While home in Cape Girardeau, I always make a point of visiting two of my favorite people. I introduced them to one another through some very unlikely circumstances. Their story is so incredible and uplifting that, with their permission, I am sharing it with you.
I speak to him in English. I speak to her in French. They speak to each other in Mandarin. During the summer of 2009, I played the role of transcontinental matchmaker and forever changed the lives of two people.
It all started with a chance encounter in Paris with Ru, a lovely, thoughtful and intelligent thirty something from Beijing. At the time, we both worked for the French Embassy, she in Beijing and I in New York, and we were in Paris in May for a seminar. Toward the end of the weeklong seminar, we happened to go out together one evening for a movie and dinner. Over dinner on a terrace in the Marais we had a heartfelt and open conversation about our personal lives and the difficulties we had encountered with dating and love in our respective cosmopolitan cities. Ru had been dumped just a few weeks before coming to Paris and I could sense that she was still very wounded and anguished. After my own traumatic failures in love, I could easily relate to her and found her very touching. We took an instant liking to one another and not long into our conversation the proverbial light bulb illuminated itself. I thought of my good friend Brandon, a boyishly charming and hopelessly romantic forty something divorcé violin professor at the university in my hometown. I knew he was going to be on sabbatical in China the following year and intuition told me that Ru was exactly his type.
As the evening ended with Ru, I could barely wait to get back to my hotel to email him typing, “seriously, as we were talking, one of the thoughts that went through my mind was ‘Brandon needs to meet and marry this girl’”. I gave him Ru’s contact information and demanded he get in touch with her. Little did I know, and much to my surprise, Brandon was already in China on a summer concert tour. He responded halfheartedly that the problem wasn’t in meeting women, but in finding a good fit. But, he promised to make an effort to get in touch with her when he went through Beijing before leaving.
I returned to New York a few days later and continued my cheerful promoting of Ru to Brandon. They started to correspond through email, and then spoke on the phone. They arranged to meet one rainy Monday night at the beginning of June in Beijing and I jokingly made him promise to name his first child after me before he went off on his date. On Monday evening New York time (by then it was Tuesday morning in Beijing), I received an email from Brandon in which the opening line was “ohmygodohmyhgodohmygodohmygodohmyhgod….”. He went on to gush about his meeting with Ru with much of the same enthusiasm a 14-year-old girl would have in describing her first date with a longtime crush. He was gaga, to say the least, smitten, as I knew he would be. Tuesday morning I had an email from Ru in my office inbox. Her description of the date was more factual, more guarded, but I could tell she had enjoyed meeting him. In any case, Brandon had already let me know they were going out again Tuesday evening.
Tuesday evening in New York, Wednesday morning in Beijing, I received an email from Brandon saying “OH MYGOD, thank you”. To which I respond “WHAT HAPPENED????” Ru’s email was only slightly less cryptic “…I think he is done. He’s going to thank you for introducing us, for the rest, I’ll let him tell you…”. By Wednesday things were becoming clearer. Ru wrote, “This situation with Brandon seems otherworldly to me, it’s so incredible that I can’t believe it. I think that he and I are both in love, but we are also afraid.” Wrote Brandon, “I AM madly in love. She is everything I have dreamed about for most of my adult life. I’m working on figuring out how to stay in China for the rest of the summer…”.
I looked forward to the daily email updates from both of them. The three of us felt inextricably linked in this whirlwind romance. By Thursday Brandon had changed his plane tickets and moved in with Ru. Friday she wrote “It’s incredible, in five days he is already chez-moi.” Brandon reaffirmed to me that he was in love. I responded, “In love. Really? Like really really? I’m envious.” His response was “Really really. Really for sure. I’m in shock.” Not even an entire week into their relationship they flew to Shanghai for a romantic weekend getaway. Wrote Brandon, “I can’t see the details of the future, but I can no longer imagine a future without her.”
The following Friday Brandon met Ru’s parents, “I’ve known her a bit less than two weeks. Have I gone completely bonkers?” The three of us were all a little nervous about meeting the parents. But, “as soon as I sat down her dad leaned over and I got about a 10 minute lecture. Everything he said made sense and I actually appreciated the chance for both of us to put our cards on the table…After that we drank beer and everything was fine.” Parental approval had been won; they felt more comfortable and validated in proceeding with their madcap love affair.
As summer progressed and the days slowly melded into weeks I continued to get updates from both of them that would either leave me smiling like an idiot for hours or have me brushing away actual tears of joy over my friends’ happiness. Brandon, the sentimental poet emailed, “I guess what I can say for sure is this: There are parts of me I’d though lost forever, chunks of my soul I’d thought were missing, or burned out by past trauma. As soon as I met her, it was as if all those empty places got suddenly filled, and were simultaneously flooded with warm, perfect light. I am more myself than I have ever been in my life, and whatever I am I want nothing more than to give to her.”
As Brandon’s departure date drew nearer, the three of us spoke separately about where we thought this was going and we were all in agreement of the general direction. Ru was willing to leave her job, family and friends in Beijing to move to a sleepy town on the Mississippi River to be with her love. Brandon was ready to give up his cushy university tenure to teach music to small children in Beijing. Both of them were extremely conscious of the lightening fast pace at which their relationship was moving and the rapidity with which their situation was evolving. But they were also cognizant of the fairytale aspect of their story; what they were feeling was genuine, what they were living was extraordinary. Neither wanted to miss out on the moment.
After extending his stay by nearly two months, Brandon reluctantly returned to the U.S. at the beginning of August. After several long months apart, Ru came to the U.S. for the first time at the end of December, and I saw the two of them while home for the holidays that year. They went back to China together at the beginning of 2010 for Brandon’s sabbatical semester. After consulting with an immigration lawyer, they found that the best way to handle the administrative part of their situation was to bring Ru to the US on a fiancé K visa. They celebrated their upcoming marriage with family and friends that summer in China before having to say goodbye for the last time. Brandon had to once again return to the US for the beginning of the semester and Ru was waiting for some immigration papers to get out of customs and quit her job.
Ru arrived in Missouri at the end of September and they got married on October 18, 2010. Each time I come home, I visit with them and they are just as in love as when they first met. Everyone deserves to meet the person who completes them, but not everyone is so lucky as to cross paths with that person. I half-jokingly tell my friends that in setting up Ru and Brandon, I have done my duty for humanity. I am delighted and humbled by the fact that my actions, things as basic as a dinner and an email, have forever changed the lives of two people from two different worlds. Brandon and I spoke on the phone the day after his return to the U.S. that first summer and he said to me, “Leanne, I can never thank you enough for this.” The sincerity of his thanks and the gratitude in his voice moved me. I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have been able to give two friends the gift of love and to be allowed to witness this incredible love story blossom.