Flights from Asia to Seattle fly over the Pacific Plate which pushes the Juan de Fuca plate under the North American plate, giving rise to the volcanic Cascades, the Coast Ranges and the Olympic Peninsula that Seattle is nestled between. When I got off the plane, Erik was waiting for me with a bouquet of roses.

Our first few weeks were the honeymoon period, it was as if we had never been apart. Erik and I went for walks along First Hill and Capitol Hill neighborhoods where Erik showed me his favorite spots. We had intimate evenings. Erik’s touch was gentle and caressing. He pulled me over towards him to hold him as he slept which Eric never did. But he never once held me.

Those weeks were a blur, I was probably still disassociated or avoiding confronting the reality in order to cope. But reality sank in when I contacted my parents a few weeks later (when I thought it was sufficiently safe) and told them I was not returning. I could only stay for 6 months in the US on a visitor visa. My only hope of staying longer was if I got accepted in graduate school in N. America and obtained a student visa. I had applied to a three graduate schools back when I was working in Singapore thinking it was a long shot, but my entire life now hung on that long shot. I later found out that my grandfather had died shortly after I left, and my grandmother soon after.  

I dreamt,
of my little room
I left behind

Last Night – Exile III (Psychedelic Dreams)

Charity is a double-edged sword, I was once again cornered with nowhere to go. The depression returned with a vengeance, contaminated with fearful uncertainty, and fatalism at the jinxed trajectory of my life. Chronic fatigue set in. Time changed, or rather my sense of it. I don’t know how well I masked it but I was probably difficult to be with. Erik did not know about my condition; I was afraid to tell him lest he toss me aside for the damaged goods I was. I would jolt awake in cold sweat from a nightmare that someone was coming for me, or some random street noise would trigger a panic attack that I was going to be forcibly deported. Although the intensity and frequency of these deportation nightmares would eventually subside over the years, they did not completely go away until 10 years later when I finally was able to renounce my Singapore citizenship.

Erik was an exacting person. Everything had to be done his way, and everything in place – be it the 1 inch placement of the spoon from the napkin, to how he wanted to be spooned at night. I helped him with caretaker chores, I played piano interludes for his church services, I sang for his church choir, I was his page turner when he played the organ, I pretended to be interested throughout services for his sake, I gave piano recitals for his concert series, I helped him set up for Easter and Christmas pageants and helped him take them down even after I moved. Even after I moved, I returned to help him move to a new apartment, and again for a new job. He commissioned me to compose a choral work for Pentecost, then rejected it laughing and telling everyone that I did not know I was quoting “Dies Irae” (Not quite. I transformed the intervals to make a point).

I was the perfect partner for a Lutheran church musical director. I could play a mean Bach fugue and sing Bach arias. He would show me off to his friends and congregation when we were invited for tea. He took me to Minneapolis as the interview included a dinner party at a committee member’s house where I made small talk and self-deprecating jokes while feeling trapped and dead inside. I pretended not to care when Erik talked about me in front of others “What’s it like? It’s like living with a cross between an exchange student and a terrorist.”

I grew more isolated and depressed. Waiting for Erik to acknowledge me when we were with his friends, waiting for Erik to acknowledge me on the ride home when he would talk about his friends, waiting for Erik to acknowledge me as I sat opposite him while he read. Perhaps it was a feeling of déjà vu, or akin to muscle memory of being in limbo that I started thinking about Eric again which formed an intrusion in my heart. It’s like I’m losing my mind, as a Sondheim lyric puts it.

In any relationship with an uncertain future, there is tension on both sides. For me it was further complicated by being indebted to Erik who gave me a way out, otherwise I would not be here. I would wonder after each callous act or remark, would I have allowed him otherwise? His barbs jumbled into a confused breccia cemented by duty and trapped by love. On the days when I did not have to be with Erik, I spent hours in a rented darkroom at a nearby photography school developing and redeveloping prints from my old negatives, trying to perfect them. Trying to perfect my past.

As my depression and chronic fatigue grew worse, I resisted when Erik wanted sex. Sometimes he would roll over, sometimes he would sulk, sometimes he would watch porn and jerk off beside me. I resisted partly because I was tired. partly because I felt like a useless sack, and the negative feelings I had suppressed during my courtesan days surfaced – a shapeless disproportionate body that did not conform, broken, used and discarded by many men and mental illness; I was a damaged goods that no one would want. But mostly I wanted Erik to be different from those men. “My mother asked me what I liked about you?” he told me one night “I told her I liked your regal features, because I couldn’t very well tell her I really like your butt!”

Is that the only thing you liked about me?

I hear the fridge hum,
sudden starts of heated air,
and my heart beating

Alone – Exile I (Psychedelic Dreams)

I felt my self getting subducted under his will and my debt to him. My poetry got increasingly compressed until they turned akin to haiku – a tight meter, a tourniquet for feelings. I complied as much as I could but sometimes I resisted to grasp onto some semblance of self, and those buried feelings erupted into spectacular fights.

I purchased some parts to assemble a computer, but the OS on my hard drive that I brought with me from Singapore had compatibility issues with them. I was trying to get the computer working, removing each component in turn, trying different combinations of components, trying to work out what might be causing issues. Erik called me for dinner. I called back and said I needed a few minutes. He called again and I repeated the same. It was the 5th or 6th time when he stormed in, yanked me out, pulled me to the dining table and shoved me into the chair.

“I prepared this nice meal, and now it’s cold. When I call you for dinner, you come for dinner! The computer is not important!” he shouted and went on for quite a bit.

When he stopped shouting, I replied with my head down “I have no control over anything in my life right now. Fixing the computer is the only thing I have some control over. That’s why it is important for me.” That was half true, the other half of why it was important for me to fix the computer was I wanted to see if Eric had sent me a message since I left.

Another time (I don’t remember how it came up) I said the Venetian lagoon was originally a river delta. Erik said I was wrong, it has always been a lagoon. I clarified I was talking about geological time not human history. Erik said no, Venice has always been on an island. And so it went with me trying to clarify my point, and Erik insisting he was right with another non sequitur. He got more and more agitated until he went to the bookshelf and pulled out a large, thick and heavy hardcover coffee table book “I know everything to know about Venice, I read this damn book!” He raised the book at me. I thought he was about to hit me with it and raised my arm to shield my face, but he slammed it on the table, breaking the glasses on it and sending shards everywhere.

I kept my mouth shut as I picked up the pieces. I was familiar with the ways of White men from my courtesan days – they think they are listening, they think they are debating, but all they want is validation, no matter how erroneous.

Because I had been on my previous two trips, Erik asked me to show him around on his Southwest road trip for a travel magazine. After checking into the Paris Hotel, we wandered around the Las Vegas strip. I don’t remember how it started but I still remember the spot where it happened in the Bellagio lobby.

Erik was ahead of me and I said something in response to what he said. He stopped, turned and glared at me. “Why don’t you listen to me?” he roared and lunged at me. His hands wrapped around my neck and he started choking me.

I was in shock. I could not move. It was not until I felt his thumb pressing into my windpipe before I reacted. I pushed him off and stumbled back. He took a few steps towards me and screamed as he strangled me again, tighter this time. I wrestled him off and ran off into the crowd. I had to get out, get away.

After I stopped running and had time to think, I realized I had no credit card nor did I have the cash to get away so I reluctantly returned to our hotel room. I was afraid Erik was already back in the room but he wasn’t. I found my return ticket and started packing my things when I keeled over in pain and exhaustion. This was something I was familiar with, something that cut down my burgeoning career as a concert pianist in Seattle. After a recital or performance, after the rush of adrenaline, my entire being would be wracked in pain so intense that I could barely stand up. This time it was much much worse, my nerves felt like I was burning alive. I crawled under the covers and waited to die, flickering in and out of consciousness, all I knew was the room was dark when I heard the door open.

“I’m sorry” Erik murmured and crept up beside me, resting his head on my chest. “I’m sorry”

From my courtesan days, it is our fault when the White Man gets angry, we are expected to go along. I pushed down my fear, my anger, my abuse. I pushed it down because I was trapped and I had nowhere to go in Vegas, in Seattle, everywhere. I pushed all of it down and stroked his hair. “It’s my fault too” I said.

You weren’t always nice
even tried to kill me twice
I guess this is love

Seattle II (Psychedelic Dreams)

I think it was around that time when I started having insomnia. After Erik fell asleep at night, I would unwrap my arms around him and sit in a chair. I tried to tire myself reading or working on the computer. Sometimes I slept in the chair. Sometimes I stayed up wondering where this was going. Once I stayed with Erik while he was house sitting outside the city, when he fell asleep, I got up after an hour or so and walked on the road with no streetlights until I came to a gas station. I bought a candy bar and walked back in the dark. I finished the candy bar and laid beside him, my eyes refusing to shut.

It was just a few times at first, but it became more frequent until, try as I might I was unable to fall asleep next to him again.