“Babe, I love you.”
I re-read the text message again, trying to find any hint of honesty in those four words. He and I had been friends for years, since our childhood days on Olive. I was Tongan and Tana was Samoan. We grew up in the same church and our families were a good mix of the tokouso blend – from our mother’s old school friendship to me and Tana – there were no cultural bounds. From Sunday school to Pipeline Community College, Tana had easily become my best friend and it was only a matter of time when he’d become my boyfriend.
However, like in all relationships, someone gets bored and the other gets hurt.
Timing couldn’t have been more off as it was the week before graduation. We were the ‘it’ couple in our little group of friends, the ‘damn, they still together?’ duo that everyone kept tabs on. Tana was a stellar tri-athlete, and maybe not the brightest kid in the classroom but definitely the funniest. He received multiple athletic scholarships and two weeks ago committed to University of Oregon after a successful recruit trip. Go Ducks.
Me? I was the brains before beauty chic. I got accepted into the Engineering Program at UC Berkeley for the Fall. Berkeley had been my dream school since I was a little girl. I got admitted into Oregon too. But that wasn’t my dream, it was Tana’s.
Upon my acceptance and Tana’s commitment to Oregon, we’d publicly announced our next step to the northwest region to our friends and family. Of course, both our families loved the news as it spread like wildfire within the church congregation. Our mom’s loved being the center of attention and our Dad’s made sure our academic endeavors was the topic of discussion around the kava bowl.
It wasn’t until last night that I finally told Tana about my decision to stay in the Bay Area and attend Berkeley.
“Berkeley? You didn’t even tell me you got in! Why the secrets Mel? Look at me!” His voice escalated from confused to angry in a matter of seconds. I wasn’t the one to lie or keep secrets away from him. We were best friends first.
“Tana, I’m sorry! I didn’t know how to tell you! You were so excited and I just didn’t wanna kill your vibe!” I said with a shaken voice.
“Well, how the fuck do you think I feel now? So, you’re just gonna go to Berkeley and ditch Oregon huh? Ditch me? Our future together?” His words stung. I sat there in silence, unsure of what to say next. I thought this conversation would be more along the lines of congratulation rather than condemnation.
“Babe, I’m sorry .. I, I .. I don’t know .. you know Berkeley is my dream school, it’s been in my plan since we were kids. I got my acceptance letter to Oregon before hearing from Berkeley. And when I found out .. I felt I had to hide it from everyone, especially you. I’m sorry.” As if the tears made it any better. Tana’s eyes glared with emotion and I couldn’t hold back either.
Tana opened his door and left the car, going back inside the church hall.
I knew I screwed things up this time.
I remained in my car, letting out the built up emotions I’d kept inside for weeks. The distance between Tana and I only seemed to grow. Our relationship barely survived the cheating fiasco that circumnavigated around school. Nina, Rina and the new girl Rachel. I’d cried myself to sleep so many nights but came to school with a fuck-it attitude. Tana told me that none of it was true, that all of this was a made-up story. But the screenshots of text messages I’d seen of the only number I had memorized told me otherwise.
My reasons to attend Berkeley were valid. I wanted a new beginning, a fresh start. On my own.
I had always been ‘Tana’s girl’ or ‘Sioeli’s younger sister’ or ‘the faifekau’s daughter’. I wanted to branch out and create my own identity. This I yearned for.
My hunger for individualism collided with my family’s expectations of me. I was meant to be married to Tana and play the trophy housewife. I was only to pursue a ‘Mrs. Degree’ because I wouldn’t work a day in my life, thanks to Tana’s success on the football field.
My confession to Tana was only the beginning. My parents, my family, my church. I had to tell them before Tana did.
“You can do this, Mel.” I looked into the rearview mirror only to see a broken spirit looking back.
I fought the tears and re-applied my mascara.
Here goes nothing I thought, as I climbed out of the drivers seat and towards the church.