I am going to provide a disclaimer before reading this one. As I have matured as a person, some of my writings have also matured. This story has more intense themes and—if I am honest with myself—some uncomfortable dialogue. I am choosing to share it because I like how the story progresses, but I don't totally love these characters. If you choose to read it, I hope you enjoy!
Firm, sweaty handshakes and pats on the back at the end of rehearsal are the worst. I can go an entire rehearsal and not break a sweat, but the moment I say, “Wrap for the day,” I am tainted with residue. I understand that I am good at what I do, and they want to pay me with their thankfulness. But do I want their sweat on me when I go home to my wife? I do not.
For around eighteen years, I have trained in martial arts with Sensei Cho and trained in patience with my parents. Many things about having strict parents were not great. I will be the first to say it. However, my dad putting me into Taekwondo when I was seven was the best thing that could have happened to me. I’ve loved every second: competing with my signature Bakkat Chagi, honing my Bandae Dollyeo Chagi, and making friends with my teammates along the way. It became one of my biggest outlets as a child, and now, as an adult, it is my job. I expected to still be competing in my early twenties, and sometimes I still wish that I was. But I still cherish the ability to defend myself, as Taekwondo is a practice of self-defense, that I learned. And I wouldn’t give up any of it, or where I am in life. But did I think my future as an elite martial artist would be as a 25-year-old, newly married, Hollywood stunt coordinator? No. No, I did not. I was driving home in my black 2020 Honda Civic with good music and sticky palms from sweat residue that wasn’t my own. It was 7:00 pm when I had gotten off set. Naturally, I was hungry, and I called my wife.
“Hey, Babe,” I said. “I just got off set. Want me to pick something up on my way home?”
“Oh, yay.” She always sounded so sweet. “How was set?”
Now, this was something that always bothered me and was about to bother me again. I asked if I should pick “something up,” which was code for food. I also was considerate and asked if she would like some. Alas, she didn’t answer that question. She just asked me another, different, question; a question that would cause me to ramble on about my workday and not get around to dinner.
“It was fine.” A typical response I would expand upon. “They want to make a BTS documentary about this one.”
“That’s exciting,” she said, and here came another question: “What does that mean for you?”
“I may have to work later,” I said. Damn. Fell for it again. “’Cause this means I’ll have to be interviewed after every rehearsal to talk about how the actors are doing, how I’m feeling, what I think about the project, what I think about the director, and other bullshit like that.”
“That’s not as exciting as I thought.”
“I mean, it is a…”
“James!” She sounded worried. “What was that?”
“Just an idiot trying to cut in front of me on the 405, per usual.”
“Why can’t people just learn how to drive?”
Did you see what happened there? If you read too quickly, you probably missed it. Basically, not only do I have no idea if I should be picking up dinner, I now don’t get to talk about the exciting thing about the documentary. For those of you wondering, the exciting thing is what every new wife wants to hear while sitting on the sofa of her new, two-bedroom, one-bathroom, 650-square-foot apartment: a pay raise. But, was she going to get to know this now? Unfortunately, not yet. I would make sure it came up in conversation later, and she’ll be happy then, but she doesn’t know now. All because she asked another question.
“I know!” I answered. “We’ve only been living in LA two months, and I feel like we can traverse the freeway better than anyone.”
“Traverse?” she said. “What are we, pirates?”
I laughed. It was funny. She was cute.
This is what got me though, our conversation lasted the entire three-mile, 10-minute drive to our apartment, and the original question about dinner was never answered. I then said the signature, “I’m here, so I’ll see you in a sec.”
And her, “Okay, bye.”
When I drove through the complexes my stomach growled. That’s what did it. I forgot I hadn’t eaten. I needed food, but I was trying to be optimistic and think about the slim possibility of leftovers waiting for me. I found our garage in the back corner of the complex, pushed the button, rolled my car in, turned it off, and closed the door behind me. When I walked in, I realized something. I noticed that she was sitting on the couch, in a blanket, chai-tea in hand, Schmidt from New Girl making a fool of himself on the TV, and her most precious smile.
I knew there was no food, but I decided to open the fridge just in case.
“What are you looking for?” she asked from the couch.
There really was no food. I grabbed a can of Guinness—too lazy to pour it into a glass—joined her on the couch, realized this was the third day in a row that I only had one meal, and said, “Just a refreshment.”
I could have chosen to leave to get food. But I will say, there is nothing like seeing your wife after a long day of work that makes you not want to get back in your car. So, I opened the can. “Did I tell you it looks like I’ll be getting a raise?”
“That’s so wonderful, babe.”
We exchanged some welcome-home kisses. Then I smiled and sat down to watch the rest of the episode with her. “Babe, you’re pretty sweaty do you mind showering first before we cuddle?”
“Not a problem.” My stomach growled. “I’ll go really quick and join you on the couch.”
“Can’t wait.” She smiled, and I walked down to our room before making it to the shower.
I opened the bedroom door and walked over to my closet. I grabbed a comfy pair of sweatpants and a hoodie. I walked across the hall towards the bathroom door. I heard the TV begin to play again and my wife was laughing on the couch. I decided to leave the bathroom door open because I found that leaving the door open allows the condensation to not fog up the mirror. I placed the Guinness can on the sink counter next to our charging toothbrushes and turned on the speaker that I kept in our bathroom. I opened my Spotify and shuffled my “Chill Relaxing” playlist. I was never good with naming those.
I got into the shower and unlike some people that sing to their music, I just enjoy listening to it. I Listen and reflect. I like to reflect on my day, on the choices I’ve made that day, center myself, and overall decompress. Amidst reflecting on the new job and the day, I heard my music suddenly get turned down.
“Hey, James?” my wife, Liz called to me from outside the shower. “Are you feeling OK?”
I could hear the sorrow through her words. “Yes, I’m fine,” I called back. “Why do you ask?”
“Well,” she began. “You seemed down when you walked inside today.”
I was down. Is it too much to assume she should be able to tell why? Her question felt like an attempt at an apology. There are a number of reasons why I would be down: I haven’t eaten, I feel like I can’t share how I feel, and she doesn’t seem to take opportunities to ask me about my life.
Now, I did not handle this situation well. I understand that, but try to not be mad at me for my response, OK?
“I’m not sure, babe,” I replied. “I feel fine. Maybe work just drained me?”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “Maybe it did—” she paused for a moment.
I hadn’t started washing yet. I was still in the zen phase of my shower.
“You know,” she said. “We’ve been married for about a year-and-a-half and dating for a while before that too.”
I was starting to get concerned about where this was headed.
“I’m just wondering if you have ever told me when you’ve been hurt or upset?”
“I’ve told you when I was hurt,” I think I wanted her to leave. I wasn’t confident, but I don’t know why I would have lied. “I don’t think I’m upset right now.”
“Right,” she said. “I heard you. But now I’m thinking that you tell me you are uncertain and unsure more often than you tell me you’re sure?”
“When I don’t know, I don’t know,” I snapped. Was I the problem? Maybe I was. Also, I think she is kind of the problem too. If she had told me to get food earlier. I would have. If I had gotten food, then why would there have been any problem to begin with? Maybe Taekwando made me stubborn? She’s right after all. I was rarely confident around her, but I decided to play dumb.
“I know, babe,” she said. “I’m not trying to make you irritated, I’m just wondering how I can help you when you don’t talk to me?”
“You’re right—” I turned off the water and grabbed my towel that was right outside. I still hadn’t started washing, but this felt important enough to talk through. I put my towel over my head and violently rubbed my hair dry. I paused to take a heavy sigh and stepped out of the shower. “I have not been completely upfront with you.”
“I know.” She looked concerned.
I don’t really understand why she was concerned. I was the one who was famished and unheard. I was the one in pain here, not her.
“I feel like you don’t hear me a lot of the time,” I said. “I think you hear what I am saying, but you don’t care enough to answer me.”
“I do care,” she said. “I have always valued what you have to say,” she paused. “Sorry. That was wrong of me and I want to validate your feelings. When have I not valued you?”
God, she was perfect. Who does that? She paused to validate my feelings. I didn’t deserve her. Nor, did she deserve for me to be as aggressive as I was going to be.
“Earlier when I asked about food?” I said. “When I told you about my raise and you brushed it off? When I tried to cuddle with you for just a second and you sent me to the shower?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I do remember you asking about the food. That’s my fault. In the future—”
“Liz,” I cut her off. “I don’t want you to try to fix things for the future. In the future, I want to commit to you that I will ask questions a second time if I need to. That I will be open with you about how I am feeling and doing. I don’t want this to be something that you fix. I want us to just learn how to love each other better together.
“I want that too,” She said. “I love you. Thank you for being honest with me. I understand where you are coming from.”
I’m happy I said my piece. I think it came off well. I want to show her how much I care for her. The little moments don’t hurt me all that bad. I just want to be with her. When I read about what I wrote about myself, I realized that I may not have a lot of redeeming qualities. I should probably figure that out.
“I’ll be waiting for you out there,” she said and gave me a hug.
“OK.” I let her leave and debated turning the shower back on so that I can actually wash myself. I decided that was a good idea. I got back into the shower and decided to actually wash my hair and the rest of the sweat off of me.
I bet you thought I wouldn’t bring the sweat up again, yeah? Neither did I. Alas, I brought it up. I figure it would make my story better to have things connected to the beginning of the story. So, I washed the sweat off of me. I got out of the shower, I dried off, I put on my comfy clothes, and then—nope. There’s no way I’m about to write what happens next in this story. After all, it doesn’t really concern you. We had a good night and went to bed.