My marriage is, in a word, grotesque. My wife and I harbor a deep mutual hatred that springs from having ruined each other’s life. We wallow in a swamp of resentment. I abominate her. Here’s why.
On Friday when I met her for dinner at a Mexican restaurant not far from where we live, she immediately noticed that one of the little belts that goes around the left sleeve of my overcoat was missing. I hadn’t spotted the loss myself, but apparently I said the wrong thing:
She asked me where I could have lost it. I said anywhere. After volleying the topic back and forth for a few sentences, which led to her reminding me that the coat had been a pre-wedding gift from her mother, so I should feel more duly guilty and sheepish, like the good Christian I’m not, we finally got up and ordered some food. She ordered a chicken burrito and tortilla soup while I had a vegetarian burrito starring avocado slices. As Hemingway and Yahweh would say, it was good.
Jina of course complained about her burrito, criticizing it for being both too large and too salty. I found mine delectable. She then griped about the music (a song by Jim Croce, though it wasn’t “Time in a Bottle” or “I Got a Name”), saying it sounded like Korean “trot” (old-fashioned stuff from the forties and fifties that’s heavy on vocals–a Korean version of Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald, say, or, if you’re Japanese, Misora Hibari). She only likes Christian-themed music, so she’s hard to please in that department as well, (un)naturally.
Afterwards she was still hungry, so she led us into a burger joint to order a cheeseburger and French fries for herself. I told her I was going to go back and look for the overcoat belt, since it seemed so important to her that I retrieve it like a good little doggy. What I hadn’t mentioned before was that I’d actually arrived in the area an hour earlier from work than I’d told her, which had given me time to have a surreptitiously delicious mug of beer, and to stop into a bookstore after that and pick up a copy of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. The reason I’d kept it hush-hush was that she has a shit-fit whenever I drink, even in moderation, but I figured that as long as I brushed my teeth and further camouflaged my breath with a yogurt drink purchased at a convenience store, she wouldn’t notice.
On the way back to finish retracing my footsteps, I went into a self-contained toilet complex. A man was standing around inside, evidently waiting for a client. He lurked outside the stall when I went in to use it (meanwhile combing the shady confines for the missing coat-belt), and was standing in front of the urinal without taking a piss when I left. I wanted to say something like, “You’re barking up the wrong tree, fella,” or “Larry Craig! Can I have your autograph?” but I was too creeped out by the matter to crack jokes and wanted to get out of there as rapidly as possible.
Besides, I was a man on a mission.
I went back to the bookstore and briefly explained my predicament to the clerk, before looking around there to no avail. I was going to head all the way to the bar and the subway station where I’d started out, when my phone rang. I answered and told Jina I was in the subway station (which would make it hard to explain the traffic noise all around me), but not the same one I’d been on my way to. I told her I’d see her in a few minutes as she grumbled about my taking so long.
When I got back to the burger joint, she was nowhere to be found. She called me again and demanded, “Where are you?” I told her and she barked at me for not staying in the subway station, where she’d gone to meet me.
“I thought you were going to eat your food in the restaurant,” I replied.
She grew increasingly livid, until we were shouting at each other over the phone. A middle-aged guy in a suit smoking a cigarette came up to me and asked if I wanted a room. I yelled that I didn’t and walked away from him to get away from his attendant toxic cloud. The air in Seoul is already polluted enough without having to breathe some asshole’s cancerous contributions.
Jina asked me why I’d taken so long to look for the belt, then figured out that I must have gone on a detour. She shrieked at me for lying to her, then alluded to my having covered up a slush fund several months ago.
“Don’t go home,” Jina screamed at me over the phone. “I don’t want to see you.”
“What are you talking about? I have to go home to change my clothes.” I also wanted to put down the heavy bag of books and teaching materials I was carrying.
She hung up on me and I walked ahead to catch a bus up the hill. I walked part of the way down to our building and looked in the window of our apartment before entering. It was still dark so I figured the coast was clear. My intention was to put the bag down and get a little cash so I’d have enough to tide me over unless I needed a cheap place to crash, or else sit up in a bar all night reading my book.
Jina’s voice greeted me harshly from the other side of the bathroom door, asking why I’d come home. I grabbed the cash, ditched the bag, and put on my shoes to leave. After I’d made my way down the hill, she pursued me and asked why I hadn’t called her. I stopped and we talked for awhile; I can’t remember the details specifically; that was too many arguments ago. Our upstairs neighbors appeared with their dogs. The daughter said nothing, which was unusual, but the mother was very friendly, as she invariably is. Jina even put on her nice, neighborly face for a split second before returning her attention to me.
To my surprise and (I guess) relief, she let me come back home. The only problem was she was just getting started. I can’t remember exactly what re-triggered the argument or what resurrected her wrath, but all of a sudden she was in my face again. I think it might have been something I said about her religion, or money, or how our marriage is a fate worse than death.
Anyway, she raked her fingernails across my face and brandished a slipper, which she shook at me ferociously. She got close enough to brush my cheek with the filthy specimen. The cut she’d inflicted happened so quickly I didn’t even noticed she’d drawn blood until a few minutes afterwards. Rather than apologize for the wound, she basically said I deserved it.
Later, she said she was leaving. She put on her coat and cap, grabbed her handbag, and left, despite my weary and unheartfelt protestations. Strange as it might sound, I didn’t really want her to leave, as I knew she wouldn’t go very far and I might have to drag my ass out into the night to retrieve her. Instead, we played phone tag with text messages and I insisted that she come back home. She was out on the street. I could hear the cars whooshing by. When I said our marriage sucked, she said she would “end it.” I thought she meant she’d throw herself in front of passing traffic, so I said, “Don’t do that.” When she sounded confused, I explained myself.
It was one o’clock in the morning, and I’d been up since five a. m. I needed to get some fucking sleep. And I didn’t think she’d do anything serious to harm herself, as we’d been through this kind of shit all too many times before. She called again while I was in bed and said she couldn’t get a taxi. She went to the church to sleep there but said it was too cold. I asked her if she wanted me to come and get her, though I made it clear that it was not high on my list of favorite things to do.
Finally, and much more quickly than I would have thought possible, I heard the key turning in the lock and she re-emerged. She came into the bedroom, shivering and moaning, then went to the bathroom. She was crying. I got up and went to give her a hug. Her hands were freezing. She said she’d prayed for a taxi, and that a cab from another city appeared and the driver had given her a ride, even though he claimed it was illegal. She thanked him, of course, and thanked God for being so nice.
The next day we went to a cafe and had several cups of coffee. I read a book while Jina took a nap. Eventually I got up to use the toilet, neglecting to lock the door, since there were so few customers in the place. While I was still sitting on the throne, a guy opened the door and I made a disapproving sound, orally. A moment later, as I was engaged in a particularly private act involving toilet paper, the door opened again and I shouted at the man who appeared to get out. I was literally em-bare-assed.
After I flushed the toilet and washed my hands, I stepped outside the rest room and demonstrated knocking on the door. Then I muttered a stream of obscenities and accused both of the guys who’d walked in on me of being fucking idiots. Jina tried to calm me down, but I insisted on carrying on, despite the presence of two foreign children, both girls, who were probably no older than ten.
Then I left the place ahead of Jina, still fulminating to myself, and walked to the bus stop. When she didn’t appear, I called her. No answer. I went back to the place and found her arguing with the girlfriend of the second guy to open the rest room door. I apologized shoutingly, telling both of them that life goes on and hurt feelings are a part of it and they’d better get used to it. I then apologized more sincerely to the proprietor, even though afterwards I was pissed off at her and her co-worker for not having alerted the two customers to my being in the toilet.
The whole incident could have been avoided if I’d had the presence of mind to lock the door in the first place, but my pride was too overweening to admit that until I’d had some time to cool down. The anger virus gradually moved to Jina, who was mad at the girlfriend for chewing her out. Later, when we were back home, she got mad at me again instead, saying the whole situation was my fault. I told her I probably wouldn’t have blown my top if she hadn’t clawed my face the night before. She accused me of being cold, then attacked me verbally for not communicating with her better. She pointed out how I’d grabbed a piece of leftover fried chicken for dinner instead of telling her I was hungry so she could prepare something for me and we could eat together. I apologized and she picked up the steam-cleaning device we use to wash the kitchen floor and swung it overhead against the arm of the sofa several times. I told her to stop. I think she managed to hit me in the shin with it once, which would explain why it’s bruised now.
A little later we went for a walk up the hill to buy some raw pork and beef at one of three butcher shops in the neighborhood, each one embellished with illustrations of smiling pigs and cows (apparently animals just love being murdered so they can serve ravenous and insatiable human appetites for gore). She held my hand but I withdrew it when she started caressing my palm with her index finger, an action that drives me nuts because it tickles, but not in a good way. We also bought some processed ice cream-like products and went back home.
While we were sitting together having some fried pork dipped in sesame oil and salt, thunder rumbled outside and lightning flashed. Jina said such weather was unusual for this time of year, then said ominously, “Global warming.” I agreed, even though she had to spoil everything by saying the reason God was changing the weather was he was angry at the human race for condoning same-sex relationships (better than no sex, right?). I told her that was ridiculous and she lapsed into Sunday school teacher mode until I managed to deflect further fictionalizing and denunciation of irrelevant parties long enough to go brush my teeth, read a few pages of Moby-Dick, and go to bed.
She stayed up for several more hours, her attention fixed on the computer, I assume, probably looking at photographs of clothing on display and listening to preachers hawk their disingenuous wares to the credulous multitudes who go in for that kind of thing.
I was happy just to be unconscious for a change. Whenever one of us is unconscious, for the other one it’s a goddamned vacation.