Monday, December 10, 2012

TING AND I: Tina in Chicago, 1967-83

From TING AND I: A Memoir...
Meanwhile, all was not going smoothly for Tina in Chicago. The night before her June wedding, Tina had cried. Too late to change plans. There was a Hawaiian honeymoon trip after their ceremony. As soon as they got to their apartment in Chicago, K commanded her to clean the floors, indicating that kneeling was the appropriate position for doing this. The courtship phase was over. Time had come to make sure Tina knew who would be the boss.

Tina was expected to be a dutiful, traditional Chinese wife, not a modern American woman. Chinese women have often been second-class citizens. Besides her career, she was to handle all household matters, help write his technical papers, and prepare ostentatious banquets for his colleagues. She was working at the University of Chicago library that is dedicated to matters Chinese. As he demanded, she went with him to Taiwan to aid his parents. She taught English there for nine months. After they returned to the United States, she moved on to become an editor at the Encyclopedia Britannica.

While they were still childless, they vacationed in Europe. At least, Tina got to see Paris.

Tina also got to know more about blue-green algae than most of us want to. She did much editing and re-writing of her husband’s papers on the topic, often after getting home from her day job.

They lived in the academic enclave Hyde Park, close to the University of Chicago, where her husband pursued his career. Her husband maintained from the beginning a pattern of sleeping during the day, then going to the university lab to work at night.

First son, Ted, was born in December 1973. Tina’s career paused. Because of the father’s odd sleeping schedule, Ted was repeatedly hushed so that his father could sleep during the day. Ted was shy, introverted, and obviously very smart.

Tina’s marriage was not going well, at least for her. I have a copy of her letter to a friend, apologizing for “mysteriously” breaking down and crying when they had gotten together in 1980, ten years before this letter was written. She characterizes her husband, K, as “a demonic slave-driver whose primary expectations for me were the amount of earnings I could contribute to the marriage or the sum total of productive work I could accomplish for the household. Any thought of continuing my studies was discouraged decisively. I had become a mere shell of what I used to be, with little or no salvageable self-esteem.”

Ah, memories are made of this. Tina has never regretted leaving K.

One of Tina’s friends told me that when she and her husband rode with Tina and K from Chicago to New York, they were appalled that K required Tina to feed him grapes as he drove, grapes which she was required to peel for him before he would eat them. I thought “peel me a grape” was a joke. It makes me mad just to think of it.

In 1981, Phil was born, another normal birth, a healthy, robust son. Tina developed a temporary partial paralysis soon after, which was eventually diagnosed as due to multiple sclerosis. Also in 1981, her husband had a heart attack and ended up getting a triple bypass. Difficult times for all.

In February of 1983, I called Tina again. Their lives, and mine, changed radically


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