He Leaves His Imprint on Me StillBy Angela Tung
July 11, 2010
He leaves his imprint on me still, six years later.
Laundry for instance.
I still toss socks and underwear in a pile, to be folded last. I still tie long socks into a knot rather than roll them in a ball since rolling them in a ball stretches out the elastic.
I still wipe the bleach cap with a towel or sock. I still toss light-colored towels in with the whites even though they’re not white since they’re just towels, so what’s the difference.
I still chop vegetables the same way, moving my index finger from the top of the knife and leaning into my thumb. I still wash rice using my hand instead of a spatula, although it was my mother who taught me how to wash rice with a spatula. Hand, spatula, what’s the difference, but I still do it the way he preferred.
I still heat food till it’s piping hot. Not lukewarm or medium warm but so hot it burns your tongue. I still remember how he got so mad once when I didn’t heat some frozen pizza rolls enough, how he took a bite, spit it out, and spat, “It’s still cold inside.”
I still rinse out recyclables before throwing them out. I still tear open and fold cardboard boxes. I still crush plastic bottles to save space.
I still hang the toilet paper over, not under. I fix it if someone else hangs it under.
I still sometimes look down on myself for caring about celebrities, for keeping up on gossip, for gasping when celebrities split up/die/almost die. I’m still surprised when you find this amusing.
“You keep up with the gossip,” you say, “so I don’t have to.”
I still sometimes think the same things that bothered him will bother you. For instance: putting clothes away slightly damp, leaving shirts hanging in the shower, letting cooking smells get into his suits/shirts/ties, forgetting something, getting us lost, wasting his time, being late, making some small, unpredictable mistake.
Hanging the toilet paper the wrong way.
I’m still surprised when you don’t care about how you look, whether or not your suits are immaculate, ties pressed, shirts snowy white with perfect collars. I still think you’ll care about a collar that is slightly gray, that although the dry cleaner did this, it’s still somehow my fault.
Sometimes I still think you secretly don’t want to be with me, the way he secretly didn’t want to be with me, the way he stayed with me out of guilt, because he’d gone to the trouble of convincing his parents I was “the one,” and when he began to question this, it was too late, the caterer was booked, I had my dress, and I was walking out, late of course, as most brides are (though of course he didn’t understand this), and the first time he saw me, in my dress, right before I became his wife, he smiled.
He smiled for real.
One of the few times.
I still ask you if you’re sure you don’t mind that I don’t make much money now, that all I do is write. (You say you’re glad if I’m glad.) I still wonder sometimes if you’ll have a needy relative come out of nowhere, someone we’ll have to drop everything to take care of. I feel selfish for not wanting to drop everything to take care of someone else’s relative, someone else’s mother, the way he made me feel selfish for not wanting to take care of his.
I still sometimes think you’ll tell me something out of nowhere, something unexpected, the way he said one hot summer night, out of nowhere, “I did something bad,” not kiss someone else bad but fuck someone else bad. Fuck someone else and impregnate them bad.
Sometimes I take my fingernail and make crescent moon designs on my thigh, rows down and across, furrows in a field. I like running my finger down the inverted ridges.
They don’t hurt, I want to tell you. They’re just dents; they’ll disappear in just a minute.
See, they’re gone already.
I still dream of him sometimes.
In my dreams about him, we’re always back together though I never want to be.
In one I’ve gotten him out of the house, but somehow he’s able to get back in. Somehow I’ve taken him back. He’s very happy. He goes around smiling and laughing, which he only sometimes did in real life. I pretend to be glad but really I wonder how I can tell him without hurting him that I need him to leave.
In another he’s furious to find out that I’ve been dating someone (someone else, not you). “You’re in love with that guy?” he asks. Yes, I say, which makes him angrier. (But actually I’m not in love with this guy, though I very much want to be. I very much want to be in love again, but it will be some time before I find you.)
In another I tell him I know what he did and that I’ve known for some time, and at this moment, his face contorts into complete insanity.
“You fucking bitch,” he says to me, in my dream, which he never said to me in real life. In real life we never called each other names. “You fucking bitch,” he says again, and comes after me. I grab his wrists, trying to keep him away. I call first for my mother, then my brother, but they don’t come.
The night before he confessed to his affair, I dreamed that I had cheated on him and awoke relieved to discover that I hadn’t. I was beyond relieved to know it was just a dream.
Do you still dream of old hers? You must, if I dream of the old him. But you don’t believe in dreams.
“Dreams are just the result of your brain regurgitating the day’s events,” you say.
You’re a scientist. You know computers inside and out. You type type type, and lots of things happen on your screen, things with numbers, letters, and symbols, running in an electric waterfall. The stuff of robot dreams.
“Dreams mean nothing,” you say.
This is a relief because he believed dreams meant everything, like when I twice dreamt of fighting with his mother, and twice afterward, she fell, and he thought it was my dreams that caused her falling and not the Parkinson’s disease, not her brain cells dying and losing dopamine, surely it wasn’t that but something imaginary in my brain.
He leaves his imprint on me still.
I still think McDonald’s coffee is the best.
I still eat spicy Korean instant noodles with tofu and an egg. I still eat kim chee. I still grab sticky rice with strips of seaweed.
I still clean up after myself as I’m cooking so that there are fewer dishes in the end. I still make sure the sink is empty of dishes before I start so they don’t get covered in grease.
I still remember the names of all the fish in his reef tank. The algae blenny, the purple tang, the percula clowns and anemone. The pygmy angel, the chromis, the pseudochromis. The six line wrasse. The sea cucumber that exploded when it died. The dragon wrasse he had to flush because it kept eating the other fish.
I bet I could still feed an anemone. (Thaw a pinch of frozen brine shrimp with warm tap water, suck into turkey baster, squirt into anemone.)
I still remember him tap dancing in the shower. I still remember him making funny faces while I was on the phone with my mom.
I still remember when we first met, how easy it was. I still remember thinking, This is how it should be.
“Aren’t there some days you can’t stop remembering?” a friend asked me once. “Aren’t there certain days that are just terrible because you remember?”
I know there should be. Our anniversary, his birthday, the day we met. But these days just pass me by, though sometimes I remember afterward.
It’s not the days I remember but the everyday. The laundry, the vegetables. A sentence out of nowhere, a look. They’re still there, but they don’t hurt (not anymore). Once mistakes, they’re now only the illusion of mistakes; once fear, now only the illusion of fear. They are dreams. They mean something (not nothing) but not everything either. They fade, like the crescent moons on my skin.
Wow. So visceral. So moving. In domesticity is the devastating.
The title caught me. It was hooked. Barbed. The title alone caught my heart.
The words moved me. I wanted you to know I’d read them, but also that I plan to come back to them. The space they create is astounding, secure yet painful at the same time. Painful, yes, but demonstrative other people have felt pain. There are these feelings, and there will be other feelings, all feelings are well, and all shall be well. Like the ever-wise Uche just reminded me.
thank you so much, will.
the title came to me as i was, of all things, folding laundry the way i can’t seem to stop folding laundry.
i love that: “There are these feelings, and there will be other feelings, all feelings are well, and all shall be well.” feelings aren’t good or bad, they just are.
Uche is a wise man!
You people spoil me terribly. Who ever knows how I’ll turn out? 🙂
I’m with you. I understand. It is the hardest thing to forget sometimes, even when you don’t want to remember.
This was so poignant. The little things we do that become magical thinking.
‘If I keep the toilet paper folded -he won’t fuck someone else’
‘If I cook him this food -he might hold my hand again.’
I’m glad you found another.
It’s time to tuck the toilet paper underneath now. Magic him away.
even though i wrote it, i didn’t even know it:
‘If I keep the toilet paper folded -he won’t fuck someone else’
‘If I cook him this food -he might hold my hand again.’
you’re so right.
re: the TP, it’s hanging the “wrong” way right now and i have resisted changing it. 😉
thank you, zara.
Resist! Resist! Resist!
(well done! xx)
This hurt. It hurt, but only because you wrote it so well and because I can relate to it so much. I’ve said it a hundred times, but I love your writing so very much.
The clean kitchen. The folded towels. All the same for me. It was about a year after I left Him that I started folding my towels differently – the way I folded them before we met and he told me, with an eye roll and his usual haughty arrogance, that my way was wrong and here, let me show you the right way. It took about a month for me to stop feeling like I was going to get into trouble for this.
Sometimes I still leave my kitchen messy on purpose.
gloria, what is with that? “you’re doing it the wrong way, my way is the right way.” why can’t my way just be different?
you’re so right about the feeling of getting into trouble for behaving a different way, even when our hims aren’t around anymore. i’ve found myself apologizing to friends – “i’m cutting the vegetables this way, okay?” – and they just look at me like i’m nuts: “Cut them however you want!”
I swear to god, that whole relationship was a decade long pissing contest. At first, and at many points throughout, I was willing to go along with what he said and take his advice because he clearly knew more than me. And the one thing we consistently agreed on was that I was fundamentally flawed and needed some serious renovations. He took me on as a fix-her-upper and we both knew it. But I still didn’t just sit back and take it so many times. I broke the pact. I broke the pact by leaving. As a matter of fact, the pact was irreparably broken when, while still living with him, I awoke one morning to discover I was actually okay. Not broken. No more or less flawed than him or anyone else. And, worst of all, that he was just a man – not a Messiah. That was probably most disappointing of all. And after that…there was nothing left.
gloria, my experience was similar. in the beginning, it was positive: he made me want to be a better person. then nothing i did was right. no matter how hard i tried, i could always be trying harder. part of it was him, part of it was my people-pleasing personality, and part of it was trying to be “good” so he wouldn’t leave.
even after he cheated, i still thought of him as this strong, intimidating presence. but others’ perceptions of his behavior was that he was spoiled, entitled, and all bark and no bite, which has been surprisingly hard for me to accept.
in my mind, despite all his faults, he was “perfect” in a way. i was always living up to his example. and now to finally see his weaknesses – it’s like i have to revamp my whole belief system.
it’s like i have to revamp my whole belief system.
It is just like that. I agree. For me, that meant that I had to revamp my whole belief system about myself. When I’ve felt like I need someone to hold me, I’ve had to look down and notice that I have two arms attached to these hands I’m typing with and then wrap them around myself. When my car has broken down, I’ve had to figure it out. And when my solution hasn’t worked out, I’ve had to readjust my sails to figure out a solution that will work. And when I’ve needed someone to step in and save me – well, many times, someone has. And it’s almost never been a lover. Because I’ve also discovered my amazing ability to attract beautiful people into my life and to be a beautiful person to others. Really, that revamping, for me, has been one of the greatest, most empowering gifts I’ve ever been given.
can make your
blood boil inside your veins.
to pull away
All that is left
are the shadows
in your sleep.
in the night.
You pulled away.
oh, irene, your comment made me teary eyed! especially:
i still have to remind myself they are just shadows and sparks. there’s nothing to them, except what i make of them.
Oh Angela. This made me want to cry. I recognize myself too much here. This one was difficult. Powerful post, this.
thank you so much erika.
“In domesticity is the devastating.”
Will’s comment, but an accurate one.
And the rest of the comments, fascinating, too. Those little deals that we make with ourselves, and somehow hope the rest of the wider world will recognise their validity and be bound to hold them: ‘If I keep the toilet paper folded -he won’t fuck someone else’
Oh, Angela. You’ve done such a good job with this piece. I’m fascinated by the idea of building pictures with tiny, perfect brushstrokes, and that’s just what you’ve done here.
I hope those crescent moons fade so, so quickly.
Oops. I’ve just realised that reads like I’ve said Will doesn’t make accurate comments.
I was trying to point out it isn’t a quote from the piece proper, but summed up so much of what I wanted to say about the piece.
no worries, simon! i understood what you meant about will’s comment, which i love as well.
you’re so right about making deals, trying to control something – ie, someone’s love for us – that we don’t really have control over. i imagine i tried so hard to do all those little things “right” because the situation felt so unsure, and now as i feel more secure, the little things become less and less important, and in a way forces me to deal with the “big” things.
My friend Luke has a wonderful saying for summing up those who put us in situations like this:
“Ah, fuck these people.”
I love that man.
Oh Angela, HE infuriates me!
I want you to put recyclables in the can without rinsing them, hang the toilet paper wrong, heat food till it’s lukewarm. Rewind the tape. Undo him. Out with him!
luckily i am so lazy that i’ve let go many of the small habits that were ingrained me – but i still think about them as i’m NOT doing them. it’s almost like a muscle memory.
Oh Angela, I’m so sorry. This must have been difficult to write. Your post made me cry; much of it hits so close to home for me. I understand exactly how you feel and recognize so much of myself in what you wrote. I’m trying to learn and accept that nothing I would have done or said could have ever been “right”, “perfect” or “enough”. In my case it was more mental games and punishing me for everything he hated about himself. He never actually cheated (but did think about it). Sometimes it takes people a very long time to realize what has been right there in front of them the entire time….I might be one of the lucky ones, he’s now noticed and we’re working on it. I want it to work out; time will tell.
debbie, thanks so much for commenting and sharing.
the actually writing isn’t so difficult now that i’ve had some distance. while it was all happening, it was impossible for me to write about. even in my journal, my entries are very sparse. the first essay i wrote that even touched on my ex’s affair, i had to write in third person. it was only after everything was over that i was able to write about it.
remembering those small moments can be somewhat painful, but in a dull way, though in that moment, it’s like i’m reliving that moment, not just remembering it.
i think my ex too criticized things in me that he didn’t like himself, or that his parents had criticized him about. i’m so glad you and your “him” are trying to work things out. *wanting* to try to work things out is so important, i think.
When things where bad, really bad, I would journal all the time – it helped to write because I wouldn’t dare say how I felt; that was asking for trouble. I used to shred my journals before he got home from wherever it was he was hanging out at the time, just in case. It seemed as if nothing I did was right. I didn’t clean, cook, speak, look or act correctly. I was an embarrassment to him all the times and he let me know it. He would lie about everything even when there was no reason to. I think the worst part was he didn’t even realize he was doing any of it. He was always wonderful, perfect and “there” for anyone, except me. We’ve been talking now – a lot – and he sees the way he used to be how his hatred was reserved for me alone. He hates the way he acted. I no longer obsess about things that he claimed were important, he now sees that they never were important – the house does not need to be spotless, jumping in puddles is fun, dishes in the sink are ok, a child laughing is contagious if you let it, a dog barking is a form a play, and life is not perfect but can be enjoyed for all you see, feel and experience. I now speak freely about everything – it feels good, so very good. I think in time and with complete honesty things can be good, the way we both wanted them to be when we first got married, the way things should have been all long. Call me a fool for waiting this long but I think the man he always claimed to be has finally arrived and I want to spend my life with him.
debbie, so much of what you write hits home for me. i was paranoid that my ex would find my journals, even before everything fell apart. i had a crush on someone completely unattainable, and after my ex confessed to his affair, i thought he found my journal and discovered my crush (he didn’t). i combed back back through my entries, trying to find where everything went wrong. (that may be a whole other essay!)
i felt like an embarrassment too. i was “only” a secretary, i didn’t cook with confidence, I didn’t like to drive. i felt so hopeless and sad, even before his affair. he wanted me to do so much, but if i asked for help, his response was: “why do you need my help? why don’t you know how to do this?” there were always other people who needed his help more – his parents, then his mistress and their child. i was always pushed aside.
again, i am so glad you all are talking honestly and openly now. that is the only way.
This is compelling reading, Angela, and with such a ring. There are many moments of tender menace in what you left behind, and I can just visualize your head tilted curiously at your updated reality, blinking with questions of what is actually still dream.
And I did have to say, neat little allusion to: “Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” 🙂
uche, your comment is so lovely, thank you.
yes, i couldn’t resist the allusion. whenever i see the matrix-like action on my BF’s computer screen, i can’t help but think of it.
Angela, this is wonderful. It’s amazing how much the details and habits of a relationship stick around just as long as (or maybe even longer than?) the grad sweeping feelings do, and you captured that beautifully. Never has a spat-out pizza roll been used to greater effect — in just a few words, you evoke the reality of the event itself and the way it reflected the dynamics of the relationship. Well done.
That’s “grand” sweeping feelings.
lauren, thanks so much.
his reaction to that not-cooked-thoroughly pizza roll did sum up our relationship – impatience and borderline-digust with me for not meeting his expectations, followed quickly by guilt.
Ouch, I could feel the pain in reading this. Well written – and therefore a hard read.
I don’t really have any words of advice or anything wise to say, but I’d like to mention the obvious: we are the products of our lives. Those we meet effect our being and therefore when there’s a change, it’s all the harder to deal with.
I’m glad you still eat kimchi and rice with seaweed. I’m leaving Korea soon in a storm of bad feeling… but I sure as hell won’t let that stop me remembering the good times, or appreciating the positives – like the food!
thank you, david.
i’m sorry you’re leaving korea in such a way, but glad you’ll be remembering the good times and the food! the great thing about korean food, at least in the states, is that pretty much wherever you go, it’s close to authentic (unlike chinese food).
i think the thing for me is taking the things i learned from my ex and making them my own.
I’ve heard, though, that’s it’s pretty expensive. Soju, for example, would never ever ever ever cost more than a dollar a bottle here, but I’ve heard it’s $10-$20 in the States. And you have to pay for kimchi….?!!?! I’ve never paid for kimchi.
i don’t know about Soju, but i’ve never had to pay for kimchi. that’d be like having to pay for rice (which i have done)! but yeah overall, i think korean food in the states can be more expensive.
“They still fade, like the crescent moons on my skin.” Lovely shadowy close, angela, to your powerful post.
You gave us the emotion-brutal spiraling-down process of letting go, of cutting off. The mind seems to hide from us, peeking out from everyday, ordinary habits as it tends to do, as well, when someone we’ve known thoroughly, for good or for ill, has died. Grief. Even Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said that her “stages” of grief weren’t neat step-following-step events, but could come in any order, at any time.
I thought this part of your post particularly homed-in on an example of the grief process: “I still remember him tap dancing in the shower. I still remember him making funny faces while I was on the phone with my mom.”
So poignant to remember the “good times” about a loved one who was not, fundamentally, good for us or good to us. We often find that they were also not good for or to themselves. In the unfolding memory bits such as you have shown, we realise that we and they can move on and beyond a stagnant memory-past. We keep sorting through the recollections and growing. It helps us better understand and appreciate ourselves and others. It helps us love someone else so much more.
i like that: “her ‘stages’ of grief weren’t neat step-following-step events, but could come in any order, at any time.” reminds me again of what makes The Year of Magical Thinking so amazing, and such an influence and inspiration for me.
i’m trying harder now to remember the good times, though in a way that’s even more difficult than remembering the bad times. when remembering the bad times, i feel somewhat vindicated because i’ve left and am happier than i’ve ever been. memories of the good times are coated in sadness because that is where the real loss lies.
you’re so right that all of the remembering helps me appreciate myself and others. rather than feeling bitter, i appreciate the real love and support i get now.
I’m reading The year of Magical Thinking right now–actually listening on CD when I drive. Thanks for your piece. I always enjoy your work.
yes yes yes Angela. Great work.
thanks so much mary.
Gotta go with my contrarian sentiments here.
Serving a still-cold-inside pizza roll to your husband?
Dear God, what kind of evil Satan-wench are you anyway? I’m sure if pizza rolls and microwave ovens had been invented in time for Leviticus, there’d be a couple quatrains added to the “damn good reasons to stone your wife to death” chapter.
Eve gave Adam Knowledge from the Tree of Life. You gave your husband cold pizza. Where CAN we go from here? WHAT is left? Do we HAVE to snuff Jesus all over again? Didn’t He already handle that “original sin” thing? Do you grasp the seriousness of your mistake?
I think that the Ten Commandments should be modified. “Do not covet thy neighbor’s wife, unless your own wife serveth you cold-on-the-inside pizza rolls. Then you’re good to go. Thy neighbor’s ass (donkey) and his fields are still off-limits though.”
I’m really actually surprised that after your malicious deed, the fruit trees in your village didn’t shrivel and die and your flocks die from the plague. God must be taking a little break.
Did someone call the President? I think he should be read-into the details of this pizza roll incident. In case he needs to sign an executive order. Black ops. Waterboarding.
Ultimately, I blame it on our public schools. You just never got a proper education, it would seem.
dwoz, your comment cracked me up!
yes, pizza roll heating was the class i always skipped in school. you caught me.
My ex has been moved out (and across the country) for a year and a half now, yet lately she’s been popping up in my dreams of all places. Needless to say, I haven’t really been sleeping well. Or much.
What’s that old saying? About it taking half of the length of time you were together before you really get over someone? If true, I’ve got another two years to go.
Also: very very well done. This just cut uncomfortably close to home.
matt, that’s really weird because six years is the halfway mark for me!
those dreams i had were actually a few years ago, before i met my current boyfriend. i still have dreams about my ex once in a while, but not as intense or violent as the ones i describe in my essay. but the theme is still usually, “we’re back together? oh no!” kind of a similar feeling to, “wait, i’m still in high school? but i thought i was all done with that!”
Yeah, mine have been of the “Holy shit, what the hell are you doing here?!” variety, and always involve us fighting. I wake up feeling like shit.
Jeez, if that’s true, then I should have another two years before the half life of that particular poison is purged from my body. But I feel okay really. Maybe I’m just a really quick healer. Or maybe I’m allowed to count the time I was out of the relationship while I was in the relationship. I did most of my grieving while still within the confines of my marriage.
gloria, i’d say i too started to feel more healed before this six year mark. that last year of marriage was AWFUL, and after i got out was all recovery.
I felt fine after about 7-8 months…well, as in “ready to date again.” I was pretty fucking happy right when the relationship was over, honestly.
Lovely. Absolutely lovely.
Thank you for this.
Oh, Angela, this took the wind out of me, in good part because I have only recently found out how much I have been “that guy” myself. I am so glad you have found someone else, someone better for you, but I am happier still that you have found yourself and can share here.
“They fade.” Thank God.
anon, i’ve only recently realized that “that guy” is neither a god nor the devil. he’s human – flawed but not evil. the big difference is if that guy is willing to look deeply within himself and to change. unfortunately – or maybe fortunately since i’m happier now – my ex wasn’t willing to do either of those things.
thanks so much for reading and commenting.
Whoa. Powerful read. If we only knew how deep our actions affected others, I wonder if we’d proceed more cautiously. I’m sure I would.
Funny thing about dreams is that they often seem to remind us about the stuff we keep in boxes hidden in the back of the mind’s attic. Just when you think you’ve processed something, have arrived at closure, etc., there’s that image again, rolling onto the mind’s screen for the late night showing.
Great piece, Angela.
i like that about dreams. sometimes i find them really useful and that they give me fresh insight into forgotten memories and new perspectives on current situations. other times of course they make absolutely no sense.
There’s an ache in your words, Angela, but also a tremendous amount of healing and forgiveness and detachment. Write it out and let it go…. you and Zara are killing me with these pieces.. so amazing.
thanks so much, robin. writing does help to let it go, and to gain insight not only into the past but myself and my current behavior and relationship.
now to read zara’s piece! 🙂
You’re lucky, Angela, to no longer be with that guy, but also with any guy who is so dismissive of the importance of dream content. That’s like saying half your life is irrelevant. You don’t have to claim to be able to interpret your subconscious, but being aware that there is a message there seems vital to even the most peripheral self-knowledge.
And love the cool efficiency of this line. It’s like a dream itself, odd and oddly sexual: “I bet I could still feed an anemone. (Thaw a pinch of frozen brine shrimp with warm tap water, suck into turkey baster, squirt into anemone.)”
interesting! feeding an anemone *does* sound sexual, doesn’t it?
actually, the “you” is supposed to refer to my new guy – maybe that didn’t come across clearly enough. originally i had “the old he” and “the new he,” which i thought was confusing but perhaps not! 🙂
my new he is definitely very scientific and a bit dismissive of non-scientific stuff like dreams. i take the happy medium, that we can find meaning and insight in dreams but that they don’t actually cause events in real life or are bad omens (the way my ex thought).
i’ll take scientific over stupidly superstitious any day. 😉
Sorry, Angela, I should have read it more carefully….but, now that I think of it, maybe you better leave your new guy too?….yeah, that’s a joke….Also, I think you should start a pay website with the anemone thing. You might really be onto something there.
So powerful. And such a great first line.
[…] ANGELA TUNG finds love and loss in the laundry. […]
I’ve moved on and I’ve never been happier, never been with someone who gets me, who seems to understand everything I say.
Yet, she still haunts me, I was never satisfied with how it ended, how she treated me in the end and she haunts me.
Some people whether you’re married to them for decades or merely date them for a couple of months, infect you with their spirits and you just can’t shake them.
I’ve written numerous essays about her, but I refuse to let them see the light of day, I don’t want her to have the satisfaction, or maybe I don’t have the courage to reveal what I felt about her.
One day I hope to be free of her ghost.