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A Meeting

By
March 6, 2009

Meeting (MEE-ting), n., Korean slang: a group date.

“I don’t date Korean girls because they all remind me of my sisters.”

Chul’s tone was offhand, but there were weights of guilt, regret, anger—and above all, mother—attached to his words.

“And when you date Korean girls, it’s like there’s so much cultural baggage that comes along with them—are you going to marry them, are you just using them for sex? Are you going to become a doctor? Oh good. And what part of Korea are your parents from? You know, buddy, if you get one of them pregnant, it’s all over.”

“Shotgun wedding?” I asked.

“No, moron—expensive abortions.”

I didn’t doubt that Chul knew about abortions firsthand. When he said he supported Planned Parenthood, I don’t know if he meant he donated money or was merely their best customer. Maybe both.

Chul had everything planned out. He was going to marry Kristy, or someone who looked like her, finish med school, become a neurosurgeon (the highest-paying specialty; he’d done research), get a good broker, and retire early to the Caribbean.

His girlfriend at the moment, Kristy, was blonde, blue-eyed, tall, worked in a small auction house here that tried to pretend it was Sotheby’s, but it wasn’t—it was more like a high-class pawn shop. She was sweet, almost motherly. I don’t know what she saw in Chul. I guess you could say he was good-looking in a sort of smooth, slick way. Everything about him was shiny: his hair, his eyebrows, the tops of his cheekbones. To accentuate it, he wore silky European-style suits at a time when most guys wore T-shirts, jeans, and baseball caps everywhere.

Chul had everything planned out. He was going to marry Kristy, or someone who looked like her, finish med school, become a neurosurgeon (the highest-paying specialty; he’d done research), get a good broker, and retire early to the Caribbean.

“Think of it—margaritas on the beach every day, man,” he’d said to me, and I believed him. I’d known Chul since he was five years old, and whatever he said he’d do—no matter how crazy or impossible—he somehow did.

Like the chocolate covered ants. Actually, it was just chocolate, not ants. But Chul got me to take part in his scheme to sell pieces of See’s candy as chocolate covered ants, one dollar apiece, the perfect trick to play on your friends. The neighborhood kids were convinced. See, Chul knew enough about kids and their lust for torture that they would easily believe him, his confident spiel that his father, being an importer, had gotten the chocolates from Mexico. Everyone knew Mexicans ate chocolate-covered ants, right?

We’d made almost thirty bucks, all in dollar bills and change, before some blubbery, nauseous little sister put an end to our business. But did that stop Chul? The next week was the freak show with Tumor Boy hidden behind a tent made from an old card table. Tumor turned out to be his little brother with gobs of silly putty stuck to him. He cried, but Chul managed to threaten him enough to keep him from going to their mother.

Chul and I were very different, but we had done all the Right Things together: good grades in high school, good SAT scores, enough sports to prove we weren’t one-dimensional Asian nerds, so we could ultimately get into Prestigious U. Our parents—who attended the same Korean church—had jointly built an elaborate pagan shrine in our living room to give thanks the day our fat acceptance letters came in. The shrine, a table on which they laid baskets of fruit, rice crackers, and some candles, was placed next to the one they built to help us get in: a gilt Buddha statue with pieces of brown gooey candy stuck on him, a pile of wrapped rice cakes and cookies by his side.

Needless to say, Chul picked at the shrine, fruit, crackers—even the blobs of taffy—whenever he was at my house, and my mother yelled at him at if he were one of her own.

Chul was now third-year med school at Prestigious U., and I was third-year hanging around. I wanted to be a writer, and I figured I could do it anywhere, so why leave? Right now my day job was writing blurbs for brochures at an ad agency. I wanted to start my novel one of these days.

On Fridays, Chul and I met at the Blue Angel for beers and to watch the world go by. Cold ones publicly in hand, we sneered at the envious undergrads, just as the older people had done to us. I listened to Chul complain about how incompetent the head resident was. I had just finished a piece—“Colored Gravel Gives Aquariums a Whole New Look”—so I felt pretty happy with myself.

The Blue’s veranda overlooked Prestigious U.’s campus, where students frolicked, just like in the brochures. The sun felt like a benevolent hand on our shoulders. In front of us, someone threw a Frisbee at a dog. Spring also meant that the dogs would start humping on the Green, just like the students.

“So I saw the funniest thing on rounds today,” Chul said. “This guy has this thing called an intestinal fistula, which means he’s got this hole in his gut right by his belly button where, whenever his intestines move, a glob of shit squirts out. He has to wipe himself there with toilet paper.”

“Sounds like a barrel of laughs,” I said. Chul started to explain that because of the digestive process called peristalsis, the intestines convulse and propel waste through the intestine every few minutes. But just before he got too gross and I had to ask him to stop, he whipped his head around.

“Hey—Kramerski!” he called, waving his beer like a semaphore flag.

Jan, Chul’s old roommate, lifted her chin in recognition and then joined us at our table. I realized I hadn’t seen Jan in ages, since she moved out, basically. She had been an excellent roommate—kept the place sparkling clean, even the blue stuff in the toilet, you know that type—when Chul was between girlfriends.

Actually, it was the way that Chul treated women—alternately as cleaning ladies, cooks, and love toys—that made Jan eventually move out: “Hey, I’ve got a strong stomach—I’m going to be a pathologist,” she had confided to me once. “But it’s not that strong.”

“How’re you fellas doing?” She looked like she’d materialized out of the day: smile white and bright, eyes clear, long hair unfurling gently in the breeze.

We shrugged nonchalantly. She waved down the waiter and got herself a beer, drank it out of the bottle like we were doing. I was realizing that what I liked about Jan was her girl-next-door quality, although in our neighborhood back in California, the girl next door would have been Susie Park.

“Stanley,” she said to me. In the sun, her gray eyes had distinct squarish flecks of brown in them, like mosaic tiles.

The Wild Bunch is playing tonight over at the Trolley. Want to go?”

Jan knew I loved Sam Peckinpah. I’d seen Convoy on video four times—it made me sad to think I’d missed out on the age of CBs. I’d even picked out a handle, Gonzo, for myself.

“Sure.”

Chul smirked and made silent pumping motions with his fist under the table, banging my thigh. I was feeling a little smirky myself because I know Chul had made the moves on Jan and been summarily rebuffed.

The Trolley was probably the only movie theater designed jointly by the Marquis de Sade and Rube Goldberg. The interior was supposed to resemble a trolley car—for what reason? No one watches movies in trolley cars—and it had long rows of seats in twos and threes, one aisle going down the middle. The seats were fixed, the way seats in subways are fixed, so they don’t mold to your butt; your butt ends up molding to it, like those Mayan Indians who used wooden boards and vises to squish their skulls into an attractive triangular shape.

But it would have to do. I was happy enough to be sitting next to Jan. She smelled vaguely like coconuts and vanilla, made me think of baking in an oven, in the sun. Later, in the dark, I forgot about the bench-like chairs and tried to skootch a little closer to her. Something made a horrible groan. The old lady in front of us turned and hissed like a snake.

By the end of the movie, we were holding hands. Some time after midnight, we made love in the laundry room in her building. It was her idea, which I thought was adventurous, but then she explained she didn’t want to disturb her roommates. I started thinking of Chul, who had to get on the horn right away to tell me whenever he’d had a “screamer.”

I walked her back up to the apartment, and I noticed she took her shoes off before she entered her place, and she wasn’t even Korean. Her place was spotless, as far as I could see through the doorway. She gave me another kiss, and I was dizzy with love.

“I’ll call you,” I said.

“I know,” she said, and smiled.

My clock morphed to six a.m. when I stumbled back to my apartment. The article on aquarium gravel was still sitting there, waiting to be put in an envelope and delivered.

I think I really liked Jan: I spent hours rehearsing what to tell my parents. She’s my girlfriend. She’s smart. In med school at Prestigious U. Beautiful. Kind. Takes her shoes off before she goes into the house. Oh, and she’s not Korean.

I rehearsed in the shower. To the cat (who was not convinced). When I was in line at Snarky’s foods. When I was staring at a blank computer screen. When I was talking to Jan on the phone, sitting next to her, making love to her. Especially when making love.

“You’re gonna tell your parents? What, you nuts? It’s been like three weeks!” Chul and I were sitting around strewn clothes, books, and underwear—all his—in his room, sharing a mid-afternoon beer and a joint. “You’re stupid, man. Why not wait until it becomes, like you know, serious?”

“A month,” I corrected. “And this is serious.”

“But you’re not going to marry her.”

“Not yet.”

“Don’t do it, buddy. Don’t rock the boat. If anything, wait until I’m ready to marry Kristy. I think it’s gonna be soon.”

“But she’s important to me now.”

“So?”

“I like my parents to know what’s important to me.” There was a pungent smell of hair oil in the room. I don’t know if it was coming directly from Chul or something else.

Chul shrugged. “It’s your funeral, buddy.” He rooted around in the detritus for a cigarette. He pulled out a pink thong panty. He held it up, grinning, like he was displaying a string of fish. I suddenly felt disgusted.

“Get Kristy to clean up this mess while you’re at it,” I said, spitting, as I got up and took my leave.

My parents always call me on Sunday after church. It’s at that time after they’d netted all the gossip, they could release it into the phone lines, directly into my head: “Oh, we saw so-and-so in church and not only did he discover the cure for cancer during his internal medicine rotation, but his fiancée is a former Miss Korea!”

This Sunday, I decided, foot firm to the floor, was the time to tell them.

The phone rang, right on time. Jan was lying in my bed and looked like she was napping. But one gray eye was open, on me, gently.

“Hi, Mom and Dad. I have news for you!”

“We have news for you, too, Stanley,” said my mother. Her voiced fuzzed gently in the background, so I knew she was on the eighties-era portable, the one with the telescoping antenna that you had to pull out every time you took a call.

“Shoot,” I said graciously.

“You remember our friends from church, the Kims?”

“Of course,” I said. That narrowed it down to about a hundred people. “Um, which ones?”

“Dr. Kim, the one who works at the hospital,” my father chimed in. Oh, Dr. Kim. That narrowed it down to like sixty people.

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

“Their daughter Jiyoung transferred to the nursing school at Prestigious U.”

Jiyoung Kim. Jiyoung Kim. I tried to think.

“Anyways, we thought it’d be nice if you two could get together. She apparently had a very lonely first semester there. I don’t know why, though; she’s a beautiful girl.”

“Um hm,” I said. I’d take her for a quick cuppa at the Blue and get it over with, no problem.

“Okay, I’ll call her.”

“You’re a good son,” my mother said. “Now, what was your news?”

“Yes,” said my father. “It will be great if you and Jiyoung can get together. Now, what was your news?”

Something stopped me, got caught in my throat. I coughed.

“Oh,” I said, when I stopped hacking. “I went to look into a course to take the LSAT. Maybe I might try to apply next year.”

“Wonderful! Oh, that’s the best news,” my mother said. The LSAT thing was a total lie. Neither parent had ever liked my choice of writing as a career.

“We’re proud of you,” said my father in Korean. He always closed our conversation by speaking in Korean. I think he was afraid I’d forget it, as if that were possible.

I hung up. Jan’s eyes were now closed. I wondered how long she’d been asleep.

When I met Jiyoung, I realized I’d seen her around the Prestigious U. campus. At the time she’d looked familiar, but in that way so many Koreans look familiar: they would have the kind of eyes or nose or hair of other Koreans I knew, and I would just fill in the rest. Therefore, if I met a person with Chul’s nose—broad, not too badly shaped, shiny—I’d feel in a way that I knew that person, when I actually didn’t.

But I did know Jiyoung. Five, maybe seven years younger than us. Her parents organized the big dinner that was held at Christmas for the church members’ “kids,” such that we were. The implicit message, of course, was “Kids, marry each other, goddammit!” About fifty people would show up to eat—inexplicably, Chinese food—and a few socialized but most didn’t. Most of us couldn’t stand each other, we just did it because our parents made us. Don’t even ask abut Chul.

Jiyoung had gotten a huge curly perm since the last time I saw her. Maybe because she was in a new place she felt like she needed a new look. Her hair was long, fell in ringlets around her face. The effect was flattering, but of course no one’s hair looked like that naturally, especially no Asian woman, so something about it bugged me, as being contrived.

I was remembering now how she’d always been planning to transfer to Prestigious U. Her father and mother had gone to the best schools in Korea, and they’d been devastated when she didn’t get into Prestigious U, Famous U., or even Fairly Prestigious U. So she’d enrolled at Gorchart, a small girls’ school near here, and I guess she’d transferred into the Prestigious U. nursing school.

She was nice enough. Definitely not old enough for a beer, however. I paid for the coffees and told her I’d take her to meet some more people.

“I’d like that,” she said. Her eyes bulged out slightly, like a toad’s. “You still keep in touch with Chul?”

I found myself shrugging, as if the more I let myself be friends with Chul, the worse it reflected on my character. I had found a reason to skip last Friday’s beer session, but I knew we’d be back at it soon enough.

“We see each other every so often.”

“God,” she breathed. “He is so handsome. Well, I haven’t seen him for a few years, but I remember all the girls at home had crushes on him.”

Something small and mean pinched my stomach. I thought of issuing a warning—deep water, thin ice, danger—but then thought, hey, we’re all grownups here. Jiyoung can handle herself. That’s what happens when you leave home and move to the city.

“Maybe we can all get together some time,” she said.

I picked up my bag, checked my watch. I had half an hour to wander before meeting Jan.

“I don’t really see him that often,” I said. Some day she’d realize that was a gift.

“What is it you talk to your parents in Korean about?” Jan asked, twirling her fingers in my chest hair; that is, if I had any.

I shrugged drowsily. “Just stuff. My dad likes me to talk in Korean a little bit so I won’t forget it.”

“Are you guys talking about me?”

“Of course not!” I was thinking: Couldn’t you hear? We were talking about his golf swing. Oh, no, she couldn’t hear.

I chuckled. “You know, my white friends used to think the same thing when they came over to my house, because my mom was always saying stuff in Korean.”

“Was she?”

“Nah. She was mostly saying things like make your friends take their shoes off, don’t mess up the house, did you finish your homework? She liked to scold me in Korean because there’s a special way parents can talk down to kids.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I want you to meet my folks.”

“I want to meet them.”

I had met Jan’s father. Her parents were divorced and her mother lived in Florida and didn’t see her that often. Jan’s father was nice enough, except he smoked cigars. He referred to me as “son,” which I liked.

Jan got out of bed and went to the shower to wash off our love-perfume before class. I had an assignment to write about a new kind of shock absorbers for heavy trucks, and I hadn’t started it yet.

“See you later,” she said, kissing me. Her hair was plastered, damp, against her face. She glowed. I loved her.

Jiyoung called me again, and then again. She didn’t exactly say she was lonely, but she hinted at it enough, talking about how her nursing school classmates were all silly and didn’t have the same interests as she did. She missed Korean food, also.

“Okay,” I found myself saying. “Why don’t we go to Sam Won Garden this weekend?”

“Really? I’d love it. Why don’t you invite Chul, too?”

The one Korean restaurant in town was extraordinarily expensive. It was one of those places that looks like a banquet hall more than a restaurant. Built-in grills at every table, where waiters would come with live, hot coals and plunk them into the holes. Rare and expensive celadon vases waiting to be accidentally knocked over. High-backed chairs made out of some precious endangered rain forest wood. Stainless steel chopsticks and spoons.

“Sam Won Garden?” said Chul when I accidentally let our plans slip; I had hoped to just take Jan, Jiyoung, and me there—less complicated. “God, I’ve had an absolute craving for some sul lung tang. I’m there, buddy.”

“Okay,” I said. Maybe this would work after all. Chul had a better car. “Bring Kristy, too.”

Chul picked Jan and me up first.

“Where’s Kristy?” I asked.

“She went to visit her parents for the weekend. Anyways, she doesn’t like Korean food all that much—it gives her the runs.”

“Your car is a sort of pearlized version of Prestigious U. school colors,” Jan remarked as she climbed into the spacious Lexus. We sat in the back so we could hold hands, leaving Chul in front like a taxi driver.

“It’s intentional,” he said with a hint of a sneer. I had a feeling he was still sore about her moving out—and going out with me. We were practically living together now.

“Good Lord,” said Chul as he pulled up in front of a tenement-y looking building.

“Does Jiyoung live in this dump?”

The accusing tone lay just under her voice, like an undertow. I know, I deserved it. I deserved much worse for letting her go.

“I think this is nursing school housing,” Jan said.

“I never dated a nurse before,” he snarled.

“Me neither,” said Jan. She smiled. I squeezed her hand.

I felt the corners of my mouth tug in an involuntary grimace when I saw Jiyoung. I think Jan did, too.

She was wearing a dress, which, in itself wasn’t so strange I guess. But the dress, which came down over her knees, had a huge slit that went up to… I didn’t want to look. A light jacket was covering the rest of it. She struggled a little, tipping into the car on her high heels.

“Hi,” she said, looking at Chul. A cloud of perfume followed her in.

“Hi,” said Chul, in the tone he saves for the pimply-faced girl behind the counter at the Rite-Aid.

“Long time no see.”

I was wondering if Jiyoung was going to condemn me when she saw I was going out with a girl who wasn’t Korean. But I didn’t have to worry. She only had eyes for Chul.

Jiyoung’s dress on top revealed some amazing cleavage. Was she wearing a Wonderbra? was what Jan asked me after. I didn’t know, but she sure hadn’t shown it off before, like during the church parties—mostly she wore baggy sweatshirts with too-cute animals on them. This caliber of breasts I think I would have remembered. Not that I stare at women’s breasts in a pervy way, but these were like levitating objects in haunted houses; they forced you to look at them.

She was wearing some pretty heavy makeup, too; the effect was sort of Pretty Baby. I didn’t like the gleam that came into Chul’s eyes when she took off her flimsy jacket. It was the same look he would have when the steaming pot of sul lung tang was set before him.

Jan was an adventurous eater. She ate Afghani kabobs, escargot, sushi, jalapeno pickles. Korean food tends to have strong flavors: garlic, hot pepper, fermented and briny things. When we both ate heartily, it spiced up our lovemaking, tasting the spicy, earthy flavors on each other’s mouth and skin.

When the bill came on a platter of intricately sculpted oranges, I scooped it up. Chul wrestled it away from me, practically putting me in a half nelson.

“I got it,” he said, flipping his card on the table. American Express. Pale silver color.

“It’s platinum,” he explained, in case we missed it.

“Wow—” Jiyoung sighed.

“Wow,” said Jan. “For you, I’m surprised they don’t go down the periodic table and give you an even more special one, a plutonium card or something.”

Chul gave her a look, like he would stab her with the stainless steel chopsticks if a criminal record wouldn’t mess up his medical career.

When we got back, I suggested we go out for a drink at the Blue. Chul said no, looking at Jiyoung like she was the dessert. Jan glanced at me worriedly. Before I knew it, we were in front of our apartment, the motor running, waiting.

“So I’ll see you later, buddy?” The stress on the buddy made it an order.

Jiyoung, I noticed, looked nauseous but excited. I just felt nauseous.

“Why don’t you drop Jiyoung off first,” said Jan, her voice studiedly casual. “Because she’s alone. That way we’ll know she got home safely—the dorm isn’t in the greatest neighborhood. Stan and I have all the time in the world.”

“Yeah,” I said, not knowing quite where I stood.

Chul swiveled around in his seat, trained his gaze on Jan. The message was unmistakable: fuck you.

I had a feeling that something terrible was going to happen. But this was Chul. My best friend. I tried to think of something to say to Jiyoung.

“Don’t worry,” she said, before I could. “Chul will make sure I get home okay.”

I let out my breath. Hadn’t realized I was holding it.

“Okay,” I said, opening the door. Jan wouldn’t move for a second. I had to haul her out, like a fish.

“I can’t believe we left that poor girl to go with him,” she said, a little accusingly, as we watched the car peel out.

“Look,” I said. “Jiyoung’s an adult, okay? And it’ll be fine. I mean, if Chul does something, the whole Korean Church of Christ is going to be flying out here to flog him and cut off his balls personally. Our parents are all really close, you know?”

Jan relaxed a little at this thought. “Yeah, I suppose,” she said. “The community exerts its controls.”

“Spoken like a true sociologist,” I said, catching the slightest spicy whiff of kimchi on her breath. I reached into her coat.

“Us, on the other hand, our parents don’t know each other from Adam. No one to protect you from my evil designs.”

“Poor me,” she said, returning the gesture.

We clattered up the stairs to my apartment. Within minutes, I had forgotten all about Jiyoung.

“Stanley? Stanley?”

“Uhhhh?” It was ten o’clock in the morning. But Jan and I had stayed up until four, having made use of every corner of the apartment, including the bathroom. My head hurt.

“Uhhh?” I said again.

“Stanley, it’s Jiyoung.” Her voice sounded strange, strangled. I sat up.

“What is it?” At the sound of my voice, Jan’s eyes popped open. Her face, soft and blurry from sleep, immediately focused. She sat up, too. The sheet fell away from her breasts.

“Stanley.” Her voice decrescendoed, lost altitude rapidly. “Stanley, Chul raped me last night.”

“Oh, Jesus!” I yelled. I almost slammed the phone down, as if to escape, then stopped myself.

“Where are you?”

“At my… my dorm.”

“Jesus,” I said again. This wasn’t happening. Jan and I were laying warm in bed. We weren’t supposed to get up until hunger propelled us. Then she’d make muffins, hopefully in the nude, while I stumbled out to get the paper and two fresh coffees from Snarky’s.

“Okay, hold on, we’ll come over,” I said. Then, for some reason, I asked, “Have you called the police?”

“No…” she said. Then her voice rose in a wail. “Stanley, I just don’t know what to do!”

“Okay, okay, we’ll be there,” I murmured. Jan was already hopping into her jeans.

“It was Chul, wasn’t it?” Jan said after I hung up. Her voice was hell bent for leather. “I mean, it was Jiyoung, about Chul.” I nodded.

“We shouldn’t have let her go,” she said. The accusing tone lay just under her voice, like an undertow. I know, I deserved it. I deserved much worse for letting her go. I mean, I knew. I had that feeling.

Jiyoung was in her bathrobe when we got there. Her face looked surprisingly fresh and clean, scrubbed, no makeup, no bruises, no big ugly hand prints.

Jan strode forward in her doctor mode. “You haven’t taken a shower, have you?”

Jiyoung nodded. “I did. I felt so dirty.”

“Oh, Jiyoung.” I could tell Jan was trying mightily to hide her dismay. “Don’t they teach you anything in nursing school? You must know that rape victims shouldn’t bathe—you need to preserve the evidence.”

“I know,” Jiyoung sounded strangely annoyed. “But I felt so dirty.”

“Okay, that’s okay.” Jan put her hand up to her chin. “We can work with it. Why don’t you sit down and we’ll have a cup of tea?”

“Okay,” she said listlessly.

Jan scrounged around until she found two dusty tea bags, the cheap kind you get free with delivery from Han Kee Wee’s. She made one cup for Jiyoung and used one bag for the two of us. Our tea came out the color of urine.

“So you haven’t called the police, or campus security, or anything?”

Jiyoung shook her head.

“Can you tell us what happened?”

Jiyoung took a large, slurpy sip of her tea. Her cup was stained, that way cups and teeth get when you don’t wash them thoroughly.

“Okay,” she said. “Well, Chul asked me if I wanted to come up to his place for a drink.”

I rolled my eyes. Jan nudged me; her eyes told me to cut it out.

“So I did. I mean, I practically grew up with him.” She gave me a searching look. “Like we all did, grew up together.”

Jan nodded, knowingly. “Go on,” she said, gently.

“Well.” She gave a gulp, then a little yelp. “We started kissing, you know? And then the next thing, he’s on top of me, tearing my clothes off.”

Jan closed her eyes. I heard her take a breath, almost inaudibly.

“So I’m telling him to stop and stuff,” Jiyoung hiccuped. “But he was just nuts. Totally rapes me and then tells me I have to get out because his girlfriend is coming back.”

A sour, bilious taste rose in my throat. Without her makeup on, Jiyoung looked terribly young. A kid sister, everyone’s kid sister. What the hell was Chul thinking?

“So then what happened? How did you get home?”

Jiyoung’s eyes unfocused for a second, like she was trying to retrieve a thought that had strayed far away.

“He drove me, I guess.”

“What a gentleman,” I said. Jan shot me another look.

“We need to call the police,” she said.

Jiyoung shook her head violently.

“Noooo,” she said. “We can’t do that. I mean, God, our parents.”

“Jiyoung,” Jan’s hand was on her arm. “This is nothing to be ashamed of. Chul is the one who should be ashamed. Your families will understand.”

“No, they won’t,” she said fiercely. I found myself nodding. Jan wouldn’t know what it was like. At least half the blame would go to Jiyoung—especially when Chul would tell everyone what she was wearing, about the makeup, which he was sure to do. Everyone loved Chul; he was the model-boy of the community: Eagle Scout, best grades, medical school. At church, the hot whispers would be about the Kims’ sexy daughter, how she tried to seduce the Chois’ upstanding son, inflamed him beyond reason. About the crime that had occurred: how could she expect anything less? She got what she deserved.

“Noooo,” she said again.

“Jiyoung, listen to me. You want Chul to be able to walk away from this? You want him to do this to someone else?”

“Noooo.”

“Then you’ve got to report it. I know you can do it—you’re strong, you’re brave. We can start with the campus police. I’ll go with you, stand by you every step of the way, I promise.”

Jiyoung wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her bathrobe, sniffled. “Do we have to go now?”

“The sooner the better, while things are still fresh in your mind.”

“Shouldn’t we talk to Chul first?” I asked. Some kind of loyalty to him sprang up, unbidden, like a weed.

Jan shot me a look. “Of course not!” she said. “What’s he going to say? You know Chul. He’ll make up some stupid excuse. Oh, I fell and accidentally raped her. The dog did it.”

I suddenly found myself thinking of all the girls he steered to the abortion clinics. I knew Chul refused to wear condoms, but I don’t know what the girls did. Not enough, obviously. Maybe Chul was a dick, but they were also fools. It takes two to tango. I wanted to explain this to Jan, but I couldn’t find words that wouldn’t sound like Neanderthal oooga-booga.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “I’m sorry. I just thought—”

“Let’s not discuss him now,” Jan said. “Jiyoung, get dressed. We’ll go over there right now.”

They went to the campus police. Chul was suspended from school, but not arrested. I saw the stories in the campus newspaper: NURSING SCHOOL STUDENT RAPED BY PRESTIGIOUS U. MED STUDENT. It was ugly. They didn’t mention her name, but they mentioned Chul’s. Protests started up in front of his building, the Campus Women’s Center, Take Back the Night. Kristy left him.

“I didn’t ask her to stay,” he said, over the phone. I had been the one to call, but I made sure to do it when Jan wasn’t around. “I mean, I tried to explain, but with all the shit going on…”

“Tried to explain what?” I said harshly.

“I didn’t do it, Stanley. I didn’t do it, man.”

The words fell out plainly, unmistakably, but I was appraising them from a thousand angles. If I thought he was guilty, he sounded guilty. If I thought he was innocent, he sounded like he was innocent but trying hard not to sound guilty. And was there yet a third option? Something else happened. A misunderstanding.

“Stanley, listen,” he said. “I’m with Kristy. Or I was, I should say. We were planning on getting engaged. Okay, I kissed her, Jiyoung. But she comes out with us wearing that slut from hell outfit. I mean God, she was asking for it.”

“Wearing a low-cut dress doesn’t justify rape,” I said, dimly aware that I was parroting some words of Jan’s. “No woman asks to be raped. Jesus, Chul!”

“I told you, I didn’t rape her. What I meant, she was asking to be kissed. I mean, she was lonely—it was written all over her face. So I think to myself, okay, I’m gonna be this big brotherly kind of figure, inject a little excitement into her life. I mean, God, we didn’t even French.”

“Um hmmm,” I said, anger boiling up. Jan was right, as always. He was shameless.

“So how come she has this perception that she was raped?”

“She’s setting me up, man,” he said. “I mean, after we kissed, she starts up on this whole thing about how we can be a couple and our parents will be so happy… and I’m thinking whoa, no, it’s not supposed to be like this. And I’m gathering up the zillions of pictures I have of Kristy and trying to tell her that this woman and I are getting engaged.

“But no, she won’t have it. That girl’s not Korean, she says. It’d be tons better for you to be with a Korean. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Once you get your M.D., we can move back to Gardendale where we can raise our beautiful Korean children.”

“Something’s fucked, man,” I said.

“Don’t you see, Stan? I mean, so at that point, I decide I have to be a little cruel, show her what’s what, nip it in the bud. I mean, this girl’s a little loony, has this crush. So I finally sit her down and say, ‘I feel nothing for you. You’re not attractive to me. I am about to get engaged to Kristy, who’s the woman I love—got that? Al ah suh?’”

“But then she gets this kind of evil look. Man, it was scary. She asks me if I’m sure I want to do that because she knows how she can destroy me. And I’m like, hah! You destroy me? Please. I mean, I have to admit, I was getting a little pissed off at her. First she’s acting like this timid, little, giggly, floozy undergrad and the next minute she’s the dragon lady.”

“And then?”

“So I kind of huff and puff and say, go ahead, destroy me, whatever. I’m in love with Kristy and not you and that’s final. So next thing I know, I have all these campus police up my ass, these dykey chicks outside trying to get me expelled, practically pelting me with eggs every time I go out to get some food or to get the paper to see what the fuck they’re writing about me.”

I sighed. “Chul, what was that thing you were talking about, where shit comes out another hole in your body, and not your anus?”

“A fistula?”

“That’s it. That’s you.”

And I hung up.

WOMEN’S GROUPS WANT POLICE INVOLVED IN MED SCHOOL RAPIST CASE. Local and campus women’s groups have been pushing for the Prestigehaven Police to formally bring charges against Prestigious U. medical student, Chul Choi, who is accused of raping a nursing school student.

“This kind of thing happens on campus way too much and yet goes unreported,” said Marcy Blume, head of Prestigehaven Women against Rape (P-WAR). “We shouldn’t let these men think that because they’re here, in some ivory tower, that they can get away with rape. It’s outrageous. The police must involve themselves.”

Chris Stone of Undergrad Women United agrees: “One in four women will experience sexual assault during their time on campus. The administration—all male, I should add—is so willing to let these guys get by with a slap on the wrist so there won’t be a lot of bad publicity. I mean, we’re talking gang rapes in the football frat house going on year after year. I say that’s got to change. The administration has to start taking our needs as women seriously, or pretty soon no women are going to want to come here.”

Jan had been spending a lot of time with Jiyoung. She skipped class to accompany her to all the hearings, took her out for coffee. She arranged for a safe space for the women’s groups to meet Jiyoung.

Jiyoung did seem traumatized from the experience. She said she was scared to be by herself at night, so Jan let her stay in her apartment, and of course Jan stayed with her. I wasn’t so happy about my bed being empty, but I wanted to do the bigger thing, so I didn’t complain, not a peep. At least they came over here to eat, since I had a kitchen table.

I don’t know why, but the next time Chul called, I didn’t hang up on him. I guess I was curious about what was going to happen next, wanted to know what’s going on.

“This is a goddamn crucifixion. No one wants to hear my side of the story. For instance, how come no one bothered to look for any evidence? Sperm, for instance?”

“She washed,” I said. “She felt dirty. She’d taken a shower by the time we got there.”

“Oh, of course,” he muttered. “Should have known.”

“She felt dirty, that’s natural,” I said. I dimly recalled having seen something like that in a movie, a woman washing herself after being raped.

“Okay, her clothes, then. That slinky tight dress. Her pantyhose. Think she carefully took them off, then I raped her? Where’s the torn-up clothes?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I didn’t. Did it matter? “What’s happening with the case?”

“My parents are getting me a lawyer. A good one. At least they believe me.”

Something about that cut me.

“You want me to believe you?” I said. “Show me something to believe.”

“I didn’t do it,” he said. “You know I can be the world’s greatest bullshitter. But you know when I’m bullshitting. You know I wouldn’t, not about something like this. At this point I don’t care if you believe me—I gotta fend for myself—but it’s a sticker, man, I always thought that you knew me better than I know myself. You must be pussywhipped by Jan or something.”

“You’re not coming off as the most sympathetic defendant,” I said, rankled.

“Why should I be sympathetic? I’m exactly the way I was last week and the week before that. I’m not going to turn into one of those pro-choice, tree hugging, drum-thumping bearded new men just so save my ass. My ass wouldn’t be worth saving, then, believe me. But I’m not a rapist. I get what I ask for, fair and square. I don’t take. Never have.”

Something in his words was ringing, like a hammer striking a bell. Chul was crude, yes, but I had to admit he had always had some kind of twisted integrity to him. Like the way in junior high, how he stood up for the poor F.O.B. kid from China who became fast-food for the bullies. The way he went all over town to return the old lady’s purse he found in the Ralph’s parking lot—he’d never even looked to see what was in it, except for her address. The way he stood up for me, when coach thought I was too small to play wide receiver. These were small things, certainly, but they added up to something, something I could trust my life to. Now, either he was a buddy who𔃏d gotten himself into a mess and needed help, or else he was cashing in on all his chips for the biggest bullshit job of his—and my—life.

The door opened. Jan came in, Jiyoung following. Their arms were full of groceries. Jiyoung’s face was flushed. They were laughing. They could have been sisters.

A burst of love rose up in me; I was in love with the scene, in love with Jan. Jiyoung had said she hoped I’d marry Jan. I told her I did, too.

Outside the window, the sky was gray and heavy, portending snow. I was surprised; I expected sunshine and warmth. The two women’s voices were soft, like the bells of tulips pushing out of the ground in a false spring, unaware of the impending cold and ice.

authorphotoheadshot.jpgMarie Myung-Ok Lee is the author of the novel, Somebody’s Daughter. Her fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Witness, and TriQuarterly and has been short-listed for the O. Henry awards. Nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, and The Washington Post. She is writer-in-residence at Brown University and also teaches there.

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