my mother said, and I thought she would follow it with a congratulatory, “That’s wonderful!” and between the brightly lit aisles of the Yorba Linda Costco, the one I’d practically grown up in, begin to dispense some motherly wisdom about the year ahead.
Instead, I heard bemusement in her voice.
“What’s the big deal about one year? It’s not like you’re married.”
I was taken aback and began to say something. Nowadays, it was a big deal! Didn’t she know people broke up left and right and who says marriage was the only big deal because hadn’t she been there on the other end, when I called a year ago to say, “We’re officially ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend!’?” (Though revisiting that moment now I recall she had also laughed lightly). And, whenever I’d called to seek advice or complain about something, hadn’t she always said, “Calm yourself and be thankful, be positive,” because she knew her relationships – not just with my father – flourished because she focused on the good? And didn’t she know that in this world of fickle feelings and broken promises and flakes and liars and cheaters it’s always a big deal to find yourself happy in a good relationship? Even if it had only been a year or month or day?
But I had barely began to sputter when I sensed her attention drift away. She was now asking my father if he had remembered to get those bagel thins she liked so much. You know, the ones that she toasted each afternoon and topped with a fried egg?
I heard my father, her husband of thirty-four years, say, “Yeah, I got them. What else do we need?”
She must have made a gesture, or they must not have needed much; her voice turned back to me.
“Well, we’re going to go check out now,” She said, and laughed again, “But I’m glad you two enjoyed your ‘anniversary.’ Tell Mr. Tom we said hello.”
I sighed, feeling childish, but said that I would. We hung up.
I sat on the big squashy couch – the one Tom threatens to bring with him if, sometime in the future, we find ourselves sharing an apartment (another big deal!) – and pictured my parents, who’ve I’ve never heard utter the words “Happy Anniversary” to each other or say anything else remotely romantic in the conventional sense (“I love you,” “You complete me,” “What would I do without you, Honey Buns,”). I pictured them strolling through Costco on a Wednesday evening, their 1,768th Wednesday evening together as husband and wife. I saw them walking side by side behind the large cart filled with large items. They were not holding hands – my father doesn’t do that – but were instead connected by happy anniversaries, thirty-eight and counting.