As a broken hearted person, I had a problem that all broken hearted people had. It was to stand alone in a place with a lot of people. Wallow in sorrow in all that noise. No wonder, in African tribes, when someone is about to die, they will be surrounded by others and dance in a circle of fire. It must be better to die in the middle of a roar of voices than facing fear and grief alone.
That’s why, every Valentine’s Day night, I would go out alone to watch a movie.
In these past few years, even though I didn’t have Li Chuan accompanying me, I still liked to watch movies. Because of this, I specially subscribed to the movie theater’s newsletter. Whenever there was a film, I would go watch. It didn’t matter whether it was new or old. There was a row of couple seats in the theater. I sat alone in the back, holding a huge tub of popcorn. It was a Jackie Chan comedy and was very funny. Laughter broken out constantly in the theater.
I hid alone amongst the crowd of couples, quietly shedding tears in the sounds of laughter. I didn’t know what acute pneumonia was and I didn’t know it would become such a serious thing. But the Li Chuan I knew had always been strong minded, never wanting me to see the weak side of him. If he could, he would cover up everything. If he couldn’t he would flee and disappear without a trace. But his voice was that weak and his tone was feigning gentle. I suspected that his real condition was ten times worse than what I heard.
When I returned home, I saw that René was actually on MSN. I was exultant and quickly tapped on him, “René! Thank you for giving me the phone number. I already called Li Chuan’s phone.”
René typed in English, “How was it? Was it a good chat?”
I said, “Quite good. René, is Li Chuan’s acute pneumonia really serious? He didn’t even have the strength to speak.”
René, “Uh-huh. It’s already good that he could speak on the phone. He couldn’t even speak a while before.”
It was like that? How could it be like that? I quickly asked, “Was it caused just from a cold? Why couldn’t he speak? Was his throat swollen?”
The other person halted for a moment as if deliberating what to say.
And then René seemed to speak the truth, “…the most severe time was when Alex required a ventilator. His immune system is quite bad, so he needs to be really careful about his health. He can’t stay in cold, can’t catch a cold, he can’t have a fever and, even more, can’t get infected.”
I typed a huge question mark, “What is a ventilator?”
“…It’s a machine used to help him breathe when it’s difficult for him.”
An ER storyline quickly flashed through my mind. It was in the emergency room where patients were choking. The doctors on the side had swift eyes and hands, using a small knife to cut open windpipes and inserting a transparent tube in. My whole body suddenly started cold sweating just thinking about this. I promptly repented, “Next time, I will definitely be careful! I won’t let Li Chuan get rained on!”
The other side stopped for a bit and then continued with an angry red face, “What? You let Alex get rained on? In winter?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know that he couldn’t get rained on.” Really. That day, I was completely drenched. I laid down on the bed immediately when I got home. I was depressed. I didn’t even want to drink a cup of Ban Lan Gen (Chinese cold medicine). Yet I didn’t catch a cold or have a fever. I was perfectly fine. Why was I so healthy? Why was my immune system so strong? I was a bit ashamed!
René did not spare me, “Annie, why did you Alex get rained on?”
“We were…in the rain…fighting…”
The window vibrated. René was angered again, “What? What? How old are you guys, yet you still fight? — That’s right, did you create the wounds on Li Chuan’s neck? Before I sent Mia over, I had just cut her fingernails.”
I cautiously and solemnly apologized, “Oh…that…has already been a month. It’s still not healed?”
The window stopped flickering. There was no words for a long time.
And then René seemed to sigh, “I always thought that Chinese women were more tender than French women…”
I quickly type, “I really didn’t do it on purpose. Li Chuan kept on wanting to be over with me. I only did it because I was really angry! It’s an individual case. Don’t be prejudice against all Chinese women as a result.”
The window flashed, René said, “I won’t. Alex always said that you were the most tender and most cordial woman. Also…the emails you wrote to Alex were very tender. They were quite moving!”
What? Li Chuan…actually…I was dumbfounded.
I was angry. Even without looking in the mirror, I knew my face was dumbfounded, “Li Chuan gave you the letters I wrote for you too see? I’m going to settle this with him!!!
My impression of Li Chuan wasn’t that bad! It’s not like in the movies where a male student would receive a love letter of a female student and then read it out loud in his dorm room where everyone who heard would burst into laughter.
The screen flashed with English. René said, “No, no, don’t let your mind wander…During that time, Alex was quite sick. I read all of your emails to him.”
This time, it was my turn to be angry, “Quite sick? How sick was he? Could he not even move?”
“No, it wasn’t like it. He just didn’t have strength and had to lie down all day.” René avoided the subject and said, “But Annie, why didn’t you write it in English? Those emails really put my Chinese to the test! Do you know how hard it was for a foreigner like me to read your emails? You would frequently write long ones and there were all stream of consciousness. There wasn’t even a single punctuation mark. I didn’t even know where to pause. Then, I could only force myself to continue reading. As I read, I would get scolded by Li Chuan saying that your Chinese definitely didn’t have mistakes in it, why couldn’t he make sense of it…”
Puah…I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, “I didn’t tell you to read it! And it wasn’t written for you!”
René typed out a suffering expression, “Annie, my Ph.D thesis was on ‘Lu Ban Classics’ (Father of Chinese carpentry). I can read and understand classical Chinese. I can also read traditional Chinese characters, but I could not read nor understand conversational writing.”
I was just drinking tea when he said this, I went “puah” and my screen was covered in water,
“No way? Normally everyone things that conversational writing is easier than classical Chinese.”
René, “That’s you Chinese people. You can believe me or not. Classical Chinese is similar to English in syntax structure. In short, you wrote in conversational speech and used simplified. I can only read classical Chinese in traditional. So I had to keep on looking things up in the dictionary. Every time an email came from you, I had to use a software to change the simplified to traditional, and then look up the words I didn’t know in the dictionary. I had to figure out the pinyin (Chinese romanization) and then read it aloud to Alex. Alex still always complained that I read it wrong! Sometimes, neither of us understood the word you used and the dictionary didn’t have it either. Alex ordered me to go to the library to go look in a larger dictionary. So pitiful. I had to even go out in the hail! Sometimes converting from simplified to traditional would go wrong and it would become a pile of mumbojumbo. I would receive a scolding again. Li Chuan would order me to find a person to restore it. I had to spend money to get someone to do it. In short…I was exhausted during that period too. I put work into you guys’ romance too. You must thank me.”
I suspected I had read too many Yaoi (Boys’ Love) novels. Somehow it seemed like René was the perfect “bottom” (in a gay relationship), and I couldn’t help but also want to bully him. “Yeah right, I’d thank you. I’m not the one who told you look things up in the dictionary.
René didn’t take offense, “But you two are quite a couple. So linked at the heart! Every time Alex was seriously ill, your email would be particularly long, particularly (English) sunny. Alex got through those years depending on reading your emails. You guys are still a perfect match. One refused to reply no matter what. One continued to write no matter what. Both of you continued this for three years. Afterwards I ruined it. Since then, Li Chuan has scolded me to death.”
I suddenly understood, “You sent that card!”
René typed an ashamed expression, “I sent it on impulse. I told Alex after I had send it. Alex said, it’s over. You definitely wouldn’t write another letter. I still argued with him. I firmly didn’t believe it. Annie, tell me. You had already wrote them for three years. We had gotten accustomed to waiting for your letters. There was at least two a week. When your father was about to pass away, every letter was extremely long! In the end, suddenly, one day, you no longer wrote any more. Alex lost over 20lbs that month. He nearly died. Of course, I can’t blame you, you didn’t know the situation. However, since you had decided not to write anymore, how come you thought to write an email to Alex a few months ago? You really were a wind that caused a ripple in his heart (line from poem). At that time, Alex was still lying in the hospital due to his ski injuries. But regardless of what the doctor said, he said he had to go to China no matter what. How many days had it been before he was near death again!”
René had been typing in English the whole time. But suddenly, within the middle of the dense English, a line of Chinese appeared. It was actually even from a Song poem. That really startled me.
I typed really quickly, “Hey! They means that I’m still quite a ways away from becoming an angel! René what illness does Li Chuan really have?!!! For god’s sake, tell me!”
René, “I can’t. This is the most I can say. If Alex knew, he would strangle me to death.”
I didn’t want to force René too much. If I forced him too much, he might cut me off. René had just finally started opening up about it. Without delay, I took the conversation topic to a further place, “Then René, have you been taking care of Li Chuan since he has been sick? Did Li Chuan and you know each other from a long time ago?”
René said, “Uh-huh, Alex and I were college classmates. We were even in the same dorm. We’re brothers. I knew Alex before I knew Leo. When Alex got sick, I was teaching at the university. It was quite relaxing. Plus, Leo simply had too much work and too little time. It could only be me. It can’t really be said that I took care of him. There were nurses by his side. I only went to chat with him and read him emails.”
I asked, “Then, has Alex been sick for a long time?”
René was immediately on guard again, “Uh-huh, stop trying to get things out of me.”
Li Chuan was really lucky. He had such a good friend like René. I quickly thanked him, “René thank you for helping Li Chuan read the emails. I know it wasn’t easily. Just from how hard it is for me to learn English, I know how hard it was on you.”
René typed a shy smile, “Don’t mention it. Back then, if it wasn’t for Leo, I wouldn’t have learned Chinese either. Now look at me, all my design styles have become eastern styles. Leo knows Chinese himself, yet he has abandoned his ancestor’s culture to make post modern designs. There’s no reasoning for this!…That’s right, you must not tell Leo about Alex getting rained on. Leo is a tyrant, very (English) bossy. Now that Li Chuan’s sick, Leo has final say on everything to do with the Wang family. He’s even more (English) bossy now.
How could that be? My impression of Ji Chuan was actually quite good. I even thought that he was milder than Li Chuan. Plus, when they were together, Ji Chuan was very considerate of Li Chuan. Even though they quarreled sometimes, it was all under good intentions.
I quickly asked, “René, then tell me what I need to take note of when I’m together with Li Chuan in the future. I’m really afraid of Li Chuan getting sick again!”
René was very happy this time. The letters on screen cheerfully flashed, “Such a good girl! Oh…don’t let him catch a cold. Don’t let him get wounds that will bleed. Don’t let him fall. Don’t let him come in contact with the sick. Don’t let him go where there are crowds. He must carefully wash his hands before eating. He can’t used a razor to shave….”
It was a huge paragraph of instructions. Looks like the time René spent with Li Chuan was really not short. He actually knew such minute details.
I (English) copy+paste his words into a document, “I’ve taken it down. Then, what about consuming things? Is there anything to be wary of?”
René said on that end, “I think…in order to consume enough vitamins, he needs to eat at least two types of fruit and three types of vegetables a day. He needs to not eat too much salt or oil. He needs to eat smaller but more frequent meals. He can eat a bit of lean meat and fish. Also, he should eat a lot of fresh pineapples….Actually, you don’t need to worry about all this. Alex has his own chef who makes him three meals a day according to the prescription from his nutritionist. The most important thing is that he absolutely must not touch alcohol. Not even a drop.”
I unexpectedly make a joke, “Wow, he’s indeed the pampered son of a wealthy family. He has so many people waiting on him.”