“I have wondered…
Why you cannot hear
All the glass inside your syllables
Slide off the table
Whenever your mouth
Opens and is then closed.”
-Robin Coste Lewis, The Wilde Woman of Aiken
When Alice called me, I knew something was wrong, even though she cracked jokes and laughed like she normally does. And eventually, the same topic came up: Christian. He’s fucked up again.
I lost track of the number of times she’s called and told me he’s hurt her. Once, when he said Chinese food wasn’t “refined”. Another time, when she was upset by a potentially racist/sexist waiter and he told her she was making a big deal out of nothing. And that golden afternoon in October, when I was in Yonkers waiting for the 25 bus, and she called out of the blue. It would have been three a.m. in Hong Kong. I could hear car horns and changing neon lights in the background. She told him she was breaking up with him. She was out on the street looking for an empty hotel room. She said she was tired of being unappreciated, tired of being the only one to change the baby’s diapers and feed her; tired of cleaning up after his blunt but sharp words and cutting her hands in the process.
I was so scared. I told her to stay with a friend, but she was too embarrassed for them to find out her marriage had come to a standstill for the night. Probably because she was the “prettiest” friend, the one with the handsome architect husband and the new minimalist apartment he designed and her beautiful mixed-race baby.
When she finally did go home, did he realize what he had done? Did he allow her to feel victorious? Or did he tell her she reacted like a mental woman, and to never pull that shit again?
The mixed-race baby spends time with our mother, her grandmother; she speaks a mouthful of broken Chinese strung haphazardly together like a macaroni necklace. But Christian can only feel jealous that his daughter doesn’t know as much German. Maybe he feels like he is losing her to the Yellow Side. He cringes when mother implores the baby to call random ladies on the street who coo and pinch her fat arms a-yi. Aunty, a familial recognition, a closeness Chinese women afford each other when it comes to children. “They’re not family,” he says, “and they shouldn’t be touching her without our permission.” My mother knows just enough English to understand him, but pretends she’s oblivious, so the baby continues to be intimately inspected by strangers.
Mother also feigned oblivion when she got a fever while on chemo and he didn’t go see her once in her one-week stint at the hospital. My mother said she didn’t care. It’s cultural, she said. Westerners don’t care as much about family as we Chinese do.
And then there was that most recent day, the day Alice got an unexpected period. The fertilized egg had only been inside her for three weeks or so, she told me, so it wasn’t a big deal. But mother told me later that she called, crying. And after, Christian said that she shouldn’t have told anyone she was pregnant in the first place. That it was too early to share. That now, everyone would know that she had miscarried, and it’d be an awkward disappointment. She had started to miscarry after he had penetrated her and when she told him she was bleeding, all he said was, “So? What can I do about it?”
She could only really laugh it off now, because what the fuck answer was that? I laughed too. Christian, the 43-Year-Old Boy Idiot, the Asshole Douchebag Dickhead. Marrying him was like caring for an extra child. Loving him meant constantly looking for signs of a brain. The jokes are thin eggshells, each containing a yolk of discontentment. Alice cracks them and pours their viscous insides out. They fry into beautiful blooms, flowers we gently feed each other. I attempt to wrap her wounds in white linen words, softening my tone to combat the static. I talk shit about his fragile white masculinity, knowing she is listening on the other end, hoping she is healing. You are strong, I say. It is holy to bitch, I say. He’ll never change, she says.
I wish he could change. I wish he had run to the bathroom when she started bleeding. I wish he had held her when she was scared, and told her he was sorry, that she would be ok. I wish he had visited my mother at the hospital and brought her flowers, and attempted to speak broken Chinese for a minute or two, just ask how are you? even if he didn’t understand the answer. I wish he wasn’t so rigid, so fragile, so threatened by the cooing a-yis, his daughter’s macaroni vocabulary, the heat and sweat of a fiery wok. If he could just embrace these things the fire would warm his glassiness, temper it into something rounded, smooth, and maybe, just maybe, stronger.