I didn’t know the universe was going to drop some serendipitous solution down the pipeline.
I was on my way to becoming a company man. However, both of my parents worked from home growing up. Perhaps this shaped my perception in some way. Wasn’t I rebelling by holding down a job that required punching a timecard? Nice try, but my parents didn’t try to live vicariously through me. They didn’t urge me into the arts. Life was my call. The cubical, and my skewed perception of it, was my own creation.
That’s where I was when my wife was offered the China job. The timing seemed perfect, but the voice of my Conscious wasn’t so sure. “Let’s weigh our options,” he said.
I weighed my options, and then there was the voice of my big hairy Ego. A character in his own right, he planted himself in the back seat of my mind. Loath to back down from a challenge, he had his own brand of logic, turning ideas of reality upside down, coaxing me away from the comforts of the crowd. What are you going to do, circle the Taco Bell drive-thru for the rest of your life?
The thought of getting married, quitting my job, and moving overseas was terrifying. But it was also exciting. Wasn’t that a strange thing? Though I didn’t realize it at first, climbing this terror barrier would lead to the death of my Ego. The epitaph on his tombstone reads:
HE QUIT HIS JOB TO BECOME A HOUSEWIFE
It didn’t take long to adjust to my new role in China. My mother taught me to cook from an early age, and thanks to that summer job at the Piggly Wiggly, I knew my way around a grocery store. As for chores, my mother retired herself from laundry duty when I began to smell like teen spirit. My sister and I had to clean our own bedrooms and bathrooms growing up, as well as wash the dishes and the family car. A lot of my friends didn’t do that, but hey, it was the only way my parents would fork over the allowance.
These habits made my transition to housewife somewhat familiar. I was back in a chores-for-allowance system in our two bedroom apartment in Suzhou. I remember my first pilgrimage to the neighborhood wet market. There were fresh fruit and veggie stalls, eggs and tofu.
I was doing alright until I needed meat. The options were a tad unnerving. Aside from live chickens, there were shallow aquariums packed with turtles, toads, and mysterious ribbon-shaped creatures. Folks pointed to the animals in this doomed pet shop, and walked away with plastic bags that quivered from within. And how could I forget the disemboweled pigs hanging from meat hooks, and my friendly neighborhood butcher, swathed elbow deep in blood, smiling back at me? Good times.
I eventually got used to the smell of blood in the air. With my chores squared away and my wife at work, I strode through the streets of Suzhou with an enthusiasm not unlike Alice on a mushroom binge in Wonderland. The bus rides were packed, the sidewalks were pebbled, and all of the storefronts and pagodas were powdered with dust. Everything looked so different, but apparently, so did I. Folks stared at me all the time, and from behind my tortoise shell shades, I secretly admired the attention.
This went on until the cold of winter forced me back inside. Like so many housewives, I struggled to find creative ways to pass the time. I revisited the classics I neglected to read in high school, wrote long emails to friends back home and attempted new recipes. This got me through the winter, but I was still wrestling with this new identity, trying to figure out who I was, and what I should do.
Return of the Ego: It’s baaaack…
The idea came to me one morning while I was watching CNN. “I’ve got it! I’ll write a novel.” Of course, it seemed logical. Just look at where I was. Surely people wanted to hear my story. I just had to write it down and WHAM bestseller. After all, I was a risk taker. I was frigging Hemingway!
You, dear reader, can see where this is going.
In my defense, I was spending a lot of time alone in a strange place. After two weeks, it dawned on me that I was in way over my head. My ‘life story,’ if you could call it that, was a disturbing 50 page screed. Was everyone’s life as awesome as mine? Hell no. I was going to tell all; from childhood fetishes to erratic college benders.
The problem, aside from delusions of grandeur, was that my words weren’t so compelling the next day, after my “genius high” wore off. All I wanted to do was write the literary interpretation of a shotgun blast through the pants of the American Dream. Was that so complicated?
Apparently so. Before long, the thought of writing made me want to do anything else. A routine trip to the bathroom could turn into a six-hour cleaning jag. In these states, I’d tackle one room after the next, deriving a twisted sense of self-worth through a deliriously sparkling toilet bowl. When I was finished, I’d stand in the doorway and take a deep breath, admiring perfection in a moment in time. Unlike my static written persona, the real me was acting crazy. Those oddly-labeled chemicals probably had something to do with it, but as long as I accomplished something, I didn't care.
As it turned out, neither did my wife. “Ooh, clean,” was all she said. Then she’d close the door and flush a day’s worth of work down the drain.