Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Arthur -- Confronting it

I took the subway across the river yesterday morning, dressed nice but not to turn heads. Maybe real girls are able to do that without a whole lot of effort, grabbing a matching turtleneck and slacks out of the closet and being done with it, but I swear I have more trouble with a casual ensemble than I do preparing for a night on the town. The make-up is the worst. Applying that stuff feels like a startlingly pure expression of vanity, or at the very least calculatedness, but too often the lack of it makes people think you're kind of a slob. Society's to blame.

But, wishing doesn't make things different, so I got off the T at Copley, found the right building, and took the elevator to the seventh floor. I smiled at the office assistant, asked if Ray was in his office, and walked over as soon as she said yes.

"Come on," I said. "It's lunchtime."

He said he wasn't hungry. I said I could wait. He said it could be a long time. I said I was used to that. He looked up at that, giving me the stare that says "I don't appreciate the sarcasm." So, I said, are we going to eat or are we going to keep throwing euphemisms around until everyone else in the office realizes we've got some reason to be talking in code?

We opt for seafood.

He still doesn't really want to meet my eyes, so I start things. "The first thing that needs to happen is that you get off the couch. It can't be good for your back, and since you're not the one who screwed things up, it doesn't make any sense for you to punish yourself."

"For someone who says she screwed up, you don't sound terribly guilty."

That's fair; as much as I don't like my part in putting Ray in this situation, I didn't make the initial decision to cheat. Liz did that, and I played it out, and maybe I'm not actor enough to really own the responsibility.

"Well, what can I say? I've been living with it for almost a year. It's become almost my normal life, and maybe I resent that you didn't realize something was going on much sooner. That's no excuse, and it's ridiculously selfish of me to think that, but it's true. The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

"What do you want to do about it?"

"Pack up a few of my things, move to a new apartment, and lie low until it's someone else's problem," I didn't say. That would have been fantastic. But...

"I don't know. It would be much easier if we could just make a clean break, but if we just do it like this, mad at each other and full of blame, what happens with our folks? They've been friends for almost twenty years, they don't have a lot of other Korean neighbors, and that's important to them. I don't want to ruin the closest friendships, but..."

"But how long has that been all that's been holding us together?"

"Yeah." Not that I have any real idea, but if Ray's asking the question, I'll let him run with it.

"Look," I say, "I've got to work tonight, but when I come home, don't act like you're the one in the doghouse. That's silly and I'm not going to stand for it. If you don't want me in your bed, I'll be the one to sleep on the couch." I can't say I'd mind that at all. "If you can't stand the sight of me, I'll understand, and I'll be the one to leave. But let's try to salvage something, okay? Even if it's not as a couple, but just as friends. Elizabeth Lee has had Raymond Kim in her life too long to just cut him out entirely."

Okay, that's a weird way to say it. What can I say, I'm a writer who liked the dramatic sound and, besides, I can say that without it being a lie. Maybe that counted for something, because he said okay, that makes sense. He didn't kiss me when he left to get back to work, but I'm not going to complain about that.

I held it together long enough to get to the subway, but let loose a huge sigh of relief when I sat down on the inbound train. Still nervous I'd screwed someting up, I took the letter out of my purse and read it again.

Dear Arthur,

I can't possibly express how sorry I am for the situations I've put you in ever since that damn curse hit us, and I hope that someday, when everything is back to normal, there will be something I can do to repay you, although I can't imagine what. You've done so much that I feel like a terrible person for asking for more.

But I'm going to. You asked me what you should do, and in all honesty you should just move in with your friend Jake and let me fix my life when I get back. But if you do that, I might completely lose Ray forever, and even if I don't want to marry him, I don't want him out of my life. We've known each other since kindergarten, when we were the only Asian kids in our class, and sometimes we have a hard time finding the point where my family stops and his begins. If he comes to hate me, and his family comes to hate mine by extension, that would be awful. I don't want to be responsible for that.

It's a lot to ask, I know, and I don't know if I could do it if I were in your shoes. You're probably better off doing the smart thing and running as fast as you can, and I won't hold that against you. But you've done such a good job so far - as much as you were worried, telling Ray about Stewart was the right call - that I think you could do this, too. In some ways you've done a better job of living my life than I have, and I can't thank you enough.

With apologies for everything,


1 comment:

Scott said...

It makes me glad to hear you sought Liz's counsel on this.