Saturday, August 30, 2014

Three Loves Seven, Chapter 16, Part 5 - "Hairfall by Moonlight"

Dear Gentle Readers,

Is anybody out there? Hello? Oh, it's Labor Day Weekend. Everybody's at the beach or attending a barbecue someplace ...

Well, when and if you eventually get around to reading this, you'll find it's basically the part of the standard story formula after the "Boy Meets Girl" phase, namely the "Boy Gets Blue Balls" phase.

There's a remark between the characters here about happy endings in Chinese fairy tales. Those stories about dragons, judges, exorcists, demons, ghosts, and whatnot, are heavy influences on me if you couldn't tell.   If you haven't read many, you should, but the endings never wrap up cleanly. When I was small, I hated them because of that. But later realized the "unhappy" ending always make you think about the story more. If only one of the earlier steps were different, it would have been better for everybody. They invite you to be a story-writer.

So, you are probably wondering whether this story will have a happy or an unhappy ending. We're many weeks away, but I will let drop here that there that I'm not sure myself, so there will be both an unhappy and a "happy" ending and I will give you both. But eventually I'll have to pick one. The happy ending is already written. The unhappy one is being worked out in my brain as a ride the train home from work every day. But hold on, we'll get there.

And so we continue. The story:

I declared the post-film discussion over coffee to be done and advised Feng that I would then take her home. Everybody piled back into the jeep and we returned to Feng and Wen’s cottage. It was silent as we made our way back over the bumpy dirt perimeter road, but it was a contented, restful, thoughtful silence. I parked and Feng waited for me to come around and offer my hand to assist her in alighting. We walked to her screened in porch and stood there to talk just a bit. I looked around. We were by ourselves.
     “We seemed to have lost the class,” I said. “I know they got out of the back of the jeep. I heard them.”
     “I am sure they are nearby,” said Feng. “I suspect the older ones have instructed the younger ones to stay back. I owe you an answer to any question that you want to ask, Dr. Wong. Now would be a good time.”
     “I don’t need you to tell me anything you don’t want to offer.”
     “That hardly seems fair. You’ve disclosed much more about yourself than I ever would have asked.”
     “Would you agree that sometimes a story needs to come out of you? Whether you want it to or not?”
     “There has never been anyone for me to tell that to. And telling something like that comes much more easily, when you know you’ll probably never see the listener again.”
     “So you think you will never see me again?”
     “After I leave, no. You have your life here. I’ll probably never be approved for another visit. I seem to be nothing but trouble here.”
     “You ARE making the case for denial quite easy.” She paused. “Wen’s sire is the scion of an old Dog Island family who once had the responsibility for maintaining our rice terraces before the Great Earthquake and Surge put them under the sea. We were never married. He is in fact lawfully married to a wife with whom he has three grown children at this time. They all live in Protectorate territory.”
     “Wow,” was the only thing that could come out of my mouth. “Feng, you don’t …”
     “Do you think poorly of me now?”
     “Are you still in contact?”
     “Not since Wen was conceived.”
     “He knows she exists?”
     “He does.”
     “He has offered no support.”
     “I have forbidden it as a member of the Royal Family. As you might imagine, this situation is … awkward.”
     “Do you want to be with him? If he had no wife, I mean.”
     “Wen knows who he is?”
     “Does it matter what I think? About you?”
     “I would like to hear it.”
     “What I think … is that I had a lot of fun with you tonight. If we were in Los Angeles, I’d ask you out for real.”
     “And I think I would probably say yes.”
     “You need to work on your opening.”
     “Oh and now you’re an expert?”
     “I learn fast. Thank you, Clete.”
     “We are both people with a history. It’s embarrassing not to have a history when you get to our age though. It means you haven’t lived.”
     “Indeed. Thank you for telling me your story. It was sad though.”
     “What are you talking about? It had the typical happy ending for a Chinese fairy tale.”
     “Happy ending?”
     “The demon girl goes away and the son becomes a scholar! Turn in your Chinese ID Card right now. I’m confiscating it.”

We both had a good laugh at that.

     “There’s something I’ve wanted to do all night,” I said.

I reached up to her hair ornament.

     “I get the feeling if I simply pull out this rod, something interesting will happen.”
     “No, don’t …”

The great knot that held all of her hair on top of her head, fell down about her like a great waterfall of hair. It was a marvel. I expected her hair to hold a wave, but no, the weight of all of it pulled it long and straight.

      “Wow,” I said.
     “Your second use of that word tonight. You need to expand your vocabulary Dr. Wong.”
     “It shines in the waning moonlight. I’m impressed.”
     “So glad you approve. I suppose it had to come down at some point tonight. That is a certain weave and braid we have developed here which is all held by one pin. ” She threw her head back to get strands out of her eyes. “Are we done then?” she asked.
     “There is a finishing move. And the man makes it at a certain peril.”
I took her hands into mine.
     “It’s just like the first approach and gambit. He has to read the woman correctly to see if it will be well received.”
     “I see. And what is the peril?”
     “If he does it wrong, she won’t want to see him again.”
     “Well, seeing as how we will be together here on this Island for another several … mmmmph …”

Taking her hands was purposeful. She could not raise them to slap me as I put my mouth to hers. I could swear I heard some squealing in the vicinity—probably the Seconds. I had moved in easy and gently. The taste of her lips brought back a replay of everything we had consumed together that evening. Tea. Coffee. Sugar. Salt. Tomato and basil. And definitely the taste of Feng. She did not pull away. I let her hands go so that the slap could come. Thankfully, it did not.

     “So that’s what it’s like to kiss a princess,” I said.
     “Is it disappointing?”
     “I’m just glad I didn’t turn into a frog. On the contrary, it’s VERY nice. For someone who spent nearly two decades in a colony of women and girls, you’re a natural at this.”
     “I think I need to study this sensation a bit more. . . for education sake? Do you mind?”
     “To higher ed and social science.” I needed no additional prompting, but I thought we needed some privacy for further exploration. “Let’s move to the back of the cottage where it’s a little darker and away from prying eyes.”

I led her by the hand around to the rear. It had been years since I held someone like this. It’s surprising what the arms and hands remember how to do. We leaned in close to each other. I put my arms about her and kept my hands on shoulders and back. Natural instinct was kicking in on her too. Our kissing became deeper and intense. I pulled away for a moment.

     “Clete. That is so . . .”
     “It’s strange. Suddenly you smell, . . . wonderfully tasty.” She pulled me back into her for another round. After a bit, she broke off and pushed me off a bit.
     “Oh God, Clete! What’s happening to me? I feel, I feel . . .”
     “Maybe we ought to … to step back into the light?”
     “Oh GOD, no. This was a bad idea. A REALLY bad idea! Wen? WEN! Get over here.” She put her hand to her chest.
     “Something wrong?” I asked.
      “Mother? Is something the matter?” It was Wen who was by us almost immediately. She must’ve been close by.
     “You need to take me in the house. Now. Good night Clete. It was wonderful, really, but I have to go. I cannot be in your presence for another moment. No, dear, not inside. Take me to water. I need to cool down. I am so hot! To the bathhouse.”

As Wen guided her mother away she made a gesture to the other girls who were still out of sight. I’m not sure what it was but it had the nature of a fist pump. It had indeed been a pleasant evening. Topped off as it were with at least the motions of physical pleasure. But I stood there feeling somewhat empty and hungry. This, I now remembered, is what I hated about dates. It just filled you with a sense of unfulfilled longing and physical frustration. A voice of disapproval sounded off behind me and brought me back into the moment.

     “What did you do to her?” It was Lee.
     “I just kissed her goodnight.”
     “You KISSED her?”
     “It’s customary to end a date on a kiss. For educational purpose, I assure you.”
     “What is the meaning of all this anyway? What possessed you to run this … what’s the word in English? Charade?”
     “You want to know what started all of this? You. She originally came to me with a question about you.”
     “And Feng learned that you are trouble.”
     “I didn’t intend for it to turn out that way.”
     “This is not your hometown. Nobody knows how to react to you. You need to take others into account.”
     “Sorry. I’ll try to do better next time.”
     “So. You enjoy kissing her?”
     “A gentleman does not talk about his female companions, especially regarding such things.”
     “I am glad to hear that you have some restraints. You said she originally came to you asking a question about me. What did she ask?”
     “She asked me what my intentions are with you.”
     “Your intentions?”
     “She was concerned that I seem to spend a lot of time with you.”
     “Why would that concern her? She’s one of the ones who assigned me to monitor you! I am supposed to spend a lot of time with you! To make sure you stay out of trouble.”
     “I told her that exactly.”
     “What an IDIOT! And tonight I leave you alone, at her asking, and look what happens to her. She gets all emotionally overworked and over-stimulated. Ha! She is like a civet in heat now. It is her own fault. I do not feel sorry for her.”
     “I think . . .” I added a high note of conjecture into my tone, “that she feared that I might be manipulating your emotions and setting you up for a heartbreak.” Lee’s mouth opened so wide that I thought everything around us would fall in.
     “THAT GIRL! She think she so smart! Smartest one of all of us. She fall into her own insecurity!”
     “Lee, you’re getting excited. Your verb forms are going plural. . .”

She decided to curse me in Cantonese. I’m sure she selected it because that’s what my people speak. God I love the sound of southern Chinese dialects in heightened emotion. It’s like the climax of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” I think I got called a “rotten turtle egg” somewhere in there. The insult is not so much the content as the delivery. She eventually finished.

     “Lee, what are you doing here anyway? How did you get down her so fast from your place?”
     “I was in the back of the jeep with all the girls. Such a bad driver. You weren’t even paying attention to your passengers. I needed to see if you can drive my jeep in the dark.”
     “Did I pass the driving test?”
     “NO! I am driving back. You almost rolled us. You come along while I shut down the generator.”
     “Why do you need my help? You’ve been doing that for decades.”
     “I do NOT need your help. What I need to make sure of is that you do not go anywhere near Feng. You are to be watched tonight. You will help clean up the porch and cooking area too. I will not be getting any sleep tonight it appears. Get moving.”
     “Actually I think Wen was taking her to the bathhouse or the lake. You’re treating me like a child boy.”
     “Act like one, get treated like one.” Lee gathered Ling into the jeep and we started toward the utility station. “What did you tell her your intentions were with me?”
     “I see my main job here is to make you happy.”
     “HAH! Congratulations, you have made me laugh—for once.”
     “Ah, you’re getting used to me. See, I figure that if I continue to conduct myself as I have, on the day after I leave, you will feel like you have died and gone to the Pure Land.”
      “And may that day come sooner than later! What kind of drinks were you concocting at my house tonight?”
     “Instant coffee. If you’re going to stand guard duty over me all night, I’ll make you some.”

© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Malibu morning picture of the day - Friday, August 29, 2014

Good morning, family, friends, and gentle readers,

It's Getaway Friday for Labor Day Weekend 2014. If you're checking in to read this at your office computer, then I'm so sorry...

It's blue on blue today.For those of you coming to the beach to soak up the sun, you will have chosen wisely. There's no point in showing any other viewpoint taken today, so I will backtrack to yesterday and Wednesday for a moment.

Thursday, at quitting time...

Some Malibu notes:

From yesterday, going home--on the right you see how the water is white and frothy, flaring out? That's the private beach are of the community called "The Colony" where very rich people live. In fact there is a household there (maybe they're still there, I don't know) who were so powerful that they got the county to disallow the school where I work from turning on the lights in its signature theme tower at night, because it bothered his non-Christian religious sensibilities (if you're close you can see the silhouette of a cross backlit).

Last Wednesday morning, on my way to work after
at short beach detour...
Anyway, that apron of white is usually not too large, but with the hurricane-induced high surf, it extends out quite a bit. The camera captures some of the whitecaps (indicating turbulence) that were all over the sea yesterday evening. If you live there, you paid eight figures for your house.

The long narrow strip of white on the left is the breaking surf of the famous Surfrider Beach. If you start on the right and things break just right, you can basically take what? A ride on the waves of about three city blocks? It's obvious from here how long that surf lane can be. Plenty of time to do some tricks and fancy maneuvers I'm sure.

In the middle of the above picture you see a curving dirt trail between trees on the right (the Colony) and the flat space on the left (Malibu Lagoon). The picture to the right is taken from that path, looking back up to the school--two pictures on opposite sides of the expanse.

An extended thought for the day:

Today is August 29 which I always remember as two people's birthdays; the late singer Michael Jackson whom I think of as an exact contemporary since he was born one day before me in 1958. I'm sorry he's gone--I have lost my yardstick in life to see how well I'm doing against the best of those babies born at that time.

The other person is Veronica Lopez who held  the role of receptionist and the office of "Hot Chick" at my first real job at an insurance brokerage in downtown LA back in 1980. Nearly all the senior managers and practically all the important clients were older men in suits, and in later years I came to understand she was strategic eye-candy and a flirting foil to put those guy-clients in a good mood while they waited for their account manager to come on out and take them back.

AND she was excellent at that. She never dressed revealingly. She moved with a deliberate and elegant swish. She had clear pale skin, deep brown hair cut short that bounced when she turned her head, and just the right amount of severe makeup on her face to make her look a little angry. She was frequently dressed in black and put in--no, make that posed--within a dark hardwood backdrop that was our reception area, setting her off such that she appeared to glow when she smiled to greet you as you stepped off the elevator. AND she never had time for the young men (all of us mere boys) in the office other than a polite greeting. That brokerage hired several other receptionist during my time there, of equal or surpassing physical giftedness, but never anyone who served the office so completely.

As men progress through their lives, certain females appear at pivotal points who fulfill the image of the ideal of beauty and grace when they are ready to learn that lesson. Veronica was one of those for me, an aspect of Helen of Troy whom the Goddess lets you gaze upon and appreciate (and they are not all young physical beauties). My advice to men is never marry those women, because they will eventually become just people who eat, burp, piss, fart, shit, make mistakes, and get drunk, sick and old, just like you. Once you have learned that lesson in beauty, you will get to see and recognize that ideal in the woman that you do marry, your daughters, your bosses and subordinates, and really all females. Keep the pedestals for the ideals.

How did I know August 29 was her birthday? She mentioned it to me one day in passing since the company policy was to give you your birthday as a holiday and she noticed mine was almost the same as hers. And of course, the friggin' male population in the office celebrated it with her ... come on!

Have a wonderful long weekend.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Malibu morning picture of the day - Thursday, August 28, 2014

Good morning all!

High surf is still clobbering Malibu with waves from a hurricane, but we're back up on the cliff today.No huge crowd of onlookers at Surfrider Beach like yesterday.

As you approach Malibu on PCH, there is a place where the coast turns and from that point on there was a lot of fine spray suspended in the atmosphere. Basically think of it as a saltwater fog created from waves crashing against rocks. You can kind of see this phenom in the picture above compared to other pictures I've taken in the past.

To the right is the view a bit more to the west. You can still see the effect of spray hovering over the water.

The week is winding down folks; time to hustle to get your completion log looking respectable. Get to it!


PS: And this from sizvideos tumblr page that I just had to share. No explanation is needed of why this is interesting.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Malibu morning picture of the day - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Greetings Gentle Readers,

Today a different point of view instead of standing up on the bluffside parking lot of my workplace.

The news report said there would be big waves today because of storms elsewhere in the Pacific, so look out for rip currents. These hard-core surfers didn't seem worried about riptides to me. There are surfers in the foreground (3), one in the midground, and one in the middle of the picture on the top of that big wave (she/he looks like an ant).

There were just so many people on the sidewalk watching the waves at the Malibu Pier bus stop that I HAD to get off and go snap a few.

I have never surfed, but I try to imagine what it's like to stand on a board on the tip of a wave which looks like a cliff three times my height. You know it's water and it won't hurt to fall into it--but still...

Here's my first experiment in posting a video from my camera.

Hope you have as good a day as these beachgoers seem to be having.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Malibu morning picture of the day - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Technically it's still morning. Took this at 11 AM today arriving late in the office.

Hardly can get a clearer sky than that, eh?

And here's the pond in the park where ducks live. This was snapped walking up from the athletics complex parking lot.

No time to chat today, but have yourself a great Tuesday.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Malibu morning picture of the day - Monday, August 25, 2014

Dear family, friends, and gentle readers,

Another Monday has arrived as planned. Here's what it looked like at 0730 this morning.

Many textures today in both sky and sea today. As you come up the coast highway from Santa Monica, it's pretty obvious when it's a good day to surf--it's crowded out there on the water.

You can say a lot of things about surfers, but they are morning people when they need to be. Unfortunately you can't get a very good picture of them from a moving bus ... otherwise I'd try for you.

I am experimenting with trying to learn to place the electric bass guitar (my church owns one and it was just gathering dust so I thought I'd give it a whirl). A bassist once told me, while he never gets the spotlight, he always gets work. I also have learned that bassists call their instruments "horns." As a "horn player" myself (trumpet, flugel), I don't get it--but professional jargon doesn't have to make sense. You HAVE probably heard the term "ax" that all musicians use to refer to their instrument in a generic way. THAT makes sense.

Not this one, but it's close.
Unlike a real horn, the best part (to me) about the bass, you don't have to regulate your breath to get to the end of a phrase. You gotta be able to keep a steady beat though. I did play the tuba back in junior high-high school, so my sensibilities on covering a bass line were developed at an impressionable age, so improvising a bottom figure no strange task to me. If you play piano or any keyboard, the bass guitar intellect is embedded in your left pinky if you think about it.

For someone learning their 5th or 6th instrument, it's basically about muscle memory more than anything else. I met a man in a community band who was an excellent timpanist--he had been a professional violinist but had been drafted into the percussion section (because he basically sat around in the back during rehearsals while is partner played the clarinet, and he had just been hanging out to enjoy the fellowship, as well as being present to support his partner). If you have competent musicianship, technique is the only thing holding you back. You might not get to the top of the craft, but who does anyway?

Try applying your expertise on something else this week. You may surprise yourself at how good you are.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Three Loves Seven, Chapter 16, Part 4 - "A Failed Marriage"

Dear gentle readers,

In case you didn't notice, we have entered the backstory-exposition chapter (for at least one of the main characters).

I don't know about you, but whenever I get to meet a married person, at some point in our acquaintance I always like to ask how they got together with their spouse. I find it's somewhat rare to find a "conventional" meet-up. Their stories seem so random at times. It makes you wonder how the American variety of homo sapiens has managed to propagate for 13-15 generations. Some demographers would say that if it were not for immigration, we would be shrinking--so that is not a surprise.

What happens when two people who have an obsessive-compulsive sense of responsibility and reciprocity find themselves enmeshed into each other's life? For most of us, to find such a person with whom we had no compatibility would make us rush for the exit. In the right context, we might call such people heroes or white knights. Clete and Mariko in the 1980s have this tendency but they are very young and haven't figured out what causes they should care about yet. This kind of person needs to be really careful at that life stage whom they let recruit and exploit this primal impulse of theirs.

These are a couple of the things floating around in my brain as I have come to get know these two characters.  By the way, the young Johnson Lai in Part 3 of this chapter might sound like a jerk, but he's really not. He learned a lot during the dating process. Didn't we all? Most young men I have found are terribly obsessed with physically being with young women and they wind up saying stupid, boorish things as this drive manifests itself. And thank goodness for that sex drive in the young. It's the engine behind any society's economy, politics, and culture if you think about it.

Well, time to stop thinking about these things and let's see what happened to these two odd young people so long ago...


     “My, my,” said Feng. “And you say she eventually MARRIED you with such a beginning?”
     “I know,” I said. “Hard to believe.”
     “Thank you for shar...”
     “NO! Don’t stop!” Eve ordered. “How did you get back together?”
     “Were you even listening? I told you we just kept seeing each other. Whether we liked it or not.”
     “How did you decide to get married?” Eight added.
     “Girls,” said Feng. “I only asked him how he met his wife. He is not required to tell me anything else.”
     “Do you really want to know?” I asked.

I knew I’d get all their heads bobbing up and down. I had not visited this psychic territory in years, at least not in such depth. It felt nowhere near as bad as I thought it would. Perhaps I had moved on. 

     “There’s not too much more, unless you want to save it for another day?”
     “Don’t leave us in the middle,” said Faye, “I will never sleep if you stop there. Can you take us to … the end?”

The end? After a couple weeks she just showed up every weekday with lunch, and I showed up at the end of her shift weekdays and weekends and walked her home. I felt bad she was spending money on me for food. A Japanese American female friend of mine said it’s bad luck or rudeness to give back an empty container to someone who gave you something, and just throw something in. So I started giving her random useful items, like a bar of soap, or cotton balls, or a box of paper clips. The total number of reciprocations had gotten off, probably in her favor, but it didn’t matter at that point—the habit had set in. I like habits. They make me feel secure. I think we both took comfort in the regularity of duty to another, even if it were for someone we didn’t particularly like or appreciate. In fact, we said hardly a word to each other except thanks.

There was Laundromat nearby. I’d do my laundry once a week on Friday nights just before picking her up.  One evening she came over on her coffee break and handed me a bundle while I was correcting papers during drying cycles.

     “No more office supplies! I have no use for them. You probably steal them from the school.” She had me there. “Please wash these.” I nodded my assent, and it was fine with me, so I did her wash—sheets, towels, her other uniform. I must have done OK because I got the regular job. Never her underwear though.

After about three months, I was walking her home one night and she stopped. I was in the habit of following her as I have said about five to six steps behind her. She turned about and walked back to me and stood by my side.

     “Let us talk while we walk, if you do not mind?”
     “What about?”
     “I have been thinking.”
     “I think that any woman who would live a life with you would not have a very exciting life, but it would be a calm, peaceful, and … I think good one.”
     “I take that as a compliment. I very much admire my parents who almost do nothing but sit together at night and just enjoy one another’s presence, resting from the day’s work. I hope to do as well as they did.”
     “I think I would like to live such a life with you.” I had to stop right there.
     “Rico, what are you saying?” She became very thoughtful.
     “It would be so much easier. That way, I would not have to poison you, or push you off a bridge, or run you over with a car, or shoot a gun into your head or chest. I have been thinking about that a lot lately.” I had no idea how to respond to that. I decided to just match her na├»ve foreign earnestness.
     “Well I knew you didn’t like me all that much, but I can’t imagine that I’ve incited you to murder me. I mean, there are other choices in-between to consider, besides marriage or murder, to deal with someone you don’t like very much. Although I suspect in most cases, dislike tends to set in AFTER the wedding, not before.”
     “I cannot say that anymore. That I do not like you very much, I mean.”
     “I can’t say it either. Would you like to try going on another date?”
     “NO! Dates are meaningless. And a waste of money. We would not learn anything else that we don’t already know.”
     “But we don’t know anything about each other. Or each other’s families.”
     “That will come. Soon enough.”
     “So what? Are you proposing . . . marriage?”
     “Not really, no. Because we are already halfway married are we not?”

I thought about how my mother would make my dad’s lunches that he took to work to the print shop. And how he would drive to the store where she worked and he picked her up every night. We were damn near indistinguishable in that regard.

     “We are,” I said in surprised recognition. “So, you’re suggesting we just complete having the other half.”
     “Yes. And I think that is usually the other half that couples try out first is it not? We are just doing it in reverse order.”
     “How did you get to be so smart and observant of American culture?”
     “I am halfway married to a man who is halfway a college professor.”

It was the first time she ever smiled at me. I was not looking for a wife, and yet I found something about her compelling. Something inevitable. Something or some ONE that you cannot remember having been without once you have been introduced. I turned her around and we started walking arm-in-arm in the opposite direction.

     “Where are we going?” she asked.
     “OUR home. You have a roommate, I don’t. But first I need to drop by Thrifty and get you your first wedding presents.”
     “A toothbrush and a change of underwear.”
     “I think I am going to like living with such a practical man, even if he is NOT romantic.”

I told her later that we should go on her day off downtown to the courthouse and apply for a marriage license, and that there’d probably be some issues we’d need to deal with because of her alien status, but the international students office could probably give me some advice.

She insisted that she had her own ideas on that, that we would have a ceremony in the custom of her family’s religion, which was just as binding upon her and, she hoped, me.

So that very weekend, at her request, we went to the seaside. I borrowed a friend’s car and we found a beach that was fairly secluded and private. The water was calm and the weather was clear, sunny, and beautiful. We waded into the water up to our shoulders. We removed our clothes and gave them to our sole witness, the cousin with whom she had been staying. We joined hands and said something in a language that seemed to me like some kind of East Asian pidgin, but I’m told it was essentially something as simple as “In the name of the god of the oceans, I declare my love for you and pledge my devotion forever.” She found some kelp and we tied or wrists to each other.

We then knelt down under the water, fully submerged, came back up, repeated the procedure, and one more time. In the third immersion, we put our mouths together and passed our breath back and forth until it was so stale we had to rise together. That was it. I it was me who insisted we exchange rings. Very thin bands were all we could afford, but in my family’s tradition the only gold worth giving to one another had to be 24K. I never liked being in the ocean—it always made me anxious. But with her I was fine since she was so secure amid the waves.

I wanted to take her home to meet my parents, but she asked to give her some time. She knew she was not the right ethnicity to be fully accepted by my people. I suspect she was waiting until she was pregnant, the time-honored tactic of final resort in marriages where there is parental disapproval.

A few months later, on one Saturday morning, after we were done enjoying . . . let’s just say enjoying each other’s physical company and were having a hard time deciding to get out of bed. It was one of those very dry, cool autumn days, right before it snaps cold. It makes your skin highly sensitive, and very smooth, and yet textured. I don’t suppose it ever gets like that here. We just lay there endlessly rubbing our limbs against each other.”

     “Professor!” interrupted Feng. “Is such detail really appropriate for these children to hear?”
     “I have no idea what’s appropriate. I’m a foreigner! Remember? And aren’t they all adults by your custom anyway?”
     “Just don’t go any farther than that please.”
     “I get it. No rubbing. How about dry humping?”
     “I beg your pardon.”
     “Kidding. Where was I?”

 Anyway, I wished that moment could have lasted forever. But then she cuddled up to me asked me something.

     “Have I ever asked you for anything?”
     “You asked me to take out the trash just last night.”
     “I am serious.”
     “Are you ever not serious? But no, you never have. Nothing big. Are you about to ask me to buy you a car or something like that? Because if you are, next year I’m lined up for a contract position as an assistant geologist for this drilling company. It won’t interfere with my thesis work and it will pay pretty well and then . . .”
     She fingered my nose. “You always jump off into something like that. No. I do not want you to buy me a car. I have just one thing to ask of you, as your wife.”
     “We’re going to be together a long time. I’m sure there’s not going to be just one thing. I don’t want to make a liar out of you.”
     “It is important. If you do this one thing. I will not make a demand of you again, and you may ask me something equally hard.”
     “This has to do with another man, doesn’t it?”
     “No. You are SO insecure. There will never be another man for me than you.”
     “Darling, if I can give it to you, I will.”
     “Would you, . . . would you, . . . , this is so hard . . . would you please not go on that field survey to your Island E251?”

Let me stop at this point to say that E251 was the name of an island in a group of islands in the South Pacific that my advisor, Dr. Winston, was studying. That was the blind name of an uninhabited location that I was assigned to visit and survey.  Working under Winston is where I developed my interest in island geology which is what still drives me and why I am here on your island today. It was hard to get someone approved and had to be arranged a year in advance while they ran a thorough background check on you. I was set to depart later that year to begin that survey. The anonymity of the place was important because I was also supposed to be a psychological test subject, recording my feelings of expected discomfort and unease as I charted totally uncharted territory.

     “That’s right! You’re not on the approval list! Damn! I’d better call Dr. Winston immediately …  Baby, I know what you’re thinking, but surely they’ll let me bring my spouse.”
     “But we don’t have an American marriage paper.”
     “Don’t worry about that. I wonder if my department head can do something in that regard. We can go to City Hall on Monday.”
     “But, that’s not it. I just don’t want you to go.”
     “Why not? This has been in the works for years. If I don’t go who knows when they’ll approve another researcher, if ever? Dr. Winston has been counting on me for this. Why shouldn’t I go? I mean, there’s no way I’m going without you. I’ll find a way. I promise. The congressman for this district is an alum, he’ll get the strings pulled. . .”
     “I do not care about that. Just promise me you will not go. That is the only thing I will ever ask of you.”
     “I have a reason, but I cannot tell you.”
     “Cannot tell me? Rico! You have no idea how crucial this is to my graduate career. My career in this field? It’s a very small world. If I get a reputation as a flaky guy it’ll be way hard to recover. I may have to get another advisor cause he’ll drop me like a hot potato. Then I have to start all over. What is this? So this is the test, right? My loyalty test? AFTER THE FACT?” I looked at Rico and she was so broken. She looked worse than I felt. I had evidently decided. “Aw man, Winston is going to kill me.”
     “So you will not go?”
     “You’re really serious about this request then? And you want I should just trust you?”
     “I don’t have the right to ask this. But I will never ask such a thing again.”
     I sat up, but then fell back in resignation onto our pile of cheap pillows. “A wife is bigger than any dream … ”
     “A faculty advisor told me that, prior to starting down the road to my doctorate. I didn’t know what he meant at the time. Now I do. He was telling me not to get married until after I got my doctorate.”
     “So that means?”
     “I will not go.”
     “Oh thank you, thank you, thank you, my darling! I LOVE you! I will do anything for you.”

I didn’t know it then, but it was both one of the highest and the lowest points in my entire life. That would have been my first international trip and a project that I REALLY wanted to do. I was so disappointed. And yet there had been nothing I had ever said or done in my life that had made any person so happy or joyous.

The E251 project was scrapped. Departure date came and went. Winston assured me it was not a problem. He said there were other islands and atolls in his long-range project that had years to run and that he understood the needs of a young newlywed couple.

I ran into him at a symposium years later. After the project lost me as an approved researcher and a test subject, it basically halted. The sponsor backed out, and Dr. Winston accepted a position at a more prestigious school with secure underwriting for better projects, so it had been for the best, in retrospect.

Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said for my marriage. My wedded bliss only lasted another three months. I returned home from work to our apartment to find a letter from Rico:

Dearest Clete:

I don’t really know how to say this. You are so much better at words than me I feel really bad about it, and sad.

My father asked me to return to home. He will not allow me to bring a husband of my own choice. He is a very powerful man where we come from and he will kill you if you come to find me. That is all I can say.

You did that one thing for me at great cost and I will be always grateful. And I will always be faithful to you until the end. I so wanted to be with you always. It was the happiest time of my life. I am sorry if I have ruined your life. So very, very, very sorry. My heart is hurting so much to write this and not see your face anymore.


That short existence of knowing and loving Rico was like a dream come and gone to me. I had gone someplace else, picked up by a tornado that took me to Oz, stayed there for a time, and then it dropped me back in Kansas. From color to black and white. I went looking, of course, for years. I made several trips to Hawaii, talked to endless numbers of hotel domestic staff, showing her picture. All paths came to nothing. I realized I had never collected much background information about her. Her employer, the diner, discovered her ID was not terribly accurate, but that was pretty typical in their business I was told. My wedding band was demoted from left ring-finger status down to being a mere separator keeping work keys separate from personal keys on the ring in my pocket.

My friends and students told me I was like a black cloud that rolled in wherever I went at that time, but that eventually passed. I mean, I knew guys who had relationships with girls whom they moved in with, for longer periods of time. They had their laughs, and sex, and more sex, and then broke up. And then moved on to the next one. I seemed to have had the exact same experience as they did. But mine seemed different. I never moved on. Why? We weren’t really married. Not in the eyes of California. Because we held our breath underwater naked together for a few minutes?  As time passed, it was harder and harder to put my finger on what we shared and why it hurt so much when it ended.

One of my advisors recommended me for some geology work for an oil and mining exploration partnership which I took on. It turned out I had a knack for applied geology rather than research—so my doctoral work then shifted away from geology to petroleum engineering. That was a move that finally made my father happy. He was afraid I was going to become some poor academic that he would have to support until he died. I had finally taken up where my brothers had left off, and moved into something useful. Maybe it was for the best. I was free to go to far-off, distant and dangerous places that no constant wife would ever approve of. And I never looked back. I guess I’m looking back now.

     “By the way. What happened to your brothers that you talk about?” It was Feng asking that.

     “I had two older brothers, Franklin, one year older than me. And Dolan, two years older than me. They were brilliant those two guys. Ran circles around me academically. BUT, I’m a good teacher. They couldn’t explain anything to save their lives. Frank was like my best friend. They were both studying engineering at Stanford. The year I was a senior in high school they were home for spring break. When they drove back up to Palo Alto a drunk driver hit them on the highway and they were both killed. My mother went into a kind of depression after that. She sort of stopped talking, to anybody. When she did, it was very short phrases with no emotion. She had become a living ghost. She lived to see me get my first doctorate, but she did not survive long after that. Dad passed too before a year went by.”

I just sat there quietly for a time. I forgot anyone was there when I heard a shudder. I looked over.
     “Xiao Mei. Mary. You’re crying. Please don’t. I went over to her and held her.” She put her head into my chest.
     “I’m so  . . . so . . . rry . . . Dr. Wong.”
     “Why should you be sorry?”
    “That I asked you to tell that story. I didn’t want it be that sad. You’re all alone.”
     “Hush. This happened a very long time ago. I’ve grown older and wiser because of it. I’ve shed my tears already. I’m glad it happened while I was young and resilient.” More shudders. “Look at all of you! Stop it! I’m fine now!”
     “But young Clete is not,” said Ling.
     “He’s long gone. Don’t worry about him.”
     “Do you think Rico is still out there somewhere?” asked Qin Qin.
     “I stopped caring a long time ago. But yes, I know she’s someplace. I think I’m very gifted at finding hidden things. But she hid herself very well. If she wanted to find me I’ve been in plain view my whole life. I hope she’s happy though, wherever she is. Now look what you’ve done. My eyes are wet now. Ling you should give your mother the signal to shut down the power.”

© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.