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Meet the real Pan

Pan is a pen name. I started using it years ago when we met and I wanted to write about him as a stranger. But now we’re married, so here I’ll refer to him by his other name, Jay.

After we gather our luggage at Logan airport, we sit in the car ride to our first home. People huddle along the streets around tents outside the hospital neighborhood. Jay peers through the car window, hair flying in the wind.

We hobble inside our building with our four suitcases, where the blue 90s dot carpeted hallway leads to white doors. I press the number for the elevator and when we get in, the elevator doors close and the floor moves so slowly that we can’t be sure we’re not stuck.

Inside the apartment, sun filters in through the windows and the hardwood floors shine, leading to brick walls. The space has a standard blue couch, coffee table, and dining table. Furniture pieces litter on the ground. The closet space is half full, waiting for Jay. I wipe sweat from my forehead. My friend had offered to pick up and build furniture in the apartment in exchange for her kids living in that apartment for two months. I sigh.

Jay walks to the window. The apartment is just enough space for two people in the middle of a city. 

I say, “Do you like the apartment? What do you think?”

“Is that a church pew?” He says.

I had wanted a tiny pool table for Jay. But my friend never picked it up and the architect down the hallway was moving out and had asked if I wanted his church pew which functions as a long lunch bench.

“I was going to put a pool table here. We can get rid of it.”

“The pool table wouldn’t have fit. You have to take into account the length of the cues.”

“Oh.” I say.

“Are we getting a piano?”

I shrug. “I want to see what you wanted first.”

We visit the many attractions in the apartment, like the framed musicians artwork that I spread my credit card number all over the internet to purchase, the bed that I thought was an exact copy of the bed he slept in in Vancouver. He stops at the basketball photo above the bed and glances at the Michael Jordan canvas by the entrance.

“This is so sweet,” he says. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I wanted you to feel at home.”

“It’s nice of you. Can we turn on the air conditioning?” He says.

For our first air conditioner I had ordered a respectably-sized machine. I walk downstairs to talk with the building management, where a lady tells me that the machine was returned because no one picked it up. I sigh and wipe my forehead then wipe it on my pants. I open the Amazon app to buy the AC but it’s sold out. So are all of the other ACs. 

Upstairs, I share the news with Jay and he says, “Don’t worry. This is just like India.”

“Do you like it here? Do you like Boston? I’m sorry about the heat.” I say.

“I like it. Don’t worry.”

“Why don’t you seem happy or excited?” I say.

“I’m just tired. I’m taking it all in.”

The next morning, after breakfast, I throw up. I try to drink water and I throw it up. I try to eat a snack and I throw up. I call my friend in Boston but she won’t pick up. I text her.

I lay with my face touching the floor because it’s cooler. And because the next time I throw up I’ll be ready to aim into the bucket.

I tell Jay, “I’m sorry. I wanted your time here to be fun.”

My friend calls me. She yells that I should go to the ER.

She says, “This is how US healthcare works. My son has been to the ER five times this year. In Massachusetts they can’t turn you away. You have to act entitled.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’ve only been to the ER in Canada twice in my life.”

“You’re not white, maybe that’s why. It’s the issue of privilege. We expect good healthcare.”


“Just go to the ER. Now. And don’t let them put you on a ventilator. Keep breathing on your own.”

“Uhm,” I say. “Ok.”

I hang up.

I ask Jay if I should go.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe go just to be safe.”

“What if I catch covid there?”

“Maybe you already have it.”

“Ok. I want to shower first. Can you get my clothes?”

The shower feels warm on my back. My friend calls again to tell me to hurry. “You’re so stupid. This is absurd. Why are you showering? Every second matters,” she says. “You might be dying.”

When I climb out of the shower in my towel, Jay’s hand reaches in and hands me clothes. I’d once told him these pants were really comfortable, where the cloth wraps around my legs.

As I’m leaving the door, my friend calls me again on video chat.

She says, “What the fuck are you wearing?”

I shrug and say, “Jay picked it.”

“Just go.”

When Jay and I both arrive at the hospital’s entrance, the nurses block Jay’s path.

“Sorry,” they say. “It’s covid protocol and only patients are allowed.”

I look at Jay and I’m about to cry.

“But we’re new to Boston and I don’t know anyone else.”

The nurse says, “I’m so sorry. If he wants, he can wait on a chair out here first to see if you’re admitted. Do you have a safe place to stay in Boston?”

I nod. When I’m inside, Jay texts me. I’m scared to leave him alone. I was going to introduce him to the city. But now he’s all alone.

I become too tired to feel anything but cold. I huddle in the chair in the waiting room until I feel like I’m going to die of hypothermia. I ask a nurse for a blanket and she lays a heated bed sheet on my legs.

Finally, I wave to a nurse and tell her I’ve been here for many hours and everyone is being treated before me, and I’m cold and tired and I’ve been throwing up. The nurses guide me to an examining area where they add a port to my arm to draw blood and tell me to wait outside. 

Eventually I’m offered a wheelchair and a nurse pushes me to a room with a bed with a curtain that faces the center of the room. This is the kind of hospital room my dad stayed in and events didn’t turn out too well.

The nurses and doctors come in and out. My eyes shut for long moments. Jay texts me that he will stay up all night to make sure I’m ok. I tell him he can go to sleep.

My friend visits the apartment and calls me afterwards. “He’s doing fine.” She says. “He’s putting around the apartment with the electric drill.”

I say, “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome. You know I think maybe it’s appendicitis. They can cut out your appendix and you’ll live as long as they do it in time. You can have sepsis and if they do it too late.”

“I want to keep all my body parts. I don’t want to be cut open.” I’m going to cry.

“What the fuck are you talking about? You’re going to die. Just let them do whatever they need.”

“Alright. Thanks for calling. Thanks for being there. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

We say goodbye.

The doctors keep me at the hospital overnight and pump me with mystery liquids. In the morning, the resident asks me to eat a cracker. Fifteen minutes later, he says, “Now that you can keep food down, I’m satisfied. You can go home.”

“Are you sure?” I say. “What if I throw up later?”

“Let me check with my supervisor.”

I’m instructed to eat another cracker then both doctors tell me I’m cleared for home.

When I stumble through our apartment door, I’m so relieved. It’s 5am. Jay has dark circles under his eyes but he’s still here. And our home’s wood pieces have partially turned into cabinets.

“I wanted you to enjoy Boston.” I say.

“All I wanted is for you to come home safely.” 


The next week, I call my mom. She didn’t respond to the wedding invitation and missed the wedding. But maybe she’s changed her mind. I am pacing around the courtyard. We exchange pleasantries.

She says, “Your aunt told me I was a bad mom. Why didn’t you visit your aunts?”

I sigh. “You told me no one would want to talk to me ever again. Because of Jay’s skin colour. She invited us for dinner right before our flight to Boston. But Jay got food poisoning, then we had to pack.”

“Oh. Your uncle wanted to buy gold jewelry. He was going to pick you up. Why didn’t you go?”

“I don’t even know what he looks like. I’ve always been told to stay away from him.”

She’s silent. “Ok. I’ll tell your aunt.”

I’m silent. I’m waiting for her to ask about Jay, our new marriage.

She asks about my friend in Boston. She asks if I married the same guy she met in that ballet theatre, all those years ago. 

Finally, we hang up. I find Jay in another part of the courtyard, working on his laptop. I describe the conversation through tears and he listens intently.

A few months later, on Thanksgiving, my mom and I are texting about the meals we are making. I send photos of the meal that Jay and I are cooking together. 

I ask Jay, “Should I call her?”

“It’s up to you.”

“Would it make you sad?” I say.

“Just do what makes you happy. I’ll be fine.” He says.

I wait for a few moments. I can’t decide. “What if she’s changed her mind?” I say. “Do you think we can all have a conversation?”

“Just give her a call.”

Sometimes when I call my sister, my mom is in the same room but pretends she doesn’t know that I’m calling. So it’s probably better to call my mom directly.

When she picks up the video call, my face lights up. We shout because we’re so excited. Jay is beside me and I’m ready to pass the camera to him. I’m ready for my mom to acknowledge Jay.

She speaks in Cantonese. She doesn’t ask about Jay. Where would Jay be except at home? Boston is in lockdown.

When we hang up, I cry into Jay’s arms.

Two years later, I plan a series of events for Jay’s birthday month. 

On Saturday, we attend a ballet at the theatre. I am wearing a dress and heels, and Jay is wearing a nice shirt. One of the performances is set to music by the Rolling Stones. It almost feels like my birthday.

During the intermission, I ask Jay, “How do you like your second ballet?”

Jay looks around the theatre. “I like it. Much better than the first one. But what is going to happen to ballet after everyone here dies, since they’re so old?”

I slap his arm and laugh.

On the day of Jay’s birthday, I give him two tickets for a Celtics basketball game. They don’t send physical tickets anymore and so I drew a ticket stub on a piece of white paper.

I say, “Are you surprised?”

“No,” he says. “You’ve been talking about the Celtics for a while.” His eyes shine.

“Yea but you didn’t know which game.” I say.

“You’ve asked which dates I was free.”

I sit at the piano to play a quick tune. The piano is perfect. It’s the best piano I’ve ever had. Our piano sits in front of the lounge and exercise equipment that Jay has collected in the past year. 

Jay says, “It’s time to go to the game.”

We pick up sandwiches at Jay’s favourite Vietnamese restaurant where the owner recognizes his name on the phone. Jay flips out his phone so he can navigate to the famous TD Gardens. 

The streets are full of excitement, people exploring Boston for the first time.

During the game, Jay is silent, scanning the court. I ask questions but he’s too fixated on the game to explain. I get fried chicken and drinks for Jay. I wanted to get popcorn but he seemed full afterwards. Boston wins. 

After the game, we walk out of the stadium with the rest of the audience. I rub my hands together and put them in my pocket.

Jay says, “I finally feel connected to the city.”

“Really? After two years?” I say.

“This is the first city I feel a connection with.”

Jay recounts how his hands appeared on the jumbotron and which players scored well. I try to collect the facts for later.

Jay glances at his phone. He says, “Looks like a few people remembered my birthday.”

“Do you want to call them?” I say.

“No,” he says. “I want it to be the two of us today.”

We hold hands and walk home together.

There are 5 comments below
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2 years ago

Great story writing, like a chapter in a good book. Sorry about the drama; glad you and Jay are happy. And you’re still your mother’s daughter. That’s good news! I hope relationships have continued to progress since the disappointments two years ago.

2 years ago
Reply to  Grace Lam


Juliana Mann
Juliana Mann
2 years ago

What a sweet ending!