I work, I train, I meet friends. Even when time is completely taken up by obligations and responsibilities, without you, part of me remains hollow.
I work, I train, I meet friends. Even when time is completely taken up by obligations and responsibilities, without you, part of me remains hollow.
A door, stockings, jazz playing
After girls scout I took the kids to Trader Joe’s and Safeway at their request. On their shopping list, Skippy peanut butter and apple sauce with cinnamon. They got their wish and then some. Unlike most children, they don’t get to go to grocery stores often, in part is that I cook maybe once a year and I dread going to grocery stores as much as I dread going to Target. In return, when I do give into their demands by going to grocery store, it becomes a rare event that likely results in them scoring rare snacks like kids Z bars, cherry juice and mint candies - yes my kids have strange taste. So they sing and dance and celebrate their finds in grocery aisles, often creating a scene.
Earlier tonight my trainer was telling me that men get bored with the same sexual partner after a while, maybe it’s six months, maybe it’s a year, depending how often you have sex with the same person. By that math, he said, if you have sex with the same woman only every 2 - 4 weeks, it would take 10 years to get bored of the same woman.
I was thinking how these two are related. You see, if you do something all the time, it gets boring, but if you have the will power to refrain yourself from giving into your desires, you could make something ordinary like going to grocery shopping, or having sex with the same partner, exciting. The key, of course, is the will power. Too often we jump into something too quickly, we expect things will last, passion will last, lust will last, desire will last, but then it just becomes routine, be it sex or going to grocery stores.
Perhaps the secret to desire, is to allow enough distance passes.
Arrived. Friday evening.
Met up with a friend. A platonic friend who you’ve known for a long time. Had not anticipated the rain. Was ill prepared. Did have a new book to read on kindle app on the phone.
No internet. No cell phone coverage.
Stripped down to nakedness and jump into the hot pool. Friend was someone you went to Russian bathhouse with before. Had seen you naked, not attracted to you and vise versa.
Friend also knew everything about you. Someone you often saw on a regular basis. Someone you used to go and cry when B royally pissed you off. B only wanted what he wanted. It was all about him, his pleasure, and his interest. You knew at the core you played an insignificant role but you liked it nonetheless. The two of you would never survive a weekend. He would probably get mad of you for something. He would probably expect you do exactly what you were told. He would probably get upset if a guy looked at you in a flirtatious way. He would be mad. You sensed that about him. He wished that you were a doll, something he could take out and put back. That was B. But Friend was different. He knew a lot about you. Because when you formed a platonic relationship you could be yourself.
Slept naked, then went and got dressed to eat a meal, read a book or played a board game with your friend. He picked a game at the library, it was not that much fun, but he played it with you because you wanted to. Then went back to the couch to read. You read a chapter, he did too. So retreated back to the room. You had him sit on a chair while you were on a swing, first chatting about health care, or, lack of in this country, Japan (he liked Japan, a lot), France, and in general, exotic travel, then more personal matters, you came to find out that he had arrived in California eight years ago, after completing PhD in the best physics program in the country, an Ivy League school, and then proceeded by doing a post doctorate with his professor’s recommendation at another renowned school in the Bay Area. You mocked him, “Really, I did not know. You mean you are kind of smart?” He laughed. shyly, and said, “You never asked. I asked about you. I know about you, but you never asked of me.” You remembered meeting him for the first time. A Northface jacket, a messenger bag. Looked lost. You mocked him so then.
Said with sincerity this time, “what else do I not know about you?” Proceeded to find out that he was born into a doctor and architect family in New England, and his brother a doctor as well. Father and Mother in New England, divorced when he was fourteen, brother and brother’s wife in Indiana. “Yikes. Indiana. Corn fed.” You were disturbed by the Midwest connection. B was from there. He knew that about you as well. You knew that he did not care for his sister in law. Someone who was born and raised in Indiana, overweight and tedious, often complained. He did not like many people, especially women. He liked them smart, and beautiful. He often criticized them. Except you. He had an unique view of you. He talked to you about those women whom he bed, how they tend to be dumb or unusually demanding. Or smart but not attractive. And when you winced, he would say to you “stop doing that to your face. You don’t look attractive when you do that.” When you cried over B, he would try to hug you in an awkward way. He thought you could do better, but when asked, he offered no one to you. So you told him B would do. B was the only person who ever said “I love you.” He said, “Saying ‘I love you’ is easy. That’s what he knows to retain you. But does he really love you?” You then said, “I suppose not. He and I have never gone on a day date. He had never taken me out for breakfast. We’ve never traveled together. I’ve never met his friends.” He then scoffed and then walked away, and you heard him say “we need more wine.” He fetched the bottle you had brought to this trip, and poured some into your glass, and then his.
"So, you are kind of smart from a smart family." You snarled at him in that usual way and he looked at you, helplessly. "Fat Bitch." He said, jokingly, but more resigned. You looked hurt. So he said, "Bitch." He sort of adored you in a brotherly way. No matter what you said. You remembered once he got depressed and said, "I don’t know why you are still here. What did I do to deserve you?" You looked at him and said, "I don’t know. You will be fine."
Came to find out not only he was smart, but also aware. And deep down a person who essentially shared the same political views and of the same social economical status. On top of it all, he was articulate and easy going but firm on ideology. And you had very similar ideology. Thank goodness.
Never saw him like an equal though. Always got annoyed by his pathetic dating stories. Because he had severe insecurities. Not sure why. He good looking, tall, well educated and incredibly smart.
Smart like yourself but different kind of smart.
Post doctorate smart in some ways. You liked intellectual men who were in the science field. Nano science. What the fuck was that? Some space alien shit? You wondered sometime. Someone who had enough smarts to keep up with you. But you did not know that he was so easy going. Like you.
Easy going. Collaborative. Caring. Independent. And incredibly fun to do things with. Like SCUBA diving. He dove. He skied. He travelled. But he was insecure. No matter what his education was. He was insecure because he liked good looking women who were smart. And good looking women who were smart, were all taken. Thus his depression.
He came to discover more things you did not tell him before. Surprised by your complex and difficult past, he then asked. “Why is that you married someone who’s never around and get yourself involved with another man who’s never around? How do you feel?”
Stared at the sky as the rain was coming down. “I often look at myself as if I were not me and I am examining a stranger from far away. And I feel sad for her. She’s lonely and terribly afraid of intimacy. Desperately looking for love in the wrong places. I just feel so sad that I want to cry, for her. Yet, she does not feel the sadness. She just keeps on going. She’s always laughing and is happy as she can be.”
He did not say anything after that.
Read books between lunch and dinner. Felt tired. So put your head on his stomach and your legs kicked up on the firm bed pillow and drifted into sleep. He did not move. He did not touch you (you’d punch him if he ever did such thing), you fell asleep. He would not dare to touch you unless you were falling into the woods and needed someone to grab hold of you.
Woke up at 6:10 PM. He looked at your cell phone to check the time. Time to get up. Jeez you had never felt this content with another being. You hated yourself for thinking that way.
At 11 PM, in the dome hot springs pool, later in the evening, you drifted into sleep in the pool as he played in the water, rehearsing for a scene. He was an improv actor on the side. He acted when he was not doing some space alien science stuff. Dreamed of the pool drained of water. Woke up in time to grab his hands to head into the kitchen, where he poured himself a glass of water to drink. Drove back to the cottage soundlessly. Room # 11, it was 74 degrees. Just the way you liked it.
He did not argue about the warmth of the room, it was fine the way you set. Most men complained. Too warm. Too cold. But he let you. He was surprisingly easy to get along with. The best man you’d hope for to travel with. In fact so perfect you began to fantasize a life with him. He had an answer for most of the things you did not know. He explained things. He was even keeled. He was emotionless like a typical WASP. You two would never have sex.
Asked, “Do you want to get a massage?” He said, “Okay but I’ve never had a massage before.”
Massage lady liked him. He was good looking and pleasant. Smart and unassuming. She said that he had perfectly shaped ears. She wanted to know why it took him so long to come here. She also wanted to know who he came with. He said, “just a platonic friend”. You had a thin white hair man as yours, thin white hair man like John Slattery. He was firm and seductive, as they all were. At a nudist colony, even massage became a heightened sensual activity.
You suspected everyone was having sex but he and you. It was known for swinger conventions, polyamorous community lived around here. It was a nudist colony with lots of hidden messages passed among the regulars. You were here to soak and unplug. It was a much simpler intent. He was as good as a cat. Just someone to pass time with, occasionally you might need to feed him. And he paid his share. Even better than a cat.
Kept on talking. Or not talking. Kept on finding out things you two had in common. Kept on finding not obstacles to sustain the friendship but wondered what if you two found each other appealing in a sexual way? Would it be a match made in heaven or hell? Except that you would not. It would be gross and terrible.
Once he was feeling slightly aroused. So you said, “I’m warning you. I am not having sex with you.” He said, “If we did, there is no turning back.” You wondered what it meant. How to turn something back. Why should it be turned back. Would the road lead you to a totally different path if you two had sex? More importantly, how weird it would be to have sex with your brother, had you had one. You could not find him attractive even if you tried.
He described your anatomy to you. “They looked like those root beer pops.” He said. He was not into your large boobs with firm nipples, or anyone’s large boobs. He wanted a white woman with flat stomach and long legs. You offered none of that. You wanted a man who desired you and used you. He was cleaning your make up using his bare hands in the pool, your makeup was smeared after getting out of the wet sauna. He was wiping your running mascara off your nose when you all of sudden felt like letting it be smeared all over. Who cared what you looked? The nudist colony was filled with good looking and not good looking people. But nearly no one wore make up. He did that in a way out of politeness or pity. As if he was horrified by your smeared look. He did not want you to cut your hair also. He did not want you to make silly faces. He did not want you to wear that candy striped dress. You remembered once going out and he said, “Why did you dress like a candy stripe? Do you have anything else to wear?”
Woke up in the morning. He brought your clothes to you in the morning so you could get properly dressed. He looked at your naked body in a complete uninterested way; it made you less motivated to put your face on. But he thought you looked good in make up so you painted your face. Asked if you looked awful without it. He said, “you looked different.”
He’d be a great husband to someone. Straight out of Jane Austin novel. Polite. Tall. Handsome. Who read science books and discussed world matters in such a formal way, as if he knew everything. You bred his children and served him tea and biscuit in the afternoon in the sun room. In the evenings you retreated to your own bed chamber as he drank whisky and smoked a pipe. You counted the days since you two had sex. It would be two weeks. He was due to visit you in a couple of nights. You were ambivalent about the prospect of getting undressed in front of him.
You were tired and you wanted to sleep in the evening. You asked if it would be okay if you used vibrator. He said at first, no, then he said, “okay, no moaning”. You said, “fine, I would be super quiet”. You came, silently, with your vibrator. He already turned off his light and put his book down. You thought he already fell asleep.You turned off the lamb next to you. Pushing a large pillow between the two of you. Like a fort you separated your nakedness from his.
You thought, this was how a terrible marriage would be like. He who could not access his feelings. You who could not acknowledge your feelings.
He called you his Chinese wife. You rolled your eyes. How cliche to pretend!
"Yellow fever was very 1990s. Now it’s just status quo. You missed that trend by about 15 years." You broke his fantasy.
You laid on your stomach, hands on your cheeks, and asked him questions as he sat on the chair and answered them. Properly. You wondered if he was always like this or he was like this with you. He was a perfect conversationalist. Judaism, that was what you two discussed. He was an atheist, like you. Libertarian, like you. More social program would be good for the society. Higher taxes would benefit the greater good. But small government. Always small government. Gun control. For it. Your transformation from a hard core Republican in early nineties to a Libertarian in early two thousands. The contemporary history of the communist China: Great Leap Forward, the severed relationship with the Soviet. The Korean War, the Famine, the Cultural Revolution. You covered it in extensive detail. You had once written a book, published. Still getting residuals. He did not know that and was slightly taken off the guard. ”Is there anything you don’t do?” He asked.
You wanted breakfast. He woke you up. Still mellow and even keeled. He had been sitting on a Mission style chair. You stretched. “What are you doing?” You asked in your sleepy voice. “I’m reading.” He was always reading. Went to the cafeteria and it was serving a huge thing of vegetarian omelet. You felt happy. He was too. You brought organic jam to him. He tried some and liked it. You let him eat the rest. You two spent the most time together over the years. Every holiday. Every other Friday evening. Once you parked right by B’s place to see a show down the street with him. He held your hand as you walked down the hill with your six inch heels. Wanted to cry for no apparent reason. He was somewhere else that night. He was thinking about another failed attempt to romance. How strange two perfectly content people would be so discontent.
Asked if this was a good trip. He said, “Thank you for meeting me here. I’ve always wanted to come here but did not like do things on my own. You were so sweet to invite me. You were sweet to buy me a coffee and breakfast too.”
Sweet. Just great. Sweet was how you were to him. Sweet would not be the word you’d use to describe yourself. But sweet nonetheless to others. You were annoyed by him all of sudden.
But instead you said, “Thank god you are not pain in the butt. I was dreading that you’d annoy me. Turned out you were perfect to travel with.”
Ride home. He offered to drive. “Is it because I’m Chinese and a bad driver?” You asked. He said it was because he’s evaluating of buying a new car. Smaller. “Why not get a TDI VW”? You suggested. He owned an Audi. You used to own one. It was nice to be driven. He was a decent driver. Too tall for your car though. He was 6’2”. Every other boyfriend you had in your twenties were 6’2” with brown to dark hair. The other type of boyfriends were blond hair and blue eyes, less than 5’11”. Half of the boyfriends called you sweet and kind, generous and forgiving. The others called you a ruthless bitch with psychotic episodes accompanied by menacing laughs.
Ordered lunch. He would not let you order a burger. “It’s not feminine. Get the Croque Madame”. He often ate your food off your plate. You imagined him eating the bloody burger. You liked burgers rare, with blood dripping down, from Peter Lugers. Croque Madame was good, as it turned out. It had a nice egg on top, farm raised. “I like soft boiled eggs. They are common in Germany and Austria. But in Scandinavia, you find hard boiled eggs instead, but they serve pickled roe on top, and it’s equally delicious.” You talked about Europe as if it was your real home. You had homes in varying parts of the world. But only Western European countries made you whole.
Supposed the two of you were married. You’d be just as he wanted: intelligent, pretty, sweet, already financially secure and bring home the bacon. He’d be perfect to bring home to. He was tall, intelligent, more than educated, smart, good looking, and really good to you. He would never desire you. You’d never desire him. You’d have tons of things to say to each other. When he left for work, you’d be finally alone and you’d cry. Because you wanted to know what love was and who would love you.
Harbin Hot Springs
When I was 20, I learned to camp and play golf, because that was what the boyfriend liked. Then I had a boyfriend who loved SCUBA diving when I was 22, I picked that up as well. At 23, my Norwegian boyfriend, who was a ski fanatic, wanted to hit the slopes every winter weekend, I got sucked into snowboarding. My next boyfriend was a Canadian ski pro and I got to perfect my carving skills in the Canadian Rockies, which in turn impressed my Danish boyfriend later. A boyfriend got me hooked on sushi, another lived in Boston and got me eating lots of pasta in North End. A man liked symphony and Jazz and we had season tickets, Later on, a boyfriend introduced me to Harper, the magazine and This American Life. Much later on, a man I loved handed me a Lorrie Moore.
I kept on thinking I was a product of many other people I had come in close contact with, because I had a habit of pleasing them and wanted to form common interests, some at their requests, other at my own initiation. None of the hobbies and interests were developed on my own.
In a desperate attempt to find myself, I set to find new, unique things that separated me from the men I was affiliated with. The journey took me to long distance running. First half marathon, then marathon, finally, long distance high attitude trail run. It was the first and only thing that originated by me, with no external influence.
Yet I could not deny that golf, SCUBA and snowboarding were the three activities I enjoyed immensely, despite the fact these men who got me started on them had long ceased to exist in my life, in every sense of the word.
For a while I felt like a fraud for having picked up these interests, hobbies, likes or knowledge from somewhere else. Eventually I came to terms with it. While we might be influenced by others in acquiring interests and hobbies, it did not affect how we were as individuals. Ultimately we picked and chose things we liked (I disliked ultimate frisbee or chicken parmigiana - liked and cooked by two boyfriends in my mid twenties, for instance), and how we came into first contact with them is irrelevant. I had since golfed, SCUBAed, and snowboarded on own and with others, and no one ever asked how I first got started. It was as if they just assumed these were part of who I was. And who was to say that I was not any those things?
I am grateful for these people who had introduced me to something new. I am also glad that I’ve been flexible and open to new things. It is because of my experiences, interactions, and ultimately my love for these people who had or have been in my life, that I became the person I am today. And I like me just the way I am.
In Asia, there seems to be a lot of idle time. Time to eat lunch, wait for food to arrive, time to rest, time for a massage, time for watching TV, time for friends to show up for dinner, time to wander around the street. There just does not seem to have a lot of stimulation, therefore when one…
Ocean Beach Roses
Joshua Tree National Park
At that precise moment, we stood in front of the white bookcases, and I asked, “Is there any good book you could recommend?” He answered, as if he had been anticipating the question, “I was just thinking what you might like to read.”
He walked closer to the Pottery Barn floor display like bookcases and pulled out a white colored hardcopy, and handed it to me. “Here, you may like this.”
For years I asked for book recommendations from him. Sometimes he’d tell me, other times he’d be dismissive and say he had nothing for me.
"Do you want me to send you a kindle version?" He offered.
"No, that’s fine. I sometimes like paper books. They are less distracting." I said.
Once before I was heading to Savannah, he handed me a book by Iris Murdoch, it was the right book during the right period of my life. I had since evolved from it. I had revitalized my own conviction: I believed in monogamy and faithfulness. It required contemplation, distance, and acceptance of others, but in the end I knew at the core I needed no alteration. I was always me. The book taught me how.
I packed this white covered book, during my trip I read until sun down. In a span of a few hours I had devoured one third of it.
When I held the book, I was thinking about how he had somehow gotten to know me, from the first Christmas when he handed me one book, to now, one book at a time.
And a relationship was formed, through books and afternoon sunlight, with the occasional meals thrown in.
During our encounters I would always ask, “What books would you recommend?”
I knew he may not have a book for me, but I still asked, each time.
74 degrees Christmas Day.
From that same window where I had observed sun rising from the sky, I saw two clotheslines hanging from one side of the house to the other. A retractable wheel that allowed one to pull the clothes in and out, after they had been sun dried and kissed. There were four black shirts hanging on one of the two lines, the further out one, and three gray shirts and a pair of white underwear hanging on the line closer to me.
I stood by the window, where I often admired the rising sun over the bay, and I watched the clothes being blown gently by the southern trade wind. This was a beautiful apartment, one that I could get used to. One I had gotten used to, on occasion. The clotheslines reminded me of another house, another house I owned, a similar clothesline hung from the deck. It was installed by the prior owner. If you traced the line, you’d see it ending at the other side of the street on a pole. The backyard ended before the line ended. The clotheslines used the same mechanical component. I was always fascinated by it. I liked how it went on and on. On that deck I could see the bay also, the east bay. At that precise moment, I had a daring thought. I wanted to invite B to see my other house.
B stood next to me, and said, “Isn’t that cool? I wanted to do a photo documentary of the clothes that have been hung on those lines. It’s illegal to have clotheslines in San Francisco, can you believe it?”
"Such a shame." I answered. I liked clotheslines. I liked clothes hanging on the clotheslines. They smelled wonderful, like the sun, like the spring, like the air. They took on the surrounding environment. Whatever and however the world smelled next to them, they smelled like them. It became them. My old house in the hills had a clothesline, though they were not used. It was surrounded by eucalyptus trees. I wished that I had strung some clothes. At my house now, I had built two clotheslines in the backyard. But I rarely did my own laundry, my maid might have done something with the lines, though I was never quite sure. As she came in during the day, before my return. In the French country home, there were two clotheslines as well. They were strung from the stone walls to the large pine trees all the way to the back of a deep yard. No doubt my previous owner, a middle age Bostonian blue blood woman, used wooden clothespins to clip on her colorful silk dresses she worn in the summer, next to the lilac bushes.
"Often they would have different colored clothes on the lines. There was a pattern." B continued. That day, it was rather monochromatic. B seemed disappointed. I pictured some days there would be a rainbow colored soft silk shirts all lined up. They’d be blown by the gentle wind, and instead of clothes, they would look like the colorful blue and red silk drapes hung just below the translucent plastic ceiling at a typical Southern Indian open market.
Earlier that afternoon, B and I laid quietly next to each other, we had drifted into sleep, after we’d done exploring each other. He asked me about my childhood after I woke up. So I shared some stories.
Once B wrote to me that he wanted to get to know me more, about my childhood, my life back in the motherland, and my background. I found myself telling B about moving to a high school where they had a dormitory and how I ended up in one when I was only 12. I had been out of the house since I was a young girl. B listened and occasionally asked questions. I had gone back to my journals from 1998. I learned that I used to tell him all those stories, or at least somethings about me, as he fed me green tea ice cream after we devoured sushi. In bed he used to say how much he liked me, how I was both fragile and strong. But B had forgotten about our past, our dates and our embraces. We were once close, and then we drifted apart, by the time we came back to each other, we had to start all over again. I knew nothing of him. He knew nothing of me. We were two strangers who were drawn to each other’s scents.
"What are you?" I asked.
"I’m part German. Part English or Irish." He answered as I examined two old photos of his ancestors on the wall. They moved to Nebraska. He said.
Last year while I was sailing in Europe, he visited his relatives in Nebraska with his son. I knew so little about him, yet I remembered everything he told me.
Under the sunlight I saw wrinkles on B’s face. I saw not the young man I first met but this mature man who held my affection.
I asked him what time our Christmas dinner was, he said, “on the early side”.
I laughed. “Yes so that we could take advantage of the early bird special for senior citizens. Like the Sizzler.”
He replied, “Yes, in two years. Then I could.”
In two years B would enter the middle age. I realized that I liked this version of him much more. We needed to both grow apart, to start different lives, before we could meet and be together again.
For his middle age birthday, I had promised B that I would take him to see my homeland, somewhere far and away, somewhere ancient, somewhere clotheslines were strung in every street corner, on which cotton sheets and baby onesies, young woman’s bras and grandma’s handkerchieves were hung.
Every year we do Turkey Trot, separately, together. 10K, you are always faster than me. You, in your beanie hat, I am in a race shirt. I send a photo of me at Turkey Trot to you, and you me.
"I miss you." You’d say.
Apart, we finally found our synchronicity.