Parental Deception; chapter fourteen, part one

“So. Sushi. School me.” Rembrandt says as we are seated at our table in Fujiya. He glances around him in appreciation at the bright and lively room around him. It’s busy as it always is, but the noise level is low.

“My favorite is unagi, which is barbecue eel,” I say. The look on Rembrandt’s face tells me he’s not on board, and I hasten to add, “It tastes just like barbecue meat, I promise. I know you’re hesitant to try raw fish, but hamachi, or yellowtail, is so fatty and good.” My mouth is watering, and I control myself with difficulty. “They also have noodles and tempura if you’re really against trying raw fish.”

“No, I want to try it. There’s no reason to go to a sushi place if I don’t.” Rembrandt sets down the menu and looks at me. “Tell you what. You order for the both of us, and I’ll trust you won’t pick anything that’ll kill me.”

“Sounds good to me!” I order pork gyozas and salmon cream cheese wontons as appetizers. I order a variety of sashimi, nigari, and rolls as entrees, making sure to include seafood ones in case he hates the raw fish ones. I order two miso soups and edamame as well. We talk about nothing in particular while waiting for our food. The appetizers come out in record time, and Rembrandt can’t stop raving about the salmon cream cheese wontons.

“These are amazing!” He exclaims as he gobbles down a second one. “We may have to order another helping because three might not be enough.”

“Wait until after we eat our sushi,” I counsel. “You may enjoy it so much, you won’t want more salmon wontons.”

“I will always want more salmon cream cheese wontons,” Rembrandt says, his eyes dilated in pleasure. “Thank you so much for bringing these into my life. I have to figure out how to make them.” I am pleased that I could give him something that brings him so much joy.

His eyes further widen when our sushi is brought to us. It is attractively arranged, and there is plenty of it. I have the Taiwanese curse of ordering four times more food than we can possibly eat. I act as his tour guide, pointing out the different fish and seafood. He gamely tries a bit of each, and soon, he’s gobbling down the sushi as fast as I am. I beam at him as I eat because I love it when I can widen the horizons of other people, especially with something as delicious as sushi. There’s no shame in not knowing something or not having tried something, but your real character shows through in how you respond to the challenge of trying something new. I have to admit that I’m not always open to change, but I’m trying to be more flexible. Taiji helps, quite a bit, in fact. Rembrandt and I are quiet as we devour piece after piece of sushi. By the time we slow down, there’s still plenty left. I don’t like bringing home sushi because it goes bad so quickly, but I admit defeat while there’s still a third of what I ordered left. We order green tea and sip it while our server boxes our leftover sushi. I have a hunch we’ll finish it tonight so it won’t go to waste.

“This was a terrific idea,” Rembrandt says, drinking his tea. “I’m so glad you suggested it.”

“Me, too,” I say, patting my bulging stomach. “I’m just happy you liked it!”

“I can’t believe I lived thirty-two years without trying sushi,” Rembrandt says in mock-mournfulness. “I’m going to have to yell at my mom for not introducing it to me much earlier.” We chat about nothing in particular while we finish our tea. The ride home is leisurely and relaxed. The cats are all over us as we enter Rembrandt’s house, their noses twitching at the fishy smells emanating from the bag in my hand. I give them each a morsel of salmon, and they scarf them down in the blink of an eye. Once they’re done, they butt their heads against my shins, and I give them each a scratch behind the ears. They meow in unison, staring at the bag.

“No more,” I say gravely. I carry the bag into the kitchen and put it in the fridge before giving each of them four Greenies. That satisfies their treat need, if only just barely, and they race out of the kitchen in order to have more cat frolics. Rembrandt and I retire to his bedroom where we spend the next hour having sex. It’s a pleasant way to work off the sushi.

Afterwards, we follow our pattern of Rembrandt falling asleep and me letting in the cats. Once they’re settled on the bed, I go down to the living room to check my blog. Onyx and Jet follow me while Ginger remains with Rembrandt. I have several more comments on my latest blog post. SeeBreeze writes, “I grew up believing the man my mother was living with was my father. There was no reason not to because he acted as if he were, and I called him ‘Dad’. He was a decent man, working sixty hours a week as a farmer to put food on the table. I had a roof over my head, and when I wanted to go to St. Olaf College, he paid for more than half of it. I don’t know how he scraped together the money, but he managed it somehow. Five years ago, he and my mother died in a car accident. I found out much to my surprise that not only were he and my mother not married, he wasn’t my biological father. He left a letter explaining everything, including that my mother was impregnated by her high school sweetheart, who then refused to talk to her. The man I thought was my father was actually my father’s good friend who was secretly in love with my mother, and he stepped up to make an honest woman out of my mother. I found out my actual father was still alive, but I had no interest in meeting him. He is nothing to me.” BreadedHorror says, “I was conned by a man who talked a good game, but had nothing to back it up. I gave him a sizeable chunk of money to invest in his project, and any time I’d ask him about it, he would tell me to give it more time. Karma bit him in the ass when he got stage five pancreatic cancer.” I wince. People using karma to mean revenge or retaliation is a pet peeve of mine, but I’ve given up trying to correct people on it because it seems futile. Karma isn’t about one action causing a direct reaction, but it’s too nuanced for the Western mind to grasp. I breathe and let it go because it’s a fight I will never win.

“Hey, babe.” Rembrandt pads into the room and plops down next to me. Ginger is hot on his heels, yawning widely. She hops into his lap and vigorously kneads his thighs before curling into a tight ball and falling asleep. Onyx leans over from my lap and licks Ginger’s head three times before falling back asleep. Jet opens one eye and blinks at me blearily from his perch on my thigh before closing it again. “I had a weird dream in which a giant octopus was hugging me to death.”

“I wonder where that came from?” I tease him, shutting down my blog. “It’s payback for eating octopus earlier.”

“I can’t believe how good it was!” Rembrandt exclaims. “It’s worth a strange dream now and again.” A true convert to the sushi life. I anticipate more sushi dates in our immediate future. I’m completely fine with that, of course, as I could eat sushi every day.

I check my email, and I have a response from Connie Wang, but not from the other two. In her email, she claims that she’s over George Tsai and hadn’t thought about him in several years. She does admit he contacted her during his recent trip to Minneapolis, but she says she didn’t respond. I frown because her denial doesn’t ring true. I email Yuri about it, and he sends me several emails between Mrs. Wang and Mr. Tsai. In them, Mr. Tsai threatens to tell Mrs. Wang’s new husband about their affair if she won’t meet with him. My eyes narrow into slits because I hate blackmailers. Mrs. Wang responds that her new husband knows, so Mr. Tsai can go fuck himself. I blink at the swear word, though I don’t blame her. I’ve just never heard a Taiwanese person swear, but I certainly don’t hold it against her. Mr. Tsai switches tactics in his next email, saying he wants to make amends. He intimates he has money for her, and that’s when she agrees to meet with him. I lift at eyebrow, both at the exchange and at how quickly Yuri got the information to me. I shoot him an email thanking him before pondering my response to Mrs. Wang. I don’t want to bully her into talking to me, even though that probably would be the fastest way to produce a result. Could I sweet-talk her into meeting with me? Probably not. I decide honesty is the best policy, so I say, “I know he contacted you while he was here, and I know you met with him. I’m sure you had your reasons, which I would like to discuss with you.” I don’t have to wait even three minutes before I receive a response. “I don’t know how you found out, but I suppose we better talk. I will meet you at Sandy’s Tavern at six tomorrow night.” I don’t know where that is, but I can Google it, so I reply in the affirmative. When I look it up, I wince at the DayGlo green, the eighties font, and mostly, the trailing cursor. They actually have letters following your cursor all over the page, which is distracting and irritating beyond belief. They have an olive burger that looks tempting, however, and they’ve been rated by City Pages as one of the best restaurants in Richfield, so I ignore the nightmarish website as best I can.

“Ugh,” I say, leaning against Rembrandt. He’s looking at his phone, but glances up at my utterance. “I’m tired of all this snooping around. I’m hanging up my detective shoes after I find out what happens to Mr. Tsai.”

“Maybe you should embrace it as your calling,” Rembrandt says, and his voice is only half-joking. “You seem to have a knack for it.”

“I could be a private dick,” I say with enthusiasm. “Only I don’t want to pry into people’s dirty laundry, which is what private detectives mostly do.”

“You do have to dig up a lot of dirt,” Rembrandt agrees. “It probably would give you an even dimmer view of humankind than you already have.”

“Yup. Like I just learned Mr. Tsai tried to blackmail Mrs. Yang into meeting with him, and she only agreed when he lied to her and said he had money for her.” I rub my forehead, feeling the tension between my temples. “It’s stupid, but I expect Taiwanese people to be above such pettiness. I guess I’m not completely immune to stereotypes of Asian people.”

“It’s hard to escape them,” Rembrandt says. “You always hear about how mystical and spiritual Asian people are. I wonder why that stereotype still persists.”

“I don’t know, but it needs to die. There are just as many venal and stupid Asian people as there are venal and stupid Westerners.”

I tap my fingers on my keyboard before closing my laptop. I’ve had enough of the internet for the night, and I need to give my mind a break. I close my eyes and drift off, dreaming of mounds of money being burned to a crisp. I wake with a start, finding myself lying on top of Rembrandt. He’s asleep as well, as are our three cats. Ginger is on Rembrandt’s head, and I move her gently to his chest so she won’t smother him. She meeps in protest, but presses her face against Rembrandt’s chest before falling back asleep. Onyx slides off my chest onto the couch, then Jet wraps himself around her. I go outside to smoke, and I’m feeling pensive. I like to think of myself as a cynical person, but I keep getting disappointed by each new discovery of Mr. Tsai’s bad behavior. It’s not so much the lying, though that’s awful, of course, but more the casualness with which he wreaked his havoc. There is no evidence that he felt any remorse at all for what he was doing or what he had done in the past. Even worse, he had convinced himself that he was the victim and that he was acting in the best interests of others. For some reason, this case is getting me down, even more than the other two had. I felt the worst about the first case, obviously, as it took my best friend from me and took one of Rembrandt’s eyes, but the killer herself was pretty mundane in her terribleness. Then again, I didn’t look into her life, so I don’t know what muck I would have found had I been forced to do so. Same with the second crazy woman—I didn’t learn much about her because I didn’t need to. The knowledge that they might have been as bad as Mr. Tsai doesn’t make me feel better about my fellow human beings.

I’m hungry, so I go back inside and eat half of the leftover sushi. I could easily finish it, but I want to leave some for Rembrandt. I’m still hungry, so I grab a handful of chocolate chip cookies and pour myself a glass of low fat milk. I munch on a cookie, taking sips of the milk between bites. I finish several cookies and my milk before returning to the living room. Rembrandt and the cats are zonked, and I carefully ease myself between them, which means sitting up and not lying down. I put my head against Rembrandt’s shoulder and close my eyes. I’m not in a comfortable position, but I try to relax as best I can. It’s no use. My body might be tired, but my mind is whirring at a hundred miles a minute. I pull my laptop towards me best I can and start my next post.

Relationships involve the art of compromise, which is something I’m not very good at. It’s because I had to constantly cater to my mother and her mercurial moods when I was a kid, so when I became an adult, I overcompensated by insisting I always got my own way. Needless to say, that did not make me very popular with other people because polite civilization depends on give and take, not take and take.

In my thirties, I tried to find a happy medium between being a doormat and being a tyrant. The problem is, I have no role model for a healthy attitude towards relationships, so I tend to swing back and forth between the two extremes. My default nature is to give until it hurts, and I’ve attended online codependency meetings in order to try to find that happy medium. My problem with the meetings, however, is that they were based on AA meetings, which means very heavy on the God shit. I know that’s not a polite way to phrase it, but it’s how I felt when I had to sit through the Serenity Prayer before the beginning of every meeting.

I was told that I could think of it as my higher power or love in general, but I kept getting stuck on the God part. In addition, I didn’t like the notion that I was powerless because I felt that often enough in real life. After I stopped attending the meetings, I researched other methods of breaking addiction, and one psychologist, Charlotte Kasl, realized that for many minorities, being told we’re powerless isn’t helpful to recovery. In her program, there’s an admittance of powerlessness over the addiction itself, but accompanied by the knowledge that we have the power to take action. Still, there’s the God stuff in it, so I ended up giving up on meetings in general.

I don’t think all aspects of codependency are bad. I think it’s good to think of others and to consider your partner’s needs when making decisions. However, when taken to the extreme, always putting other people before yourself, then it’s detrimental to your own mental health. It’s why I don’t believe in unconditional love, but that’s another post for another day.

This post just flows from my fingertips, and I finish it in twenty minutes. I get responses within minutes, most from my fellow codependents. SubsTraction writes, “I’ve been codependent all my life for basically the same reasons. My father was a petty tyrant who had a ton of random rules my brothers and I had to follow or be punished by the belt. I ran away from home when I was sixteen with my boyfriend at the time. I left him a year later after he had isolated me from everyone I loved and beat me every day. Sadly, it took me thirty more years before I fully realized I didn’t have to give up myself to be part of a couple. Now, at fifty-three, I’ve been with my partner for five years, and I’ve never been happier. He’s good at reminding me that I don’t have to always agree with him in order for him to love me. He is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” SeekingEnlightenment confesses, “I’m also someone who gives and gives and gives until I snap. When I finally reach my limit, I scorch the earth in wreaking my vengeance. When I was in my twenties, I tolerated my girlfriend cheating on me for several years until she fucked my best friend. When I found them together in our bed, I lost my shit. I beat him within an inch of his life, and I dragged her out of our bed, naked, by her hair and threw her out of our house. My house, to be more precise, as it had my name on the deed, and I paid the goddamn mortgage. I locked the door behind her, then I threw my best friend out the bedroom window, followed by my girlfriend’s clothes. I had the locks changed an hour later, and I never talked to her or him again. I’m lucky he didn’t press charges against me, but he was probably ashamed for allowing himself to be seduced by my girlfriend, the slut.”

I wince at that comment because I can relate to it. I try to keep a tight rein on my temper, but when I lose it, I go nuclear. I know I would be better off if I let off steam every now and then, but I’m afraid if I get mad at all, I’ll go all the way. PeezyEazy says, “I am the sweetest, most understanding woman, until someone starts taking me for granted. Then, I go full-blown harpy in no time flat. It makes me question whether I’m truly being a good person in the first place if I expect something for it in response. I don’t think it’s possible to be completely altruistic, though.” The next comment is from SucculentSextet who lived with a codependent partner for several years. It did not end well. “My ex was extremely codependent to the point where she adopted all my interests, photography, inline skating, and farm-to-table cooking, and never offered an opinion of her own. If I said I liked a TV show, so did she. If I didn’t like a movie, neither did she. We ate at whatever restaurant I chose because she refused to suggest one, and now, three years after we broke up, I can’t tell you if she actually liked shrimp or only pretended to because I did. She dyed her hair blond to match mine and got the same haircut I had. She started dressing like I did, and she copied my mannerisms. Frankly, it creeped me out, and after we’d been together four years, I suggested we take a break. She did not take that well at all. She took a bottle of benzos, then called me to say goodbye. I had her committed, and I haven’t talked to her since. I’ve sworn off dating since then.”

I shake my head at the vagaries of human nature and how awful we are to each other. I do not blame Succulent for committing her partner, nor for not talking to her since the devastating breakup. There comes a point when it’s counterproductive to try to repair a relationship, and it’s in the best interest of both people to let it go and move on. Trappedazoid writes, “My mother devoted her whole life to my father and had no interests outside him and nominally my brother and me. She put him first, though, and made it clear that if she had to choose between him and us, she would choose him every time. Fortunately for us, my father was a kind and gentle man, and he tried to make sure our mother didn’t neglect us. It was hard, however, as he worked fifty hours a week. My mother would pine at the dining room table, staring outside until his car pulled up the driveway. Then, she would scurry to the kitchen to salvage the dinner she had ignored while waiting for him, and we ended up eating burnt meat and runny mashed potatoes more often than not. I hated her while I was a teenager because I thought she was so fucking pathetic. Now that I’m roughly the age she was when she died, I have realized that I was too hard on her. I fell in love with a man who totally owned me body and soul. I would have done anything for him, including giving up my own life. Fortunately, my friends staged an intervention and got me out of there. After ten years of eschewing men, I put my foot back in the dating pool. I haven’t found anyone I want to spend the rest of my life with, but I’m having fun on the journey, which is all that matters.”

I’m suddenly exhausted, and I put my laptop back on the coffee table. I gently move Onyx and Jet out of the way so I can lean on Rembrandt. I snuggle against his shoulder, grateful to have him in my life. I know I can be a right bitch to be with, and he’s so patient with me. He shifts in his sleep and drapes his arm around my shoulders as I close my eyes. Onyx plumps herself on my lap, indignant at having been moved. Jet wraps himself around her and licks her ears in order to comfort her. She purrs her approval before licking his ears in return. I fall asleep with a smile on my face at the antics of my cats. For once, my sleep is dreamless, and for that, I’m profoundly grateful.

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