Character Interview: E. M. McGowen’s Tenshi

(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Tenshi was written by E. M. McGowen.)

A small bell made a ringing sound as a gentleman made his way through the doors of Cafe Bella, a local coffee and smoothie shop located in south Oklahoma City.  In the couple of years since Tenshi had made his home in Oklahoma, he’d discovered one very important and vital fact—coffee in the United States was shit.  Still, there were places, like this particular haven, that managed to make it at least tolerable.

He ordered his drink and sat, waiting for both his order and the woman he was supposed to be meeting.  It had been a bit of a surprise to find he was someone who could be interviewed, but he figured why not—it couldn’t hurt anything.  Tenshi grabbed his drink as it was placed on the counter, taking a drink and making a noise of approval.

Soon the bell rang again, and a young woman in professional attire walked in. Even though she liked being casual when she could, Kelly learned most people took her interviews serious when she was dressed professionally, so she went to the counter, ordered a drink, and took the opportunity to look around until her eyes landed on Tenshi. While waiting for her order, she approached Tenshi with a smile. “Tenshi…? I would attempt to say your last name, but I’m afraid I would completely fail.” She offered her hand for him to shake if he wished to. “I’m Kelly Blanchard. Thank you for meeting me. I trust you are well?”

Tenshi watched as she walked in, almost positive this was the woman he was supposed to talk to.  He waited until she ordered to approach her, but was surprised when she came to him first.  He stood to meet her and took her hand, shaking it firmly before gesturing for her to take a seat.  He laughed at her quip about his last name, the smile reaching his eyes.  “It isn’t as hard as it looks, honestly.  Japanese is fairly easy to pronounce if you break it down phonetically.  It would be Ih-ch-ee-joe-gee.  The first part is similar to the word “itch”.”  Tenshi shook his head a little, chuckling again.  “Sorry.  I teach Japanese at my University.  It’s habit to try to break things down now.  It’s very nice to meet you, Kelly.  I’m doing very well—are you the same?”

She bowed her head. “I am doing quite well, thank you.” Then she lifted her gaze again with a smile. “I didn’t know that about Japanese, so that’s very informative! And I was going to ask what it is that you do, but you just told me you teach Japanese. Fantastic!” She gave him a grin. “I can already tell you have a teacher’s spirit, and that is very important.”

By this time, both of their orders were ready, so they retrieved them, and Kelly followed Tenshi to the table where he had been sitting, and she sat across from him and sipped on her drink. “So, Tenshi, you’re from Japan, correct? How did you end up in Oklahoma ?”

Tenshi sipped his drink, looking over the woman in front of him as they talked. He watched her mannerisms, the way her eyes moved and where they moved.  He tilted his head a little, making a mental note to ask her about this later. Instead, he crossed his legs and took a sip of his drink and answered her question.

“I am—I was born and raised in Tokyo.  Spent several years in London before moving back.  I moved to Oklahoma about two years ago…I had a falling out with my partner of almost ten years and needed a change of scenery.  When the University of Oklahoma offered me the teaching position, I took it.  My sister-in-law is from Norman, OK, so I was familiar with the area.”

Kelly nodded as she took this in, and she drummed her fingers on the table as she contemplated her next question. Finally, she lifted her gaze to lock with his, and she offered him a smile. “Forgive me for my bluntness, but I understand you lead a gay lifestyle. Don’t worry, I’m not going to judge you for it, but when you said partner, I’m assuming that’s what you meant about Japan, correct?” She raised her brows, curious. “And have you found life…acceptable here?”

Tenshi’s eyebrows went up at her question, slightly surprised at her bluntness, but not opposed to it. If anything, he was impressed with her ability to get to heart of the question she wanted. He nodded a little. “I am gay, yes, and that is what I meant by partner.  His name was Ryoua.”  He tilted his head as he thought about her question. “I’ve found it to  be more open and accepting here.  I can walk down the street and hold my partner’s hand and not get too many odd looks.  In Japan, we often conceal it.  It’s not as accepted.”

Kelly nodded in understanding. “So what happened between Ryoua and you? I know it might be difficult to talk about but…think of it this way: you’ll never see me again, and I’m a total stranger, and talking it out might be exactly what you need.” She offered him a kind smile.

Tenshi bit his lip, looking past her to stare at the wall.  He was unused to talking about this particular subject with strangers. “I…well, he cheated on me.  He’d began cheating on me four days after our fifth anniversary.  We were at a Christmas party for his company, he got drunk and disappeared. Didn’t think of it then, but looking about on it …” He shook his head. “I’m an idiot.  I found out about it because he left his phone at home, and his lover called for him.  I could handle maybe one affair.  People have worked through that, but I couldn’t handle multiple people.  Especially not … not after what happened after.  The repercussions of the affairs were very, very horrible.”

“Because you have HIV.” Kelly locked eyes with him.

He stared at her for a full minute before replying. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry about that.” Kelly bowed her head before lifting her gaze once more. “I know that can’t be easy at all, and to be honest, I don’t completely understand it myself, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to life with that. How do you manage?” She furrowed her brows, sincerely both curious but also concerned.

“It is what it is.” Tenshi stated bluntly, lifting his shoulder in a shrug. “It’s easily managed with medication.  HIV, or even AIDS, is no longer the death sentence it was in the 80’s or 90’s.  The average person diagnosed with it now has at least a 40 year life span to look forward to – possibly more depending on how young and healthy they are.  I’m fairly health conscious, and I’ve managed very well.  Unlike my partner, who is going to end up giving himself lung cancer if he doesn’t stop smoking.” He said this with an amused look and a chuckle.

“A new partner? Or are you still talking about Ryoua?” Kelly raised her brows a little confused.

“Oh! Sorry, I should have explained.  No, Ryouta is my ex.  I have a boyfriend now.  His name is Jaime.”

Kelly smiled then took another sip of her drink–she’d almost forgotten about the drink. “So, tell me about Jaime. How did you two meet?”

“We met at the college.  He teachers English.  Jaime very literally crashed into met at the orientation they held for all the teachers.  Spilled Coke down all over himself and me.”  Tenshi finished his drink and set the cup to the side.  He reached up to unconsciously run a hand through what he could of his hair, reaching behind to make sure the braid was still in place.  It was a habit he’d had since he’d grown his hair out this long.

“Jaime was straight, but we had a connection.  I’ve…never known connections like that actually happened between people.  He followed me around everywhere, talked to me all the time.  Finally, he asked me to take him on a date and I did.  The rest is history.”

“Interesting.” Kelly nodded with a smile as she took all this in. Now I understand you have a son, Kouji…and this is going to sound like a stupid question, but how do you have a son?”

Tenshi let out a merry laugh. “I was wondering when that question would happen!”

Kelly grinned. “Well, I’m glad I don’t disappoint.”

“I was married to a woman for years.  I spent quite a bit of time in denial of the fact I was gay.  I come from a very prestigious family and I was supposed to marry and have sons.  I went to England for a year during medical school and met Kouji’s mother.  There was a mutual attraction.  She’s the only woman I’ve ever been attracted to in my life.  I think I’m mostly attracted to her personality – she’s my best friend.”  Tenshi smiled. “But we were together for about fifteen years, married for almost eleven of those years.  She very literally set me up with Ryouta.  She’d figured out ages ago that I was gay.”

Kelly smiled. “Interesting! And you say that she’s your best friend still? The fact that she set you up with Ryouta—I bet she feels bad about how that worked out.” She frowned

“She is. Jaime had to learn early on she’s going to be in my life forever, and not just because she the mother of my child.” Tenshi frowned and looked down at the table. “She does.  I’ve told her it isn’t her fault, and it isn’t.  Emelia…well, I think it is something she is going to feel guilty over for a while.”

“Understandable but unfortunate.” Kelly nodded then went to take another sip of her drink only to realize it was gone now, so she set it aside. “Okay, so, you’ve got Jaime in your life, and Kouji and even Emelia in a way. You’re a teacher at a university, so life seems to be going quite well for you.” She smiled but observed Tenshi’s face. “So, what do you want out of life? If your wildest dreams could come true, what would they be?”

“And I have Jaime’s daugher, Kitlyn.  She’s a big part of my life now, too.” Tenshi brushed a little hair from his face and thought about her question.  A smile crossed his face as he stared at her, looking her straight in the eye.  “Honestly? I have it.  This is my happiest, wildest dreams.  I have a great job – even if they did try to fire me for being gay a few years ago, but we got that resolved. I have a son who is doing great on his own – in fact he goes to my college.  I have a man who loves me, and a great little step-daughter.  I’m happy.  I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Hearing all this made Kelly smile again. “That’s good. I’m happy for you. Not many people achieve the level of happiness you have.” Then she tilted her head to a side before answering her next question, “And what is your biggest regret?”

The question made him think hard, his brows furrowing in concentration before they focused on her face. “I…well…probably my relationship with my mother.”

Kelly lifted her brows. “What do you mean?”

“My mother hates me.  We have never had a great relationship.  She has a slew of mental illnesses.  Last diagnosis, she was schizo-affective.  My nephew has schizophrenia.  Her behavior was one reason I decided to go into psychiatry.  To make sense of why she acted the way she did toward me.  I regret that she and I don’t have a better relationship, seeing as she’s my only living parent.”  Tenshi fidgeted in his chair. “I am a disappointment to her.  I’m gay, and in her eyes, that’s a terrible thing and something I should be ashamed of.  She’s even gone so far as to say I should have been the twin that died, not my brother.”

“I’m sorry.” Kelly shook her head. “That is never easy. My great-grandmother actually said the same thing about my grandfather—how he should have died instead of his brother. Living as a ‘disappointment’ to a parent—especially your only living parent—is one of the hardest thing anyone can endure, and I’m sorry that is that case for you.” But then she paused, searching his gaze then furrowed her brows. “Do you think there’s at all the chance for you two to reconcile? Or is that completely off the table?”

“Oh wow, that’s horrible to hear.  It was a shock when she said that to me.  I understand it was only a few days after the death of my father, and perhaps she was just in shock…but she wouldn’t allow me to bring Ryouta to the funeral. Ryouta knew and loved him as well.  Mikiko told me I was a disappointment to the family name and that my stillborn twin would have been a better son than I.  It hurt.  It hurt a lot coming from her right then.” Tenshi rolled his eyes, but the hurt still shone there.  “Of course, this is from the woman who named her SON ‘Tenshi’.” He took a deep breath, tapping his foot against the table a little. “I don’t know.  I’d like to say we could.  My brother, Shin, says that she’s getting nicer as she’s older.  Not as acidic as she used to be. Maybe someday, but I’m not holding my breath.”

“That’s understandable.” Kelly nodded but then gave him a hopeful smile. “But I do hope the best for you in that regard.” Then she thinned her lips as she pondered her next question before shifting her gaze once more to lock with his. “We spoke of your dreams, of your regrets–what is your deepest fear?”

“Loneliness.  I don’t mean that in the sense of not having a partner.  Deeper than that—not having anyone.  I’m also terrified of losing myself, or my dignity as I get older and eventually my virus starts taking a toll on my body.”

“As we age, unfortunately dignity isn’t often retained.” Kelly shook her head, frustrated with this reality, but then she sighed and looked up at him. “So what if you begin to lose yourself? It’s a terrifying thought, but if it’s going to happen, you need to have a single ray of hope you can hold on to even in that darkness. Do you have something like that?” She tilted her head. “Because, I’ve found, if we have a fear and no way to truly combat that fear, when it finally comes upon us, it will truly ruin us. So, how will you combat this fear of yours if it ever comes?”

“I suppose my single ray of hope would have to be my son or Jaime.  That they’d take care of me, no matter how bad I got.  No matter how much of a shell of myself I was, they wouldn’t let me waste away in a home or in a bed where no one will take care of me.  That at least will give me a little dignity.”  It was a thought Tenshi didn’t like to think about, even if it was a reality he may one day face. His stomach twisted as he spoke, and his hands began to nervously play with whatever was on the table.

“I’m 54 years old, I know that age is already starting to take a toll on me.  I’m not entirely certain if Ryouta caught HIV from the cheating or if he’d already had it when we got together and it was dormant.  But…I saw how he was toward the end.  His had already progressed to AIDS.  He never had the best immune system to begin with, and then he was diagnosed with cancer on top of it.  He visited me a couple of months before he passed away and just looked like a skeleton—a shell of himself.  I guess it scared me more than I realized.  I don’t want my son or lover, or my baby girl to see me like that.”

Kelly met his gaze firmly, so he could see the sincerity in her eyes. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Then something off to the side of the room caught her attention, and she looked to see someone almost drop their coffee but managed to somehow save it, and this brief moment was enough to pull Kelly out of her deep thoughts and smile as she returned her gaze back to Tenshi. “Now, we haven’t much time left, but let’s move on to a brighter topic, shall we?” She raised her brows as she smiled again. “Your son, what are your hopes for him?”

Tenshi stared at the wall just past her again after their gaze broke, swallowing the emotion that was building in his throat.  He took a deep breath and returned her look, noting she was looking him straight in the eyes now, and not so much looking between the table and himself.  Showed confidence. Comfortableness.  He smiled.  “My hope for him is that he is true to himself.  I am not that worried for Kouji, to be honest.  He’s a very smart, eccentric, hilarious and open young man. A young man who happens to be dating my boyfriend’s sister.”  He made an odd face. “I don’t even care anymore  They aren’t related by anything, so all the more power to them.  They’ve been together for a year now and seem the happiest I’ve ever seen either of them. I probably should mention that Jaime is about 19 years younger than myself.  His sister is only 27, and my son 23.  It’s not a huge age difference between the two of them. “

“Interesting.” Kelly raised her brows, but then she smiled. “Well, I hope the best for all of you–whatever life may bring your way.” Then she happened to catch a glimpse of the clock on the wall and sighed before looked back at Tenshi. “Unfortunately, it’s about time for me to leave.” She rose to her feet, taking her empty cup to throw away on the way out, but she gave Tenshi a brilliant smile. “But it was a pleasure to meet you! Thank you for answering all my questions regardless how…blunt they may have been.”

Tenshi stood as well, pushing in his chair and tossing his trash into the bin next to the door.  He stood in front of her, looking down at her and smiling at her brightly.  He held out his hand again for her to shake. “It was a pleasure to meet you as well, Ms. Blanchard.  I hope that we can meet again.  I would like that.”

She shook his hand. “It would be a pleasure.” With that, she smiled once more and bowed her head respectfully before leaving the coffee shop.


E.M McGowen’s story, ‘Les Cœur a Ses Raisons’ is not yet published but is due to be released sometime in 2017. Follow her on social media for more updates!




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