Published under the pseudonym Salvatore Paradisio
Xpat Magazine March, 2007
“…there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and not try to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain.”
Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) American Beauty (1999)
I met a guy when I first moved to Taiwan. Let’s call him Stan. Stan was a nice guy. He was also an insecure guy who nearly obliterated the greatest relationship that he ever had – all because of his neurotic compulsions regarding beauty. His relationship was saved only by an act of great strength and devotion by his girlfriend at a crucial moment–she kissed me right in front of him.
Stan wasn’t an abnormal guy in regard to beauty. He just wanted to control it. I think that’s a pretty normal compulsion for a 20-something male. I know that damned-near every time I’m away from my girlfriend for more than seven minutes I slip into paranoid daydreams that she’s stolen away into the arms of her secret lover with whom she’s laughing wickedly about my naïveté. It makes me want to shadow her, break into her e-mail account and call her randomly to see if I can hear somebody else breathing in the background. But I don’t. Partly because I know that this sort of thing would bring a swift and unpleasant end to our relationship. And, when the paranoia has subsided, I know I’m being foolish and that control is the obsession of the insecure.
Stan didn’t know this. You see, in Canada, Stan was a bit of a dork. A pleasant soul, to be sure, but his thick-rimmed glass-wearing, rosy-cheeked baby-fat face and too-shy-to-look-up-at-the-waitress-when-he-orders demeanor didn’t get him far with the ladies. I can’t say for sure because whenever the subject came up, he dodged it with the agility of a youthful matador, but I’m certain that he came to Taiwan a 26 year-old virgin.
Of course Stan was, as are most foreign guys when they arrive in this heterosexual white-man’s Shangri-la, pleased as a big bowl of fruit punch. I remember the day he and I walked down the street (he actually was jiggling like a bowl of Jello in his white pinstriped button-up shirt and dark blue jeans), when he told me; “Sal, I’m never leaving this place. I’m gonna’ find me the most beautiful girl in this town, I’m gonna’ court her, and I’m gonna’ marry her.” This statement disturbed me.
“Court her?” I exclaimed. “Did you just say you’d ‘court her’?” Howling, I walked into a row of scooters and knocked them down and fell on top of them in a heap. “Well, you’re certainly going to be fighting them off with sweet lines like that.”
Nevertheless, Stan found his maiden. She was a Taiwanese teacher at his school. She was a plain, beautiful woman who wore long skirts and button-up sweaters. She rarely spoke, and when she did it was barely a whisper. She was innocent, shy, and very conservative–just what Stan was looking for. Stan was taken with her immediately. He wasted no time making an appointment with her parents (with a translator), to ask for permission to date their daughter. They ardently approved. Kiki was also quite impressed.
Things progressed quickly for Stan and Kiki. They went on dates to movies and bookstores. Kiki’s parents were ecstatic about the couple and encouraged them to get more serious. They didn’t have to push hard. After only five months Stan proposed and Kiki accepted. I found this news much less humorous than Stan’s ‘courting’ statement.
“Dude, you’ve only been seeing her five months,” I argued. “Wait a while. You haven’t known her long enough.”
“I know that I love her,” he replied, “and that’s all I need to know.”
“How can you know that?” I asked. “Her English isn’t that good. You hardly know her.”
“It’s not what we say that matters. It’s how we feel.”
Holy Jesus, I thought to myself. He’s living in a goddamned Kevin Costner movie. I tried one last argument to avert certain disaster. “If you love each other, and if you’re going to be together forever anyway, then why rush? Why don’t you take some time, save some money and have a big wedding with your family?” I argued.
“Because I want her to be mine, and I don’t want to wait,” he said with wide desperate eyes. I knew then that I couldn’t change his mind.
The engagement changed Stan and Kiki’s relationship. Kiki had achieved an important goal for a conservative young Taiwanese woman: cementing a relationship with a stable and reliable breadwinner. She was passing into adulthood and had made a very good start–especially in her family’s eyes. Now Kiki, who had previously been unbearably shy, gained a new confidence and became more outgoing. Where previously, she’d sit stiffly at a table in the corner seldom speaking, now she’d chat amiably with Stan’s friends, and even strangers, when they were out. She’d even have a few drinks when the mood struck her.
This scared the hell out of Stan. He was content for Kiki to cower in the corner, too frightened to talk to anyone. It was safe. But now that she was opening up he became frightened. Stan had never had a long-term girlfriend before. He’d always been rejected. His insecurities convinced him that if Kiki started making friends with other people she’d realize that he was a loser and leave him. He finally had a girl that wanted to be with him and he saw her slipping away.
So, Stan did what any red-blooded, bull-headed, run-of-the-mill guy would do: he tried pathetically to take control of the situation and nearly wrecked everything.
Stan would get drunk and angry when they were out. He’d feign conversation with friends while peering through beady red eyes across the bar, watching Kiki socialize gaily. Eventually he’d abandon his companions wordlessly, stumble across the bar and pull Kiki outside by the arm and yell at her. Sometimes after these ridiculous tirades they’d come back inside and sit silently at a table for a miserable drink or two, but usually they’d just get in a cab and leave.
What Stan didn’t realize was that Kiki attributed her newfound happiness to him and was even more enamored with him than ever. I know this because Kiki told me one night in the bar. It was, in fact, on Stan’s birthday–the night that Kiki kissed me. We were at the bar and Stan was monstrously sauced and he was hugging everybody. He trapped me in an uncomfortably tight embrace, one hand on my ass (by accident…uh, I think) and told me, “I luf ya man. Shiriushly. I knaw ahm drenk, bet I relly mean it. I luf ya.”
It was touching.
But then, as Stan gently caressed my buttock, he caught sight of Kiki. She was standing with Todd, an acquaintance of ours notorious for having slept with innumerable Taiwanese girls. They were watching us and laughing, probably making quips about Stan’s drunkenness and our latent homosexual tendencies. Stan was enraged. His already red face turned bright crimson. He walked straight over to them and let fly an awful diatribe.
“What are you laughing at?” he shouted. “Do you try to make me look like a fool? It’s not enough that you run around like a little tramp flirting with all the guys in the bar. You gotta sit here and laugh at me with him? On my birthday, no less. What, are you sleeping with him? Well, you’re not the only one. He’s the biggest man-whore in town. He slept with three different girls just last week. You probably got syphilis from him–just what you deserve you little sl…” Kiki slapped Stan and ran out of the bar.
The other Taiwanese girl who had been standing with Kiki and Todd stood rigid and silent. Her face was pale and her eyes wide as she looked at Todd, who returned her gaze sheepishly. At that moment a different Taiwanese girl strode purposefully across the bar up to Todd, tossed her drink in his face, kicked him in the shin and left.
Stan wandered off somewhere. To get another drink, I suppose. After a while Kiki came back into the bar and sat down next to me. Her face was streaked with mascara.
“I don’t know what to do, Sal. He gets so angry, but he have no reason. He worry me talk with others, but he can’t understand that he give me the power to meet people. Before I meet Stan I so shy. He a wonderful person, but I make him so angry. I tell him if he don’t want me talk others I stay home, but he worry I meet others when he gone. I don’t know I can marry him. I must stop this. You Stan’s very good friend, Sal. What I should do?”
“He’s worried because he loves you so much. He tries to stop you from talking to other guys because he’s afraid that he’s going to lose you. You need to get very angry at him, Kiki. You need to show him that if he doesn’t stop this he will lose you.”
“Ok,” Kiki said somberly. She stood up. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know.”
Wordlessly she marched off. I followed her. What had I done? She found Stan leaning on the bar. She smacked the back of his head and, after the impact slowly registered through the blanket of alcohol, he turned around.
“What the hell?”
“You very bad!” Kiki screamed. Everyone in the room stopped and turned to watch. “You always think I want talk with other guys. You think I so bad. But you so bad. I very nice with you. I do everything you want me do. But you always think I want other man. I don’t want other man. I love you.”
“Oh yeah?” he retorted. “Then what were you doing with Todd, eh? I don’t know why you’re even with me. Every time we go out you run around talking to so many different guys.”
“I talk them because they your friend. You leave me by myself. I need somebody with me talk. They with me talk.”
“Sure, that’s all you want. I know how you Taiwanese girls are with foreigners.”
“I know what you want.”
“What? You think I want kiss other foreigner? Ok. I kiss other foreigner.” Then Kiki turned around. I was standing right there. She grabbed my ears, nails digging into the flesh, and thrust her face against mine and held it there. When Kiki let me go I looked at Stan. His face was pale and deflated.
Kiki gave him a fierce look and said, “Now you leave me alone.” She turned and walked off.
Kiki went to the washroom, cleaned up her face and returned. She walked right past Stan and I, and joined a group of our friends on the other side of the bar. “It’s over,” Stan moaned. “I’ve lost her. I gotta go talk to her.” He started to get up.
“No dude.” I replied and pushed him gently back on to his stool.
I spent the rest of the night next to Stan, who, pale and quiet, chain-smoked and watched Kiki float from group to group chatting carelessly. Finally, after several hours, Kiki glanced over at us from a table. She excused herself, stood up, and walked over.
“Lets go.” She said to Stan. “Ok.” He replied. They left the bar arm in arm, Kiki vibrant with her head high, Stan slouched and ashamed. I found out that they’d made up when Kiki delivered my wedding invitation the following week. She thanked me for my advice and hurried off to continue her deliveries. I opened the invitation. The cover was white with a picture of two doves, one in a nest in the bottom corner, and another in the top, opposite corner flying towards its companion. The inscription read, ” If you love something set it free. If it returns to you it will be yours forever. If it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with. ”
Stan and Kiki were wed a month later, and Kiki got pregnant right away. I later commented to Stan that Kiki had gotten pregnant very quickly, and he told me that he and Kiki had conceived the first time they made love. His expression was odd when he told me this, and I asked why. Then he told me that their first time had not been their wedding night. It had been the night that Kiki kissed me.