Some people believe fighting is healthy in a relationship. Some people are crazy.
Yesterday, after taking a lengthy nap to herald the New Year (which was after spending a couple of hours mulling over what to purchase in a bookstore, and an hour before that teaching a fine group of adult students English conversation), and after eating the delicious homemade pizza my wife Jina had kindly made for us, I sat down to hang up my laundry.
At the bookstore I’d decided to buy the new Rolling Stones album, yet another in an endless series of greatest hits/best of/anniversary editions (Mick needs a new swimming pool for his private golf course), bizarrely entitled Grrrr. I’d already bought their last such endeavor, Forty Licks, a few years ago, but I left it back in the States during my last visit home. Grrrr has a lot of the same songs on it, almost all of which I can happily play in my head by pressing a button next to my ear. Still, I hardly ever listen to music anymore, and it’s nice to be reunited with the early works of one of the most indestructible bands in the history of rock and roll, veritable musical cockroaches who’ve earned their place in the pantheon of talented white dudes who more or less successfully imitate the great African-American blues legends who influenced them.
All that’s by way of saying that I decided to put the first of the three discs containing the new collection into the clunky old see-dee player and give it a whirl. I wasn’t half way through the first song, Come On (which, miraculously, I’d never heard before), when Jina asked what I was listening to. I told her, and she came in and turned the music off, switching to a Christian radio station (fortunately it was talk instead of music so I didn’t have to blow my brains out).
That’s what started it. I’m too numb to write out our epic exchange of hostilities in quoted speech, so we’ll have to settle for an indirect account. I hope that’s okay with you. She reiterated her feverish claim that rock musicians are in league with the devil–“You can see it on You Tube” (the modern version of the Gospel, for those of us not in the know)–and said I needed to practice listening to Korean anyway.
My knowledge of the language is so abysmal that I didn’t even know what the chatterbox on the radio was talking about. It wasn’t until I heard the word aboeji (Korean for “father”) that I realized he was a Christian D. J. doing his shtick.
I told her I begged to differ, that I hardly even listen to music anymore anyway (I’ll bet you can guess why), but refrained from raising my voice–yet–since she’d been nice enough to make the pizza for dinner, along with some kimchi stew. But then she blamed me for keeping her from going to her Wednesday night church service, even though I’d said I’d prefer that she did that to staying home and including me in a private round of boring worship, which would have included a few biblical passages and hymns to remove the warts from my soul. (Apparently, she hadn’t heard me right.)
I put poor Mick and Keith back in their case without drawing attention to it, as I didn’t want her to come down on my head like a ton of termagant-shit for spending 21,000 won on music (which is a great deal–meaning “cheap,” versus “a great deal of money,” when you think about it, even though most people just download music themselves these days; I don’t since I’ve heard it rips off the musicians–the indigent Stones need more gold sovereigns in the bowls for their beggars’ banquet–although I could be wrong).
With a sigh, I finished hanging up the laundry, deflecting her offer to help, suggesting she go take a rest after her labors in the kitchen. A few minutes later we were circling each other in that room; one thing led to another, and, exasperated by her blinkered, dogmatic world view, I told her that the Illuminati were not on the verge of taking over the U. S. (she claims this big event is due to happen this year–mark your calendar), that there is no God, and that we shouldn’t waste our time arguing since life is short, there is no heaven, and when you’re dead, you’re dead.
She held her ground above my head on the clouds, warding off my infidel’s blows, and parrying with her usual sacred spiel. I also said the idea that rock musicians are all on Satan’s payroll (while appealing as a metaphor) was bunk, although I used a stronger word, one that comes in handy in these situations: bullshit. And hardly original bullshit at that. People said the same thing about the Beatles’ White Album forty-five years ago and held up as proof the Manson-family murders, as if John, Paul, George, and Ringo had sat down with Charlie M., Squeaky Fromme, and the rest of the gang and said, “Okay, here’s what we want you to do. . .”
After a lot of bickering and a wrestling dance that sent a shower of dirt from one of the potted plants behind me onto the floor, she said she was going to leave. I didn’t try to stop her, but calmly suggested she stay (knowing it was futile and she’d come back moments later anyway). At one point she barged in on me while I was sitting on the toilet reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada, or Ardor (which may be the only other work he ever wrote that comes close to achieving Lolita‘s grandeur). This she does all of the time, usually taking the book away (but where the hell else am I supposed to read?).
Anyway, she left for a few minutes, then re-emerged, her eyes obscured by the fog on the oval lenses of her glasses. She said she wanted a divorce. I said that sounded like a good idea. But usually when she says that, it’s just a set-up to test my love for her; I’m supposed to say, “No, let’s stay together.”
A few minutes later, things had somehow returned to normal, and we sat down at the kitchen table over a couple of cups of citrus tea she prepared. She had a winning brainstorm and combined it with ginger tea. I complimented her on her culinary epiphany.
Then, somehow, we started arguing again. Part of the argument involved my saying that arguing was an unconscionable waste of time. I blamed myself in part for participating in it, but not enough to stop doing it. Jina was an art major and is a talented craftswoman in the area of drawing, painting, and sculpture. I suggested she resume these activities (but only if she enjoys them). She said she was taking a rest (as she has been for the last ten years). When I told her she’d have to start over again from scratch, she told me that back in the U. S., when she did a couple of accomplished watercolors, that they came out of the blue (meaning God’s backside), as she hadn’t worked with watercolor paints before. This was her way of saying that she didn’t need to practice, due to the inevitability of divine inspiration (which may be the most foolproof, along with the most self-deluding, argument for laziness I’ve ever heard).
All the tea was keeping my bladder hyperactive, so I had to go back to the bathroom to empty it. When I emerged, she was storming around the apartment, saying she’d had enough.
She said she wanted to divorce me, but that God didn’t want her to.
“Why don’t you tell God to go fuck himself?” I asked in a less than calm tone.
We reverted to a physical struggle like two budding sumo wrestlers, coming apart long enough for her to deliberately knock over the electric fan that was blowing on the laundry, along with the clothes rack itself. I’d been carrying a towel I used to wipe the condensation-drenched windows every couple of hours to stave off mold. It wound up on the floor.
She hurled her slippers at me. We clashed again. She tore at my shirt and squeezed my right bicep with her fingers, bruising my arm.
Apparently, my remark about God hadn’t gone over well.
We agreed to get a divorce. Then she went into the living room, closed the door, and sobbed for several minutes while I righted the fan–which still worked–and reassembled the clothes rack. I didn’t want to bother her and, based on her tone, didn’t think she wanted to talk to me anyway. A little later, she re-appeared and said I could teach the children’s class myself, without her help. That’s when I relented, as she knew I would, like a sap. She knows my weak points.
(She also had me vacuum the dirt from the house plant, even though it was nearly midnight,not that consideration of the neighbors’ right to a good night sleep would have been a consistent position to take).
But she said it was too late for us to work it out, that I hadn’t comforted her earlier. I said I had to go to bed. Then she got down on her knees, her face red, and cried, imploring my forgiveness. At first I thought she was being sarcastic (she’d done this once before, and I was just as wigged out by it the first time), then I realized she was serious.
We kissed and made up without either kissing or putting on make-up. She explained that God had told her to stick it out. I said more politely than before that she might want to suggest to God that she try to find love with a more suitable guy (so I could get the hell out of the marriage with impunity). She apologized for saying such hateful things to me, and I did likewise.
Don’t ask me who won. I couldn’t tell you. God.