Love is Iraq

Heart
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Jerry Seinfeld once said that if dating is like a game of paintball, then marriage is Iraq. Your husband laughed too hard at this joke for it to be funny to you anymore; he remained doubled-over in his seat at the Arlington theater, shaking, long after you finished your terse little chuckle. You stared at the back of his head pointedly, waiting for him to apologize and look a bit ashamed. Instead, he avoided your gaze for the remainder of the show, as if caught red-handed.

You’ve always been indiscriminate with your feelings. You don’t even have a “type.” In preschool you fell for your best friend, the boy with the moon-shaped face and matching orbs for eyes, and only protested meekly when he slurped your face with his gritty tongue. Li Li, they called him, even though his real name was Lu Ren. In Puerto Rico, you developed a mad crush on your father’s best friend, Hector, who was engaged to a chunky woman named Pilar. You thought he could do better, Hector with his chiseled bones and chocolatey hair; you thought that you, even at the age of five, was a version of better. Hector, for his part, brought you the flores de maga that he picked from the sidewalk and called you “Guapa” from his car window and fed you flan; to this day, you have a soft spot for Puerto Ricans, or any man who resembles one, even if he is just a gringo from Santa Barbara who tans easily.

In Iowa, it was the White boys at Kate Mitchell Elementary, all of them. Maybe it was something about the corn-colored fuzz that insulated their skinny arms or neatly tucked shirts—body hair and a sense of order have always been aphrodisiacs for you, and in this sense you were a precocious child. Around the same time, you also loved an older Chinese boy at church named Daniel. He was already in middle school but played with you anyway, spoke to you in Chinglish and told you wild stories about this guy named Jesus. You remembered Jesus but forgot all about Daniel, except how he made you feel—something you’ve never been able to reproduce, even now. After leaving Daniel and Iowa you discovered Morris in Texas, who was just like Daniel—Chinese and older—except silent and unknowable. Last summer you typed “Morris Chan” into Facebook and hoped for the answer that previously eluded you, but it never came.

When you finally settled in California, you rediscovered brown boys—the Vietnamese ones in Mrs. Forshay’s fifth grade class who competed with you for the A’s and smirked every time you said the word “balls” during P.E.; the high school history teacher (who wasn’t brown technically—more olive-skinned, in an Eastern European kind of way) who always called you Miss Ma and told you you were the most brilliant thing since sliced bread; the ex-con contractor—coincidentally also named Jesús—who took the bus to meet you at the Del Amo mall and buy you chocolate-covered strawberries, even as he sat empty and hungry-looking.

In college you developed a reputation for being a racist against your own kind, which was news to you. True, it probably didn’t help that you declared, on more than one occasion, “I only like White/Black/Latino guys,” but what you really meant was that homophily trumped love; it wasn’t your fault that White men liked to tickle you with the only kind of sparing they knew (the verbal kind) and Black men liked to ask you for your availabilities outside Cafe Strada and Latino men looked at you like they wanted to eat you whole, while Asian ones only glanced at you evenly and in passing, as if considering you their mere equal, as opposed to some sweet prize they wanted to throw their hat in the ring for. It didn’t help that you married Luc after dating for three months in graduate school; all your college friends nodded smugly at the wedding when he emerged at the front end of the chapel with his peachy undertones and sun-bleached locks and undeniably pale eyes the color of water in a shallow pool. “Told you so,” they whispered to each other, loud enough for you to hear as you walked down the aisle.

Now nobody cares. The lucky ones are married to trim, matchy-matchy men who can speak Chinese and bring home a W-2 every year but who fail to lick clits and give ass play a chance. The unlucky ones are dating long-haired divorcees with estranged children and ex-wives from foreign countries or worse, still listing their relationship status online as “It’s Complicated,” as if perpetually stuck in an adolescent rift within the space–time continuum. On the spectrum of luck, it remains unclear where you stand. True, your husband, a lifelong player, is terribly good in bed. You had asked Jesus for this in college when you prayed for your future someone, and he delivered. Your roommates laughed and thought that God was not the type to answer such prayers that appeared to contradict his better senses, but you knew better than to think that God was anything less than a contradiction. They prayed for men who would take care of their hearts and be “spiritual leaders,” whatever that meant; you only shook your head and simply asked for someone who slept around enough to know what he was doing by the time he got to you, because there were few worse things in your mind than two virgins trying to figure out their own equipment on wedding night.

“What about, you know, his personality?” Charlene asked, after the three of you opened your eyes.

“Don’t you want someone who really understands you?” Vania chimed.

“You’ve got friends for that,” you retorted. “But there’s only one person you have to share a bed with for the rest of your life. If I have to do that, they better be good.”

“In bed,” Char confirmed.

“In bed,” you echoed.

Now Char is married to Cam, who stays at home and volunteers at church and takes care of their anthropomorphic puppy while she balances budgets at the world’s most omniscient tech company. When you reunited with your spouses in tow at Vania’s wedding last month, you asked Cam what their plans for the future were. It was code for “What are you going to do with your life?” and maybe “When will you have kids already?”

“We actually just met with our pastor about that,” he said, straight faced and smiling. “We wanted to know what God’s plan was, and whether we should try to have children.”

“What did he say?” Luc asked, reflecting back a different kind of smile, one that flickered between amusement and mockery.

“He asked us if God explicitly told us not to have kids, and as long as he didn’t, we should just go for it.”

“Anything short of ‘no’ means yes,” Luc said approvingly. It was the same strategy he used on women, yourself included. You looked at him; he looked back at you. Later, in the car, the two of you took solace in the idiocy of other people.

 

Your husband slept with 68 women before he met you. The first night you spent together, you stopped him just before he slipped his hand underneath you and asked what his number was. He paused, as if counting.

“Six,” he said eventually. It was good enough for you.

When it came out a week later that 6 = 68, you questioned him on his math.

“I meant sixty,” he replied. Then, “I didn’t want to scare you.”

“Have you ever been tested for anything?” you asked. You were always prone to worrying and practicality.

“I give blood every three months,” he answered. “If I had anything serious they’d stop me.”

“Maybe, if it was AIDS,” you said. “What about the other stuff?”

“The other stuff I would’ve been able to tell. My dick hasn’t fallen off or anything.”

“Do you have any baby mamas running around?” you inquired instead.

“Nope,” he told you. “The other foot has never dropped.”

“How can you be sure?” you asked.

“I always check in on them a couple of months afterwards,” he said. “To make sure nothing is in the works.”

“No buns in the oven?”

“Not yet,” he said. Somehow you managed to find this mildly reassuring.

 

By the time things changed, you two had been together for eight years and counting, a true miracle considering that you can barely eat the same cereal for a week before losing interest.

Still, even the most miraculous marriages required maintenance.

Luckily—or unluckily, depending on your perspective—for you, Luc was not a jealous person, so much so that is seemed a bit like a disorder. He delighted in your crushes on other guys—a fellow dad from a local parents’ group who took you to the zoo, an email liaison with an AP teacher you never got over from high school, a series of romantic lunches at ethnic restaurants with a sociologist at work. During dry spells when there were no viable candidates upon which to (potentially) sacrifice the marriage, you had to fabricate tales of one-night stands from recent trips abroad or rendezvous based on the imaginary friends you made online, competition being the best turn-on.

Those final days, the pickings were slim: the other dad had disappeared from zoo trips; your teacher had gotten fat; your work-husband was on sabbatical. One night, it took Luc nearly half an hour to finish, and only after you took matters into your own dexterous hands.

“This isn’t good,” you said afterwards.

“Every marriage goes through these lulls,” he said, hopeful.

“That’s awfully optimistic,” you replied. “Every other marriage also ends.”

“What exactly would you like to do about it?”

You shrugged but stared back at him pointedly, in wait.

“An open relationship would never work,” he told you, mind-reading.

“You’re not the jealous type.”

“True, but you are.”

“A unilateral open relationship then,” you offered.

Luc laughed, shaking his head. But he was smiling still.

 

You met Trish at preschool during the annual Halloween parade when more moms than dads lingered after drop off, armed with iPhone cameras and an excessive need to document the more photogenic minutiae of life, just in case their children wanted to accuse them (decades later) of being anything less than entirely devoted parents. She smiled at you and asked which one was yours; you looked at hers and immediately identified him as another hapa child.

“Is your husband White too?”

She looked stricken for a moment, but then said, “Lloyd—my husband—is pretty White-looking himself. Whenever he orders in Japanese at a sushi restaurant the waitresses are always really impressed, like they think he’s just some American with amazing pronunciation, and they don’t realize he grew up with a Japanese mother.” She pointed at a man and you couldn’t help your surprise; Lloyd, with his gray eyes and military haircut and starched shirt, looked exceedingly like someone you wanted to know, in more ways than one. He looked back at you and nodded, as if in agreement.

“Hey,” you said, in his general direction.

“Hey,” he echoed back. Was it strange that you two greeted one another like old acquaintances, ones that did not need introduction?

Trish, for her part, did not notice and said anyway, “This is Christine.”

“Kylo Ren’s guardian, Hans Solo,” you corrected. Lloyd looked at you and did not laugh. You should’ve realized then that he was a different sort of man than your own husband.

 

When it was all over and you and Lloyd had successfully carved your two families into another pair of statistics, it remained unclear who was to blame. Love, like war, could be fuzzy like that.

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