Today my mom warned me about flushing condoms in the toilet. I was a bit taken aback.
"What?" I asked.
"When you have eh-sex, please do not flush the things you use to prevent pregnancy -- what are those called?" she asked in her thick Persian accent.
"Yes, please do not flush them. You can cause a big accident."
I was confused how my mother would know a condom was flushed or that we had sex. I guess there might have been a floater. Oh, well. What can you do? It's not my house. Sogee and I are a married couple staying with another married couple that happen to be my parents. There are bound to be discussions when you are sharing space with other people. "Not flushing the rubbers" seems a perfectly legitimate concern.
"Okay," I told my mother. "I will not flush anything."
"Good," she said, and then let out a sly grin.
Her smile said it all. It might have even been the reason to bring it up in the first place. I think my parents are kind of happy to know that Sogee and I are doing okay with married life. That makes total sense to me. We probably didn't seem like we were doing too well the first couple weeks in America. And the truth is, we weren't.
Moving from another country is a big change, especially for a couple that's spent there entire courtship and together-ness in a previous one that is so different. You get off the plane and have a whole new set of cultural, living, and speaking guidelines, that are, in most cases, very much the opposite of what you were used to. What do you mean you can't spit on the sidewalk? Why won't they swipe my credit card for me? Why is that person mad because I nudged their shoulder while walking past them? Suddenly, you are given looks for behavior that was deemed fine and appropriate a plane ride ago. You are suddenly inappropriate in every way. That certainly does a number on a person's head. You suddenly start worrying about how you and your partner can prevent being tarred and feathered before the week is through.
"Don't do that! Do this!" I found myself saying. "In America, we don't walk down the street like that at night. We don't..." And on and on. I must have been a broken record with all my concerns. I was suddenly so hell bent on explaining everything. And Sogee, to her credit, was willing to hear me out - for a minute.
"Yeah, you don't want to go out in heels in this part of L.A.," I told her on day two in the city.
"Why not? This is how I dress!"
That was probably the beginning of disaster. You don't criticize Sogee's heels. It was only a matter of time before my sometimes legitimate concerns were thwarted as preposterous. I mean, some things - like walking in safe areas of Los Angeles - were legitimate concerns, but I was still taking it overboard. I certainly didn't need to recommend her walking one way and not another to get groceries. She would be okay.
I suppose that's a tendency in my relationship life. I become the sounding call for any potential catastrophe, politically correct action, and any basic fear-inducing-paranoia I can find to sabotage my relationships. This previous pattern had yet to rear its ugly head in my new marriage. I realized this as it was happening. I could also sense that I was going through some reverse culture shock as well.
The latter portion of my problem was an easy one to diagnose. I was simply not used to the role of being a leader. In Korea, Sogee was the one who took us from one area to the next. She did all the talking, and I simply fell in line to her bidding. It was very strange to have those roles reversed. She was now the worried one - uncertain about her speaking skills or how to deal with the local checkout attendant. It was up to me to be a guide.
"You swipe the card yourself," I told Sogee, as we were checking out at a Whole Foods. "You have to do it!"
"Okay!" she raised her voice back to me.
"I'm just letting you know."
"Okay," she said, and grabbed her plastic bag.
"You're also going to want to get paper next time, or get one of those canvas bags, so you can help the environment."
"Why? Don't Americans recycle?"
"Not like Korea."
"What do you mean?"
I felt that I spent most of our first few weeks being this knit pickey, annoying know-it-all. I was starting to dislike myself and it showed. It was only until I remembered the quote on the walls at Hwa Gye Sah that I started seeing my actions for what they were.
"In the 24 hours of each day," the placard read, "do not make anything."
As soon as I remembered that idea, I started practicing it. I didn't mention what Sogee needed to do or make any amends if she did something that would be deemed politically inappropriate. I simply tried to enjoy each moment. Slowly, I started to find myself again. It was nice. I didn't know where I had gone for those first few weeks. I could also see how my previous relationships were a product of me never being able to move past this point. In most cases, I was either too young, stupid, or simply unable to get a second chance to make it past my worried concerns. They would simply consume me if given enough room to roost.
I was better off this time. I did the zazen. I stopped making. I also allowed things to be without controlling them. Slowly, Sogee began to reflect my actions. Instead of fielding all my worries into her own, she now got to spend time with herself and her passions. Finally, things began to even out.
"I think I was too worried about getting a job right away," she told me.
"Now I am not worried as much."
"You don't need to be. You got time. Do what you want."
"I just felt like I had to do something."
It looks like the economic crisis has replaced the War on Terror as the new mask of fear to consume Americans. In Korea, there wasn't anything about an economic crisis, but as soon as we hit the tarmac at LAX, it was like a barrage of news clips that would frighten any human being: "Economic crisis! Stipulation!! No jobs!!!" It was no wonder that Sogee was scared out of her mind. Add to that, a husband that's giving her other worries and the poor girl is on overload.
"I'm just not used to not having a job," Sogee continued. "I felt like I should have a job right away. I thought that was what I was supposed to do."
"You don't though. You got time to adjust. That's why we're here."
"I know that now."
If Sogee and I were to respond with the amount of dread that was forced upon us by those televisions and the banter among Americans around us, we would have literally boob-blocked Humpty Dumpty and jumped off the wall in his place. Luckily, we've had the chance to prevent complete meltdown with meditation, reality checks, and my parent's kindness to stay with them while we get acclimated to America.
Our plan is to stay here until after our wedding ceremony in August. Then the plan is to go back home to Los Angeles. I am not sure if it'll play out that easily, but I have a feeling it just might. The film seems to be coming together, so my job here will soon be done. Pretty soon I'll have to face a new city of "not making". Who knows?? Maybe, Sogee and I will go through another set of growing pains there together. As for now, we're here in Pittsford. And aside from the occasional rubber flushing issues, I am having a good time with my wife and parents.