And don’t forget to give me back my black T-shirt

I’m leveling with you here: I wrote this post earlier today and now I’m questioning if I should publish. I don’t enjoy doing this. I enjoyed relaying these stories earlier, when they were lighter and happier, but this post gets serious. I can laugh at China, haha, I had a bad time, check it out! I’m lucky to have gone and yet look how much it sucked! Contrasting emotions! But this post…

There’s not much funny here.

I don’t look at this and laugh, not really

I just need to tell you that, before you read it.

I Am A Bitch, aside #3: I’m semi-publicly writing about an altercation with a family member.

All relationships may be different but they all end in basically the same way. Isn’t that a quote from something? So on top of doing a morally-grey thing, I’m not convinced I’m even doing it interestingly.

I Am A Bitch, aside #4: I think being entertaining can justify shady behavior.

I was under-using those asides. I’m trying to make up ground. Gosh, it’s only 4?

The day after the altercation

The day after the altercation I hung out with Jane and did the things I detailed in the last post. During our cab ride back to the apartment, I tried to determine whether Jesse had told her about said altercation. It’s nice to have these deep conversations in a cab and not feel at all awkward because the driver can’t understand shit. She hadn’t heard about it from Jesse, and as I told her bits and pieces — giving her enough clues as to the drama of it without blaming her husband — i.e., mostly expressing my own confusion and surprise — she was silent. I wondered if she was processing new information about her husband for the first time. I wondered if she had heard things like this before. I wondered if in a week’s time she would think I had exaggerated everything.

I had watched her nurse that man constantly when he was sick for nearly 2 weeks. If she thought that his illness overstayed its welcome because of his love for the wine and his staying up until 3am on days when he’d need to wake up at 8, I never heard her say it. She did what she had to do.

I think if I were in her position, at her age, I would do what I had to do too.

The day of

Or, night. We were trying to watch a movie. I downloaded A Field in England because it had gotten good reviews and looked interesting. I wanted to watch something that neither of us had seen before; I was in a discovering mood. Well, 30 minutes into the movie Jesse was clearly very bored, and I had difficulty rationalizing why the movie was interesting, so we turned it off. And then we were stuck in this, “Well what the fuck else are we supposed to do?” moment. The energy was antagonistic. He wanted to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I didn’t want to watch something we both had seen. He was bored with the early seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He wasn’t enthused about the usual recommendation of jumping to season 3. (Do it; it’s easier that way.) I picked a random fun episode, the baseball one, and stuck it in. But we only gone a few minutes into that before I had to pause it. Because he was upset and he had something he wanted to tell me.

We had started the evening finishing off a 1/2 bottle of yesterday’s wine. We had opened another. One of those I had bought, since he had complained earlier about how he was buying all the wine. He was right, but it was because (1) he was drinking more wine than I was, (2) before I’d come over he’d talked big about how he was going to treat me to amazing, cheap wine so I had just assumed, and (3) in the States he had probably drank $60 worth of my alcohol. WHATEVER. I’ll buy some fucking wine.

We didn’t have much alcohol in us. The wine bottle was on his side of the living room, though, and I think he kept drinking from it during our 2-hour discussion. This is in his defense, because my God.

The TV didn’t have a screensaver and never shut off so we had one of these going the whole time.

Just looking on.

He was lying flat on the couch. I was sitting cross-legged on mine.

“What?” I asked.

“I just feel like you’re not having a good time,” he said.

“No… I want to watch this. This is literally in my top 5 for Deep Space Nine.”

“No, I don’t mean that.”

“What do you mean?”

It was pulling teeth at first. Remember, 2 hours, and I can’t recall how 75% of that time was spent. I can only conclude we talked in circles. Initially I was in “defensive mode” — not in the sense that I was arguing back, but in the sense that I was so confused it was almost making my fight-or-flight impulses kick in. At one point I realized how patronizing I was being, but I didn’t know how else to be: I didn’t want to argue about something that couldn’t be fixed.

My thoughts are in italics.

“I just feel like you came all this way out here and you haven’t done anything fun,” he said.

You think? You just now noticed that? Start of week 4?

“I’ve done fun things,” I said.

He was silent, so I offered examples. “We went to Red Leaves Valley, that was fun. We went to the market. I really like going to the mall downtown. And I’m going out with Jane tomorrow.”

“Yeah, but it didn’t seem like you were having fun.”

Wait, am I just supposed to tell you that yes, I’ve had a shitty time here?

“I’ve had a very good time,” I said.

“No one cares enough to hang out with me.”

“What?”

“You’re the only one. Do you see anyone else in my family coming all the way to China? No one is ever going to come out here. You’re the only person in my family that cares.”

“Well they’re very busy… They have kids. And your parents already came here a few years ago.” For a family wedding. “There’s less reason for them to come again.”

“Yeah.”

I looked at the TV, wondering if I could press play.

This hairstyle means good episodes.

“We were going to go drinking together. At the bar. You haven’t been to that bar once.”

“You haven’t asked me to go.”

This was true. Remember that fight we had about Cano? Jesse went to the bar a lot after that and, of course, I wasn’t invited those times since we were not speaking. It was his doctor friend’s bar. It was supposed to be a cool place, but let’s face it, it was probably horrible.

He was only temporarily flummoxed. “After it snowed we climbed the mountain and you didn’t want to go.”

“Well, Cano was going. And I didn’t feel like going outside anyway. If I had gone, I wouldn’t have had fun. I thought this was about me having fun?”

“It is.”

“You’re going to have to believe me that I’ve had fun. I don’t know what else to say.”

Holy shit, I am a liar and it’s not even cute.

“I don’t understand how you can say you’ve had fun,” he said.

At this point, I went into a long talk, probably 5 minutes of me talking, explaining to him how, no, everything hasn’t been perfect but I’ve made the best of things. And how I’ve had to deal with jet lag, and schoolwork, and then we lost a few days because we weren’t talking to each other. And how the last few nights I’ve had a surge in work-work, so we missed each other’s schedules. And how we were still going to do a hike on the Great Wall when I went back home via Beijing, if he and Jane even wanted to come do that with me.

They had been flakey about committing to this hike. I needed to reserve our spots, and it was less expensive if we all did it together. I was waiting to hear a for-certain “no” before I spent the $240 it’d cost for just me.

He said, “We do want to come to that. I just think you don’t want us to come to that.”

You’re not wrong

“Jane has been very iffy about coming to that,” I said. “Are you saying she thinks I don’t want her to come? She made it sound like it was about the money. And she said you’ve already seen the Forbidden City twice now and don’t know if you want to again. I can do that on my own. I understand if you don’t want to come to Beijing.”

“I want to come. I thought you didn’t want me to.”

“I thought Jane didn’t want to! I thought she was using the money as an excuse! She was so lukewarm that whole conversation!”

“I want to come.”

“Okay, well you can come. If she wants to.”

“I can come by myself.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why?”

This was towards the end of the 2 hours, and it had been slowly dawning on me that I did not like this person. This strange, pouty, confusing person I was suddenly meeting for the first time.

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s just weird. I don’t want to share a hotel room with just you. I don’t feel comfortable with that for 2 days. And… I want her to come. That’s another cool thing about this trip. I got to know Jane a lot better. She’s awesome, and I’m really glad I got to spend more time with her.”

“You know if you want her to like you then you need me to like you.”

“Okay?”

Seriously, just skip to the seasons with this hairstyle.

He had half-smiled when he had delivered that middle-school line. He was speaking completely seriously, and it was the smirk of someone enjoying watching someone else squirm.

And then I really didn’t like this person.

And I wanted it over.

“Okay,” I said, “Well I don’t know what to do now. I don’t feel like finishing this.” I gestured to the TV.

“Me neither.”

“Okay, well. Thank you for telling me all of this. I will work on showing my appreciation more. I’m sorry that I obviously haven’t been doing that well. I’m very appreciative of you letting me stay here, and I have been having a good time. And… I’ll be in my room.”

That was when I really knew I was a patronizing fuck.

I called my parents from my room, whispering carefully so he wouldn’t overheard. While it was late at night for us, it was in the middle of the day for them. I relayed most of the conversation to them and said how confused and weird I felt about it. They were sympathetic and wonderful.

The man who had just smirked sadistically while expressing the power he had over his wife and my friendship with her… I didn’t feel safe around that. I knew it was irrational, but I needed someone to tell me it was. To tell me that, no, I was not going to be tortured in the night.

I’m joking about the torture line. But the brain gives you funny ideas when it’s feeling panicky and startled.

Thoughts

I’ve thought about my impressions of this conversation many times since then, but this is the first time I’ve dug through it since I had relayed it to my parents afterward — and, of course, experienced it. Here are some things I realized just now.

  1. I think he sensed our friendship was toast. He sensed it before I had sensed it. And, it was. It took me a while to come to that conclusion, and after not speaking to him for 2 months post-China I gave him one more chance, but that chance was squandered. It is indeed toast.
  2. I think he wanted to have some active part in the death of the friendship. I think he was subconsciously pushing me away.
  3. There was some weird shit there where Jane legit did not want to come to Beijing and I think she was persuaded to behind closed doors. Which sounds kinky, but it probably wasn’t. Probably.

Flash forward

Earlier this year, during Summer break, Jesse and Jane visited the States for a month. Jesse and I had made-up at this point about China — by never discussing it again. He came over one night and we started to watch my bootleg of Hamilton. But 45 minutes in I paused it and told him something very personal — personal but not inappropriate — something that had been bothering me lately.

Pause.

I think it was a way of reaching out to him, of seeing if he could be interested in me, since I had started to figure out he was mostly interested in himself. Also I was feeling genuinely distraught about it.

I don’t know why I was so personal that night, since that was the night the friendship gave up the ghost. I wish it would have died during some time when I was less vulnerable.

We never finished Hamilton. I drove him home a few hours later — we weren’t arguing; we were talking normally in that interim — and on the mother-fucking driveway of his place he started expressing how sad he was that a friend of his was squandering his talent for painting. He was sad, sad, sad, and eloquent about it. It annoyed me. And so I thought, fuck it, and I asked him why he never cared about my writing… Why was he so concerned about one friend expressing his talent, but he had never shown any interest in my own? God, to have someone be interested in you pursuing your talent, to be literally lamenting its loss to someone who doesn’t even know the guy… that is the most encouraging thing to an artist. And I was jealous. I was at a low point, and I could have used the mother-fucking ego boost he had squandered on this person I didn’t even know. And I wanted an explanation.

He tried. It was weak. I was done.

One last insight

So before that, back at my place, when we were having a normal, fun conversation about intellectual things — after abandoning Hamilton — and don’t you just love these time jumps?

This was not the personal thing I told him, by the way. Since this is also slightly personal, I wanted to differentiate.

I asked him, “You know how sometimes you could see how you might have a personality disorder? Like, you don’t have it, but you can see the one that you would have if you did? I found mine. I don’t really tell anyone this because it’s too close. I was shocked when I saw it was a thing. But I’ll tell you.”

“Narcissism?” he immediately guessed.

I was surprised by (1) the unsolicited guess, (2) its readiness and (3) the confidence of it.

“No,” I said, squinting at him. “Schizoid.”

It hit me later that night. He had described himself. I had just observed a little of what we armchair psychologists like to call “projection.”

Obviously I don’t think he has full-blown narcissistic personality disorder, but I’m pretty sure that’s the one he would have, if he had one.

In China?

Narcissism was what I got the evening Captain Sisko was staring out at us. Classic narcissism tactics. Look it up. Pre-empt criticism by throwing a pity party. Emotionally manipulate by making yourself a victim.

> I am unhappy. Fix it. Why am I unhappy? Because you aren’t having fun.

God, what a stretch.

And that is that.

Here’s a picture to be featured so I don’t spoil the Sisko screenshot upfront.
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