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How it first crossed my mind to visit Japan

Freshman year…no wait…actually, it was my sophomore year because I had transferred from the local Community College. I sat at a table filling out paperwork for orientation when the most beautiful brown skinned girl sat down next to me and started talking nonstop. We hit it off immediately. And, just as immediately, I was in the friend zone.

Monica was from Belize, which was a country I had never heard of until I met her. She was the bubbliest, most sunshine-filled, cocoa butter-smelling, tropical girl I had ever met in my life. I suppose our friendship was inevitable. She loved to talk, and I loved to listen. Yes, I was flirting too, even though I knew I didn't have a chance. She had a man named Curtis waiting for her in her home country. He was the national tennis champion and heir to the largest department store in the country. I, on the other hand, was a broke-ass teenager from the projects. There was no competing. After I met him, I could see the appeal. He was charming and relaxed. Whenever he came to visit, he became one of the crew. Nothing quashes a brother's hope for fame like meeting the dude waiting on the girl he's in love with and finding out he is not an asshole. In the end, everything worked out for the best, I guess. They are now very happily married with three beautiful daughters. I should say everything worked out for THEM. I was doomed to be in the friend zone from the start.

Talk about blue balls. That was the hardest friendzone I'd ever been in. We were 19 years old and in our prime. Monica reminded me of a lyric from a Prince song that goes, "Built like she was, she had the nerve to ask me if I planned to do her any harm." I was freshly back on the market, too, after having broken up with my girlfriend. Unfortunately, it would be two years before I actually found another one. That was mostly because of racism. I have no qualms dating anyone from any race, country, culture, or creed. In fact, I am utterly enthralled with women who are from somewhere else. Through them, I can expand my understanding and knowledge of the world. I guess that's why I was so into this girl from Belize. Unfortunately, at my university, which had almost no diversity, the reverse was true. Some girls were scared to be seen dating a black dude. I went on one date. I thought it went well, but then the girl didn't want to be seen walking together on campus with me. It was a mess. So, I quickly sidestepped her. I'll admit, some girls flirted, but many of them would not follow-through. Or they were too extreme in their "umm" ...flirting. There's one girl who I won't name here that was a borderline nymphomaniac. She totally fetishized black men. That was awesome! I loved being the object of someone's fetish, but this girl was a little too aggressive and a bit too thirsty. We had our make-out sessions and got our feels in or whatever, but she wasn't the kind of person I could call my girlfriend. She was beautiful. I'll give her that. Her eyes were her best feature. Through my super Internet sleuthing skills, I just found out, a few minutes ago, that she's now an accountant and has a family. She looks really happy.

At 19 and 20 years old, I was tall, slim, good-looking, and had all of my hair. Other girls flirted, but none of them was my type, not like Monica. Just the sound of her voice and the way she laughed…oh my God, what an infectious, wonderful laugh. She used to say to me, "Oh Cell, you Bobo," in that Belizean creole accent, and it made me crazy every time. I'd be like, "Yeah, Monica, who's your Bobo?" Despite the fact that I remained deeply in love with her, I accepted my fate as the friend. Every year, I went on a platonic date with her to the Christmas formal dance. The first 2 times, it was fun, but the last time I just really didn't want to go as a platonic friend. I wanted a real date. I'll never forget the hurt in her eyes when I told her that I didn't want to go with her anymore. Looking back on it in hindsight, I should have gone one last time.

Anyway, her roommate was a Japanese woman named Yumi. One day, when I went to the cafeteria to ask Monica out, I noticed Yumi and felt compelled to ask her to join us. After all, she was an exchange student from a foreign country. As the man who was secretly in love with her roommate, I thought it was my civic duty to make sure she felt accepted as part of our group. From that moment, Yumi also became a very dear friend. She, Monica, Vince, and I were as thick as thieves. That was also hard because I could see that Monica was getting a little bit of a feeling for the tall, blonde, surfer boy looking, Vince. I was the only one who knew he was secretly in the closet. Vince used to flirt back too, which made it even more painful. And, he wasn't fully committed to his sexuality, which made him reluctantly bi. Still, a promise was a promise, and it was a promise that I kept. I won't lie. I really wanted to bust up that flirting between Vince and Monica. Spilling his secret was the perfect way to do it, but my word was my bond. I never told a soul that he was gay.

Back to Yumi, she was one of the sweetest people that I had ever met. She was so pure and loving. We never had a romantic relationship, but she's the type of person who I knew would make a most magnificent wife and mother. She was soft-spoken but incredibly clever. Her sense of humor was tremendous. Being from Japan, her innocence about the world also made her rather charming. It was Yumi who first made me curious about what it must be like to live in Japan. By getting to know her, I got to know other Japanese exchange students at the University. One by one, I became friends with all of them. We often went out to clubs or restaurants together. I flirted with a couple of them, secretly made out with one or two, and eventually steadily dated one a few years later. Each year, when new exchange students came, Vince and I were the school's acting ambassadors. The previous generation would introduce us to the next. Each was only allowed to stay for one year. That was the time limit for everyone except Ryosuke Shimizu. His father had relocated to Cleveland for work. As Vince settled into his homosexuality, he began to surround himself with gay friends and withdraw from the regular group of us. Eventually, Ryosuke became my new best friend and partner in crime. He and Yumi are the ones who piqued my curiosity about traveling to Japan.


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