Tag Archives: love

Knot of Vipers

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IMG_2653For a while now, I’ve been unable to wear one of my favorite necklaces. It’s been snarled up in a “hopeless nœud de vipères,” as my husband put it. A couple days ago, I grabbed it off my jewelry tree and brought it to work with me, thinking that I would get it untangled when I could find a free moment that morning. I was sure it would be hanging around my neck by lunchtime.

By lunchtime I had made no progress at all. Instead of going for my usual walk around campus during lunch, I hunched over the cursed necklace for the entire hour, trying and failing to make any headway. I grimly resolved that the deed would be accomplished by the end of the workday. Several times that day – I couldn’t help myself – I literally shook the necklace in childish, impotent rage, no doubt creating new knots with each shake. By the end of the day, it was still a tangled mess. I stayed at work an extra half hour, trying to meet my self-imposed deadline. Finally, I gave up and drove home under a heavy cloud of failure, gripping the necklace between one hand and the wheel to save what little progress I had made in untangling it.

It was time to enlist the help of an expert. My husband had once volunteered to untangle a couple of my sister’s necklaces…We marveled not just at the feat he accomplished in untangling the necklaces, but at the extraordinary patience it took to perform these delicate operations.

“I have a challenge for you,” I said, handing him my necklace after dinner.

“OK,” he said amiably, “I’ll work on it before I leave for choir rehearsal.”

When I left the house at 7 pm to take our daughter to her violin lesson, I snapped this photo of him:

IMG_2655It was the last I saw of him until the following morning.

I could tell he’d been awake for some time and had been impatiently waiting for me to open my eyes. They were barely halfway open when the words came spilling out of his mouth:

“Do you have any idea what time I went to bed?”

“Nnnooo.”

“It was after 1 am.”

Really?! Why?” My husband is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise-sort-of-fellow, so this was surprising news indeed.

“I was working on getting your necklace untangled all night long. I couldn’t wait to get it done and present it to you with a flourish.  I kept thinking I almost had it, but it’s actually impossible to tell if you’re making progress, or just making it worse! At 10:30 I was still working on it. I had to move into the kitchen and lean over the counter for better light. I couldn’t believe it when I checked the clock again and it was after 1. That’s when I finally gave up and staggered to bed. My feet were killing me from standing there for so long. I’d worked on it for something like 6 hours, because I even took it to choir practice and worked on it there…I almost hit a deer on the way home, because I was trying to drive with the damn thing in my hand so it wouldn’t get more tangled,”

“Oh my gosh! I did that too!”

“And you should have seen what happened to my fingers!”

“Did they turn black?” I asked, knowing the answer in advance, for this had happened to my fingers too when I was struggling to untangle the necklace at work.

“Yes!”

“Sooo…did you manage to get it untangled?”

No! There’s also a little bit that’s broken off, which will have to be reattached when we eventually get it untangled. But I think it’s almost there.”

There was a moment’s pause.

“You know what else was really bad?” he asked ruefully. “I made the terrible mistake of turning the whole thing into a metaphor for finishing my book. If I could just get the necklace untangled, I thought, my book would also just magically fall into place…” 

By now I was deeply regretting that I had asked him to help me with the necklace.

“But there was one moment when it really felt like I was truly in Hell.”

I shuddered as I tried to imagine what that moment in a day full of dreadful moments could possibly be.

“I was working away at it during choir and then we started singing that awful hymn…you know the one…” he said, breaking out a few bars of a song we both loathe in his most twee voice, “I the Lord or sea and sky, I have heard My people cry…My hand will saaaaave.

I burst out laughing so hard it hurt.

Although my husband hadn’t gotten the necklace entirely unknotted, (and had broken off a piece in the process), he had done the lion’s share of the work so that by the end of the that workday, I finally managed to get the knot of vipers untangled.

IMG_2657Here are some important life lessons I learned in the process:

  1. Ask for help when you need it. Two sets of blackened fingers are better than one.
  2. Don’t set arbitrary and unreasonable deadlines for difficult tasks.
  3. No deer need to die. Scotch tape is your friend.IMG_2663
  4. Sometimes une pipe really is just une pipe. Investing an ordinary object or event  with metaphorical significance is kooky and unproductive.
  5. Ration out pain when possible…Untangling a nœud de vipères is bad enough…doing it while singing a kitschy hymn at the same time is too much for anyone to bear.
  6. Most importantly: marry someone who will untangle your necklaces for you and make you shriek with laughter. That’s a keeper for sure.

My Old Man

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I’m ending my countdown to Valentine’s Day here, where we are now…or at least where we were a few years ago.

Old People Dating

(first posted December 6, 2014)

Thanks to our church, which hosted a Parents’ Night Out yesterday, my husband and I were able to go out on an extremely rare date night. Our daughter fit the target age for the participants, and I conscripted the boys to be helpers. My husband brought the kids from home and I left work so that we could all meet up at the church at 5.

As we signed the kids in, the kind adults who were supervising the evening asked, “So what are you guys going to do on your date?”

“Uhhh…we’re not really sure yet,” I admitted, “but I guess we’ll go out to dinner.”

“Where do you guys usually like to eat?”

I’m pretty sure they weren’t asking about our dashes into Subway between soccer and piano practices, or to Panera on a Saturday in the middle of a day of running errands with a minivan chock full of kids…It’s the kind of question that would be easier to answer if a date night was something that happened more frequently than say, the appearance of Halley’s Comet in Earth’s atmosphere.

The last time we had a regular date night was fifteen years ago, when we were married with no children. We were both singing in the church choir and practice was on Thursday evenings. I was pregnant with our first child at the time, (the boy who is now 6 foot 3), and I was always ravenously hungry. We would go to Ruby Tuesday, which was both close to our rehearsal, and had a menu that met both of our needs. While my husband demurely nibbled at his salad bar dinner, I would devour every last bite of one of those Pantagruelian platters groaning with three different kinds of meat. You know…the kind that would only be appealing to obese middle-aged men and me in my pregnant, callow youth.

Yesterday, as we got back into the car, we giddily pondered our restaurant options as wondrously as if we were contemplating a rare and precious diamond. We made a spur of the moment decision to go to an Italian restaurant, because we can be crazy like that. We showed up at 5:30 with all the other geriatrics.

Me and my old man

As I sat there in the warm and elegant ambiance, I drummed my fingers impatiently, my eyes darting around, wondering if the bread would arrive in my lifetime. After gulping down the bread and an appetizer that we rashly ordered in our expansive mood, we were both full.

“I guess it’s too late to cancel the rest of our dinner, right?” I asked.

We had a couple bites of our main courses, but took most of them home in boxes. This would have never happened in our Ruby Tuesday days! After polishing off my meat slab platter, I’d still be picking croutons off my husband’s salad.

Dinner was done and we still had a couple of hours to go before we had to pick up the kids. The restaurant is right next to Trader Joe’s, so that’s where we headed next. We got into an intense debate about the merits of Trader Joe Honey Nut O’s versus Honey Nut Cheerios.

“Their version tastes much better than Honey Nut Cheerios,” my husband told me, “It’s less sweet.”

“Well, it may taste better, but the misplaced apostrophe is burning my eyes,” I replied.

As we rang up our purchases, we still had an hour and a half before we had to pick up the kids.

“Well…what should we do now?”

“Oh, I know! Let’s go to CVS and pick up my prescriptions and get Epsom salt,” my husband said.

“OK, Gramps! Let’s do it!”

As my husband was paying for our purchases, I remembered I had a $5 coupon attached to a CVS receipt that was floating around in my purse. I pulled it out and tentatively showed it to the cashier. “Would we possibly be able to use this?” I asked doubtfully.

“Sure!” she said as she tore it from my receipt.

As we walked back to the car, we were both jubilant. My husband said, “I can’t wait to try my Epsom salts!” I said, “I think this might just be the best day of my life. I feel like I just won the jackpot! This is the first time in my whole life that I’ve actually been able to use one of those CVS coupons. I’m so inordinately happy, I think I could dance a jig right here on the sidewalk! Could you smell the scent of victory, crackling like ozone in your nostrils when I got to use my coupon? Because I sure did!”

Flush with my unexpected success, I had another idea…

“HEY! Let’s go to the CoinStar at Harris-Teeter!”

We drove over to the grocery store and my husband obligingly lugged in the heavy container full of change that I had stashed in the car.

Have you ever used CoinStar? It’s mesmerizing to watch the sum grow from piles of pennies that have just been lying around the house. We didn’t want the magic to ever end. After emptying our container, we pulled out every last penny from our pockets and wallets until the clinking of the coins finally stopped.

“Wow. This is the best date ever,” I said with a sigh of contentment, “First, the coupon and now this!”

It was now 8 o’clock.

“We still have half an hour. We’re supposed to pick up the kids at 8:30.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure it will be fine to pick them up early. And then we can get home, so I can try my Epsom salts.”

And that’s what we did.

Boys

Picking up our helper elves…

And it was good. Really, really good. I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky…

Read the rest of Starfish, by Eleanor Lerman here.

 

Countdown to V-Day, Pt. 8

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My Scholarly Couch Potato

(first posted May 9, 2014)

This one’s dedicated to my husband, my beloved scholarly couch potato.

When I brought my future husband home to meet my parents for the first time, my father immediately recognized a kindred spirit. He watched knowingly as my fiancé gazed in wonder and admiration at his groaning bookshelves overflowing with exactly the same kind of scholarly tomes that he himself loved to read.

The day before our wedding, my father took me aside to give me the only piece of marital advice I ever got from him.

“If you want to have a happy marriage, don’t expect him to be handy, or to do things around the house. Basically, he’s a scholarly couch potato. All he’s going to want to do is sit around all day long reading his books. Let him.”

I thought this was hilarious. My dad’s own attempts to be “handy” have often ended badly. One of my earliest memories is particularly horrific – I remember seeing my dad coming into the kitchen with a river of blood gushing from his knee. He had just chopped it with an axe while trying to split a log. On another occasion, he cemented over the dryer vent by mistake. How many times have I heard my mother muttering darkly to herself, “He can do nothing!“? (Nothing but write more than fifteen books and accumulate two doctorates, a masters, and two bachelors as a non-native speaker in this country that is).

My dad had peered into the depths of my future husband’s soul and had found it to be the perfect mirror of his own. He had dispensed his paternal wisdom in an attempt to create for his son-in-law, his fellow scholarly couch potato, the life he himself craved. I foolishly told my husband what my dad had said about him, thinking that he would take it for the compliment that it truly was.

He did not.

During the first year of our marriage, we lived in my parents’ house, which was vacant while they were living in Korea. We had just left New York City where supers took care of any maintenance issues in the apartments we had lived in. Now, in the heart of suburbia, we were faced with the care and upkeep of an aging house.

Still stinging from my dad’s assessment of his practical maintenance skills, my husband set out to prove him wrong. There was nothing he wouldn’t tackle. Leaky faucet? He’d diligently watch youtube videos to figure out how to fix it. Elecrical issue? He’d work at it relentlessly, cursing like a sailor, deaf to my pleas to call an electrician. He obsessively tended to the lawn, brushing off my suggestion that it would be better to let the grass grow a little longer before cutting it. The pièce de résistance was when he waterproofed the basement, which had been prone to flooding. He may very well have shortened his life span with the highly toxic chemicals he had to use in the process, but when he finished he crowed in triumph: “How’s THAT for a scholarly couch potato?!”

As the year dragged on, I could sense that his spirits were flagging. Each hard-fought battle with a blown fuse or a shower head that needed replacing took its toll, and in the end the cost benefit analysis proved too unambiguous to ignore. He came to me one day with shoulders slumped and said in a defeated voice, “Your dad’s right. I am a scholarly couch potato.”

Somehow, dear reader, that admission made me love him all the more.

 

 

Countdown to V-Day, Pt. 7

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Starring my favorite muse, the little girl born ten years after this story begins …

Chunky Fingers: a love story

(first posted in December 2013)

There was an awkward period of time when, for the life of me, I couldn’t define the nature of the relationship between me and my future husband.

We met when we were both graduate students in New York City. We were in a singing group, and soon started spending a lot of time together outside of rehearsal. At first we hung out with a group of singers. Eventually, we started doing things on our own.

“So are you dating?” my sisters would ask me on the phone.

“Ummm…I’m really not sure,” I would reply.

I was getting some seriously mixed signals.

“You have the hands of a pianist,” he remarked one day.

I instantly understood that he was trying to flatter me. I imagined all of the things he was surely thinking…Your hands are so elegant! Your fingers are so long and tapered!


As he was obviously trying to find a pretext for paying me a compliment, I obligingly gave him the opening.

“Really? You think?…What do pianists’ hands look like?”

“Well, they have really chunky fingers,” he replied promptly and earnestly.


It never ends well when my husband and I discuss how the nature of our relationship was eventually clarified, but the resolution once again involved my hand. As I remember it, one day we were walking down Broadway, about to cross 113th St., when he held out his hand for me to hold. I took it, and that was that. From that moment, we both knew that we weren’t just really good friends who happened to take note of each other’s physical traits…We were dating.

My husband remembers it differently. One day he had the nerve to imply that I had made the first move.

“What?!” I protested, “You’re the one who grabbed my hand! Remember?”

“It was icy. I was just holding out my hand to help you down off the sidewalk,” he replied, “And then I was really happy, because you kept holding my hand.”

I had to resist a very strong urge to throw something at him.

img_6294
That was seventeen winters ago. We were married a year later.

WeddingWe still argue about things. We still walk hand in chunky hand.

Countdown to V-Day, Pt. 6

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Sometimes the words don’t need to be said.

I love you

(first posted August 2013)

img_8202Earlier this week, I wrote about how delighted I was to finally get junk mail from my grad school. It was the proof I needed to convince myself that it wasn’t all a dream…that I had in fact gotten the degree I had struggled to earn for far too many years. What finally got me to actually finish the degree long after my heart was no longer in it was a phone call from my mother during which she dropped the most devastating weapon in her arsenal: an emotional nuclear bomb that rained all over my angst-ridden psyche. “Just finish it for your father’s sake. It would mean so much to him. Please. Do this one last thing for him, before he dies,” she said to me over the phone in a quavering voice. It was a bravura performance, which could have won her an Oscar. It spurred me to drag my heaving flanks across the finish line, staggering and gasping all the way. Although my dad was in perfect health at the time, my mother wasn’t exaggerating about one thing. It did mean a lot to him. I wrote this essay five years ago about my father’s reaction when I finally received my Ph.D.

When we were little, we used to always give my mom and dad a goodnight kiss. One day, when I was about five, I kissed my mom, and then went to kiss my dad. As I drew near, he said, “You don’t have to do that,” and fended me off with a stiff arm. I froze in mortified hurt and wordlessly slunk off to bed. We never touched each other again until the day I went to college. My parents were about to drive back home after helping me unload my things and dropping me off at my dormitory. My mother gathered me into her arms as if I were five rather than seventeen. She kissed me and then hugged me for a long time as if she never intended to let me go, all the while tenderly whispering into my ear all of her hopes and dreams for me. When she finally did let me go, she wiped the tears from her eyes and urged me to give my father a hug. Deeply embarrassed, I tentatively approached him and awkwardly held out my arms to him. He patted me stiffly on the back and turned to leave with an “O.K., well, see ya.”

My mom is a woman who almost always gets what she wants when she wants it. One day she summoned all her considerable powers of persuasion to get my father to say the three words she’d never heard from him.

“Just say it,” she cajoled, “I won’t even look at you. Please, just once.”

My dad remained uncomfortably mute.

Never one to give up a battle and completely unaccustomed to failure, my mother tried a hundred different ways to get him to say those words.

Exhausted and demoralized, she tried a final tactic. “I’ll say it first and then you say it back to me…I love you.”

There was a long silence, and then finally he mustered a sheepish, “Me too.” She gave up. It was the best he could do.

Shortly after I defended my dissertation and was finally awarded my Ph.D., I got a letter from my dad addressed to Dr. Adrienne Kim Bird. It was written on pages and pages of his favorite yellow lined pads. It must have taken him ages to write that letter. In his barely decipherable handwriting I read very formal words of congratulations and advice about my future. In those words I know he was really saying: “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

I love you too, Dad.

Countdown to V-Day, Pt. 5

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Love can save your life.

50th Anniversary

(first posted on February 25, 2013)

weddingI turned eighteen shortly after starting my first year in college. I was shocked when I found a birthday card from my father in my mailbox. My parents have never been ones to mark occasions that most people celebrate. Had I woken up in an alternate universe? Could I be hallucinating? I was reassured that all was as it should be when I pulled out the card. It contained no message and was signed “Rev. David H. Kim.” My dad’s secretary was keeping track of birthdays and sending out cards from a pre-signed stack to everyone in his congregation.

I can’t remember a single time my dad ever bought my mom chocolate for Valentine’s Day or flowers for their wedding anniversary. The words “I love you” have never, not once, either on purpose or by accident, ever fallen from my father’s lips. It’s not that he doesn’t feel genuine love. He worships my mother. His children and grandchildren know that he loves them deeply. It’s outward, obvious expressions of love that make him distinctly uncomfortable.

Almost five years ago, my mother was diagnosed with primary amyloidosis. The prognosis was dire. The doctors told her she had eighteen months to live. My sister managed to get her into a clinical trial at Memorial Sloan-Kettering. My parents were living in Korea at the time, but returned to the States so that my mother could get treated. My father left her in my sister’s care and returned to Korea to finish out his work obligations, intending to return as soon as the semester was over.

The aggressive, experimental chemotherapy regimen knocked my mother’s disease into remission, but not before it nearly killed her. One day, she was exhausted and suffering and ready to give up the fight. She called my father to say goodbye. She didn’t think she would ever see him again.

My dad told her that she had to hold on. He told her that he wanted to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary together. I know the chemotherapy drugs did their part, but I also know without a doubt that what pulled my mom back from the brink were my father’s words. My sister reported that the phone call was a turning point. When my mother hung up the phone, she had resolved to live. She began to force herself to eat and to force herself to get up out of bed and walk around. My dad’s love saved her.

Yesterday when I mentioned that it would be their 50th wedding anniversary on Sunday, both my mother and father seemed to have forgotten all about it. My mother said, “Oh, really? No, I think it’s already passed.” I had to pull out a calendar to show her that Sunday really would be their 50th wedding anniversary. My siblings and I have long been planning a huge party that will take place this summer, but today I want to mark their golden anniversary with these words. I have never once seen my parents kiss or hug each other. I have never once heard them exchange the words “I love you.” But they have always shown me what a true partnership looks like and what true love is. My parents don’t read this blog and they’ll probably never see these words, but just as they have never had to actually say “I love you,” I think they know the words in my heart.IMG_1952

 

Countdown to V-Day, Pt. 4

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I’ve learned a lot about love from my crazy parents…

parentsGiving Thanks for Crazy, Pt. III

(first posted on November 27, 2014)

I was in my first year at college and things weren’t going so well. I felt like an alien in a land where everyone already seemed to know each other from their days at Groton, Exeter or Andover. This blandly good-looking tribe wore the same uniform with only subtle variations.They would languidly call out to each other by their last names as they regrouped every Wednesday and every weekend to drink themselves blind at the frats.

I was a long way from home: a ten hour drive from Arlington to Hanover, New Hampshire, to be exact. We couldn’t afford a ticket to get me back home for the short Thanksgiving break, especially with the longer Winter break just around the corner. The campus was completely deserted. I was all alone in my big empty dorm, and all alone for my first Thanksgiving away from home.

I thought about that first Thanksgiving as I drove up to Arlington to be with my parents this Tuesday evening. The memory of it made me shake my head as I inched my way up 29 North, which was clogged with all the other weary travelers trying to outrun the 5-8 inch snowfall that was predicted for the next morning. On that Thanksgiving evening many years ago, my parents showed up at my dorm room after hours and hours of driving with my younger brother in tow. If you’ve ever driven along the Northeast corridor around Thanksgiving, you’ll know that a ten hour drive can easily become a twenty hour drive. I was appalled and aghast that they had done this for me, and also – so, so glad. We ordered pizza for our Thanksgiving dinner and ate it off paper plates in my room. It was a feast fit for a king and queen.

As you might expect, no amount of coaxing or pleading could convince them to stay the night. We ate our dinner and they headed off into the snowy night to drive all the way back to Arlington. I know my parents are crazy like I know the earth is round, but I also know that I have been incredibly lucky in my life to have experienced their love. I’m thankful for it every single day. May each and every one of us know that crazy, unreasonable, outrageous love, and may we put it right back out there into the universe.