Hope everyone enjoyed the winter holiday blogging break from my in-law issues. Break is over! We now return to Hawaii, almost 2 months after I married Andy.
When last I left you, Andy’s parents, both born in China, insisted on the Daughter-in Law Tea Ceremony, thereby showing me I ranked somewhere around servant status.
Next up was the Chinese wedding banquet, filled with my
most least favorite foods. We triumphed only because Andy can eat ALL the food.
You’d think that would be more than enough familial stress.
The morning after Andy broke curfew, his father marched into the kitchen. I greeted him with a cheerful, “Good morning, Jay.”
Jay’s not big on pleasantries. Or even words. He grunted and jerked his head at the door. “Come.”
Andy got up from the table. So did I.
Jay glared at me and barked, “You stay.”
I sat. Like a dog. A good dog.
Unlike a good dog, I fumed as Andy and his dad left the room. They didn’t stop in the living room, either. I heard them go all the way down the hall, to Andy’s parents’ bedroom – and shut the door. Whatever Jay was telling Andy, he absolutely did not want me to hear. I moved from fuming to brooding.
Why was I excluded? Was it something I’d done? Was Jay telling his son to kick the white girl to the curb? Or was it just the patriarchy back in action, talking about important man-stuff while the woman was left in the kitchen?
Well, screw that. I went and sat in the living room. Defiantly.
And then I imagined every conceivable catastrophe:
- I’d screwed up the banquet so badly that Jay had lost face and was insisting I had to go. (And here I’d been so certain I was finally holding the chopsticks right-side up!)
- I’d committed the ultimate faux pas during the Tea Ceremony. Maybe I’d handed over a tea-cup with four fingers. 4 was bad luck – for all I knew, I’d cursed the family and the curse could only cast out if I was cast out.
- Sunny blamed me for keeping Andy our past his high school curfew. Maybe Jay was GROUNDING Andy!
I giggled at the idea of Andy being grounded at age 31. But only for a second. Because as ridiculous as it might seem to me, it wasn’t out of the question.
I found the Wong family dynamic so foreign, that, as over-educated as I was, I could not make an educated guess about anything anyone in Andy’s family would say or do.
In my white family, if someone pisses you off, you don’t confront them directly. You jab at them verbally, making jokes at their expense, until they yell at you. Then you shrug, look bewildered, and say, “But I was only kidding! Can’t you take a joke?!” Everyone in the family shakes their head over the jerk who lost their temper. They invariably side with the verbal jabber. Especially if the jabs are witty.
But other families are different. One December, right before the holidays, two friends and I were moaning over the inevitable drama that comes with family gatherings. And we clearly did not define drama the same way.
One mixed race male said, “It’s not a party at my house until the cops come.”
A Latina scoffed at him. “It’s not a party at my house until the ambulance comes.”
They looked at me. I hesitantly offered, “Uh…at my house, somebody might slam a door?”
They laughed so hard that I refrained from telling them that I’m usually the one slamming the door. Once I did it repeatedly for 45 minutes. (I was 7.) It’s kind of amazing that my father didn’t kill me then and there. Also kind of a bummer. Then I could have totally topped my friends by saying, “Oh, yeah? Well, it’s not a party at my house until the CORONER comes!”
Basically, I had no street cred and no clue. All I could do was imagine horrific conversations occurring behind the closed door.
An eternity later, the door finally opened. Andy ran into the living room, eyes as wildly desperate as a cat fleeing a bath. He held several pamphlets in his hands.
I jumped up. “What?! What did your dad say?”
Andy: “I…I just…I can’t—” Andy looked down at the pamphlets in his hands. He shuddered, crumpled them up, and fled to the bedroom.
I followed. Andy threw the pamphlets across the room. Then he threw himself on the bed and pulled a pillow over his head.
Now, unlike me, Andy’s not given to drama. He’s mellow, more likely to greet bad news with a shrug than hysteria. One of his coworkers once told me that she envied his ability to stroll unhurriedly through the halls of their office building when everyone else on their team ran around wailing and screaming (possibly because something blew up).
Whatever his dad said must have been truly awful.
My stomach felt like I’d eaten lead. I closed the door.
“What. Did. He. Say?”
Andy’s only response was to moan and curl into a ball.
Totally unhelpful. I took a deep breath and managed not to throttle him. Instead, I picked up a crumpled pamphlet. I smoothed it out and did a double take.
It was titled: “How to Have Sex.”
I grabbed the other pamphlets. They had similar titles. I flipped them open. There were diagrams.
But only of the missionary position.
The lead in my stomach dissolved. I nudged my apparently comatose husband with a foot. “Honey, did you look at these pamphlets? I think they are missing a few options.”
“NO! I am never looking at those! Never again!”
“Soooo, you’re upset that your dad finally gave you the sex talk? Now that you’re thirty-one?” I kept a straight face only because love gives you superpowers.
Andy’s face emerged from the pillow. His expression was so tortured he could’ve played Oedipus right before the whole own eye-gouging incident. “It’s not just the pamphlets. It’s…” Andy’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Honey, he showed me his platform.”
“You know my dad is kind of short, right?”
I nodded. Andy’s father was barely five feet tall. Given that Andy is even taller than me — and thus a veritable giant among his people — I put Jay’s height down to poor nutrition during a childhood spent fleeing communists in China and then Vietnam.
Andy continued. “So made this platform to stand on when he and my mom…”
Andy couldn’t finish, but he didn’t need to. I got the idea. I battled with my expression. Sadly, this time I lost because even love can’t conquer ludicrous.
I laughed until I cried.
Andy looked at me with betrayed eyes.
I gasped, “I’m so…sorry…but I thought…it was something terrible…hahahaha!”
“It IS terrible!” Andy howled. “Platforms! Creepy, outdated, Christian sex pamphlets! Forced to imagine my parents — ugh!” He hit me with a pillow.
I laughed harder. “But I thought maybe it was serious…like they hated me…hahahaha, and it was only sex advice…fifteen years too late…hahahaha!”
I could not stop laughing, not even when his mother shoved open the door. “Andy? Are you in here?”
Andy threw another pillow at me and got up off the bed. “Coming, Ma.”
She waved him away. “No, no, not you. I want to talk to Autumn. About woman stuff.”
I stopped laughing and gave Andy a panicked, don’t-you-dare-leave-me look.
He smiled back. Evilly.
And then the rat bastard left the room.