As the recent unseasonably hot weather in the United States reminds us, Mother Nature could be the most formidable terrorist of all. I’m here to tell you about another terrorist, God’s less-than-ladylike daughter, my beloved wife Jina.
If you’re a city-dweller and you’re anything like me, you probably don’t like to waste time waiting for buses, especially on miserably cold days after you’ve finished a grueling shift teaching children how to care about learning English, the language of the corporate imperialists who are energetically enslaving the world. Of course, I’m crazy about English, not only because it’s my native language (duh), but because it’s just so goddamned beautiful. It never ceases to amaze me (excuse the cliched clause) how brilliantly Vladimir Nabokov learned how to write in English when it wasn’t his native tongue, with a hell of a lot more panache and joei du vivre than boring old Joseph Conrad. I’d never heard Nabokov’s actual voice before, and from his photo I imagined him speaking in a deep, slow monotone, but when I finally did hear him on You Tube, I thought he sounded more like ancient radio comic Ed Wynn, only more effeminate and breathless, as if he were engaged in an espresso-drinking contest during an apple-bobbing ceremony with a bunch of drag queens (not to disparage that way of life as a viable option).
Anyway, yesterday afternoon, after I’d finished teaching, I waited with Jina for our bus to come. It had been an average day in terms of stress, but I was still tired and eager to get home. Keep in mind that Jina and I disagree about almost everything, down to the last detail. Also, a pattern has set in that we seem to always miss several buses before we catch one home. We could walk home easily enough; it’s only a ten- or fifteen-minute hike, but the weather, as I said, has been nastily cold, with a fierce wind that mutilates your pores and makes you want to bury yourself alive.
Jina, on the other hand, doesn’t mind missing tons of buses, frittering our useless lives away, maybe (as I can only conclude) because she believes in heaven, and life is but a dream. Of course, when it comes to work, she’s as efficient as a dry-cleaned Nazi, and as serious. She actually has a great sense of humor; she just reserves it for times when I feel like shit and don’t want anyone to annoy me with fruitless attempts to cheer me up.
I declared on our way from the school to the bus stop that I wanted to catch the next available bus home, in almost the same breath that I apologized for making us miss the little green bus that eluded us as we walked down the chilly sidewalk.
She insisted we retreat into the sanctum of an ATM zone, even though I scoffed and said if we did the next bus driver wouldn’t stop because there’d be no one standing on the sidewalk waiting. Surely enough, as we dug into the cookies I’d bought on her credit card in the morning, along with two candy bars and a teeny carton of milk for my thermos of coffee, the bus blasted past us, and I went outside alone to wait for the next one.
A few minutes later she beckoned me to join her inside, where the action was, but I remained at my freezing post (I exaggerate slightly; but, to be fair, a few snow flakes did fall on Seoul from the sky on Saturday, not that I saw them). As another lime-green bus appeared from around the corner, refreshingly less-than-packed, I frantically ran over to signal her, but when I didn’t see her in the windows of the building, dashed back to board the vehicle.
That’s when the trouble began.
You see, when I called her from our friend’s cafe up the hill (I’d left my cell phone in my coat pocket at home), she was so livid, she said she wasn’t my wife anymore (hooray!–just kidding, sort of) and asked why I’d abandoned her. I said I didn’t want to waste time hanging around instead of getting home where we could relax and let our hair down. She remained unconvinced, and said she wasn’t coming home.
I apologized to our friend who owns the cafe and went home.
A few minutes after I arrived, Jina stormed in, took off her shoes, and approached me at the very chair where I sit now. She pushed down the computer screen and pointed at me, her finger nearly at bitable range.
“Why did you leave me there!” she cried.
“I’m sorry,” I said, knowing it would be futile to present my case. Not that that prevented me from saying, “I didn’t feel like wasting any more time waiting for buses.”
“I looked for you for five minutes before I came home.”
How traumatic! (Just kidding.) (Please keep in mind that Seoul is a preposterously safe city. I’ve lived here for six years, and so far no one’s either shot, stabbed, strangled, burned, or mugged me–not that there aren’t a few things to be afraid of.)
We yelled at each other for several minutes, even though I yelled apologetically. When I turned the computer back on and said not to disturb “my” computer, she said it wasn’t “mine” since I’d lost “mine” several years ago, implying that this contraption is in fact “hers.” I said, “Okay, our computer,” to placate her, which was, of course, bootless.
When she pushed the monitor on the laptop down again, I held the computer to my bosom as if it were a defenseless babe. I had a feeling she might pick up the coffee cup on the table and throw it at my head, or else throw the computer against the window or the wall.
“I hate you! I hate you!” she screamed. (For the record, I had used her credit card this morning to buy the items mentioned above without her permission, even though we’re bordering on broke, so she barely had enough money to buy the supplies she needed to teach our class; then again, she has kept me on an allowance for years, even though I worked my ass off for five years, sometimes teaching seven days a week, and usually six, in accordance with this sadistic Korean custom in a society that’s generally known to the outside world as patriarchal–although, to be fair, in many ways it definitely is.)
Standing right beside me, she jabbed her finger at me several times. I stood up and held her in a bear hug, careful not to squeeze too hard. She used her fingernails to “flay” my “wolvish visage” (to quote King Lear advising Goneril on how to handle Regan), but at least didn’t go as far as Regan and gouge my eyeballs out. I laid her down on the floor and she cried, “Miwa!” which means “I hate you” in Korean.
She proceeded to gather a few things together in her small backpack and threatened to leave, a situation we’ve been through a gazillion times before over the years (minus the gratuitous violence), and said she wasn’t coming back. I locked the door after she left and returned to Alternet to finish reading an article on the benefits of the Buddhist metta, or lovingkindness meditation.
Less than fifteen minutes later she was back. She said, “Why should I have to leave? You should move out.”
“I’m not going to move out. You’re not moving out. We just have to learn how to get along, that’s all.”
This is after having said that I wanted to die, that we had to get divorced, that we hated each other, etc. (All this I mentioned during the above action-packed exchange.)
In with the finger-pointing again, which led to another bear hug, and this time she swiped my neck with her nails and left a welt there that smarted even more than the initial face-slash.
Luckily, the battle was short-lived, and after she’d had time to retire to the bedroom for several minutes, she came out and apologized. I forgave her, because I am the reincarnation of Jesus (just kidding–that’s a gig I don’t think I have either the virtue or the energy to handle), but not enough not to secretly contemplate the wisdom of nullifying the marriage as soon as possible.
She expressed horror at the wounds she’d inflicted, but I told her it was okay. When I looked at them in the mirror, long after stanching the initial blood flow of the first savage attack and applying some antibiotic ointment to quell the pain, it looked as if I had a long tear of blood flowing from my right eye, although it didn’t begin until the Nike-swoosh-shaped purple crescent that’s burgeoned there over recent years. The mark on the left side of my neck was like a hickey given by an oversexed alligator, something I might even be grateful for at this point were it to happen in reality.
Now I’m off to join her in teaching the kindergarteners. Since neither of us wants anyone in our immediate lives to know what kind of hijinks ensue behind closed doors, I told Jina I’d tell people I was attacked by a friend’s cat.
I will feel guilty in doing so, however, not only for concealing the truth, but for badmouthing cats, whom I love as a special species, even though I have been clawed by them before.
But that was a long time ago, before the shit hit the windmill-sized fan.