I went to the grocery store this morning. As I was pulling in the parking lot, I saw a woman sitting in the car next to me–she is crying while talking on the phone. I felt the urge to go comfort her, but I knew this couldn’t be done since she’s going to consider me harassing her. I wish she’s not an immigrant, but she mostly like is. Living in this area, the likelihood of being an immigrant is very high. There’s a reason why I don’t wish her to be an immigrant because immigrants face more emotional challenges when family members are not around, safety net is not very safe, friends and relatives are scattered farther away.
I forgot several items I was supposed to buy from the store since my mind continued to fix on the woman and not on the store shelves. She is probably breaking up with her boyfriend or she’s having a family fight. Or she’s going through a divorce, which is worse. There’s a reason why divorce rate is so low among immigrants–too many uncertainties in life that one wants to seek certainty as much as possible–a stable relationship is the best sign of assurance and security. People want to stay together in whatever way possible. Even in those cases when a couple is obviously no good for each other, they still stay together, each retreating to a corner to minimize the toxic interaction, each talking only out of necessity, each behaving carefully within the limits of daily ceremony.
Here are some of the stories I’ve witnessed, for which I have changed each character so much that it cannot be traced back to the person it is based on.
- W and her husband M have to be placed in separate locations at any party to reduce the possibilities of the two starting a quarrel. M likes to talk and when the topic touches on food, politics, families, women, W just can’t sit still and listen. One would think W has developed the habit of listening and keeping her mouth shut after years of marriage, but that’s not the case. W will openly object to M’s stories. Then W and M would seek alliance around the table and ask other people to take sides, for which the pitfall is obvious–an expression of opinion, any opinion, is the surest way to offend either the husband or the wife. If one tries to stay neutral, one ends up offending both.
- W is becoming an excellent detective. I think the police department should hire W to have a crack on some unsolved cases. She has been following her husband for years, poring on his phone record and credit card record, monitoring his car mileages, chatting with his coworkers, visiting his ex-girlfriends. If W has extra money, she will surely hire a private eye, but they have been struggling with their mortgage payment and there’s no money to spare. Whenever you meet W, she is fixated on the topic about her husband. If she inquires about a new app, she’s thinking of a way to track her husband; if she talks about a new TV show, it bounds to have a character or a relationship connecting to her husband; if she proposes a gathering or a trip, it must have a hidden agenda of monitoring her husband or disrupting her husband’s other plans.
- W and M run a business together, but they dislike each other so much that any kind of interaction is an irritation. In their office, they try to stay in different rooms so that they would not bother each other. Still when M talks on the phone for too long, W can run to his room and yell at him for no reason. Or when W is dressed in a particular way to show her figure, M would grumble, “you look fat.” At home, their son often becomes their messenger. Sometimes even at the dinner table, W would say to her son, “tell your father he needs to do this and that today.” M hears the message. After a while, M would say to his son, “tell your mother she put too much vinegar in the egg drop soup.” And of course food has become W’s weapon to torture her husband, whose tolerance for sourness is much lower than W’s. Finally M threatens to order takeout or pizza, which will surely double their dinner budget–this cannot be allowed when their property tax and mortgage is so high. So W agrees to negotiate and they eventually come to a consensus that the vinegar should be reduced to a minimum during the cooking process.