Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Zombie Tai Chi

I work with this guy who is going through this particularly hard break up. Nobody saw it coming. Les and Sandy weren’t a typical match-up, but that’s what made them great. They’re teachers across the street in the elementary school, and she just up and left him. No reason, really, just slipped out the back Jack. Up to Taipei, caught a flight to Bombay and was gone, leaving him here alone in this country surrounded by the Taiwanese.
Les can’t speak a lick of the local dialect. Can’t read or write it either, but she could. He depended on her for everything. She made doctor appointments for him, bought all the train and bus tickets when they traveled. “It just exhausted her,” he confessed. “Taking care of me was a full time job.”
Then he broke out into tears. Actual tears. Right in front of me. It felt like confession. He’s moaning and wailing in the empty staff room and all I can say to him is, “Uhhh… time …heals…all…wounds?”
Right. I’m a loser, I know. I can do better than that. But what do you say?
Now Les is a wreck. A physical, emotional, mental blithering broken faucet of emotion. He can’t get through a day of work without crying. This is Taiwan, after all. We work on Christmas. Ain’t nobody takes a day off in this country. So we’re stuck with him. Grieving along with his arch of pain. Wincing as he stands at the photocopier doubled over, his guts bursting. Changing the subject to sports and the weather when we are all sitting around grading papers and his eyes well up with tears. Hurrying quickly past the science room where he can be seen through the little glass window in the closed door clutching his shoulders and rocking back and forth like he’s in his mama’s arms.
It just reminds me again, that for some… love sucks!
We’ve all been there.
The last time I remember taking a break up that bad was a couple of days before I left for South Korea to teach ESL for the first time. I drove from Portland down to California to see this girl that I thought at the time I was madly in love with, but she ended up being in bed with another. I didn’t know what I was expecting to find. Perhaps ask her to come with me or confess undying love. Anyway, I drove the whole way back north listening to old Bob Dylan's "Don't thinkg twice, it's alright," and "Simple Twist of Fate," and crying like a tortured lunatic. I mean, twelve straight hours of weeping. That was a decade and a half ago and I’m still pissed. I’m still absolutely pissed.
Time ain’t heal nothing about that.
So I am bound and determined to help Les out, get him back in the game. But Les is thirty, kinda soft and paunchy, sort of losing his hair on top. He hasn’t wooed a woman in years. There’s only one solution: Online Dating.
It is astronomical to me how many people have turned to the internet to find love. It is just crazy. And the kink? On the internet the freaks rule. There is literally someone for everyone. So with a gleeful and hopeful smile, I begin to make an e-profile for him. I fix his collar, tell him to suck in his chin, and snap a photo with my webcam. He looks sort of like a bespectacled Mr. Potato Head. Perfect. I don’t even hesitate. Goodbye Mr. Lonely Nights… and hit enter.
Last Friday night was his first date. Selena is a deliciously, dark skinned African American from Savannah who is working in a travel agency is KaoShuing, a city about an hour west of here. Oh yes, Taiwan has an extensive online dating community, who knew?
Selena is thirty-five, has these strong legs, and an aphro. She’s into art and red wine. I thought she looked awesome, so I set them up.
I run into Les the next day.
“It didn’t work.”
“What happened?”
He explained all he did was talk about his ex, Sandy. How he sees her everywhere. They’ll be this cute actress on TV that reminds him of something Sandy might do like tackle him when he’s standing next to raked leaves or bite her lower lip when she concentrating. Or he’ll walk up to the elevator and the two numbers by the doors are the same as her birthday: 8 16. He says the other day he was at the video story checking out the bottom shelf and there, in a row, were her three favorite movies of all time and he lost it again.
“That’s not good first date behavior, Les.” I tell him
He immediately burst into tears.
That was it. I knew I needed to bring out the heavy guns. I logged onto the Taiwanese dating service and found Les another match and set it up for that night. I psyched him up. Even called him to make sure he was ready. He seemed confident. He was going to forget Sandy. She had moved on, and so would he. He could do it.
Marlene was a South African teaching in Tainan just a thirty minute scooter ride over. She was into rugby, had this perfect athletic build and adorable accent, they were going to see Invictus on Saturday night.
“It’s a movie about history, and politics and international competition, man.” I pumped him up. “It’s a true story, and it’s got her favorite sport, just ask her questions and listen to what she says. I bet she’s fascinating.”
He called me later at midnight sobbing.
“What happened this time?”
“You didn’t tell me Invictus was a poem.”
“What are you talking about?”
Les went on to explain that Sandy had always been deeply into poetry, that she quoted it all the time. In fact, one of her criticisms of Les was that he never paid enough attention to it, never listened, never cared that she liked it.
“She used to read me that poem all the time,” he confessed.
Then Les went on to describe how instead of listening to Marlene he talked about loss. How being in a relationship is like entering a dance. You move a certain way and she moves in response, and then she drifts this way and you react, and eventually you are making harmony, but then when it’s over it’s so sudden. Like somebody just cuts the music and turns on the lights and you are alone in the room with your eyes closed still dancing slowly with yourself. You realize it too late, open your eyes, and there is nothing you can do.
I nod my head. I let him talk.
He continues. When you break up with somebody, the advice is always the same. People are unremarkably similar in their lack of creativity on this front. They say, put your names in all your books and grab the good photos. It’s good advice, but what about intellectual property. Who gets your favorite coffee shop with the comfy chairs that delivers the New York Times on Sundays? Who gets your favorite TV show on Thursday nights, the one you used to sit and snuggle under blankets and giggle about together? Who gets your favorite junk food and holiday snacks? Who gets old Beatles songs that come on the radio and cut up your guts to shreds, huh?
Seriously, this guy was starting to depress even me. All I could say was, “She gets ‘em, Les. She gets them for now until you want them back.”
He nodded, and for a moment his crying stopped.
The next morning was Sunday and I couldn’t sleep. The mosquitoes woke me up, and I decided to take a walk at five in the morning. Down the elevator and past the guard station, out into the park blocks and up the canal to the massive stone and brick science museum park with the dinosaur statues and sculpture art. My legs just moving. My arms swinging at my sides. Filling my head with nothing but empty thoughts. The coolness of the breeze. The blue light of dawn rising out of morning shadows.
It was then I saw them.
Standing in formation, their bodies contorting in circles. One legged stork beside a stream. Poking fingered praying mantis clinging to a branch. Crouching tiger in the grass ready to pounce. It was a group of Tai Chi members moving in perfect unisome. Old and withered. Young and stout. Middle aged and strong. A hundred fold. As I stood there, they looked like a group of slow moving zombies marching toward me, an optical kinesthetic, appearing to move like the lights from faraway towns while you stand back from a distance. I watched them dance. Graceful and pure, as if the music of the universe was all in their own head for them to enjoy alone.
It made me think of Les and the loss of love. How to heal ourselves it may take time, or jumping into a new relationship, or fleeing to another country to bury the dead, but mostly it just takes inner peace. The ability to stand by yourself and not be afraid. Only then can we be a part of something mighty and good and healthy again . Only when the peace returns inside, the beauty takes over, and we pass from death to life again.
When I returned home the house was quiet. Everyone was still asleep and I crept into my daughter's room and sat on the floor very still like a whisper. This year will be a year of changes, and I am waiting. These changes are the big life altering ones that march slowly at you, terrifying in their slow ascent. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. It's hard to put your faith in something like waiting, isn't it? Waiting for something better on the other side. Yet if we didn't, we might as well be the walking dead because without hope there isn't any life at all.

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