Here is another interesting repost from a year ago when I first started blogging. I’m pulling it from the archives of my old blog site to give it a bit of fresh air here. There will be a few of these in the next coming weeks. They will feature personal essays with poetry to give you a bit more of a colorful look into my life.
25-Years Ago Today Part I
Originally published 14 April 2021
22 year-old country boy from Vermont get’s Shanghaied.
#NaPoWriMo2021 No. 14/30
Twenty-five years ago today, I spent an anxious night not sleeping in her apartment for the first time. I was alone in one room of the 2 bedroom apartment. She was (not) sleeping in the other bedroom along with both her parents and her older sister. Somebody was sleeping. I could hear the snoring through the thin wall. I’d just arrived in Shanghai after a whirlwind world scavenger hunt collecting all the documents that would be required the next day. The Chinese government took this very seriously. They didn’t allow just any random foreign boy, that happened to fall in love, marry one of their girls. I had to prove to them that I was worthy. Her acceptance of my proposal wasn’t particularly relevant to the issue. It wasn’t enough that I’d asked her parent’s permission (after being screened first by her best friend, then sister, then brother), which they reluctantly gave. I needed to provide solid documented proof.
A week prior to this sleepless night, I flew home from Japan after quitting my very first job out of college. It was almost exactly six months after first arriving in Japan as a fresh graduate excited to begin my career. It was also almost exactly six months from the night that I first met her. And it was almost exactly six months from the night I fell head-over-heels for her. Did I mention yet that I was a 22 year-old country boy from Vermont and, like any boy that age, a complete numskull?
Anyway, I quit the job that I had worked so hard to get, packed all my belongings into a single suitcase and headed back home to the US with a list of all the documents I needed to secure a Chinese marriage certificate as a foreigner. Basically I needed to prove that I was who I said I was, that I wasn’t a criminal, and that I wasn’t already married. As an American, I needed proof from the US government. But because I had been living in Japan, I also needed proof from the Japanese government that I hadn’t committed any crimes (or at least hadn’t been caught) nor been married while living there. So off to New York City I flew to get everything I needed. I had only a week before my flight to Shanghai so I immediately got to work securing the documents. But I hit a snag when the Japanese consulate in NY said that they couldn’t provide what I needed. I had to get them from the American consulate in Japan. So I quickly adjusted my plans and with my US docs in hand took a flight to Shanghai with a 12 hour layover in Tokyo. Arriving in Tokyo I scrambled to get to the consulate only for them to tell me that there was a two-day turnaround time. I begged and pleaded with them. I told them I had a wedding to get to. That I was madly in love and if they could just please help me out. I don’t think it would have worked anywhere else in the world, but Japan is very service oriented (or maybe they just were desperate to get me out of their office). I was able to catch my flight to Shanghai with all the documents on my list.
I share all that to give you a sense of how compelled I was to succeed no matter what hurdle was thrown in front of me. And just how crazy of a week that I’d had when I landed in Shanghai earlier that day. I was physically and emotionally exhausted, relieved about getting this far, yet anxious about what lay ahead. So there I lay sleepless. I was about to start a new life in this foreign (to me) land and suddenly I felt the uncertainly that had been hiding all along under the rushed excitement and fog of passion. Tomorrow I’d be marrying the girl in the next room sleeping with her whole family, one of which was snoring. I lay there, eyes wide open, wondering just what I’d gotten myself into. And, a more pressing question at that very moment, are all the beds in china as hard as a rock? This very well could be the beginning of many sleepless nights.
There was one other thing that had my mind racing. Before sending me off to sleep alone on the bedrock, she had told me that there was one other document that we needed before we could apply for our marriage license. We needed proof of health. So in the morning we’d be going to the clinic for the health check. As a young man, I had no concerns about this. But then she said that one of the checks was “to make sure we can have babies”. Now let me pause here for a second. When we met six months prior she spoke very little English and I spoke no Chinese. We’d been communicating in a mixture of broken English and Japanese and frequent references to our pocket dictionaries (keep in mind this was 1996 so I’m talking about an actual physical book that we carried around and flipped through pages frantically when we had to). So there was nothing surprising about her use of non-medical terminology. But I was in shock and fear about having to do a fertility test. This was crazy! It wasn’t the result that I was concerned about. It was the sampling procedure. At 22 I was still in the phase of pretending that I was the one man in the world that never masturbated (If your thinking that if I wasn’t mature enough to admit masturbating, then perhaps I wasn’t mature enough to get married your not alone) and now I was going to have to do it in a hospital with a nurse knowingly waiting outside the door to collect my sample? The anticipation of the embarrassment provided a whole new level of anxiety. So there I lay sleepless…with a whole new life flashing before my eyes…until I finally succumbed to the exhaustion and everything faded to black.
To be continued tomorrow…
I’ve told this story many times over the years, but I think this is the first time in writing. I’ve intentionally kept the telling relatively flat. Telling vs. showing. The opposite of what I’m “supposed to do” as a writer. For this isn’t just any story. This is my story. This is my life. When I look back at it, it feels unbelievable even to me. So I’m trying to keep it to the facts to avoid creating any doubts of this being a work of fiction. And with just the facts, if you imagine yourself the 22-year old me laying sleepless in that bed after all I’d done to get there and all that was yet to come, I think you can paint your own picture with the colors of emotions you would feel. Now step into the picture you’ve painted and lay down on the hard bed. Close your eyes and listen for the snoring from the next room between the heavy beats of your own heart. What are you feeling as you lay there? What are you thinking? I’d love to hear your perspective. Share below in the comments section. I adore getting feedback. Thank you.
Ok, gather around. It’s poetry time.
This panel is an excerpt from my illustrated short story collection, Monty’s Very Short Shorts about how I felt when I first met the girl I was about to marry in the story above. Today, I’ll further explore this concept of intoxication in the context of love. Scroll down below and let’s see what I come up with.
Drunk Love (work-in-progress)
I saw her over the rim of the mizu-wari I was sipping;
She looked and gave a small wave in my direction;
Did she just wave at me?
Nah, it couldn’t possibly be.
Must have been a figment of my imagination
Or perhaps the effects of intoxication.
I had no idea what was about to unfold;
Her attention, an instant aphrodisiac, took hold;
A spark of hope arose within me;
Igniting a wildfire of possibilities.
Sure her beauty was a sight to behold;
But without hope, the fire would’ve gone cold.
(to be continued tomorrow…)
I’m all out of steam for today. Time to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s a big day.