My Eight Marriages for the Mob

Sally was thin and tall, with no ass. She was from Beijing and she was wearing a cheap polyester pantsuit with rhinestones on the lapels. Sally flew Sharon and me to a city called Fuzhou that had actually earned a national reputation for foreign marriages. She set us up at my first four-star hotel. Things were starting to look up. We met my husband. I was pleased to see that he was my age and handsome.

But there were also disturbing signs. Deadlines were delayed; documents were missing. The clinic claimed irregularities in my blood disqualified me for marriage. It was something I had never heard of before, a blood condition so unusual I cannot even recall its name. We spent an extra week going to a doctor they paid to say I was healthy. While waiting for the blood test to come out magically clean, I met another U.S. citizen doing his own special trip. We bonded over how we missed road safety, fresh air, proper steak, hip-hop and people who spoke English. I was happy to complain that this was the most difficult of all my halfway marriages. He stopped me immediately.

"'Halfway'? Are you serious? There's no such thing as 'halfway.' Are you duping these poor guys out here? That's fucked-up."

The boy looked honestly disgusted. I was confused. I pushed him to explain. "Most of these guys out here are banking on the fact that you are going to see through the marriage and sponsor them to come to America," he said. "There is no other way for them to come over. What you're doing is just splitting after the first installment. That's what's so fucked-up."

I felt my stomach lurch a little, and the boy immediately quit speaking to me altogether, staring pointedly at the wall and waiting for his test results.

I called Sally as soon as I could, and she admitted that what the boy at the clinic told me was true. But, she said, she was going to help me do a marriage properly.

And then? And then she took $10,000 from my newest husband, disappeared, and left me in China by myself. I never saw her again. All the contact information she'd given me were ghost numbers.

I ran out my expenses-paid month on my own: I went to massage parlors nightly, and I ate any food I wanted; I flirted with boys I couldn't actually talk to, saw movies I couldn't understand, visited Buddhist temples and the seashore. I still felt I deserved $5,000 just for coming to China, but I made my own way home, empty-handed. When I landed at LAX, there was no one to meet me.

The years whipped by, and I kept using up my resources, usually getting fired or quitting because I was hung-over all the time. When I came back from my third-marriage fiasco, I had to move in with my parents because I didn't have the money to get to Philadelphia. Whenever I was in a rut and had to come up with cash fast, I'd go after my contacts. They were more than happy to oblige a seasoned veteran, and they didn't have to sell it to me any longer. I was sold. Innocence lost. I justified it like this: it's either them or me. Nonsense, since all I really had to do was get a real job and stick with it. But this was so much faster. With each marriage, I felt more and more invincible. Like I could have made a living off these scams forever. My fourth husband was Ah-Sin, a man with rotten teeth who spoke excellent Vietnamese. I was happy to be paired up with someone I could actually talk to. He lived in a village two hours outside the city of Nanning. He kept trying to hold my hand outside of taking pictures, and I had to remind him—without being too impertinent—that our marriage wasn't that real. On the drive to his hometown, we hit a monsoon. Uprooted trees toppled behind stiff sheets of rain; villagers slipped and slid around the taxi. We crawled into his village four hours behind schedule. I looked around and saw a community that was ravaged by poverty but was also lush, green and marshy. The only local lodging available was a run-down motel with amenities like mosquito netting, indoor plumbing and a rusty fan, plus minimal mildew buildup on the bathroom tiles and a minimal sewage smell.

Ah-Sin had some serious balls—he straight-up asked if I wanted to share a room with him. I gave him my best go-fuck-yourself glare.

The fifth marriage was scary. My husband Ah-Kwan was a gangly, awkward young man with thickly calloused hands and the rotted teeth and sexual delusions of No. 4—there must be something in the water around China's southernmost cities that makes these fakers think they'd get fringe benefits off me. Most of the time, they spoke Vietnamese, since we were so close to the border. Ah-Kwan's family were refugees in Vietnam during the Japanese occupation of China in the late 1930s, so they regarded me as their darling little Hanoi Honey. I didn't bother to mention that my family was from Saigon, though they should have guessed it by my accent.

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