Until last January, I had no idea that other people had noticed the dearth of Asian Male, White Female couples. I certainly had no idea there was a whole AMWF cyber community. And while I was kinda bummed that I was not, in fact, the first internet interracial love pioneer, I was delighted to find so many other unicorns. Some were even authors! Susan Blumberg-Kason, for example, wrote a memoir entitled Good Chinese Wife.
“I should totally read that,” I thought, when I first saw the book online. Then I looked at the subtitle: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong. Uh-oh. I looked at the blurb. One phrase jumped off the screen and hit me in the face: “increasingly controlling and abusive husband.” I hastily closed that window on my computer. Hell, no, I thought. I would rather watch nothing but the gruesome Twitter feed of Ricky Gervais before the Yulin Dog Meat Festival than read about controlling men.
Yeah, well, I’m clearly a masochist, because I did read “Good Chinese Wife.” I yelled at the book like other people yell at horror movies:
“No, Susan! Don’t give him your phone card!”
“Listen to Janice, Susan! Janice is your friend!”
“Argh! Leave! Walk out of the dance! I take that back! RUN!”
Susan did not run, of course. She continued her magical, romantic dances with the handsome Cai. And for all my railing, I understood. Once upon a time, a young woman named Autumn had met a handsome, dashing, dancing prince of her own.
We’ll call him Dick. For no particular reason, of course.
Dick clearly didn’t belong in the Country Western bar where I first saw him. His grace and elegance stood out among the rough and rowdy Saturday night crowd. Dick spun his partners into dips that hit the breaks in the music perfectly, whether he was dancing Waltz, Two-step, or West Coast Swing. His cowboy boots glided across the floor, rather than shuffling or stomping like those of the other men. Yet there was power and presence below the polish.
He asked me to dance. Our dances were amazing. Dick had such a great frame and such musicality that I managed moves I’d never done before. I knew exactly what he wanted me to do, in advance, with no verbal cues. (In the dance world, this is known as connection. The best partners connect so perfectly that their dances, even when not choreographed, look like the couple has been practicing a routine for months. Since meeting Dick, I’ve seen dozens of powerful dance connections wreck even strong marital connections.)
Dick asked me out. I said yes. Four glorious Saturday nights of dinner and dancing followed and flowed into dancing almost every night. I found out that Dick used to dance competitively. Only it got too intense, he said, and it stopped being fun. Now he had met me, and he had rediscovered his love for dance. I probably glowed over that, and many other compliments.
Dick told me that I had too much potential to just dance in bars. I should compete, Dick said. Even if I didn’t compete with him, I should dance competitively with someone. There was a competition in Palm Springs in a few months that I could check out. Since our relationship was all googly-eyed bliss, I agreed to dance with Dick in Palm Springs.
Dick introduced me to dance studios, lessons, instructors, and other competitive dancers. All the men were very nice to me. All the women were reserved. Everyone seemed to know Dick, and yet no one was buddy-buddy with him.
I worked my butt off. But even as my dancing improved, my relationship with Dick deteriorated. On the dance floor, he grew critical of the slightest mistake. There was no longer laughter if I mistook a pivot for a telemark. Even if he didn’t speak an actual word of criticism, the five-minute frown and silent treatment that followed said it all.
I might have coped with an actual insult better. If Dick had been an outright dick, yelling, “No! Wrong, you clumsy bitch, get it right next time!” my nasty Ashbough temper would have responded with “WHAT did you just call me? Take your rude behavior and your receding hairline elsewhere, motherfucker!”
But Dick’s silent disapproval was the perfect key for unlocking my insecurities. I had only gained my father’s approval when I placed first or had perfect grades as a child. Dick slipped right into an old, twisted groove worn into my neural pathways. I thought, “If I’m just perfect, he’ll love me again, and we’ll be so happy again, and there will be fairies, flowers, and fireworks and all that great Disney shit!”
Of course that didn’t happen. It never does.
Instead, Dick’s silent disapproval grew noisy. He sighed about how dancing with me might hold him back, about how he might have to compete at an intermediate level, rather than an advanced level. All due to the fact that I wasn’t a good enough dancer yet, of course. His disapproval bled over into real life. If anything happened to stress Dick out or inconvenience him, that also became my fault. If Dick didn’t feel well? My fault for insisting on Del Taco over Carl’s Junior the night before. Late to a lesson because Dick had an errand to run at a store and the lines were long? My fault for not checking traffic and warning Dick we’d need extra time. His every unhappiness was ultimately down to me and he WAS NEVER HAPPY.
Maybe there was something seductive about the idea that I had control over our happiness, even though it was a total lie. Dick was in control. I did whatever Dick said to do, on the dance floor and off of it. I lost my appetite, and barely ate. Dick, who used to say I was beautiful without makeup, now insisted that I needed it, especially for competition. So I wore it. He hated skirts that twirled up on spins. I wore pants. I completely lost my hold on the smart, independent, and tough woman I used to be.
Well, I still had control of my legs. I should have used them to run. Just like I wanted Susan to run.* Yet I did not run. I only danced around the same ballroom floors, in the same circular patterns, following the same controlling lead. Over and over.
She said, “Tell me, oh, tell me, was I all right?”
Whatever happened to Saturday night?
– “Saturday Night,” The Eagles
*Susan did run, eventually. And while Good Chinese Wife was tough for me to pick up, I couldn’t put it down until I finished it.
You can read Part II in Dancing with the Dick.