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Getting Old Quickly 1000

Cathreen's sister is fully recovered. Last night the baby had a fever and I didn't know this but I couldn't fall asleep until four in the morning. Maybe this was because everyone else was moving around the house, but I didn't notice their movements, truthfully. I was thinking about how to help Cathreen get all of her things to America.

We're starting a new life, but we don't want to leave behind the old.

She's found a plane ticket to Boston. I'll be there in a week. They wouldn't take her credit card, or my credit card because it's American, so she's at the bank now wiring cash. I thought it would be better to use my credit card, since the exchange rate has made the Korean won worthless. In the news today was an article about how while the dollar rises, and America prospers, the rest of the world suffers. Soon I will leave that rest of the world. But it will not leave me.

The money we have saved, almost a year of work, disappears even as it increases through the interest on it. There seems a lesson in this. Growing, fading.

What's really there and what isn't.

Two days ago we watched a movie about superheroes who weren't super, who weren't really even heroes. Cathreen said she was bored and she shouldn't have let me choose the movie. I didn't realize what I was choosing. I was led on.

Now the cat sneak-attacks the dogs and they chase him to his tower, where he looks down as if he is king and they his subjects. When I try to bring him into the baby's room, he squirms loose, afraid. Youth and wordlessness rule this household.

My back hurts and I'm sick--what timing to fly. I'm worried about a new household, and maybe some of what I feel is stress. But I'm excited to create new rules. Rules for only ourselves.

The dogs holler in the other room, but I feel no sympathy for them. I think it's best to let our cat prove himself.

Last night, Cathreen's brother-in-law took the family out for dinner because it will be the last time he sees me. An hour before we ate, Cathreen and her sister and I ate bread and filled up. My stomach hurt and I wasn't able to eat as much as usual. One baby slept. The other ate two paper cups, cried when we took the cups away from him. After dinner we ate ice cream and I stood on the street looking in on the two babies who tried to reach through the glass. Cathreen's brother-in-law shook my hand and said he probably couldn't attend the wedding, through her translation. This might be the last I see of him, then, for years. There's a finality I don't feel, but which everyone keeps reminding us of. Cathreen feels it, I guess.

For me, of course, it's going home. It's too much of a return to be an end. For Cathreen it's also very much a beginning.

In the morning, she ran her fingers through my newly cut hair and I asked what she was doing.

"Looking for white hairs," she said, as if she is the white-hair police.

"My hair's too short now for white hairs," I said, which I guess didn't make sense.

She soon found one. As she tried to pull it out, I remembered the old saying, pull one and three more appear in its place. Maybe this is what happened the last time, I said.

"But it's not the same place," Cathreen said. But it's all my head.

Now she comes home and says she successfully paid. The ticket, the move from here to there, is permanent.


Getting Old Quickly 0.04

As the day of return gets closer, I try harder to write but feel less able to motivate myself. The time crush seems physical. Plus, there's my birthday. Cathreen says we have to go to see her grandfather that day. Her grandfather is dead. I ask her what time we have to go, and of course she says at night. She says because ghosts come out at night. I think about what kind of terrible juju this is. Birth and death. But it's a family thing, and I have to keep up the impression that I am a good man.

When we fight, Cathreen reminds me she is keeping up this impression. She reminds me how I reflect upon her, something I like to say when we aren't upset, how we are one, etc.

Okay, I tell her. I'm still young. Boise is older than I am. In cat years, he's twenty eight. (Though, in human years, he's three.) Cats mature quickly in their first three years. Or we mature slowly in our first twenty eight.

March third rolls around and I act up with all the stress I've been hiding--an asshole move, I know it, but I can't stop because it will soon be my birthday and on my birthday I'll be with a dead man.

I saw Cathreen's grandfather over a year ago, and he said he was trying to stay alive for our wedding. Then he said to let him go. He wanted to go for a while and couldn't, and when he went, it seemed to be a relief. I think I was back in America then. He lived through some tough shit.

War, for one. He was a policeman. Even his ghost could kick my ass.

I'm trying to be good to his granddaughter. I'm tring to be a good man. But soon after midnight, I go out onto the streets and feel sorry for myself. I drink alone. I come home hours later and the dogs wake up the house and I shiver and dream fitfully through the night.

The next day (my birthday) Cathreen gets in trouble because I woke up the house.

I agree to clean the bathroom and do penance. I clean the bathroom. I think about the graveyard at night; the idea grows in my head and fills me with resentment. I bleach the bathroom floor. I breathe it in, take a shower in the fumes.

I'm a year younger than my cat and I'm old and I'm about to be with the dead.

Except, in the afternoon, as Cathreen tells me she got scolded on my behalf, we realize I misunderstood. This happens to us, with the language and culture gaps. We're not going to a graveyard, only to her grandmother's where a ceremony will be performed and her dead grandfather will eat rice and seaweed soup.

I nearly feel at rest, but then there are the thirty or so relatives I can't communicate with, the social death. I say I feel at rest.

When we get there, we mill about and I try to associate myself with the children. We're the same cultural age. I'm not that much older anyway. But really, it's because they have a more fluid physical language and the same shyness and for once, the babies' vaccuuming of attention is comforting.

Preparations have been underway all day. Finally it's time. The men stand before a picture of the grandfather and a table covered in food.

At the last minute, I get pulled into the ceremony and find myself bowing to the floor with the others. Though they understand what they are doing and when to touch the floor and when to stand and I feel like a backwards puppet, voluntarily pulling my strings to commands.

Cathreen says it's proven that the food weighs less after the ghosts come to dinner. I don't talk back about matter and energy. I eat until my stomach slips out my navel and lies in the center of the table screaming that it's not young anymore. Actually, I get drunk and go home. I don't even get drunk.

I'm old.


Getting Old Quickly 0.04

Soon Cathreen's sister returns from the hospital. The medicine makes her sleepy, and this lethargy seems to rub off on the rest of us. I feel like days pass as I readjust to a full house. They do. Stress levels fluctuate. I can't tell what's up or down with people. We eat out a couple times to remember we have a good life.

At one dinner, Cathreen translates for me as her mom tells me I have to listen to my parents, I have to be good to my parents, it was so so much work for them to raise me, I have to appreciate them. I'm looking at Cathreen and wondering what prompted this.

She's afraid of Michigan, I know, but what else?

I chew on some pork. The baby watches me. He wants to eat like this. His mouth moves, his eyes stay. Don't rush, I want to tell him.

Everyone is feeling older. Our other nephew is starting to crawl. Soon he will terrorize his mother. Babies are so careless.

With no cribs, they're always a threat to roll off the bed. They're always a threat to be mourned. They scratch their faces with their own nails. They look like they've been in baby prison.

As my birthday approaches, Cathreen suggests a joint dinner with her eldest sister, whose birthday is near mine. We drive out to the beef restaurant we ate at with her second sister. We shouldn't expect the same deliciousness, but we do.

It's not new anymore. Something's missing, or something's changed.

On the way back, we get lost. The sun beats in hot; the air outside is cold. The car seems to shrink in on me.

America soon.

This morning, I have my final tutoring lesson, and my student gives me a CD for a going away present. "What's on it?" I ask.

"Nothing," he says. Blank.

We make a book, something for him to hold onto when I'm gone. He runs wild for the last five minutes as I bind it, trying to get it right, as if it's mine.

I keep all the jagged lines he's drawn. They look honest. They look innocent in a way I couldn't make them.

"Is it done yet?" he asks.


Getting Old Quickly 0.03

We take the baby to his baby class. He's five months old and has already started lessons. This is Korea. They ask me if I want to come, and I know this will be funny, so I agree.

The room is in a department store. Mats make a circle on the floor. There are eight mothers, a grandmother, an aunt and an uncle (Cathreen and me), and nine babies. I feel vaguely afraid. Nine babies are a lot, and they're like their own little species. Who knows what they do, or will do, when they get together?

The walls are sparsely decorated. Everything is bright. I can't understand anything the mothers say--the babies maybe slightly better. The class is supposed to improve their five senses, Cathreen has told me.

The first few minutes of class the mothers stretch. One baby crawls across the room and molests another as its mother hurries after it. The other women look like they're synchonized swimming in a pool full of sharks.

Then the mothers "give energy" to the babies. They follow the teacher as she demonstrates on a doll that looks like a very small human being, not like a baby and not like a doll. The mothers give energy by rubbing their hands together and pressing the babies faces, their stomachs, the tops of their heads.

When a translation of a Beatles song starts the mothers lift the babies in the air and stretch their legs; one mother slaps her baby's feet. The babies wear socks from Burberry or other designers. They're dressed to the nines. Sweater vests, etc. I could never afford what these babies will grow out of a week later, what will become trash and pollute the earth they'll inherit blah blah blah.

Now the babies are supposed to hug themselves. They look like they don't have any idea what's going on. You're learning, the mothers seem to be telling them. Didn't you know? Our nephew refuses to hug himself. He jumps up and down. The crawling baby crawls into the middle of the circle and goes after the doll. I think, yes, go get him. Tear that simulacrum apart.

One mother comes in late as the babies are sculling imaginary to traditional Korean music. A new song begins, and the babies are taught to clap. Maybe this is what our nephew does at home, swinging his arms together. I thought he was hugging an imaginary friend.

Crawling baby is a force to be reckoned with. I realize why he has two adults to take care of him. Mother and Grandmother go after him again and again.

Now the teacher produces a rainmaker--those tubes with little beads inside. The babies watch and listen as if an alien has just appeared in the room and demanded their allegance. This is a trick the mothers should remember. You can't hear a baby sound in the whole room. The baby doll rests on a table like it's dead and about to rise from its grave.

I kind of can't believe this woman makes a living from this.

We get individual rainmakers, which the babies mostly eat. A baby tries to stand and falls into his mother's arms. The other mothers gasp. I type. The falling baby stares at me with a frown, like who the hell am I, writing about their baby lesson?

Later the teacher blows bubbles and an English song sings that it's time to sleep. The babies are not sleeping and the bubbles are not going to put them to sleep. Maybe no one realizes what the song means. The mothers stand the babies up, pretend they are full-grown people.

They've learned as much as they'll learn for today.


Getting Old Quickly 0.02

Two nights ago we rushed out of a movie to take Cathreen's sister to the hospital. It was only the second movie I'd ever left before the end--the first was one I hated so much I can't remember its title.

I drove with them both in the backseat to the nearest hospital. It had closed. Permanently. We had to go far away. Groans from the back. When we got to the ER, the doctor pressed the side of my sister-in-law's stomach and tested for apendicitis, but two hours later, the pain had moved to the other side and we were allowed to go home.

At the movie, Cathreen was wearing her contacts because her glasses are lost. I looked everywhere for them. Two pair: gone. This is something I would normally do, not her. She thinks she left them in another city.

I once took a memory test (I think this was in high school) and the test said I had the memory of a sixty-five year-old. Cathreen's memory is supposed to fine.

Now, as her sister recovers from surgery, we handle the baby. Cathreen cooks lunch, and I try to stop the baby from crying. I shuttle him from toy to toy: jumparoo, plastic castle, jungle chair. At each stop, he smiles and then screams. I want to tell him he will never have toys this fun again. I don't know why he wants Cathreen to hold him. She's not even his mother.

Later Cathreen says she is confident now that she can be a good mother. I was always confident in this. I've lost confidence in myself. I wonder why raising someone so young requires such age.

Getting Old Quickly 0.01

Here are some differences in baby-care rules, Korea-to-America.

1. In Korea, mothers sit in the back of the car with their babies. Fathers are taxi drivers. The baby cannot be alone in the back even in its carseat.

2. Cribs do not exist, or are imported. Babies sleep with their mothers, or in our case, tonight, with his aunt. I will sleep in the other room, our bedroom.

3. Maybe this isn't a difference, but it seems to me babies should not always immediately get what they want if they cry. There should be an evaluation.

As I'm thinking these differences up, Cathreen asks me to hold the baby. I hold him in my lap out of reach of the computer as I surf the internet. He looks up at me with that cuteness of his that makes people nibble his cheeks--I nibble his cheeks and he smiles and I let him touch the computer briefly, causing happiness.

His mother is okay. Two days ago we thought she might have appendicitis. It was only a stomach ache.

I imagine those differences above make me sound like a curmudgeon. They do, don't they, I want to ask the baby. I want to tell him a moment ago I was his size. I want to say something like: and then life snapped its fingers.

Cathreen is a natural mother.

The baby wants me to throw him into the air, knowing I will catch him. When I nibble his cheeks sometimes I sneak a kiss.


Getting Old Quickly

Today is Cathreen's sister's surgery--the in-laws have decided against the dog's surgery because Isul is already ten years old and is epileptic. Recently I've been thinking about age. I'm twenty-six, will be twenty-seven in less than two weeks.

On Friday the in-laws picked Cathreen and me up to shop for baby diapers that are three times more expensive in Korea, and all the boys' diapers were gone, and on the ride home, Cathreen groaned and we asked her what was wrong. I wondered if she was thinking of babies, of future babies or of the boy babies out there that went to bathroom so many more times than the boys.

"Shilla," she said, then blah blah in Korean. Husband.

I pointed to myself. "Shilla?"

Everyone laughed except me. Then Cathreen said I had a white hair. She had to repeat this because I didn't understand how this could be true.

"Pull it out," I said.

She tugged and a clump of hairs came out but not the white one.

"Pull it," I said, grimacing. "Pull it. Pull it."

A white hair. My first.

I could see the root, a centimeter of white root, even white under my skin.

I held the hair carefully until we got home and then I put it in my pocket. My father went white in his twenties, but he is not my genetic father.

Cathreen asked why I was keeping the hair. "You said when I'm keeping Boise's hair I'm like a stalker," she said.

"It's sad," I said. "Isn't it? A milestone of sadness."

The next day she pulled out three more and I felt like eating them.

Now I take pictures of the babies in various poses and realize one is more photogenic than the other, and both, though I've realized this before, are more photogenic than anyone who already walks. Maybe life goes white from there.

Cathreen's sister is pushed in and I'm kicked out of the room while she changes. Then we leave before we see a doctor, and Cathreen and I are left to take care of her sister's baby as if he is ours. A test, I think. Will twenty-seven be different from twenty-six?


Hierarchies Last Part

Professor Dog says, compete, compete. I try to get the dogs to stop chewing their nails and they cry like I should be punished. I chew my nails, too, but hide it. They know it.

Cathreen says her mom says we should all bring out the recycling together, so we do. Her sister and the baby stay in the house. It's cold. The baby went to three schools today, so he's exhausted. Seems like they're training him to hate studying. Cathreen says they're training his five senses. Maybe he can't smell or taste well enough already. I drive her to work and the cars flash out like guns and we almost die three times.

Now I am writing this as the in-laws eat dinner. When it's time for bed, I will want to cuddle just Cathreen and me and no Boise. She'll ask why I'm jealous of a cat. Professor Dog will scratch the wall behind our heads and cry that no one is holding him, not at all. He knows inside the bedrooms, all is fine.


Hierarchies Part 4

Valentine's Day, I get my writing done in the morning, then disappear. I tell Cathreen I'll only be gone for an instant, and I return with flowers, pink roses, like we'll have at our wedding. She beams. I score points with the in-laws. The dogs bark like I've been away and have come back for them.

We go out for dinner at her favorite restaurant--really the decor gets her, the food, Western, is about normal for a place in the West. She says she remembers the taste of prosciutto and melon, those four golden pieces for eighteen dollars, she can't get it out of her head. This time, though, there's something wrong. She doesn't like it. I eat three of the pieces, letting the grease of the pork curl around the sweetness of the fruit, thinking.

I try to make her smile, and she does, and I try to make her forget about the house and everyone.

After dinner, we see a movie I expect will be terrible but isn't that bad, about relationships, how to tell someone doesn't like you. We compare notes. This movie could be a game show. I ask her if people are really like this, like them.

The more movies I see, the more I think what it takes to be an actor is a hollow core, something to fill up, like a hive. We sense the buzzing. I only believe one of these people is a person.

We return home for beers, worrying about finances and America, etc. I show Cathreen the apartments my parents looked at a couple days ago. She seems resigned, in that instant, to whatever fate I choose, though we've agreed she will make our decisions.

The next day, she and I and her sister walk to lunch and eat like feral children. The restaurant gives away as much food as you eat, so we walk out with eight servings of samgyupsal, which is like thick bacon. We've taken the baby in the stroller, planning to walk off the fat in the park, but now the girls say it's too cold.

"Touch my leg," Cathreen says. Not cold, smooth. Bare legs in February.

"Your leg is a leg," I say, feeling cryptic.

Then the wind blows, and I feel it, too. It is cold. We walk home. I try to write but instead watch a movie and hate it. Everyone watches tv in her mother's room.

At dinner, Cathreen sings to the baby, and he tries to sing back but ends up screaming. Later she comes into the bedroom and says, "Jimin got in trouble." He's too noisy. His face turns red as he tries to hit notes that don't exist.

When he learns, I think, he'll never stop. He'll master a beckoning voice.

"He'll be king of the house," Cathreen says. She turns to her sister. "You'll give him everything, right?" He sits in a jungle chair, monkeys swinging on the tray in front of him. In the other room is the castle, which welcomes you when you open the door.

"Not everything," her sister says.

"I doubt it," Cathreen says happily, as Professor Dog yowls in agreement. "Everything. Like Boise."


Hierarchies Part 3

I think I'll continue my delirious posts. Late night is morning in America. Sounds like a radio show--coming soon.

Today, Boise pissed on Cathreen's mom's blanket, shat on her blue mats that look like yoga mats but aren't. Someone locked him in, not knowing he was there. This made me upset, but nothing like it makes Cathreen upset when she comes home from work. She says, "It's no one's fault," to herself, with unfocused eyes, and builds a Fisher-Price castle for the baby.

"Talented," her sister says to cheer her up.

"I'm a talented wife," Cathreen says. She made the cat tower as well. The smell of cat pee has dissipated, thank God, and tomorrow everything will be like new. Her sister is wearing one of Cathreen's shirts. Boise is playing with the plastic wrapping for the castle.

Professor Dog, I think, what is your analysis? A toy and a good chew and attention, as always, many happy returns, the exhileration of life, more food.

She's still out there finishing up the castle, and I've finished the third first draft of my novel and want a hug, another hug, another.


Hierarchies Part 2

All this talk of hierarchies had a point, maybe obsession. Right now, in my tired delirium, I've locked Boise on the balcony where his cat tower and litter box and food and water are, and I am not going to give in because I know he will only eat the dogs' food.

I am going to change these hierarchies in my last few weeks in Korea. I am going to shake things up. But first I am going to sleep.

I've been thinking when the babies come over, how they sometimes fight each other for attention, that is what the world is like. And too much or too little attention will ruin them. Too much or too little control will ruin anyone. Not knowing where you stand is a dogs' life. The dogs' life.

Everyone is at war with his greedy little self. Today was a good day and I want more. We'll fight for what we want. The dogs and babies and the cat will fight for what they want.

I think the animals think the babies are pets and are jealous that they get to sit at the table and always be held and played with. Or maybe I'm projecting. I don't think so, but you never know.


Hierarchies Part 1

The dogs have an extraordinary sense of social hierarchies, not only the larger framework but the individual complications. For instance, when I come back from tutoring today, the in-laws and Cathreen are away, and as the dogs see it's me, they immediately shut up. If anyone else is home, or if anyone else comes home with me, they will bark for an expectant ten minutes. They know three things to be true: first, I am above them in social rank and will not defer to their wishes; second, they are above, or at least equal to, the in-laws; but third, the in-laws are above, or at least cancel out, me.

Cathreen fits into all this uniquely. They can't figure her out, I think. She has more power than I do, but only seems above them at certain times. They believe she will feed them from the table, give them human food, but they also know she won't tolerate their noise. They know she won't let them put their paws on the table, or bother the other humans, whether above or below them (to their minds). She seems to rule the house but will capitulate to Bosul, the shitsu, or occasionally the in-laws or me if she is in a particularly good mood.

Boise and the baby are clearly at the top. President and vice-president of zero words.

But allow me to take this further from the dogs' perspective. I would put our complicated hierarchies like this:

Just the dogs and me: I win. Just the dogs and Cathreen: Cathreen beats two out of three. Just the dogs and the in-laws: the dogs win unless the in-laws have various weaponry, bamboo or rolled-up newspaper. The dogs and Cathreen and me: the dogs lose. The dogs and the in-laws and me: the dogs win. The dogs and the in-laws and Cathreen: the dogs can persist and perhaps reach victory. The dogs and everyone all together: this is where they must get confused.



Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (Last)

I am able to do a little work. I took two days off from forward progression and almost got off the train altogether. Two sleepless nights of guilt.

Today I buy Cathreen flowers when she cancels her morning lesson. She says "Come home and we'll talk." I panic, but she's happily flitting about the house when I arrive. The power of this phrase. I feel like I've just run a couple miles.

Boise meows and waits by the door like a dog. In the presence of babies, the cat is love-staved. He whines and eats anything that touches him. He bites lightly on my hand. He sticks his claws in me and holds me to him.

Everyone is out of sorts. Cathreen arranges the flowers in a vase. Her forehead is hot. The in-laws go to a hairshop and leave us with the baby. An hour later, Cathreen takes the baby to them. We're looking for each other, I think, we're wondering where we are. I mean in general. As Cathreen dressed to go out, I held the baby and he looked around for her like she was his mother. I sit here writing now wondering when she'll be back--she left her phone, so I know she will be.

In another window, Facebook asks me to write 25 things about myself, and I think, what better way to end this essay. So here they are:

1. Each day a moment exists in which I think life is perfect, and another in which I wish to die.

2. I spend too much time not doing things I'm supposed to do, and I dictate what these things are.

3. My stomach is currently growling but I am so sick of lunar new year food I will let myself go hungry.

4. I am envious. I am an envious person. I hate that.

5. Last night I tried to pray. I tried to pray completely sincere, completely selfless prayers. I could only think of one.

6. I worry constantly that Cathreen will not like America, especially once the city is covered in snow, in the fourth month of winter. Because yes, Boston has a fourth month.

7. Sometimes I think global warming isn't so bad; then I remember Venice.

8. Cathreen is in love with animals so I try to be in love with animals. Mostly this works, surprisingly.

9. Two in-laws, a baby, three dogs, and a cat: overall, I like it.

10. Maybe it's like this: I love cleanliness but I hate cleaning

11. On the other hand: all my life I thought I liked dogs and now I am not sure.

12. Also: I've always said I didn't like babies, while secretly liking them.

13. In life, I don't always want to be happy, but I never want anyone else to be unhappy. I really don't.

14. I watch Korean television and feel like I understand.

15. Before I came here in 2005, I thought some locked-away part of my brain would be engaged by my return, and I would remember Korea from when I was two years old, the language, everything, and I was so disappointed this didn't happen.

16. I am still sort of waiting for it to happen.

17. I believe many things other people don't. Not that a fan in a room without a open window will suffocate a person, though. That is a myth. That is my favorite myth.

18. Time-wise, I think about the future far too often. I think about the past about the right amount. I think about the present not enough.

19. If I hadn't written these essays, I would have forgotten they happened. True story.

20. People hate that I have a terrible memory, but I'm not sure I hate it.

21. We are coming to the end.

22. Though it's taken me a long time to write this, Cathreen is still away. I often imagine her when she is not around. Her photo pose: pressed lips, downturned head.

23. Last night, my mother-in-law screamed in her sleep, one long exhalation of sound that woke the house.

24. And here's what I know: I know she dreamed of Michigan. English piled in drifts of snow. Babies hollering. Her daughter compulsively cleaning. A shining floor, a one-room apartment. Her son-in-law disappearing with the car, their one ticket out. Waiting for Korea.

25. I wait for Boston; Cathreen's lawyer says not to worry, the visa will happen soon. Everything is soon.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#13)

Cathreen likes to take baths with the baby. I come home from writing in a cafe and there are two babies, three sisters, one mother-in-law, four animals, and I'm hungry. After one sister and one baby leave, Cathreen takes a bath with the remaining kid. I feel strange about this, like I am the only one using the other bathroom, like I am a tenant. Also, the baby is her nephew, not her son.

When she gets out, she says, "My condition is bad," so I try to be a good fiance. Boise sleeps near us curled up on Cathreen's baby blanket. Her smell, I guess. She pulls him under the covers. We sleep with the cat and the scent of vomit still in the carpet.

We've changed our plans so I will go to America first and set things up for her and Boise. I worry about doing this adequately.

I dream a little and feel the floor under me and try to continue dreaming.

I wake up and tutor but the kid hasn't done his homework properly and I am so tired I only sit there and wait for time to pass. When class is over, he says he's going to write Cathreen a letter. I mentioned she was feeling bad. This is sweet. I write a letter, too. At the bottom, I write, "P.S. Micky didn't do his homework." I can't help it.

I come home and look at more apartments. I think of a bitter poem I could write about having no home. Then I go on facebook, gmail, blogs. The internet is creeping into my head. I stab it with a pitchfork and try to work on my novel.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#12)

The weekend passes, and when it is over, I remember that it was Super Bowl Weekend in America. In this apartment of four and a half people and four pets, in Busan, it was the car breaking down and the baby kicking over a tree and Matt's frantic search for a doctor weekend.

Here's what happened on Sunday:

In the morning, my brother-in-law, still in cursed Michigan, calls about a bad dream, warning his wife to stay in the house. Cathreen, with her two sisters and their babies, go to a department store where they plan to shop for seven hours. She asks me if I want to go.

They stop off for coffee and the baby kicks a divider into a tree which falls over and almost kills people. I have trouble picturing this, but this is what happens. He has super strong kicks. The cafe gets angry. I picture them turning on the baby, but what can they do, he's a baby.

Maybe they don't believe he's that strong, so they turn the sisters out. Five hours of shopping later, the fam pick me up for dinner. We eat fatty pork and salted baby shrimps until my stomach wants to return home.

On the way, we stop for gas. When we leave the station, the car chokes like a motorcycle, vibrates like a bad massage chair. The baby loves it. We manage to get home by driving slowly, blinking our hazard lights. I pray to God we do not explode.

At home is the message I've been waiting for, from a med-student who will tell me how to finish my novel. I write happily. I get other distressing emails. I watch a movie and get in a bad mood.

I try to make Cathreen make me feel better.

When I wake up from a stress-dream sleep, I tutor and come home as the Super Bowl is ending. I eat more lunar new year food. Facebook tells me I have 106 friends. Most of these people I "know." I check my email again and return to my bad mood.

I flail about online, thinking about unavailable jobs, unavailable apartments, until I realize I am being overdramatic. I realize when I wrote "know" in quotations, it sounded Biblical. I realize I only counted the baby as half a person. Still, I press "publish post."


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#11)

I distract myself by joining Facebook and Myspace. These are serious distractions. Actually, a friend convinces me, curse her. A couple days ago, I googled "why join facebook/myspace" and was unconvinced. Now I join them both. I quit Myspace after 20 minutes. I am socially anxious. This is the internet.

There are other people out there who might scare me. I come very close to canceling Facebook, but don't. Instead I spend the next four hours on it. I try to figure out what it will do, like I'm a baby given a new toy. I can't figure it out, but I chew on it hungrily. Is this food?

I chew on Facebook until the sun sets I convince Cathreen to go on a date. We go to a new restaurant called New York, New York, which has nothing you might find in New York, New York. Then we see a movie by the director of Old Boy. He's stopped making revenge films. Maybe he isn't so angry anymore. The movie staggers in the middle but is redeemed by a very long scene at the end in which nothing makes sense but everything makes sense and people cry a lot.

We go home happy. I wake up to fifty messages from Facebook and one hairball on the carpet.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#10)

Today Cathreen says Ji-hwan was in a bad mood before because he was hungry. He wasn't eating. His mother has lost a lot of weight from stress. He's a thin baby who looks almost more like a little person than a baby. I say this out loud, getting a courteous laugh.

The injuries the babies give themselves: that slap to the head, a scratch across the face. Cathreen worries that Boise may have made the scratch, but it's not deep enough, and Boise is afraid of the babies. He likes, however, to sleep in the baby carriage and pretend he's human.

Last night, Cathreen said we should buy him a cat carriage. I didn't know these existed. I don't say anything in response.

Cathreen's hand has healed as much as one could expect. The bumps are gone, or at least receded--they come up when she's stressed out. This will always keep me careful. I tell her I want to spend more time with her, and she says to wait until America. She says she has only this last month and a half with her family. I think I am not too selfish to agree to this.

Meanwhile, apartment hunting is like God poking me with a stick.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#9)

On the lunar new year, Cathreen and I bow to her mother and give her money. Her sister bows and gives money as well. She bends the baby into a bow and the baby gets money from his grandmother. Then Cathreen has the baby bow to us and we give it money, too. There is this exchange and later an exchange with the other baby, when Cathreen's other sister arrives. We pass the babies off and everything changes hands.

A sort of baby envy, the desire for love, crops up. It's like we're competing for their attention. The two mothers are glad to get the babies out of their hands, and we're desperate for them to grab our fingers and try to eat them like their own.

Or maybe I just think this because Ji-hwan, the older baby, has forgotten me and refuses to remember. It bothers me that my existence can be so thorougly erased.

For dinner we eat the whole spread, which we also ate for breakfast. We watch Kung-fu Panda with the dogs on our feet.

The next morning, we go to Cathreen's grandmother's. On the way I start Saramago's Blindness for the third time. I can't get into it. The narrator is a talkative, distracting bastard.

Awkwardness and lunar new year food ensues. Then I'm on the couch reading, and something happens. I forget that we're not all blind. For a moment, I'd thought we were. I don't know how this happened, but I am ensnared by the book.

And as I'm reading, Ji-hwan turns to me and remembers. How strange.

Later we leave Cathreen's mom there with her mom and return home. I fall asleep in the car, thinking I've got as much control over communication as the babies. Exhausting, trying to let people know what they can't understand.

I write for a few hours and am somewhat productive. Cathreen calls to say she's going to bed. She says Isul had two seizures--she's epileptic--and Jangoon kept attacking her and stressing her out. Cathreen says her mom said if it happened one more time, Jangoon was out. Boise patrolled the area and slept next to Isul, watching over her health. Poor dog: surgery, seizures. She's 77 in dog years. She's probably already losing her mind.

When I get home I eat more lunar new year food and sleep beside Cathreen on the electric blanket and try not to make too much noise and ask myself what I want and answer with a greedy amount of things and feel bad for animals.

I tutor in the morning and we go to Cathreen's second sister's house, reuinted wth the babies. I didn't know we were here for her birthday, and then there's a cake and we're singing, and in the middle of eating, Ji-hwan slaps his head against the table and we're stunned.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#8)

I try to enslave my friends into finding an apartment for me. Actually, some of them agreed to this before they knew what they were getting themselves into. My friend Kirstin promises to call a real estate agent and does. I send her a Korean smiley-face, which I no longer think is weird: ^___^

I've forgotten what's weird and what's not. I send her this one then: OTL --that's a person who drank too much or something, bent against the floor.

Cathreen's mom says Jangoon keeps attacking the other dogs because he needs more love. I don't know whether I believe this. I guess I believe it. I guess I can see how it's true. But I still don't like him.

In the afternoon, Cathreen's mom and sister line up all the old appliances, like tin men, by the door. "Recycle," my mother-in-law explains. This, I understand, is for the new year, the second new year, the one with the moon. Again get rid of the old and embrace the new.

Saturday, they clean the spare room full of closets. Cathreen's stuff is everywhere, so she's in, too. I can see this stressing her out. Later the stress manifests, and it takes a couple days until she's back to normal.

Sunday, they cook all day. It's all so much work, but the first day represents the rest of the year, so they feel obliged I guess. Maybe it's good to have two new years. Maybe this one is like a do-over.

After their months of depression in America, the in-laws worry that we will change in Boston and begin to hate each other and Cathreen will have to come back to Korea. Michigan was that bad. I blame that state. My life has changed because of Michigan.

They were so depressed there they think they can't trust Americans. The baby, though, I should have reminded them, is American like me.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#7)

The poodle, Jangoon, keeps attacking the other dogs. This may be why I'm having dreams about dog attacks. Maybe I empathize with the other dogs.

He attacks Isul when I come home from writing at a cafe. Cathreen's mom hugs him and I hug Isul and ask her if she's okay, in Korean. She whines and makes this pathetic noise.

Later I pick up Cathreen from work and she reminds me that Isul has to get surgery--she has a kidney stone or a gall stone, a stone somewhere inside her. Cathreen says her sister also has to get surgery, because the doctors in America fucked up her stitches or something, I can't be sure. Her mom wants to wait until the new year, the lunar new year, because this the real start to the year in Korea, and she wants it to start well.

We will have to take care of the surgery patients, so one will follow the other. We can't handle two surgeries at the same time. Cathreen and I also have to get a visa for her to marry me and go to America, and I have to find us an apartment and plan our wedding and get a job.

When I wake up, Boise has thrown up on Cathreen's computer. That's three times, I think, in a week. Maybe he is trying to tell us something. I can't get the smell out of the carpet. I sleep the next night with the stench of his vomit in my dreams. I dream about publishing.

Fitzgerald wrote his first novel to get famous and rich and win Zelda, and all of that happened. Yesterday I read a bunch of interviews with agents and sank into a couple hours' depression.

Now I apartment-hunt. I feel like this is impossible. I feel like I am running through Tokyo and Godzilla is eating all of the apartments and I am trying to find one that he will not touch. Except he has good taste.

Outside this room, I can hear the baby crying.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#6)

In the morning, I wake up to move the car because I've parked it in a small spot and Cathreen's mom can not get out. When I get back into bed, I remember the dreams I was having last night.

One was about the dogs. I was in a house I didn't know, with Cathreen, and it was our house. The dogs kept attacking me, biting my hands. This didn't seem to hurt, but it was annoying and scared me. I locked myself in the bedroom, but the door was like cloth and was coming undone at the seams. The dogs rammed their heads against it and I tried to push them back and they bit me. Cathreen was fine. I heard a man in another room, and I knew he was pure evil. I knew I was not evil enough to incite the dogs like this.

As I write this, I realize the house was my parents'. What does this mean?

The other dream I had was about a man with a roomful of trophies. I admired this man, not for the trophies, which were sad, but for his belief in himself. A woman with long fingernails stole one of the trophies, and broke it, and then I pitied the man. This dream was narrated in the third person. The man was never in the dream, only the room, and me, and the long fingernails, and the, in the end, headless trophy.

When I went to move the car, a man came down behind me and moved the car next to me, so they would have gotten out all right.

Now I can't sleep. I think about how Cathreen said, when she woke up, that her hand hurt. Her bump, the ganglion or whatever it is, was larger than before. She said maybe Boise had bitten her in her sleep. I hoped I hadn't turned over on top of it.

Later I hear Boise meowing from inside one of the other rooms. I search him down. I open the right door, and he comes out. He was trapped. He must have followed the sister-in-law in, looking for some attention.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#5)

Here are some good things about living with a mother-in-law and a sister-in-law:

For one, they clean. They are both endlessly cleaning. Boise loves to lie in the spots they've just finished cleaning. He thinks Cathreen and I are messy and don't clean enough. My sister-in-law, during her depression in America, cleaned compulsively, so we have to watch out for that, but the good is the floor is no longer covered in shit.

Also, they cook. We eat well. We have more energy. We don't worry about who will cook tonight or who will clean the dishes. The chores used to give Cathreen a lot of stress, because I'm slower to do them than she is and yet agreed to be the one responsible.

Third, the baby makes Cathreen endlessly happy. Cathreen endlessly happy makes me happy but also a little jealous of the baby. I can take it, though. I'm at least twice as mature as he is. I can speak, though sometimes this is a plus and sometimes not.

The in-laws' depressing life in America makes us remember we have a good life.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#4)

Today I think the power rankings are stupid. Yesterday I thought they were hilarious.

Boise threw up yesterday, not hair like usual, only food. He must be sick. When the baby throws up, it is supposedly not like vomit, but I think it is. Right now Boise is hunting something that can't be seen. Maybe once he catches it, he will show me. Maybe he will eat it.

Cathreen said the in-laws had a terrible time in America. This does not bode well. This hangs doom over our impending move. I ensure Cathreen that Nowheresville, Michigan, in the middle of winter, is not like Boston. She hugs me. So far she is still looking forward to seeing snow.

When Cathreen comes home from tutoring, she will disappear into the room with the baby and I will think about when I will have her all to myself. Last night I held her and thought something very unoriginal but sweet.

I have a lot to prepare for our new life. I couldn't sleep much because my back hurt and my stomach hurt and it felt like an entire section of my body was out of place, and now I am tired but having a good day, not to jinx it.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#3)

It's like I'm living alone. This essay will not be too interesting, I think. I get an idea.

The first household power rankings:

1. The baby - the baby was born in America, so he is American, like me. This, though, doesn't give him his power. His power comes from being without words we understand. His power comes from a voice that cannot explain itself so is always demanding. His power comes from his tiny adorable size.

2. The mother-in-law - today the mother-in-law felt dizzy. We all respected her dizziness. She went to bed early and we treated her like a powerful object that should not be disturbed.

3. The cat - Boise has free reign of the house, and because of Cathreen and me, always wins his battles with the dogs. Because of Cathreen, he is number 3 and not lower. He has the power of being a cat and the power of being her cat.

4. t. the fiancee and the sister-in-law - the fiancee and the sister-in-law take care of the baby. They are in there now, talking about the baby. When I asked Cathreen what they were talking about, she said, "sisterhood." She said it was only for girls. She nibbled on the baby's toes. Now I suspect they are talking about the baby, not sisterhood. They have a little of the baby's power, plus their own.

6. the poodle - Jangoon, the poodle, is king of the dogs. Because he gets his way and I don't want him to, he is ranked number 6, not number 7. Because Boise regularly defeats him and he doesn't see it coming--Boise is an expert at sneak attacks--he is ranked number 6, not number 3. He bares his teeth more than dogs should. He is a barker and was adopted from an owner that beat him, adopted like me.

7. t. me and the shitsu - I am smarter than the shitsu but not as small and not as used to getting my way. The shitsu, Bosul, doesn't understand that anyone else could matter. Therefore she always matters. I'm maybe 3-3 against the dogs, but I always give Boise what he wants. The shitsu whimpers for food. When I eat alone, I am 3-0 against the dogs. When someone else is around, the dogs are 3-0 against me. I cleaned up Bosul's pee today; maybe I should be ranked below her.

9. the terrier - Isul is not a pure terrier, she's mixed up. Poor Isul is 0-3 against Jangoon. She beats Bosul, because she thinks she is Bosul's mom, but she can't get what she wants like Bosul does. For now, the best we can say for her is she shows potential for power. Potentially, she is very powerful, but I like her when she is not powerful. Then she covets love.


Two In-laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#2)

An hour later the snow is gone and Boise is asleep. In Boston the snow would cover him, but he won't be allowed outside.

I wake him up, stroking his fur. He complains, then loves it.

In the evening we pick up the in-laws (and nephew). I buy chicken at Popeye's, expecting them to be hungry. I know that flight. They say they've eaten too much chicken, in America, and are sick of it. I know that feeling, in reverse.

We get home and the dogs go crazy. Cathreen's second sister and brother-in-law are with us and two babies fill the house with sound, creating little black holes of attention.

By the next day I know I have lost Cathreen to the baby. I miss her.


Two In-Laws, a Baby, Three Dogs, and a Cat (#1)

It's snowing and Cathreen's mother, sister, and our nephew are arriving tonight. We will all be living together, with her family's dogs and our cat. In one apartment.

Boise watches the snow fall, carelessly perched on his cat tower. Cathreen calls to tell me not to open the windows. He might jump out trying to catch a snowflake.


Promises, Last Post

Tentative title number 4: Luck Turns the Corner

Tentative title number 5: No Worry for the Wounded

That night, we buy Wii Fit and invite her students to sleep over, which I am assured is a one time thing. They stomp around and scare the animals. The cat tries to scare them back, hissing and pawing the older one, who kept playing with the dogs. I think about losing weight and Cathreen can't sleep--worrying, maybe--and misses her lesson. The children have a fine time.

Children and babies and animals are Cathreen's favorites.

When we got the cat, Boise, I thought of it as an agreement: we were going to last. We went to the pet store with a former friend of ours who later stabbed Cathreen in the back. She bought a dog; we coveted Boise. She returned the dog the next day, but Cathreen and I kept our promise. It makes her happy just to see Boise clean himself or wait outside the bathroom as if we might disappear inside. We worry about how he will fare on the plane to Boston.

With the cat, the job, and a new apartment, I settled into life here. Life was pretty steady in 2006. I made money; I saved some of it; I spent it on who-knows-what.

Now it's three years later and luck smashes into our car. After the missed lessons we drive over to her sister's house and as we enter the apartment complex, a delivery truck driver opens his door into our right side mirror. I can't see behind us on one side. I struggle with the symbolism. When we were hit, Cathreen was talking about how when the lunar new year comes, she will get back the luck she lost.

"Call the police," I tell her five or six times until she does.

I don't expect them to bring us into the office with the guy who is clearly at fault. Finally, after two hours, the insurance men come and straighten everything out. Some outside force.

We sleep it off, and the next day we bring the car into the shop. The hospital staff is out to lunch, no worry for the wounded. "Unbelievable," I say, though I know this is regular in Korea.

At 6:20, forty minutes before the hospital closes, I tell Cathreen we'd better go immediately.

She continues to work out some banking issues online.

"We have to go right now," I say. "You promised you would go."

"Don't pushing me," she says.

"You promised."

"It's too late," she says. "There's no time."

But if I think this is the end of the promises, it's not. Later, she says she will write me a contract. I won't repeat its contents here, but I am content.


Promises, Post 6

Tentative title number 3: Shut Up and Take It

Except I didn't. I quit.

I moved closer to the ocean. Cathreen came with me to my temporary housing. The night before I moved, I slept in a motel, and she said the words I'd been afraid of, and then anticipated, and then grown anxious to hear.

I have kept the promises, all except the one about the dogs.

Back at the hospital again, Cathreen suggests I continue the treatment on my neck. My spine, the doctor says, is without a crucial cuve. I have been living without this for how long now--and not even known it.

I figure my body knows me better than it knows itself.

Yet I lie down on the hospital bed and let the doctor do doctor things. I can smell the sweat of other people on the equipment he places beneath my neck and shoulders. I complain, and Cathreen complains, and I shut up and take it.

He is going to shoot electricity through my body the way he shoots it through Cathreen's hand. "Now you will seeing what it's like," she says. The doctor turns a dial but I feel nothing. "More?" Cathreen asks. "More," I say. Soon I feel a pulsing. "Does it hurt?" she asks.

I sweat in the same spot, sweat that will be passed on to someone else. "Doesn't hurt," I say.

The new apartment belonged to a parent of one of the students at the school--they were on sabbatical. Two bedrooms, open spaces. The beach nearby. I loved this borrowed life.

Before we went to the beef restaurant the other day, Cathreen asked for restaurant suggestions. I didn't want to choose the place. Neither did her sister. "You never decide anything," Cathreen accused. "I don't want the responsibility," I said before I could stop herself. Then her sister said the same, so I was safe.


Promises, Post 5

Tentative title number 2: The Blood Is the Most Delicious

It's still a lot about that. In America, our positions will change. I will be the one introducing our life, saying, there it is across the room, saying, appearances can be deceiving, or, it's really nice once you get to know it, or, it was prettier before.

Cathreen spent years in Australia, and I hope that is similar enough. She says she was sent there by her parents because her "freedom-life" didn't match the strict listen-and-repeat of Korean schools. I love her independent spirit but wish at least one of us was less stubborn.

Though I have no job, Cathreen still manages to buy me shoes, and we still go out to expensive restaurants. We take her sister and our nephew to a place in the next city over, where we eat beef that is supposedly safe from mad cow disease, a scare that last year convinced Koreans to distrust both America and their own government. The entire Korean cabinet resigned, but the protests were not enough to drive out the president, like they were in Thailand.

The butcher chops up the cow outside and brings it in to us, and we cook it ourselves and taste the blood in our mouths. I like it rare--the blood is the most delicious.

We take pictures in the temple nearby, sitting our nephew on sacred relics.

Later that afternoon, I have to convince Cathreen to continue seeing the doctor; we rush to get there before it closes. Hospitals scare her. They press on her hand until it hurts and as she winces I try to translate in my head what to say to ask them to stop, to be careful, to quit that shit, seriously.

The stress makes an old car-accident injury in her shoulder act up, restricting her movement. The doctor lies her down on the steel bed and whips her neck around and I watch in shock until her neck cracks and he looks pleased with himself. But it seems to have worked: she trusts him. I'm still a little in shock when she asks him to do the same to me, and soon after, I feel and hear my neck crack as well, and for a few hours, I have none of the stress in my neck I hadn't known until then that I'd had.

After the love motel, I moved into housing beneath the owner of the academy's house. Cathreen, being Korean, was paranoid about being seen there, cavorting with a co-worker. The shower fell on the toilet. There were mold stains on the ceiling. I almost missed the red lights.


Promises, Post 4

I lost almost twenty pounds eating nothing but cereal over the next couple weeks, but slowly, with her help, learned to ignore what they said in the guide books about the food causing diarrhea--though later my stomach would be permanently damaged by how spicy things could get.

I thought it quaint when she said people still asked each other out, as in, "Would you go out with me," to determine that they were officially dating.

The doctor says what is growing in her hand are ganglions. She memorizes the sound and waits until we get home to look it up. I search for it on google and discover its alternate name is "Bible bumps." This is because people used to hit the cysts with bibles until they popped under the skin and the built-up fluid ran out into the veins of the hand. This treatment, this blessed beating, they say is "discouraged."

I realize I haven't had a complete Bible since I lived with my parents, though I have an old and beautiful leather-bound copy of the new testament--in a storage unit in Boston. It's far too thin to break the wound stuck inside Cathreen's hand.

As we got to know each other, three years ago, it was a lot about figuring out our different cultures.


Promises, Post 3

I was only teasing her. I realized this when she eventually grew angry and I had to appease her--by then I knew already that I needed her.

At the hospital today, the doctor says she may have permanent damage to her hand. We thought she would heal and it would be like I hadn't slammed her hand in the door, but now it might be like my guilt is permanently visible on her body. From what I understand, her veins have twisted together and clung to each other out of trauma. Just like people.

They shine a hot light on her and shoot electricity through her palm. She looks at me in a way that I know I have to apologize again, though the accident was three weeks ago. A look that will always remind me to keep the second promise.

Two days after the club she was waiting for me as I walked home from the beach; she ran out of a kimbap restaurant and I thought, Oh, and felt something working inside me.


Promises, Post 2

Despite the unlucky things that have been happening to her--getting her hand slammed in the door, catching her hair on fire in the tub, losing the skin on her palm--she has been locking the door when she takes a bath, taking baths when she gets upset. I worry what might happen to her. What if her hair catches on fire again and her body lights up as well, and I can't get to her, I can't break down the door and rescue her from a burned and blistered life?

The reason I deleted the promises was because writing them seemed to break the first promise. I will try my best to keep the promises from here on out.

Cathreen and I got together on a night I thought I couldn't feel anything but my hangover. I'd gone out drinking the night before, my introduction to soju, and had passed out and gotten my wallet stolen (lost?). The next day I had agreed to go to a club with a few of my coworkers and their friends. I sat and refused to dance, or drink anything but water, but was somehow at the top of my game.

Except I wasn't.


Promises, Post 1

Promises (tentative title)

I've tried to start this twice. The first time I wrote promises. The second time I wrote that I wrote promises but they were private.

Cathreen seems to have a complicated relationship with these essays. I am doing my best to keep them friends.

When we met, Cathreen and I were teachers at a school in Dongnae-gu, and I was ready to leave Korea after being here less than a week. My boss had arranged my housing--a ten-by-ten room with red lights ringing the ceiling, a round bed in the middle, a tv that showed porn, and a single window that hardly let in light. I later learned to call this a love motel, and to identify the cards on the stairs as calling cards for hookers. The heat and isolation kept me inside this room all day. For meals, I ate Frosted Flakes from the box and washed them down with milk.

Cathreen was what made me stay. I have been back six times since. I am writing this essay not to explode our life here but to record how we beat the odds.