The cab driver in San Antonio looks us up and down. With a smirk, he drawls, "You Army?" to my husband. "That how you met?"
I laugh, but inside I am furious at the Miss Saigon stereotype, that we had been mistaken for an American G.I. and his Asian bride. I write novels for teenagers, and we are in town for a library convention. "No," my husband, a bookish architect, answers. "We met in New York."
Truly, we never thought of ourselves as a "mixed race" couple. There were so many couples of similar diversity within our social circle that we had long ago stopped thinking of ourselves as different from each other. We both attended Columbia (he for graduate school, I as an undergraduate), we both thought the perfect Thursday evening was one spent at the "free admission" night at the Met or the Guggenheim, and most importantly, we both loved science fiction and fantasy novels.
As a teenager I devoured all six original "Dune" novels by Frank Herbert, a triumph even among science fiction aficionados, as the books get progressively dense and obscure after the first one. Mike had done the same, and did me one better: he had written a fan letter to the author. He had even received a reply from Random House. It read, "Your author is A) no longer at this publishing house B) unable to return fan mail C) deceased." "Deceased" was circled as Herbert had passed away in 1986, several years before Mike had written him.
Whatever differences we had seemed exotic and only made us more interesting to the other. Mike was from a blue-collar family from Kirtland, Ohio, a rural suburb of Cleveland, where his parents sent all four boys through the local public schools and rarely went on vacation. I had grown up in Manila, where my family had lived luxuriously, with a houseful of servants, chauffeurs and three-month-long European holidays. While my teenage years as an immigrant in San Francisco were distinctly more humble, I clung to the memories of my rarified childhood.
Mike grew up in a house that never locked its doors. I grew up in a house surrounded by armed guards and barbed wire. Weekends meant helping his dad around the house, whereas I only saw my dad on Sundays before his tennis game. His parents never went out to dinner as his mother cooked every meal. My parents owned several restaurants and even at home, had a private chef. His mother made pies from scratch. My mother taught me to plan catering menus.
It didn't seem like it would be a problem when we met. After all, we agreed on all the important things--that Robert Heinlen's "Starship Troopers" was a work of genius, that Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" was the best series ever written, that Piers Anthony's "Xanth" novels went deeper than their shallow light-heartedness. We were fond of both the "Stars Trek" and "Wars." The only point of contention concerned Tolkien's trilogy. I was a staunch resident of Middle-Earth while Mike preferred the "Dragonlance" series, a cheap knockoff in my opinion.
Then, we moved to Los Angeles, bought a house, had a baby, and we no longer agreed on anything. I planned to hire a nanny since my mother had done the same. Mike thought it was scandalous and indulgent as no one in his family had ever hired a caretaker for their children. I was adamant about stretching our housing budget to the limit, as my dad the former financier had taught me the most important part of one's financial arsenal was a solid credit line. "There's no such thing as cash, only leverage." But Mike's parents didn't use credit cards and the thought of carrying such a heavy mortgage caused him many sleepless nights. I reveled in hosting massive parties. Mike preferred a quiet house. I liked to spend; he needed to save.
Our differences, once so innocuous, became a wedge between us. My parents and sister's family had moved to Los Angeles, and as a dutiful Filipino daughter, I assumed we would spend every weekend with my family. Mike felt claustrophobic at the idea and spent Saturdays sitting sullenly in my parents' living room, his annoyance obvious to everyone but me. We hired my father to sell our apartment. We fired my father after he failed to sell it. Then we hired him again after our new real-estate broker tried to talk us into a fraudulent sale wherein the buyer would fix the price in order to scam money from the lender, and give us a kickback. My father finally sold the apartment, but not before feeling wounded at our disloyalty.
It was bruising to realize how truly different we were--in outlook, background, and philosophy. We landed on a therapist's couch two years ago after more than a decade's worth of bickering and resentment. We were convinced we had nothing in common other than our love for our child. Was there anything left to our relationship? There had been so many fights and insults hurled over the years that we could not remember what had drawn us to each other in the first place. We were strangers to each other, firmly entrenched in our separate camps, in the worlds that defined us before we had moved to New York to shed these very identities in the first place.
Therapy helped but it was through writing our fantasy novel that we found our common ground once more. It was a surprise to discover it was easy to talk to each other again, as we adopted a shorthand lingo crafted from our shared knowledge of classic science-fiction and fantasy: "That's sort of Bene Gesserit, isn't it? Maybe our wizard should be more like an Aes Sedai?" or "She's less like a Daenerys and more like an Irulan." or "So it's like the spice mélange, except it doesn't fold time and space." We could crack each other up by just uttering the word "KHAN!" at any given moment.
From there, we began to agree on other things--that maybe it was okay if we didn't visit my family every weekend, and that it was probably a good idea to put aside some money for retirement. That we were lucky to find such a loving caregiver for our daughter, whose employment in our household allowed us both to work.
Some things never change though. He's still trying to get me to read those Dragonlance books. Maybe I should. He might have a point.
Melissa de la Cruz is the co-author of FROZEN, the first novel in a fantasy series written with her husband.