My life story. Where to begin? I could tell him about my parents’ separation and the way it impacted me. How I would introduce myself in first grade with, “My name is Rebecca. My parents are divorced.” I have no idea why this seemed like a good idea to me at the time; clearly, my social skills were stunted. I could tell him about the Pistol Lady. How I once indirectly broke her foot and how she had a penchant for animal abuse. I could tell him about my father. How I had always worshipped him and now was finding it difficult to reconcile his heroism with his deep flaws.
Instead, I told him about me. “I’m a writer,” I said. “And a reader. My Chinese name translates literally as Book Love and I have more than lived up to my namesake. At school, I used to whip out my book every time the teacher looked away, as if I were a meth addict trying to get her last fix before the cops busted down the door. I actually started writing a novel, but it’s not really going anywhere.”
“Because, well, I’m busy. And my skill level constantly improves, so by the time I’m on chapter five of a book, I look back and chapter one absolutely sucks.”
He nodded as if he believed me. “You are afraid.”
Then, because I was an immature 18-year-old who thought I was in love, I talked about Jonathan. “I’m not sure about him. Sometimes, I think he’s perfect for me and we’ll spend the rest of our lives together. But I have so much doubt.”
He nodded again. “A good man need three thing. One, duty. Two, sacrifice. And three, honor.”
Slightly impatient, I said, “Jonathan does have those things. He’s a really good person. That’s not the problem.”
This time, he shook his head. “Then I know problem. Problem is, he do not capture your heart.” When I had no response, he continued, “Let me see picture of him.”
Pulling out my camera, I showed Knight my prom photos. As he studied them carefully, he remarked that I looked very beautiful. Finally, he gave his conclusion as if he were a fortune teller who had just looked into a crystal ball. “He is shy man. He have problem past. He try hard to please parent. But he love you very much.”
Awed, I told him that he was right. I couldn’t help but try to defend Jonathan, to praise the progress he’d made and to reaffirm my commitment to our relationship. In my heart, though, I knew it was over. Like Knight had said, Jonathan could never capture me. When I asked Knight what I should do about the relationship, though, he refused to give me an answer. He told me that if I couldn’t break up with him, then I shouldn’t. One day, when I really wanted to leave, then I would be able to end the relationship.
Then, Knight asked if he could show me his Taekwondo moves. He had rarely encountered anyone who was respectful of his art, and he told me that it would mean a lot to him to show me. Only his girlfriend, Mei, had witnessed him performing martial arts. In order to show me, however, he would need to get his uniform from his home. Eagerly, I agreed and didn’t think twice before following him into the now-dark night. Perhaps I was naïve, but I trusted him with my life.
I wasn’t expecting a glamorous penthouse, but the condition of his “flat” shocked me. There were no lights in the staircase, so Knight lit the steps with his cell phone and told me to be careful. When we finally reached his floor, I was immediately hit by the scent of human waste. It was as bad as the worst outhouses I’d ever been to. He was probably so used to it that he couldn’t even smell it anymore. However, he apologized and explained that the “restroom” was right by his room. And his home was just that — it consisted of a space the size of a college dorm room. There was a modest twin-sized bed to the right and a small desk to the left. His clothes were strewn all over the place. The walls were bare except for where his soiled white uniform hung.
While I attempted to hide my surprise, Knight was too excited to be embarrassed. Like a small boy on Christmas morning, he sent me back downstairs to the “courtyard” and instructed me to wait for him. He would come down and join me after he’d changed. Obeying, I made it back down the stairs and stood under the only light source in the vicinity. As I waited, I wondered if someone would kidnap, kill, or rape me. After a few minutes, he was there. Bouncing lightly from foot to foot, he proceeded to demonstrate a kick. Forgive my ignorance of martial arts terminology. Proudly, he explained that he turned 720 degrees in the air.
Although the move itself was well-executed and elegant, to me the most beautiful part of the night was Knight’s face. It was so absolutely ecstatic, the expression of someone who — for a brief moment in time — possessed everything that he could have wanted. I wished I could have his simple desires. I didn’t mean that insultingly; I truly believed that this man understood life much better than me. Whereas I was upset over stupid football tickets, here was a man who just wanted to do what he loved, for people who appreciated it.
Since Knight had promised to return me to my father within half an hour, we scrambled to make it back to the tea shop in time. Then, as we prepared to part ways, we promised each other that we would meet again. I told him that I would use the profits of my tea company to help him come to America. He told me that even though we’d only known each other for a day, I was his best friend. Laughing, I said that he, too, was my best friend.
Then, with my father eyeing me suspiciously, I bid farewell to my friend Knight. With his contact information clutched closely to my chest, I knew that I would never forget him. Unfortunately, our communication would be sparse and difficult once I left Dali. Knight didn’t own a computer and he could only access his email once every few months at the local Internet café. Upon my return to the United States, I was preoccupied with founding my company and with breaking up with my boyfriend. I decided to name the business after Knight, but he became a faint memory as the months passed.
This September was the first time I’d heard from Knight in more than a year. He emailed to let me know he was trying to start a family school in Dali and use his skills to teach Taekwondo, boxing, judo, Chinese government and much more. I told him that I’d spent the summer in Paris and loved it, and he was happy for me. As our communication ceased again, I realized that as we grow older and jaded, the magical moments in our past are so easily forgotten. Someday, I wouldn’t remember anything about Knight except that I’d met him in Dali. This thought was incredibly sad, so I did what any writer would do — I wrote it all down.
Here’s to Knight, the greatest man that ever lived. I hope with all my heart that we meet again.