Chapter Nine; Part Three
“Mrrrrrreow!” Onyx leaps into the air, and I catch her effortlessly. I cradle her to my chest and nuzzle her fur. She purrs happily, waving her front paws in the air. Jet dances around me, excited that his human is home. He bats at my legs, careful to keep his claws retracted. I ruffle the fur on his head, and he snuffles happily as if he’s a dog. I carry Onyx into the kitchen as she continues to fling her paws about. She’s being so goofy, I can’t help but laugh. Jet is literally nipping at my heels, and I admonish him to move away so I don’t step on him. He doesn’t listen, of course, because he’s a cat, and I use my empty stepping so I don’t accidentally squish him. I pull out the bag of Temptations and give them each four. I’m trying to curb their snacking, but I admit my heart’s not in it. I heat up some of the Thanksgiving leftovers, including a piece of the sweet potato pie. I grab a Diet Coke so when everything is ready, I can take my booty to the living room. As I’m eating, I start a new post about lies and deceptions. I don’t want to write specifically about George Tsai, but his deception galls me.
The sign of a good con man is that he knows intuitively his marks’ weaknesses. It’s the one ‘compliment’ I can give the president-elect—he has an uncanny knack for giving the people what they want. Not all people, of course, but enough to be elected—but that’s not the post I want to write, so I’m going to put it aside for now with great difficulty.
Recently, I had a man come into y life who purported to be someone I used to know. I didn’t quite believe him, but, I wanted to so very much.
My phone rings, startling me. I’m not expecting a call, but when I glance at the screen, I recognize the number. I can’t quite place it, but at least it’s not a telemarketer. I answer just because curiosity will kill me one day.
“Hello?” I say cautiously, ready to click the phone off if I’ve been tricked, and, indeed, it is an advertiser.
“How come you didn’t tell me?” A distraught female voice greets my ear. I yank my phone away because she’s hurting my ear.
“Mrs. Tsai? Is that you?” I think I can place the voice, but I’m not sure because it’s at high volume.
“You knew he was dead when you talked to me. That’s how you found me!” She’s continuing her monologue without paying any attention to me, but I get the gist of it. She’s pissed because I didn’t tell her that her husband was dead when we last talked, and I don’t blame her. I would be angry with me, too, if I were her. However, I don’t feel that bad because her husband offered a whopper of a lie to me and my sisters without any remorse. While she hadn’t approved of it, she went along with it. Was it her job to tell me and my sisters? No. It sure as hell would have been nice, though.
“I’m sorry,” I say, although it’s begrudging. “I didn’t think it was y place to tell you. How did you find out?”
“The Minneapolis police called me,” she says, bursting into tears. “Oh my god! How can he be dead? I just talked to him last night!”
“It seems he was going to have it out with someone he thought had scammed him,” I inform her, telling her everything I know. “Does that sound familiar to you?”
“What? No! I—wait. Is this from when he lived in Minnesota? We weren’t together at that time.” Mrs. Tsai is still crying, but at least I can understand what she’s saying. “George was secretive about his time in Minnesota. He always said it was a mistake and that he didn’t want to talk about it. I should have made him!” She bursts into tears again, and I wait for her to regain her calm. Every time she tries to catch her breath, she starts crying again.
“What he told me was he had a business deal with some guys here, and they bilked him out of a hundred thousand dollars.” I hear a gasp as I name the amount.
“How much? Are you kidding me?” Mrs. Tsai shrieks at the top of her lungs. I yank the phone away from my ear again because she’s entering dog whistle territory. “He is always so careful about his money. I can’t believe he did that!”
“Can you tell me anything about his time here?” I ask desperately. If I’m going to find out what happened to her husband, I need a lead or at least somewhere to look.
“He never mentioned his time there,” she insists, then hesitates. “Wait. One time he was drunk, and he started going on and on about someone who Judased him. His words, not mine. When I asked him what he was talking about, he said something about a friend who wasn’t a friend, and he lived in…Richmond? Rich-something.”
“Richfield?” I ask eagerly. I want to know if my theory is correct.
“Yes! That’s it. He said it was Richie Rich is Richfield. I thought that sounded strange, so I wasn’t sure what he meant by that.”
“Did you press him on it?”
“I did, but he refused to say anything else.”
“Do you think the guy’s actual name was Richie or it was just a nickname?” I need more, and I’m frustrated that she didn’t push her husband harder. It seems as if they had a relationship in which she never questioned anything he did, which is probably exactly how he wanted it.
“I’m pretty sure it was his name. Just as I’m pretty sure he’s Taiwanese. George wouldn’t give that much money to anyone who’s not Taiwanese.” Mrs. Tsai starts sniffling again, and my heart hurts for her. “I don’t know what I’m going to do without him,” she says forlornly.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” I say formally. I’m uncomfortable with her pain as I don’t know her very well.
“Thank you. Please call me if you find anything out,” Mrs. Tsai says softly.
“I will.” I hang up the phone and pull my laptop onto my lap as Onyx and Jet snuggle into my thighs. Jet is snoring softly, and Onyx is huffing in her sleep. I go back to my post, but I’m not sure how much I want to reveal. I decide to write everything I feel and then I’ll edit the post.
Recently, I had a man come into my life who purported to be someone I used to know. I didn’t quite believe him, but, I wanted to so very much. I’m being coy because it’s painful, but I need to write about it. A man claiming to be my father showed up on my doorstep a few days before Thanksgiving. Of course, I was skeptical, but he showed me a letter that seemed to back up his claim.
Still. My heart wouldn’t believe it was him, but I didn’t know if it was because I was right to be skeptical or because I let my bitterness overcome me. My older sister believed him almost right away, but my younger sister was as skeptical as I was. He said all the right things, but I still rebelled.
He also said he was dying, which was purportedly his reason for coming here. He wanted to reconnect with his daughters because he said it was the biggest regret of his life—walking out on us. He left because he was gay and couldn’t live a lie any longer, which as an adult I can understand, but as a kid, I probably couldn’t. More to the point, as a kid, I would have loved to have had him in my life. As an adult? Not so much.
You can imagine my shock at finding him on my doorstep after forty years and why I almost didn’t open the door to him. I regret that I did, honestly, because it turned out he was a big fraud. He was run over by a car last night—or was it the night before?—and the police discovered that he wasn’t my father. I bet you can imagine how I felt when I heard the news. I mean, I was having a hard enough time accepting this man who materialized out of nowhere was my father, and then, it turned out that he wasn’t. I was furious. I couldn’t understand why someone would do that to me and my sisters.
I found out the name of the man and Googled him, which is how I found his wife. In talking to her, I discovered that this man was my father’s best friend and the executor of his will. In performing his duties, this man ran across all the letters my father wrote to me and my sisters in the first year after he left us. In addition, this man found a journal in which my father wrote down all his memories of his time with us. This man was fascinated by all the paper paraphernalia because the biggest regret in his life is that he never had children.
I stop writing because I remember that Mrs. Tsai had said she wasn’t with Mr. Tsai when he was in Minnesota, and, yet, she’s the reason he didn’t have children, supposedly. I’m confused. Wait a minute. I assumed it meant that they weren’t married at the time, but what if they were separated? I’m going to have to call Mrs. Tsai again, but not right now. Instead, I Google Richard, Richfield, and Taiwanese. I come up with one name, Richard Liang. He is not related to me, for which I’m grateful. He’s a widower, and he’s a CEO of Best Buy. He has three children, but I’m not interested in that right now. I Google Richard Liang and George Tsai, and I come up with a very small story from thirteen years ago in which they, along with Scott Huang, started what reads to me like a Ponzi scheme for some kind of project called the Taiwanese Architectural Project. They encouraged people to give them money, and then when the people started clamoring for their money, Richard and Scott disavowed any knowledge of the scheme and left George holding the bag. They put up most of the startup money less the one-hundred thousand, and in exchange, George’s name was on everything. Both Richard and Scott have flourished since then, and while George hasn’t done too badly for himself, he isn’t in Richard and Scott’s league. It doesn’t help that he lived in San Francisco which is one of the most expensive cities in the country.
I work on the post for another half hour before I get it to the place where I want it to be. I meditate for five minutes as to whether or not I want to publish it, and I finally decide to do so. I don’t owe George Tsai or his wife anything, and this is how I deal with my emotions—by writing. Five minutes later, I get my first response. It’s MNborn, and I’m so appreciative to have her on my side. “I cannot believe some asshole did this to you. How selfish of him to turn your life upside down like that just because he had a deficiency he refused to deal with. I’m sending you positive vibes and a big warm Minnesotan hug all the way from the west coast.” A minute later, SeeSeeFactory adds, “You’re knocked for a loop, understandably. It’s hard to believe someone would do something like this without regretting it in the long run. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to figure that out before he was killed. Now, you’ll have to deal with the consequences—you and your sisters.” DoLessBeMore writes, “This is bullshit! How dare he do that to you? Please yell all you like. We’re here to listen and to comfort you.”
I am warmed by my commentariat. Yes, I have ugly trolls who tell me I should be dead, but I also have a fierce cadre of commenters who rise to my defense whenever it’s needed. Most of them are women, and many of them are of color, queer, atheists, and other fringe group members. I am a proud member of the freaks and the geeks, and I’m glad to provide them with a safe place in which they can fully express themselves. It’s one reason I’m so aggressive when it comes to shutting down trolls on my blog—I have no use for them here. Another comment by LoveMyBody: “He must have been in so much pain in order to do what he did. I’m not excusing it, but that’s a lot of torment for one man. I hope you can find peace one day, despite the deception. Give yourself time, though. It’s not going to be easy.” I have a hunch this is going to be a hot post, which is fine with me. It’s not easy to know which post will touch people and which won’t, but any post dealing with sex or family seems to hit a nerve.
I feel gross, so I go upstairs to take a shower and change into sweats. I’m having dinner with Viv tomorrow, which is probably the last time I’ll see her for quite some time. I wish we lived closer to each other, but I can’t see her moving back to Minnesota, and I’m certainly not moving out east. I’m surprised to find myself in tears. I’m crying over the death of that man, but not exactly. More to the point, I’m crying because my father is dead, and there is no chance of a reconciliation. I had thought I’d made my peace with him and with never seeing him again, and yet, now I’m mourning something I’m never going to have. Nor that I thought I’d want. I curse that man under my breath for a good five minutes. I’m furious that he casually strolled into my life, turned it completely inside out, then died. How am I supposed to deal with this? How the fuck? I punch the couch cushions, which is preferable to punching the wall behind me, I guess. Onyx and Jet jump up, startled by the sudden and violent movement. I stroke each of them behind the ears until the fall asleep, then I continue to quietly fume.
Apparently, my father regretted leaving my sisters and me, though not my mother. He wrote to us and about us, though he never made any attempt to actually see us—at least as far as I know. He lived his gay life in San Francisco with his husband, and never once picked up the phone to call us. Somehow, knowing this is even worse than just suspecting it. I thought I was over him being able to hurt me, but I was wrong. I curse him for leaving us. I curse George Tsai for bringing it all back. I curse my sister for believing him and for welcoming him into the family. I curse myself for getting my hopes up, no matter how slightly. How stupid can I be to actually believe my father gave a damn about me? I wish we could just go back to how it was two weeks ago, but I know it’s not possible. Honestly, I wish I could go back to two months ago when Julianna was still alive and Rembrandt still had both his eyes. Bob would never have been kidnapped, and this man wouldn’t even be a figment of my imagination. Then again, I wouldn’t have met Rembrandt in that case, and however conflicted I feel about our relationship right now, I’m glad he’s in my life.
I push those thoughts out of my mind with difficulty, but then another not-so-pleasant thought pushes its way into my brain. Betty. I’m still mad at myself for snapping at her, but I know you have to be firm with a manipulator like her. She’s used to having people cater to her, particularly because she makes it so unpleasant when you stand up to her. It’s something narcissists inherently know how to do—keeping everyone around them off-balanced. Sugary sweet niceness that masks an iron fist. Even when they are nice, you know that edge is there. You’ll do almost anything to stop it from appearing. The other technique they use to get their way is by wooing people to their side and turning them against you. That way, you feel isolated and alone, even if the majority of other people agree with you. It’s the way tyrants operate, which is what Betty is—albeit one wrapped in pink fluff. We have a temporary truce, yes, but it’s not going to last. It’s the one thing I know about people like her—they never learn from their mistakes. In a month or so, she’ll be back to her old self, making catty comments. It’s one reason they’re so exhausting as friends—you have to have the same arguments over and over again. I used to have a roommate like that when I was in college, and she nearly ruined my sophomore year. She had wild mood swings, and I never knew if she’d be exultant, raging, or despairing. One time, I walked in our room, and she threw a garbage can at my head. When I confronted her on it, she started telling lies about me to all my friends. I was calling Jasmine every night, crying my eyes out. She finally took matters into her own hands by talking to the administration at Carleton College. I never knew exactly who she called or what she said, but it did the job. Once Jasmine was done, I was out of that room and into a single. It made the last few months of my second year of college tolerable.
I need to talk to Mrs. Tsai again. I check my clock, and it’s ten my time, which means it’s eight for her. That’s not too late to call, but I’m strangely reluctant to make the call. The more I find out about that man, the less I like him. At the same time, I can somewhat understand why he’s done what he’s done, which is even more upsetting. It would be easier on me if I could just think of him as a villain, but I can’t. I wish I had never met him, but that’s folly. I pick up the phone and call Mrs. Tsai. She answers on the fourth ring, and it’s clear she’s been crying.
“Hello?” She sniffles, and I steel myself to ask her a question I’m sure she doesn’t want to hear.
“Mrs. Tsai? It’s Megan Liang. I have a question I need to ask you.”
“I can’t! George is dead. What else is there to say?” She starts weeping, and I have to push myself to keep going.
“I know this is hard, but I have to ask you to clarify something you told me. You said that you weren’t with Mr. Tsai when he lived in Minnesota, but you’ve been married—” I quickly Google before saying, “Fifty-one years. What did you mean by that?” Dead silence greets my question, and I wonder if she’s going to answer. I count to twenty slowly before I get a response.
“We had a separation. George wanted to move to Minnesota, and I did not. I’m a born and bred San Franciscan. I couldn’t imagine living in such cold and snow. Sorry.” Her voice is apologetic, but I take no offense. Minnesota winters are not for the faint of heart.
“No worries. Minnesota isn’t for everyone. Did you ever come visit him while he was here?”
“No. He came back here for holidays, but that was it.” Mrs. Tsai starts crying again, and I give her a few seconds to compose herself. “I did something I regret while he was gone.”
“What’s that?” I’m confused as to why she’s telling me, and I’m apprehensive as to what she’s about to divulge.
“I slept with Henry, your father,” she whispers.
“What?” I shriek at the top of my lungs. Whatever I was expecting, that wasn’t it. “I thought he was gay!”
“He is! He was. But, see….” Her voice trails off, and I wait impatiently to hear what she has to say. “You have to understand. We were all very close. George and I spent several nights a week at Henry and Larry’s. All night sometimes. We’d drink wine and talk and we were all very touchy-feely. Not usual for Asian people our age, I know, but it’s San Francisco.” This is more information than I want or need, but I don’t know how to politely tell her to stop. Besides, there might be a chance she tells me something relevant or important, so I let her reminisce while I wonder if they ever had a foursome.
“Take your time,” I say automatically, even though I want to push her. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor and all that.
“We slept together several times. Literally. In the same bed, I mean. Not sex,” Mrs. Tsai blurts out. “I was so lonely when George moved to Minnesota; I was practically living at Henry’s place. He and Larry were so sweet. They let me stay with them whenever I wanted without complaining about it. Larry had to go on a business trip for a week, and Henry and I had several bottles of wine in one night. He told me he missed the softness of a woman, and I kissed him. We made love, and it was wonderful!” Mrs. Tsai’s voice lights up as she talks about that night, and my heart sinks. She’s still in love with him, and I can sympathize. I had a crush on a gay guy when I was a freshman in college and he was a junior. I didn’t know he was gay when I first met him, and by the time he told me, it was too late. I was devastated, but I stayed friends with him. We ended up having sloppy sex one night, and that only made me want him more. He ended up transferring after the first semester, which was probably the best thing that could have happened, even though it killed me at the time.
“What happened after that?” I ask when it becomes clear that Mrs. Tsai is still lost in her memories.
“He was mortified and made me promise not to tell Larry. They were monogamous, believe it or not, and it would have killed Larry.” Mrs. Tsai says, her voice mournful. “I never told George, either, because he would have hit the roof.”
“How long was he in Minnesota?” I ask, switching the topic clumsily. I don’t know what to do with the information Mrs. Tsai has given me, nor do I know if it’s meaningful or not.
“A year and a half. He was supposed to be there two years, but he came home early.” Mrs. Tsai’s voice becomes evasive, and my pulse quickens. She’s hiding something from me; what is it?
“Why did he go home early? I thought he had a contract with Best Buy.” I don’t know any such thing, but I’m hoping it will prod her, and it does.
“He said it was because he finished his work early, but….” Her voice trails off. She takes a deep breath and adds in a whisper, “I read his emails. He left work undone. He was running away.”
“From what?” I know the answer, but I want to hear her say it. I also note that she had lied to me earlier when she claimed she knew nothing about her husband’s activities in Minnesota, but I let it slide.
“Angry investors. His business partners stole millions of dollars from them, and they were not happy about it.” There. It’s out in the open. If this had happened a year or two ago, I would posit that one of the investors is the person who ran her husband over. However, it was over a decade ago, so I’m less sanguine about the possibility. Then again, people can hold grudges, especially over money. I can’t rule out that one of the investors is the person behind the steering wheel of the car that killed Mr. Tsai.
“Thanks. That’s all I need. Again, I’m sorry for your loss.” I hang up, my thoughts racing through my brain. I have a lot to think about.