Telling stories over a cocktail in a loungey bar? It’s no wonder I try to drop into The Moth Story Slam whenever I find myself back in LA. It’s just too bad that the synchronicity of such events is not simply like catching lightning in a bottle, but chasing down that damn firefly and all you got is some narrow-necked empty Corona. The last one I went to was Summer 2014, and the theme was “Altered,” which you’d think would lead to some crazy stories, being LA and all, but in fact resulted in far too many “and what altered was my perspective on life” kind of stories. Here’s my attempt at some kind of story, although it’d never make it on stage as a story of “real life,” since it’s embellished with more than a little bit of dramatic license. I’ll leave it to you to figure out to what extent the story is “altered” as such, but that’s a going a bit meta for the theme, so I’ll stop the prologue here and just begin with…
TAIWAN’S MOON PEOPLE
I should have known better when the conversation during the first date involved stories of her psychiatrist and the medication she was using.
Normally, that would be a deal-breaker, but then again, I was already breaking my own rules about deal-breaking with such a date. Rule number one: Don’t date a local girl. Rule number two: Don’t date anyone “younger.” Yet, there I was, walking down the shopping streets of Ximen in Taiwan, with a college girl who went from friendly tour guide to something more– so seamlessly but so quickly that the result was a heady rush usually expected from cheap wine.
As a consultant for design engineering, Taiwan had great opportunity– one of the five largest and growing economies in Asia, with decades of dealing with Western counterparts while remaining decades behind in infrastructure. And while my company had many positions available for a whole team of consultants, I had never been placed in a company so deliberately with such a lack of support. While there was more than a simple curb-side drop-off on my arrival to my furnished, temporary apartment, it wasn’t *much* more than that.
But no matter. Within a few weeks, I had found for myself a routine for work, a new gym, and familiar faces at my regular coffee shop. In fact, seeing my favorite barista recognizing me and knowing my order made me smile the most. What was it that some famous guy said? Something about somewhere everybody knowing your name? Well, hers was Love. Really, it was PengWen, but her “Western name” was Love.
Coffee orders evolved to conversation, then to a connection. “Oh!” she almost yelled with the laugh, “You know Doraemon?” Of course I recognized the blue cartoon cat in the pin on her apron. He’s a robot cat from the future with a doorway to another dimension in his stomach. “Isn’t that just hilarious?” she said, knowing it was so, in that ironic psuedo-hipstery kind of way. Exactly.
Why, yes, I would need someone to show me around the city. And why, yes, we did share the same likes and dislikes of food. And movies. And music. And the moon. “Daylight is so harsh. And so bright? What is up with that. The moon is so much more mysterious. You can rest in the moonlight.” The night was filled with more conversation, too, and later, kisses. And later, more. Maybe the mention of the medication at some point days ago didn’t seem so important, not when we also talked of family, her life, her school major, graphic design. There was also her plan to move to the States. And after all, I didn’t want a girlfriend. That was against the rules. She didn’t want a boyfriend, either. That wouldn’t be according to the plan.
I told her those rules. She told me those plans. Semi-regularly. We were meeting nearly every weekend. We were Skype chatting every night. She wouldn’t end Skype until we had both got ready for bed, and I would lay my head on the pillow with her face in the laptop beside me on the bed. She refused to go to sleep first, since I was so “old,” I obviously should be the one more sleepy, despite it being 1 am already for the both of us. “You logout first.” “No, you logout first.”
Good Lord. I was dating someone. A local girl. I didn’t want to do the math to find out she was 12 years younger. It would be just one more reason to not do this. But there was a bigger reason telling me the opposite. I think I was falling in love. Months were passing, and my worry about the relationship went from “should this be happening?” to “when should I tell her?” Our conversations were growing deeper. Her graduation was approaching. There was a threshold coming.
Also coming to Taiwan’s skies was a “supermoon.” I would secretly plan that it would provide an excuse for a nighttime hike, holding hands and kissing under clear skies and giant moonlight. Instead of Skyping, though, I saw a Facebook message from Love. She apologized for becoming my friend, that this friendship was not what she thought it was. She wanted to make it quick; she wrote that she had no “good” friends, was not a good person, and was ending all her relationships.
Once upon a time, in the first couple of weeks when first lived alone in my own apartment, I looked at the pile of dishes in the sink and decided I would rather just buy a whole new set, dumping all those in front of me into the trash instead.
I tried to parse the message; nuance and playfulness are hard to communicate through a second language, after all. But the words dind’t change no matter how I looked at them. All my replies were being “seen” but not answered. That night, I went to sleep on the bed with the laptop closed on the far side of me and stared at the equally blank ceiling.
The next two days, my feet carried me through the city and back home again. My hands did the CAD drawings and emails they were supposed to. My mouth idly ate some food for me. My eyes watched the world as if it were some strange foreign film.
Well, if there was one thing I was good at, it was goodbyes. The final word between me and Love would not be the question mark and crooked head sticker sent to elicit a response from social media. I prepared a multiparagraph missive so I could rehearse as best I could my understanding of her feelings, my guess at my own failings, and my attempt to hold her to higher standard, to not give her the easy out. At least we would always have Starbucks.
She left the coffeeshop at the end of her shift more promptly then she usually would have. Her head almost buried in a high collar ill-suited for Taiwan’s heat, and her attention buried even more into the private world allowed by her muffler-style headphones, she almost didn’t see me. Or maybe she chose not to. I had to step in front of her to give her whatever it was that I remembered from my rehearsal.
After dutifully giving her time to react, she explained, still without really seeing me, that she was drunk that night, but it helped her to say the things that needed to be said. It was a decision she had to do for herself, she said. That it was completely selfish and rude and it confirmed she was not a good woman but it had to be done. For her future.
“Yeah, well. You’re right, then– You are selfish. But in a relationship you don’t get to be selfish. It’s not a lightswitch you hit as you exit a room. That’s not the way it works.”
“I’m almost done clearing my friends,” she said without a shrug, “I just don’t have friends basically.”
And, “You know, I’m not a cold-hearted person. This is the worst thing ever, but I have to do what must be done. 加油, Jiayou… good luck to you.”
I grabbed her by both shoulders, turning her out of her walk. “No, I can’t accept that. I don’t like the sound of what you’re saying. Are … are you going to hurt yourself?” I searched her eyes, trying to peer into the bottom of the pool. The strangest fact was that there was nothing strange there. They were completely normal, clear pools after all.
“I have never made those kinds of plans,” she said.
But nothing more came out of either of us. Eventually, “what would you have me do?” she asked simply.
I let go. Shaking my head, in order to keep the rest of my body from shaking, I didn’t know what else to say. “You need to do this? Fine. You’ve already said this was a selfish choice. I will still be your friend even if you don’t want it. You can message me when you’re ready, then.”
She put her headphones back on, faint strains of Adele’s Chasing Pavements wafting by, and continued on her way.
That night was the supermoon, the night my heart was broken.
Later, we did in fact get in touch with each other again. She was waning herself off her medication and was suffering extreme paranoia, apparently, and talked a bit about that journey. There was a brief, new phase of relationship, but by then, however, even coming back to friends was too arduous a journey, and it would never be what it once was. The next break-up turned out much more mutual, and much more natural.
As it turns out, these days, I much prefer the daylight.