the project has moved



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.