You’ll probably think I’m being paranoid, which is entirely possible, but I have a distinct feeling my wife Jina is trying to murder me. You want to know why?
As for her motive, it’s certainly not money, as I don’t have enough of it to make it worth breaking one of the Ten Commandments–in all likelihood the most serious one, unless your name is Yahweh, in which case it’s no biggie. After all, the dude supervised the execution of his own son and got a way with it. I guess when you’re God, you can afford to be the Biggest Hypocrite in the Universe.
There may not be a soul on Earth today who hasn’t been brainwashed in one way or another, due especially to the ubiquity of advertising, political sloganeering, and wishful thinking (not to mention atrocious television shows, insidiously sappy pop ballads, and Hollywood movies that celebrate the heroic exploits of the Pentagon by striving to make the air force look cool through vehicles such as “Top Gun” and “Iron Man”–films that wouldn’t get made with the help of said institutions without their directors’ sycophantic cooperation–just ask David Sirota, author of Back to Our Future; sorry I’ve forgotten the ancillary part of the title, but it alludes to how the 1980’s basically engendered the popular culture that’s held on in the U. S. until today).
But there’s brainwashing, and there’s Brainwashing–the kind of mental hygiene generations devote their lives to. The main difference between Jina and me is that while I’ve been brainwashed by the usual suspects–consumer capitalism, movies, music, fiction, art, and nature (along with a strong strain of self-righteousness derived from a brittle ego I’ve yet to outgrow and might not survive), she’s been taken in by her evangelical church’s machinations and distortions of Christ’s message. The only book she reads is the Bible–apart from the occasional nebulous pseudo-Christian self-help book. The only music she listens to is so-called “C. C. M.,” which I believe stands for “contemporary Christian music.” She no longer drinks a drop of alcohol (although she used to drink several drops–but only when she was feeling nutty and wanted to turn up the volume on her overacted drama). She prays every day and speaks in tongues. She has the worst temper of anyone I’ve ever met, and is absolutely terrifying to be with when she’s on a tear, which is all too often these days–at least a few times a week.
I’m no saint myself. Thanks to her, I’ve all but given up drinking and lost about ten pounds in the process (although I think I gained it back in the past several days eating too much of Jina’s fine cooking at a dinner party we had on Thursday night, along with pizza, dwaeji (pork) bulgogi, and chocolate chip cookies she made for one guest who came over for an encore last night–Friday, that is). I have what I’d consider a number of unattractive qualities that are hard to shake: I can be cynical and misanthropic, at least when I’m getting ready to go to work in the morning; I’m judgmental, petty, and nasty when–to employ a pop-psychological cliche–“my needs aren’t being met.” But I do my best to be a decent person, and Jina can be remarkably decent too; in fact, in some ways she’s increased my decency supply by her own example.
Here’s the reason I’ve grown superstitious about her intentions towards me. A few years ago, while we were sitting in her church, she translated something the minister said for me in semi-broken English in her notebook for my edification. He was reciting a passage from the Bible that said that if a woman’s husband dies, it’s okay for her to re-marry. Fair enough–I wholeheartedly concur. Why the hell not? Shit, women have it hard enough in this world, especially in a patriarchal culture like Korea’s.
The minister, who’s Korean, has pale greenish brown eyes and combs his hair exactly the way Hitler did. Whenever he shakes my hand after the disservice, he stares at me in a disconcerting way that makes me wonder whether he might not have originated in some serpentine netherworld. Jina, of course, adores him, and secretes ten percent of our meager income to his doubtful institution. She’s even planning on going on a mission to Laos in July, a project I’ve encouraged despite the cost, as it’s impossible for me to have a vacation in any sense of the word in her presence. Even though I’ll still be working, that’s what it will feel like while she’s away.
Anyway, fast-forward to two days ago. I mention to Jina at lunch that I told the recruiter who helps me find English-teaching jobs that I would be unable to accept her offer to teach a class every evening for five days a week. Reason? I’d already accepted another job, starting next Monday, that I got through one of the recruiter’s co-workers. I didn’t tell Hannah, the recruiter, the last part to avoid creating a sticky mess. I told Jina that Hannah might have already heard about it from Sarah, the colleague who got me the job. Jina said I was being paranoid. Although a less attractive offer, Sarah’s postion is guaranteed, while Hannah’s would entail waiting another week to find out if the company would give me the thumbs up. Hannah’s would have paid more, but Sarah had also been kind enough to offer me another job working at a language camp for adults for a month. I had to decline due to a commitment to children’s classes and a new class teaching businessmen, even though it would have paid about four grand for a month, teaching forty-two hours a week–talk about a grind. (Then again, although that may sound like a lot to some of you, it’s par for the course for teachers who work at English language institutes during the busiest seasons, during university students’ summer and winter “vacations”; most Korean people don’t know how to take a vacation; all they know is how to work hard and play hard–not that they have much choice in the matter. Life here is one big stress-fest for everybody.)
Jina started yelling at me, telling me I was a fool not to accept Hannah’s offer. She said I shouldn’t have told her about the other job. I argued that since the two women work in the same office and are about the same age, and Hannah even saw me when I came in for the interview earlier in the week–as she said in an email (we’ve never met before, but she recognized me from my photo, even though it was taken five years ago and I’ve hardly aged well since then)–it would have been unwise to string Sarah along, not to say duplicitous and downright ungrateful, since she’d have to find another teacher to fill the position at the last minute. Besides, they could be friends, and if they found out I was jerking them around, they’d no doubt both wash their hands of me (again, Jina wrote this off as paranoia).
Jina failed to empathize and shouted at me as I sat down to email yet another recruiter, whose offer for work I realized I’d have to turn down because the hours would clash with the ones I’ll be teaching for Sarah’s people. I had to postpone writing the email with Jina hovering overhead with a vulture’s tenacity, since I didn’t want her to find out my email password.
She screamed that she was only trying to help me, that I was making a mistake by choosing a job that had a longer commute. I said, trying not to raise my voice too loud to spare the neighbors a (radio) show, that the job I was accepting was only three days a week, versus five, and that I didn’t want to burn out (even though Hannah’s class would have been a little closer to home).
Jina threatened to cancel the dinner party we were preparing, despite her having concocted a large pot of tomato sauce for both spaghetti and pizza, and my having cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed, folded and put away the laundry that had been hanging on the rack, and tidied the joint up considerably. She screeched that she was going to go to her sister’s place (a “threat” she often makes and has yet to deliver on, along with the old threat to take her life or divorce me–a cardinal sin, mind you; otherwise, bring it on, baby!).
My voice now as loud as hers, I said that work is a pain in the ass, no matter what you do, and that it’s just a part of life. (Don’t get me wrong–I’m grateful to have any kind of a job in today’s economy, but in some ways I’m still a round peg in a square hole–to reverse a common expression.) I introduced the proverb “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” but to no avail.
Meanwhile, my heart was pounding violently and asking for a sabbatical. I didn’t blame it. I would have cleared out myself, only Jina withholds all money from me except when she’s feeling munificent, which ain’t often these days. The only friends we have in the area are mutual friends, and I wouldn’t want to drag them into our morass.
When I went in to use the bathroom, she threw her bath slippers at me, called me a son of a bitch, and even flung an empty soup bowl at me. I did a quick Dubya-like shoe-dodge and the bowl shattered against the back of the toilet. The jagged white pieces lay strewn all over the black ceramic floor tiles of the freshly-cleaned cell.
Nice woman! In fact, a little earlier in our feud I’d restrained myself from lashing out at her with a more venomous vocabulary selection and settled for a euphemism by calling her a “mean person,” inwardly relishing the understatement with a straight face despite the realization that: “Holy shit! This is my life!”
Anyway, the party went well in spite of this nightmarish interlude. Last night as we were walking back home, having escorted our encore guest back to her apartment twenty minutes away, Jina held my hand and started speaking in tongues. Usually she engages me in one-sided conversation that’s about as welcome as a bulldozer at a chess match, but the non-sequitur of the feverish gibberish creeped me out even more. I asked her to please stop, but she refused, raising her voice to drown out the devil’s protestations. I thought she might even be casting some evil spell against me, since the high-fat content of the food she’s been preparing lately has been straining my ticker and making me wonder how much more time it’s got. Or else I just have to stop eating eggs and get more exercise.
All this mumbo-jumbo, voodoo, and hocus-pocus likewise strains my atheist convictions and makes me wonder whether there isn’t something to it–if you’ll excuse the litotes. Unless it’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy and I’m heralding Fox News’ Sean Hannity to “deliver us from evil.” (Canceling Hannity’s show would be a good start.)
If I do die and she has her way (assuming again–and I need to give paranoia free rein here for effect–that that’s her aim) before I can get away from her for good–preferably without burning a bridge to Korea, which has become a second homeland–perhaps I’ll go to meet the Buddha in Hell (where she claims he resides) and have to eat beundaeggi (barbecued silk worm larvae, an actual Korean dish either sold on the street or in convenience store cans, the most horrifying “food” I’ve ever seen or smelled *) for all eternity.
And yet, as awful as that sounds, at least I’ll be able to hang with the Buddha–maybe even literally–and I’ll never have to see that soul-crushing, life-denying, wet blanket-throwing killjoy of a monster I was stupid enough to marry ever again, transforming Hell into Heaven.
* It’s a knee-jerk thing for spoiled Western foreigners to whine and gripe about the native cuisine of the places where they’re living and working, but I’m essentially crazy about most Korean food. In fact, Korean people have said of my appetite for their culture’s culinary specialty, kimchi, “You’re Korean.” Considering I still don’t know the language from a hole in the ground, I’ll take that as a compliment.