Jeff and I met at a tech company in 1995 when I interviewed for a job I was fantastically underqualified for in sales operations. I’d just graduated San Jose State with a bachelor’s degree in English and had been working part-time in the IT department for a mid-sized global networking company in Santa Clara, the heart, or at least a ventricle of the heart, of Silicon Valley. In fact, half of my family members worked there, which is how I got the job—brother-in-law, his sisters, their brother-in-law, their brother-in-law’s brother, my sister and, eventually, my brother. At work, sometimes people would ask me how we’re all related, and I’d need to get on the white board to map out the family tree.
I knew nothing about computers, nothing about working in an office, nothing at all about IT. But because I felt so behind after having dropped out of high school and running off to upstate New York with Jimmy, I immersed myself in an unhealthy way in the job, learning as much as I could, as fast as I could, volunteering for everything and anything. (So much so that a full-time staff person once expressed shock to learn I was just an intern.) You need someone to work the midnight shift? I’ll do it. You need someone to answer the IT help line for East Coast users at 6 am Pacific time? I’ll do it. You need someone to sit in the frigid server room to monitor the servers for the entire company? That’s me. You need someone small to crawl beneath the floorboards of the server room to fix some cables? I can fit. I was twenty-six years old, starving for experience, recognition, advancement—anything to catch up to everyone else around me. Before I knew or understood that we’re all on our own personal timeline. Long before I knew that one day I’d become a writer, and having a teenage runaway story would be something of a jewel for me.
When I saw the job posting for the systems analyst position in the sales department, I had the balls to apply. No one in my family, with one exception, had dared to venture outside of IT. It was like the Filipinos belonged in the support role, in the building in the back, not in any front-facing roles in the company. Behind the scenes. Unseen. Always accountable if anything goes wrong. This new role would be in Building 100 where the executives and sales and marketing teams sat. The most important and powerful people in the company where all decisions were made. That I had the guts to enter that building thinking I could work alongside them makes me smile today. There’s a reason we’re all naïve when we’re younger; that naivety moves the world, makes the impossible happen.
Jeff emerged from behind his colleague Kevin in the conference room on the fourth floor of Building 100 and shook my hand. I can only describe that moment as a white out, all my senses so activated my vision went blank for a few seconds. As if I knew on the spot my life would be split between pre-Jeff and post-Jeff. He had a dimple, fresh face, fit body. He exuded health and wealth. He was Asian. I hadn’t dated an Asian man in a long while. My current ex at the time was English. My serious boyfriend before him was Jimmy—the white, long-haired, drop out, weed smoking, motorcycle riding boyfriend I ran away with to Hyde Park, NY, his hometown. That men like Jeff existed excited me. That someone like him lived and breathed in the world and intersected with my life on that day felt unreal.
They proceeded to interview me about my skills and background, and I even got up on the whiteboard to show them how I would use software tools to replicate sales information nationwide and globally within twenty-four hours, back when real-time data didn’t exist yet. How I’d be the ideal liaison between the national sales team and IT given my 10-month experience in the IT department as a part-time intern. Later I would learn that Jeff said, “Her voice is mesmerizing. Let’s hire her.”
We’d spend the next seven years on and off in a serious relationship until he’d announce one day while I was studying abroad in Ireland for a master’s degree that he was engaged to another woman. Around the middle of our time together, I’d meet his family and spend time with his sister who had a Black Lab. I didn’t spend enough time with her family to grow close to any of them or their dog, but somehow this animal made a strong impression on me. This dog linked me to Jeff, his family, our connection, our intense desire and attraction, my deep hurt and disappointment. After my total breakdown in Ireland after having learned of Jeff’s engagement, I’d fly home and recover for several months, including gaining the weight back that I’d lost. I needed a dog, a companion, something to take care of, something to ground me in San Jose and the Bay Area, something to think of other than myself. And the only dog that would do was a Black Lab. If I couldn’t have Jeff, I could have a physical being that served as evidence that we’d once shared a life together. Isso started off as that link between me and my ex. And over the years, he became much more than that.
At first, it bothered me that Isso wasn’t a full Black Lab, like Jeff’s sister had had. A Black Lab mix. Mixed with what? Shepherd. Border Collie. His nose longer than a pure bred, his body leaner. Little wings of hair grew out from the sides from his neck. When he was a puppy, I’d try to smooth them back, try to make him look more like a regular Lab. Tried to preserve the image of Jeff’s sister’s dog through my own dog. Until one day, when Isso was a few years old, I sat down next to him, slipped my fingers through the course hair sticking out, and pulled outward to fluff it up, giving him a stately mane that was his and his alone. For the rest of his long life, I’d continue to play with the mane, make it stick out as far and high as I could, accepting him for exactly who he was, loving the perceived imperfections so much he grew to be wholly perfect inside and out. Trying hard to accept my own self-created imperfections.