The boy I liked, visited me at home. He was from California. Cool, handsome, collected. For some crazy reason, he was smitten with me. And I allowed myself to like what I like, to reach instead of settling. To be vulnerable and admit I like him rather than be pursued for my qualities. 

I met him in January and in February we were visiting home. To meet the parents.

My home was not perfect. It was filled with cozy memories but plain, small and old. I had been in California and visited many fancy homes, granite countertops, pools in the back yard, rooms to spare, perfectly manicured lawns. Perfect sidewalks. 

We entered our old comunist building, at the edge of town, the ground floor apartment. Our windows opened to a garden. That was its one quality.

We settled into the two rooms available. And had pretzels with hot milk. Tata brought them fresh from the town. Like he used to when I was in high school.

The stovetop we used had been installed in closed-off balcony, to separate my parents’ sleeping room from the gas stove. 

It was never clean. We often forgot the food heating up and it spilled. Crusty months old splashes were coating it entirely. I was so embarrassed. But not frozen in my embarrassment. My then boyfriend (now husband) was busy with the other American friend traveling with us, and I thought to quickly clean up the stovetop. I poured hot water to soak it, and dishwasher detergent, and got to scrubbing. Gently, methodically, thoroughly. It was our first day in Galați and I was filling in the gaps in housework, as I usually did in my family of full time working parents, who did housework in between life, whenever possible. 

My boyfriend found me and hugged me and said nothing. Just let me finish the scrubbing of the stovetop. And whispered “I love you”. Right there I fell in love with him even more. He saw the worst of my life, that greasy stovetop, and I wasn’t ashamed. I didn’t feel judged. I didn’t feel he judged my parents either. What a lovely sense of rest in his arms. 

Later on he said he fell in love with me right then and there too. He saw in me a good daughter who serves, who love her parents, who isn’t afraid to roll her sleeves up and do what needs to be done. 

Who knew that my biggest shame would seal the love between us.