The following is one of the chapters from Tainted Love that isn’t the first chapter. Since the story isn’t told in a linear manner, I’m going to keep mum about which chapter this is. It does contain the three main characters and the direction the story takes. A trigger warning for AsAm women: some of the dialogue may trigger trauma echo for you.
Policy of Truth
“Ari?” a male voice asked from J.D.’s empty stool behind me.
Running into people we know when we least expected it on a small urban island with eight hundred thousand people happened frequently. I never thought I’d run into anyone at The Row Bar though—an outdoor bar in Waterfront Plaza—where I was watching the downtown business crowd in their colorful aloha shirts and fitted muˈumuˈu heading for the parking garage or to a restaurant in Restaurant Row.
I maneuvered around, my heart stilling a beat as I faced my ex, Lance Byun, dressed in a gray T&C Surf logo t-shirt, jeans, a pair of black Docs, and a black leather jacket. He never cared how hot or humid it was, just that he thought he looked good in that jacket.
The first thing we discovered we had in common back in high school was that we’re the grandchildren of immigrants. For him it’s his Korean dad’s side while his great-great-great-great-grandparents on his mom’s side came from England. We dated for a few months and I broke up with him because the relationship became one-sided—his—but we remained friends. It was better that way.
Friends who haven’t seen each other since high school graduation. This could get awkward. I plastered on a smile. “Howzit.”
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked.
“No, thanks,” I answered as the bartender sets a Guinness in front of me and Killian’s Red for J.D. in front of Lance.
He eyes J.D.’s beer. “You here with someone?”
“No.” I didn’t feel the need to explain who I was with given how long it’s been since we last talked and took a sip of my beer.
“Oh.” He shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. “How are you?”
“Well. You? How’s Ione?” Not long after they started dating he told me he was going to marry her. I sometimes wondered if he said that to see if I would get jealous. I really didn’t care. When I broke up with him, I didn’t look back.
“We broke up a while back.” His gaze fell to the ground.
“Sorry about that.”
Heavy silence descended like a final curtain. I didn’t know what to say to him and he, for once, seemed to be at a loss for words.
“How’s—” we started at the same time.
He chuckled, his gaze returning to me as I leaned against the bar. “How’s Warren?”
“Good. Deejaying at KTUH once a week. What have you been up to?”
“Just got accepted to U Dub.”
“Congrats.” For him, any college was fine as long as he wasn’t at Stanford with his brother and sister. Then, he put it off when he got involved with Ione. Much to the dismay of his parents and their exacting standards, I was sure.
“I needed to get away from here after the breakup.” He drew his shoulders in, shrinking in on himself. “New people. New scenery. Somewhere I can’t run into her.”
His eyes shifted to my left as a familiar warmth slipped next to me. “Lance, this is J.D.”
Every inch of Lance hardens as they shake hands; his eyes, his jaw, his stance.
I glanced at J.D. “Give us a minute?”
“Sure,” he said, grabbing our drinks and heading for a table.
“What the fuck was that?” I asked as soon as J.D. was out of earshot.
“You’re going out with a haole?”
“So what? You’re hapa haole. What’s your problem?”
“You should be with an Asian.”
I bristled, straightening on the stool. It was one thing to be bullied by racist classmates and have my teachers punish me for speaking Pidgin day in and day out until I capitulated and spoke the way they wanted me to when I lived in Lexington. It was another thing to get this dogma to date within my own race from an ex. A hapa ex. He never had a problem with our classmates in interracial relationships before or being in one himself. Or maybe he did and he hid it. It was misogyny wrapped in racial purity.
I folded my arms over my chest. “You don’t get to tell me who I can date.”
“Ione is haole.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Are you sleeping with him?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“You know that’s the only reason he’s with you.”
I gave him stink eye, wishing daggers would shoot from them. The fetishization of Asian women, particularly by haole men, wasn’t new to me or something I was oblivious to when interacting with men.
He sneered, leaning in a fraction and dropping his voice to a whisper. “You’re his submissive little Asian fuck toy.”
He might as well have given me a t-shirt that read: PROPERTY OF ASIAN MEN.
My blood boiled as I slid off the stool. I didn’t have a response for him. Not one that would’ve kept me out of jail, that is. It shouldn’t have surprised me the way it did given how he made sex about him and not about us when we were together.
He grabbed my arm while I scanned the seating area for J.D. Winding my arm backward, I loosened his grip as I stepped back. J.D. came into my peripheral vision like lightning and I held a palm up, stopping him in his tracks.
I locked my eyes on Lance. “It’s my life, not yours.”
His jaw was hard as steel as I left, pulling a reluctant J.D. with me.
“Race traitor,” Lance called out.
J.D. heaved against my grasp and I tugged on his arm, forcing him to look at me instead of my ex. “What do you think you’re doing?” I asked.
“He insulted you.”
“So now you gotta be one moke? How is fighting him going to solve the problem and who is it going to benefit?” I pressed my lips together. “Fighting him will make you feel better about how he treated me. It won’t change why he said what he did or how it affects me.”
He peered over his shoulder. Lance was gone. J.D.’s arm slackened and I let go. “Fair point. Who is he?”
“A classmate from Mid-Pac.” I eyed him as he took a swig of beer after settling into his seat. “And an ex.”
He coughed, grabbing the cocktail napkin to cover his mouth. Then, he gave me a shocked gape.
“He wasn’t like that when we were dating,” I added. “Not overtly.”
He cleared his throat. “What else did he say?”
Settling my chin in the heel of my hand, I glanced at the bar. Most of the patrons were glued to the overhead TV watching the first inning of the UH baseball game.
What do I tell him? All of it? Some of it? He’s going to be angry no matter what and none of what Lance said is true. I’m certain of that.
My gaze slid back to him, sitting forward, almost pressing into the table, I took his hand in mine. “He hates haoles now even though he’s hapa,” I said as a preface. Then, I told him verbatim the comments that Lance made.
Red burst over his face as he clenched his teeth. “That’s not what I think of you.” His tone was insistent and he leaned close. “I love you for your wit, intelligence, and compassion.”
I squeezed his hand. “I know. You don’t have to convince me of anything.”
“Do you wish I was Asian?”
“Do you wish I was haole?”
Sitting back, his hand slipped out of mine and he pursed his lips. “Babes.”
“It’s a ridiculous question. I’m with you because of who you are. My family didn’t immigrate here for racial purity. They came here for a better life.”
My lolo, Carlos Baraquio, came in the final sakadawave in 1945. He had every intention of returning to Nagbukel, using his savings to buy a home, until he met Alma Supnet—her father was brought over in the first sakada wave and stayed—in Maunaloa. They married and bought a house in Kaunakakai Town. Rizal “Riz”, Yvonne, Edwin, and my dad, Florencio “Flor,” were all born a year apart. By the time my brother Ethan was born, Lola was running her own restaurant in town.
“He said what he did to make me doubt you,” I continued. “Why would I believe anything he said when he just met you?”
His gaze fell. “You know him better.”
“Why? Because we went to school together for four years? That’s bullshit. The only thing time is a standard unit of measure for is time.” I grasped the arm of his chair and his attention snapped back to me. “Why are we arguing about this?”
“Maybe he has a point.”
“His point is based in homogeneity and intolerance.”
He weaved his fingers with mine, smiling and then kissing me soft and slow before saying, “You get points for ‘homogeneity.’”
“I pay attention in class.” I smirked as a snicker slipped out of him. “I’m not going to be with someone just because they’re Asian. I think it’s fucking ridiculous.” I squeezed his hand. “You are better at the give and take a relationship requires. That’s worth more than anything to me.”
Despite the little joke we shared moments ago, his expression was downcast. I never had to stroke his ego before. I dislike doing it because it felt disingenuous. I was willing to do it this time so he understood that Lance and his ideas carry no weight. “You’re also a much better lover,” I added with a coy grin.
“That’s not funny.”
“Baby.” I extracted my hand from his, placing it on his knee. “I’m not joking. You make sure I’m into it as much as you are, that you’re giving me as much pleasure as I’m giving you. Best sex I’ve ever had. My first two boyfriends”—I shrugged—“we were all inexperienced. Lance . . . well . . . I never had an orgasm with him and he never put in the effort. You make sure I do.”
“Are you saying he didn’t know how to use his equipment?” It took a few seconds but a lopsided grin appeared after he asked the question.
I scooted closer. “I’m saying he only had one tool in his toolbox and he couldn’t wield it effectively.”
He took my hand and twisted my ring, uttering in a low rumble, “I have a tool you can use.”
“Oh?” I played along, raising my brows. “Which one?”
“Anyone you want.” He dipped in, kissing the soft spot under my ear and his tongue taking a quick stroke as it lit a fire within me.
My breath hitched and I grabbed his shirt with my free hand, drawing him closer. He knew every inch of me and how I responded.
Lance could never say that.
“Your place or mine?” I asked. My roommate was spending the weekend at her boyfriend’s and J.D.’s roommate always went home for the weekend.
A smile died before it reached my lips as I spotted Lance ducking around the corner in a hurry.
© Debi V. Smith, 2021