Flash Fiction #109–The character “I” in this story is fictional.
An amiable pair of eyes; a round silent face; a hair clasp fastening unruly straight black hair into a tightly controlled pony tail; a simple suit obviously from a sales rack of an affordable store–this is a typical woman scientist, whose youthful aspiration for science has matured into a subdued middle-aged existence of accepting repetitive work while not expecting exciting breakthrough result falling out of the sky.
We are strangers. I work as a researcher in Rutgers University while she’s a post-doc in Columbia University. This is our first meeting at an annual immunology conference at Penn State University which lasts for four days. I am happy to get away from the lab work and endless chores at home for a few days, and she’s excited to be out of the hectic New York City life.
“You know Columbia is kicking post-docs like me out of its affordable housing program next year and I don’t know where I’m going to live. Manhattan is so expensive; Brooklyn is getting un-affordable; Queens is too far away–three hours of commute each day. Can you believe it?” She says as we talk about things in general at first.
Our friendship grows fast. We talk during breaks from the seminars and discussion forums; we have lunch and dinner together. Two Asian women, met in a new place. Inevitably, our casual conversation takes on a more intimate tone from the second day.
“I just dislike conflicts and quarrels so much. Nowadays people are getting more vehement in their argument in almost everything. Why?” She says to me. Her gentle eyes stare at me in her unique reserved way. “I don’t argue. Really. It will be the death of me…”
She was born to parents who have strict rules, rigid opinions, and bitter criticisms. Each day, they found new excuses to battle each other acrimoniously. Only in two occasions they stopped fighting each other–The first was that they were united when they scolded her and mocked her failings. The second was that they put up a united front against others–they considered themselves the center of the world, and everybody else was ridiculous.
It is no surprise that she, growing up in such an environment, has wanted to live a completely different life. However like many children who grow up in such kind of families, their social skills are impaired to various degrees, some more serious than others. Sometimes they are too eager to connect with others to make people feel that they are too clingy; sometimes at the moment of true intimacy, they make people feel that they can’t commit; sometimes they are too generous that they let everybody rob them; sometimes they are too slow to respond that people feel that they are cold and distant; sometimes they are so warm to reckless or unscrupulous people that they alienate their friends.
She tells me that after she got married, her child was brought up by her husband’s mother because she’s too busy with her work. She tells me that they have to purchase property and burial plot for her husband’s family in Southeast Asia, for which she objected, but had to give in to the pressure eventually because she dislikes squabbles and disagreement. She helped a friend and a colleague with his project, but only to feel cheated later on when she discovered that her friend was not really in dire financial streak but rather he was feeding his risky habit. She held parties and invited people for the benefit of her husband who could easily get bored at home, only to realize too late that her husband was having an affair and was leaving her.
“He gets everything. Our kid, Tommy, loves my mother-in-law. I have to give up Tommy so that he could live with them. Now I have to pay child support. I have to give up the dog too since Tommy loves the dog.” She says.
“What do you think? Is there something wrong with me? Should I go to see a psychologist?” She asks and I don’t know what to say. Is she too naive? Is she molding her own behavior only to counteract her parents’ ways, but not really to her own benefit? Has she made mistakes in her marriage or not?