n the ninth grade my boyfriend was a smart, funny and charming Italian American boy named Frank. His best friend was a Corean American boy to whom I took an instant disliking. Sean never said hi, rarely looked at me. When he did, his eyes seemed to look right through me. During the two weeks I was going with Frank, I tried to get him to drop "that creep". "He's not a bad guy," was all Frank would say on the subject. The two remained close friends long after Frank and I broke up.
I paid no more attention to Sean until the next school year when we found ourselves in the same honors math class. He was as aloof as ever. Not that I made an effort to approach him. He always seemed preoccupied with things he didn't see fit to share with the rest of us. I assumed he considered himself superior. He rarely raised his hand and never discussed grades with anyone but everyone knew he was the top student.
One afternoon as I was leaving math class Sean caught up with me. He had an odd look on his face, as though he were in some kind of distress. "Your bracelet," he said, holding up a shiny new-looking silver bracelet.
"It isn't mine," I said.
"It has your initials on it," he insisted. Sure enough the letters "EH" were engraved on it in fancy script.
"But it isn't mine," I insisted. "Must be someone else with those initials."
"There's no one else with those initials. Why don't you just keep it." His face suddenly flushed.
"I think you should return it to its rightful owner or put it in the lost and found."
Without another word he hurried away. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to think of someone else in the school with those initials and came up with no one. It wasn't until the next morning that the thought dawned -- Sean had been trying to give me the bracelet. I had assumed he had found it and he had been too shy to correct me. I was flabbergasted. How could someone who liked me enough to ask me to go steady show so little obvious interest?
From that moment I began looking at Sean in a different light. Instead of seeing everything he did from the assumption that he was incredibly conceited, I began seeing signs of his reserve and shyness. Suddenly I saw him in a completely different light. In class he acted as he always did, ignored me. If anything he seemed to be making a special effort not to look in my direction. But I now knew the truth. It wasn't that he had no interest -- quite the contrary. It was just that he wasn't comfortable about showing his feelings, especially in the absence of some sign of interest from me. I had given him precious little encouragement. Having always interpreted his aloofness as conceit, I had generally been cool and aloof toward him.
I began seeing his actions in a new light. The way he never raised his hand to volunteer the answers he obviously knew. The way he always avoided getting involved in discussions about grades though his was usually the highest. I also learned that Sean devoted a lot of time to tutoring friends who were struggling but never made an issue of it in front of others. It wasn't aloofness but modesty and sensitivity. On top of all that, he spent much of his evenings and weekends helping out at his parent's greengrocer, yet never made any excuses when he was late or failed to turn in an assignment. It was a quiet kind of manliness that I rarely saw at that age.
Now that my resentment toward Sean had changed into admiration, I let my eyes join in the appreciation. He was always freshly scrubbed and his trim, broad-shouldered frame seemed to exude grace and vitality. And yes, I could now acknowledge, he was cute. I loved his full lips, sexy eyes over cheekbones to die for, and a jawline that exuded masculinity. I was also smitten by the way his short black hair bristled from his well-shaped head with such vitality.
Several days later I bought a bracelet and had Sean's initials engraved on it. Not being quite so modest or reserved as Sean, I took the presumptuous step of adding another set of initials, mine. "Here's your bracelet," I told him after class one day. He didn't give me the rough time I had given him. With barely the flicker of his smiling eyes, he took the bracelet and put it on. Then he slipped his arm around my waist. The kiss didn't come until some days later, but it was well worth the wait.
If real life were like movies I would be married to Sean. Instead, a dozen years later, I am now deeply committed to another Asian man who shares many of the qualities I discovered in Sean -- modesty, sensitivity, quiet grace and manliness. These are all qualities I might easily have overlooked or mistaken as aloofness or conceit had I not had the great luck to have gotten to know Sean Yoon. Thanks, Sean, for teaching me how to love Asian American men.
How could someone who liked me enough to ask me to go steady show so little obvious interest?