An alarming proportion of the data storage in the world allocated to my communication with other people is consumed by messages from angry Japanese women. I would hazard to guess that the ratio of messages from the Japanese women when they weren’t angry to messages when they were is about 1:1. I’ve dated exactly five and a half Japanese women (one was half French), only three of them for any notable length of time, and all three of those at some point decided they hated me more than any other person they’d ever hated.
I don’t know why this is, but it seems that there’s something fundamental about the cultural mentality of Japanese women that’s incompatible with my personality. Each of the three was more Americanized than the last, so each time I thought I was safely removed from whatever it was about growing up in Japan that wanted me dead. Apparently, it’s learned at seven or earlier; I’m not doing any more research.
CAW is an acronym for Crazy Asian Wrath, and it’s not my invention. It was told to me by a friend whose cousin’s Chinese wife had poured boiling water over his feet while he was asleep after an argument. That never happened to me, but it comes to my mind every time I remember I haven’t changed my locks yet. I would never claim that crazy wrath is unique to Asian women, nor that all Asian women are crazy and wrathful, but there is something particularly frightening about the rage of Japanese woman, at least to a WASPy east coast white kid. There’s an always present social mask they seem to be able to slip on an off at will, so they can stare at you with cold, blank eyes and a twisted sneer of hatred, whispering a description of your protracted death scene, then instantly turn into a sweetly deferential and perfectly courteous customer when the waiter comes over to take her order, then snap right back to psychopath when the waiter leaves. There isn’t even a transition. You lose all respect for your own ability to empathize, and end up always wondering when the mask is on. You start to stay in public places at all times, then you realize that reason and social etiquette have nothing to do with one another and all social theory is a crock and anyone might kill you at any moment.
Well, I don’t believe all of that, but the paranoia sank in pretty deep. I will not detail the worst of this, ever, out of deference to the parties involved (including myself), but the last one, whom we’ll call “Akiko,” was a creature of malicious glee, so I have no problem publishing this exchange.
If you’ve ever seen Welcome to the Dollhouse, there’s a moment where the cute little sister is watching a video of herself pushing the unloved protagonist sister into a pool, and she lets out this quick cackle that could have been recorded at the mouth of Hell. I’d never heard this laugh in real life until I met Akiko. She stayed at a job she hated and didn’t need, since she’d guilted hundreds of thousands of dollars out of her parents, not to mention twenty-five thousand dollars worth of home entertainment out of an ex-sugar daddy just because she could, and the only reason she stayed was to build a employee discrimination case against the company.
There was something about our dialogue that brought out a pleasant and evil wit. I got to say things in text messages like, “Grabbing a beer and crashing like the Big Bopper” without even having to do the fake “okay that was in poor taste” follow up. She destroyed me in word games, had no patience for anything I said that she disagreed with, and we generally just had a lot of sex, since she was great in bed. It was clear our relationship wasn’t going to amount to much more than that.
So I have to describe how Akiko lived at this point, to give a little background about the following exchange. She was asthmatic, but owned a cat and a rabbit, smoked cigarettes and pot, and despite being a thirty-five year-old woman, lived like a twenty year-old frat-boy who’d never been away from home. Apart from the carpet stains, unchanged litter, undone dishes, and rampant, unnavigable clutter in every corner, there was no hot water, no gas for the stove, and the sum contents of the refrigerator was a gallon of water, half a stick of butter, the beer that I left there, and about three hundred condiment packets of soy sauce and ketchup. I’m not the cleanest person in the world, but the only time I remember my own living space being this bad was in 1999 when I left my apartment in the hands of Christopher “Tophy” Yager. Also, her cat hated me, and clawed me any chance it got.
Now, two days before I sent this message, I had taken her to the hospital for an acute asthma attack, brought on partly by the bronchitis that had cropped up when she got sick. I found her gasping on the couch, recovering from the two feet she had to crawl to toss her apartment keys out her window. I called 911, and she got the fastest emergency treatment I’ve ever seen in a hospital, which included 13 hours on some kind of vapor machine that was feeding her drugs and 10 hours on an antibiotic IV drip. The doctors all said she would not have made it through the night. I spent all night there, helped her get out front, bought a cab, took her home, carried her up her stairs to bed, passed out for one hour, and went to work at two in the afternoon. Yes, I felt like the stud and savior, and you would too, especially on one hour of sleep, which always make me a little punchy.
I was recently reading Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus1, and the author makes a point that for men, there are big things and little things, so doing the dishes is 1 point, a romantic dinner is 10 points, repairing a door is 5 points, etc.; for women, everything is 1 point. So I thought I’d just earned about 200 points, but actually, I’d only earned 1, and I was about to lose it.
Keep in mind, before reading the following transcription of text messages, that our relationship had been perfectly pleasant up to my ill-fated text message. Not a single raised voice or the slightest moment of short temper or conflict, until this two part question and answer exchange:
Akiko: Why are you so eager to get me to go to greenpoint anyway?
Me: Clean apartment, friendly cats, working stove ;)
I submit to the court that I did, in one fell swoop, insult her personal hygiene, her qualifications as a mother, and her financial decisions, but in one sense or another, I’d said all these things before. I regretted it almost immediately, and she’d said worse things to me, so I figured I’d just made a slight faux pas in our pas de deux, and could recover. However, even my semicolon and closing parenthesis would not save me.
Akiko: I’d rather sleep in freshly washed sheet that don’t smell or feel clammy.
Me: Well next time I get you up here, I promise clean sheets.
Me: They’ve been better recently.
Akiko: May I request new pillows and fresh pillow cases. Dirty ones fuck up my allergies and breathing. Read about dirty pillows and you’ll want to. Serious. Dirtiest thing in your apartment.
Me: Yeah… You came at a transitional period.
Akiko: Which perfectly justifies forcing a girl to sleep in your filthy bed.
Okay, despite my furious backpedalling, it wasn’t that bad. It was summer, I washed my sheets on a not-optimal but not disease-inviting schedule.
Akiko: Yes. I can play polite for a couple of night before I develop a gag response.
Me: You are vicious.
Akiko: Are you asking me to suppress a visceral biological reaction just so I don’t have to seem vicious to you?
Me: No, three paragraphs of vitriol where “not coming over till you wash your sheets” would have sufficed is vicious.
Akiko: Does that mean no new pillows and fresh pillowcases?
And here, because I was drinking, I decided I should just shut up and let the situation cool down for a bit. It was bad, and I was making it worse. The next day:
Me: What’s up?
Akiko: Wallowing in filth
Me: Me too. Sorry about that comment yesterday. It was flippant and more meanspirited than I meant.
Akiko: No really my life really could use more insults right now. Keep them coming.
Akiko: And keep smoking. Your sense of smell is shot.
Akiko: How many fucking times have I complained about your goddamn feet smell. Jesus.
Akiko: And your cat litter covered floor.
Akiko: And I wasn’t even being insulting. You started the insulting. Why?
Me: I have a nasty case of athletes foot I treat twice a day with prescription drugs. And I wasn’t trying to insult you. I know I did, and it was thoughtless. It wasn’t what I meant to say.
Two notes: athletes foot was the most ironic ailment I’ve ever had to treat, because I’m equal parts couch potato and desk slave, and “It wasn’t what I meant to say” sounded weak even as I wrote it.
Skipping over some of the next bit because it involves other people…
Akiko: Why don’t you answer my question about why you had to initiate the insulting? I hate when people evade questions and pretend to answer by saying something that doesn’t answer the question.
Me: I was drinking, I was frisky, it was insulting, I didn’t think about it. I have no better excuse. I thought it would come off as a friendly jab. I did not think you would be insulted.
Akiko: Next time you’re that way, smell your goddamn foot and maybe you’d feel less inclined to insult me for fucking uncleanliness. Also, look up a condition called “asthma”.
At this point, I was losing patience. She was, objectively speaking, a shameless slob, and I had a medical condition. And the asthma thing came completely out of the blue, since she was doing more harm to herself every hour than I did to her in the whole of our relationship, and claiming I didn’t understand the severity of asthma when I had just SAVED HER FUCKING LIFE because she was dying of it two days prior was too much.
Me: That’s right, I have no idea how serious asthma is. I also just say “that was insulting” without launching into a torrent of retaliation specifically designed to make someone feel like shit. Clearly, I understand nothing and am just an insensitive smelly chain smoking asshole.
I mean, this is true from a certain perspective, but sounds really bad when you say it like that.
Akiko: You started this. What, can’t you swallow your own medicine?
Akiko: It’s rough being insulted and made to feel like shit, isn’t it?
Akiko: If you don’t like, don’t fucking START it.
Akiko: I was just starting to feel good, too. Now I really don’t anymore. I really don’t. It’s fucking great.
Me: I’ve said your place is a mess before. What’s the difference now? It’s not like I think you’re a bad person. And it’s not like I ever claimed to be better. And I did take it fine at the start, but you weren’t satisfied until it hurt. All I wanted to do was make you food, vaporize some bud for you, and have you meet some people I think you’d like.
Akiko: Like I said. You hurt first.
Me: Yes, but I didn’t mean to.
Akiko: For NO REASON. Completely unprovoked. WHY????
Me: I DIDN’T MEAN TOO
Akiko: So you insulted me, then expected to parade me in front of your friends the next day. And now bitching about me ruining your day????
Akiko: WTF??? I don’t force you to meet my friends.
Me: I don’t want to force you. I actually thought YOU would have a good time. I actually like it when other people like each other. I’m sorry that’s so offensive. I wouldn’t mind meeting your friends.
Me: And, once again, I didn’t mean to insult you, and I don’t know how else to apologize.
I know that “I didn’t mean to” is no defense against hurting someone with a flippant comment, but it still seems like a reasonable defense against WHY I hurt someone. If you know a better response than the ones I’ve given, please write to email@example.com. I also don’t really care what my friends think of my girlfriends (short of, “don’t date her, she murdered my parents” or “oh hey, I saw her giving blow jobs to strangers for crack money last week. She’s a cutie.”), and I hope I give off the impression that I’d never take someone to meet my friends just to feel like a bigger man. Seems that I don’t give off that impression, but if I don’t by now, I don’t know how. I actually just like my friends and like it when, say, five people are having a good time as much as I like it when two people are having a good time. Even without the inevitable innuendo involved in saying that.
Akiko: You heaped unprovoked insults on me while I was ailing. OH BOOHOO I’m having such a bad day.
Akiko: You misunderstand. I don’t want to meet you friends and I don’t want you meeting mine either.
Me: Oh, I see.
Akiko: Yeah, no after this. Your “apology” was half irrelevant blather. Read string above.
Me: No, I’m not going to bother. Early indicators or abusive behavior are a huge turn off for me.
Me: Stop texting me.
Akiko: Maybe you’re drunk, like you were when you insulted me.
Akiko: In which case yeah don’t bother.
Akiko: I will if you apologize for real.
Akiko: Specifically for insulting me, completely unprovoked, while I was ailing, criticizing me for something you’re in no position to criticize me for, and I was in no condition to help. That is really fucking cruel.
Me: I’m sorry. I am really sorry. You can’t hear my voice, but I have the highest respect for you and have nothing bad to say about you. I never meant, and never would mean to make you think less of yourself.
That was the last thing I ever communicated to Akiko, and it was a lie. I thought she was fucking crazy at this point, and was just trying to get her to stop texting me. It didn’t work, so these are the last six things she ever sent to me:
Akiko: You get drunk and pull this shit off again and I will fucking destroy you.
Akiko: Don’t insult me when I’m fucking SICK. DO NOT DO THAT AGAIN.
Akiko: One more thing. Do not fucking insult my cat again.
Akiko: Since you’re so critical of my cleanliness I’m sure you have solutions to these dilemmas. What do I do with a toilet clogged up with cat litter and I’m too weak to work the plunger? And with rabbit litter getting increasingly soaked in rabbit urine that I haven’t been able to clean for a week because dry, airborne rabbit urine triggers asthma attacks?
Akiko: Are the effort and coughing fits worth ridding all the pathogens from my apartment, or should I just keep breathing them in because at least I can stay in my bedroom, close the door and try not to breathe them in ALL the time? What do you think?
Akiko: How about garbage accumulating around the apartment? An hour of pain trying to collect and carry downstairs, or wait until I’m able to do it in 10 minutes?
I think in the end she was hinting that I should come over and do all these things for her, and that some of this was just trying to break my spirit so I’d clean out her pathogens.
I also do believe this was evidence of abusive behavior. Whereas my initial comment is evidence of dumb behavior, the unrelenting fallout was unwarranted, especially since it wasn’t like we had a long history of fighting or even a very close relationship. We went from idyllic to catastrophic in twenty minutes, and hit unrecoverable in twenty-four hours and a few dozen text messages.
Also, as I mentioned above, I do not know how else I could have apologized. Maybe if I’d sent the last apology (which wasn’t true) immediately, it would have worked out, but I doubt it, and I really don’t think I was that far in the wrong and I was trying to be honest about it.
Anyway, I’ve made the original transcript public because I’m interested in other opinions. What could I possibly have done, once I’d sent the original misbegotten text?
I have never attempted to contact Akiko since those last messages. Out of all my exes, I probably fear her most, because she has the means and the intent to hurt people. I do hope she’s not dead, but not enough to risk my own well-being.
Lesson 1: The ice is always thinner than you think.
Lesson 2: Saving a life is only 1 point.
1 FYI, this book is not good.