Tyler Greene and Ziwu Zhou's love story has had many twists and turns, and it all started on a snowy, cold January night in 2012.
Greene, who was house sitting for a friend, decided to check out his OK Cupid account and he happened to see Zhou's profile. Greene messaged Zhou, who had just left Jackhammer and was heading home, and a short time later Zhou had taken Greene up on his offer to come over and meet him.
"That night he read to me and told me all this personal information about himself and we made out a little bit, but didn't take it any further," said Zhou. "I was texting a friend on the way home the next day and told them I met someone, and for me that's unusual since it takes me longer than one sort of date to realize if this is right person."
"We were dating for a month and on Valentine's Day we went to Hopleaf, and after that we were outside of Hamburger Mary's and that's when I told him that I loved him," said Greene. "Ziwu said it back to me but he doesn't remember saying it that night. I remember that night being very romantic. I thought he was someone who was very different from me and could test me in many different ways."
Before moving to Chicago to attend graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago ( MFA in Visual Communication ), Zhou lived in China. He was born in a small town in the Hubei Province and moved a couple of times within the province with his parents before attending Tsinghua University where he received a BA in Information Arts and Design. Zhou now works as an interactive graphic design engineer at HP Software.
"I came out after grad school to my best friend Jinyoung and a year later I met Tyler," said Zhou. "I decided that if I was in a relationship with someone important then I would tell my parents and get their blessing. Tyler and I had been dating for about a year so I decided that I was going to come out to my parents during my annual visit for the Chinese New Year. I came out to my mom the night before I returned to the states while we were staying on the 28th floor of a hotel in Beijing. She told me that if it weren't for her parents, she would jump out of the hotel room window. I told her that if she jumped I would jump too. She couldn't believe it and thought it was a choice. We didn't say anything to my dad at the time but my mom told my dad three days after I left China. I told my mom that I was dating Tyler but she didn't want to hear anything about my relationship and told me to break up with him. China is very different because there isn't much infrastructure for families of LGBT people. My mom finally told her parents and two brothers and they were really supportive of me being gay and that helped my mom a lot."
Shortly after his visit to Beijing, Zhou's doctors found a tumor in his spinal cord that required immediate surgery. Zhou had chronic shoulder and back pain for years and after seeing a chiropractor she recommended that he get an X-ray since nothing she did was helping to alleviate his pain. The X-ray didn't show any irregularities but his chiropractor wasn't convinced and got him an appointment to get an MRI. That's when the doctors found the mass in his spinal cord.
It took Zhou three months to recover and, while he was in the hospital, Greene stayed with him every night. Zhou's parents were still coming to terms with his being gay, so he had to hide the fact that he was in the hospital recovering from surgery; they would ask who was taking care of him and he couldn't say it was his boyfriend. Earlier this year, Zhou finally told his family about the surgery and revealed that he'd been living with Green all along. Greene explained that Zhou's parents have accepted him into their lives and thanked him for being there for their son. Now when Zhou Skypes his parents, Greene is right by his side.
"Ziwu's grandma, who is almost 90 and has been a part of nearly every social strata within China, was the one who was the most accepting," said Greene. "She really wants me to visit China."
Greenewho is the Assistant House Manager for Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, Events Coordinator for all of WBEZ's live events and Producer for The Moth-Chicago StorySLAMgrew up in the small town of Galesburg, Michigan. He graduated from Kalamazoo College with a BA in Theatre Arts-Media Studies. While attending college, Greene did an internship in NYC and worked as a production assistant on an off-Broadway play directed by Terry Kinney ( one of the original founders Steppenwolf Theatre ) and spent a year in the study abroad program at University of London, Goldsmiths College.
After graduating from college, Greene spent a year teaching English in South Korea and, since he already knew people in Chicago, he decided to move here when that assignment was finished. His first job was as About Face Theatre's social media coordinator before moving on to the Steppenwolf Theater as a call center representative.
With Greene's experience in the storytelling realm, it was only natural for him to eventually tell his own story. When he was asked to participate in Sidetrack's storytelling series OUTspoken! he decided to recount Zhou's surgery story and how that brought them even closer together. Right after Greene finished his story, Zhou proposed to him in front of everyone and Greene immediately said yes.
"It was the right moment because he was telling my surgery story to an audience," said Zhou. "While Tyler was telling the story, I was reliving that experience and got so emotional and was shaking. At the last moment it occurred to me that I had to propose right then, because there wasn't going to be a better moment than that moment. We'd already planned on getting married but no one had officially proposed. Tyler told me that if anyone was going to propose it would have to be me because he'd be too nervous to do it."
"Never in a bazillion years did I ever imagine that he would propose that night," said Greene.
The couple will be married on Oct. 11 at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park where Greene produces many of WBEZ's live events.
The couple is looking forward to sharing their special day with family and friends although Zhou's family won't be able to attend the ceremony. Both Greene and Zhou think it's kismet that their upcoming wedding is intertwined with the OUTspoken! storytelling series.
"There's something about OUTspoken! which has been captured by many people's sentiments. The feeling is when you walk in the room you're comfortable right away," said Greene. "Art [Johnston], David [Fink] and Kim [Hunt] and the Midwestern way that they start the show makes everyone feel welcome. Everyone leans forward and listens to the storytellers in a way that I don't see in other venues. You can feel that everyone is leaning forward while you are on stage. I was very nervous. I've heard hundreds and hundreds of stories because of The Moth. What I love is when people are vulnerable, honest and raw as well as prepared and when I listen back to my performance that's what I heard."
Greene's story was also featured on Kevin Allison's RISK! podcast under the title "Like Lovers Do."
"I was getting tweets from people who've listened to my story thanking me for sharing part of my life," said Greene. "Because of Kevin's popularity it's in the top ten of the storytelling section on iTunes. Of course everyone was coming to hear Margaret Cho but they stayed and listened to my story afterward."
To listen to Greene's OUTspoken! story, visit www.risk-show.com/podcast/meant-for-each-other and go to the 52:45 mark.