Deep in the Act
First Published on Chaleuria
Gao Zhun was still on the phone, listening to the ongoing debate about the prices of several Qing dynasty textiles, as he watched Fang Chi take out his card holder. Before his eyes, Fang Chi’s long fingers flicked the case open with a click, revealing the snow-white cards within. With practiced ease, he pulled out a single piece for the youth – just as he once did for Gao Zhun, with the same voice and gesture, saying: Nice to meet you, Mr. Gao.
Gao Zhun struggled to breathe.
The youth took the card, not forgetting to glance lightly at Gao Zhun again as he slipped it into his pocket. Then, waving his test strip, he remarked in a cheerful voice, “Oh it’s negative.” Having gotten his results, he bade Fang Chi goodbye with natural ease and tossed his strip into a bin in the corner on his way out.
The call ended a while ago, but Gao Zhun had no idea what he said or how it ended. For reasons he did not understand, he began ignoring Fang Chi, no longer willing to listen to anything he had to say.
“What’s wrong?” Fang Chi asked as he tried to reach for Gao Zhun’s hand, but Gao Zhun avoided his touch neurotically. When he tried to look at Gao Zhun’s test strip, he was once again met with rejection. Gao Zhun even moved away to the next seat, putting an empty chair’s distance between himself and Fang Chi.
The onlookers tittered amongst themselves, chattering in excitement at the scene before them, “… lovers’ tiff… he got jealous…”
Fang Chi heard them, and an inexplicable rage rose within him. “Mr. Gao… Gao Zhun,” he called out as he moved into the seat next to Gao Zhun, “look at me.” But the other man kept his head averted, so Fang Chi tugged at his arm and continued, “Are you afraid that they’d think… we’re in that sort of relationship?”
Of course not – Gao Zhun replied in his mind, though he refused to utter a single word. Fang Chi was almost hugging him now. “Did they say something?” He lowered his voice, “Look at them – they’re all alone. Not one of their lovers or so-called boyfriends is here with any of them. But you have me, and they’re jealous of you.”
At this, Gao Zhun finally turned to look at the other man. What are we, then? – he wanted to ask, but could not bring himself to say it out loud. Thinking that Gao Zhun was starting to loosen up, Fang Chi took the test strip out of his hand. It was marked in red with a single control line.
“Negative.” He heaved out a long sigh, with a profound sense of relief that made it seem as if he were the one who had taken the test. “You’re safe.” Gazing at Gao Zhun with deep feeling, he repeated himself, “You’re safe.”
Gao Zhun did not know how to face him anymore. Although he cherished Fang Chi’s loving care with his entire being, he resented the man’s artful ability to please everyone around him. Suddenly, it became clear to him that he wanted this man – he wanted the man to belong to him, and him only.
He got to his feet. Before Fang Chi’s eyes, he walked away in silence, headed for the door, and left on his own. Fang Chi was stunned. Coming back to his senses several moments later, Fang Chi dashed after him, calling out his name. But Gao Zhun did not respond. He plunged into the milling crowds at the subway station, and Fang Chi followed behind him, confused by the sudden distance he had put between them. They waited on the same platform and entered the same carriage. Yet, even as he began shaking with fear, Gao Zhun continued to reject Fang Chi’s touch.
More and more people boarded the train, pushing them further and further apart, until Gao Zhun was lost in the surging crowd. The thought of Gao Zhun forcing himself to endure his surroundings all by himself was too much for Fang Chi to bear. He had always been courteous, but now, he could not care less about rules and propriety. Taking full advantage of his height, he began shoving his way through the densely-packed crowd. Amidst much complaint from the people around him, he made it back to Gao Zhun’s side again.
Sensing Fang Chi’s presence, Gao Zhun lifted his reddened eyes and stole a timid glance at the other man. He needed Fang Chi, but he did not dare say it aloud. Fang Chi sighed in resignation. Then, he reached out and enveloped Gao Zhun with his arms.
This was a short-lived intimacy; they reached their stop before long. They did not exchange a single word on their way back to Gao Zhun’s estate from the subway station. As they were about to part at the gate, however, Fang Chi asked with worry, “Would you like me to walk you back to your apartment?”
Gao Zhun replied with a silent shake of his head before heading towards his home, all by himself. As he walked, his nose began to feel funny; it seemed that tears had begun falling from his eyes. He desperately wanted to turn back and tell Fang Chi to stay: Walk me home – please, don’t go. But the words were caught in his throat, and they choked the life out of him bit by bit.
Reaching his apartment block, he opened the door and wiped away his tears. As his eyes fell on the metallic mailboxes along the wall, he noticed that his was already full, and its contents seemed like they were ready to spill out of the slot at any moment. He collected his mail, took the elevator upstairs, and finally reached his apartment. He scanned through the pile once he was home. Besides Linlin’s credit card bills, which made up most of his mail, there were some documents, several journals, and a small letter without a stamp or postmark.
He opened the letter in puzzlement and was surprised to find that it was written by hand. The writer did not have beautiful handwriting, but a certain sense of warm sincerity pervaded every stroke. “Dear Mr. Gao,” it began:
Therapeutic letter-writing is a method that is commonly used in narrative therapy.1 Most of my letters to my clients are retellings and summaries of our sessions. But in this letter to you, I would like to do things differently. Would you like to know my impression of you, Mr. Gao?
I remember that night, when I met you at your place – you waited for me in the dark, all alone. I remember those physical contact exercises – you were terrified, but you never ran away. I remember that other night, with the fireworks and the fountain – you told me your story bravely.
This is my greatest impression of you: you are someone who has the strength and courage to confront the worst of situations, no matter how hopeless they may seem.
Moreover, you are beautiful. Perhaps ‘beauty’ may seem like a jarring quality to be associated with a man, but you are indeed beautiful. Just as flowers are cut for their coveted beauty, so have you been subjected to some terrible things because you are beautiful. But you should understand that beauty is neither a crime nor a sin. The last thing I wish to see is the way in which you torment yourself for the wrongs of others; there is nothing I fear more than to hear the word ‘death’ from your lips.
You are also gifted. It is hard to believe that the paintings in your living room were created by your hand. You may seem fragile and delicate, but you have a unique style and a profoundly complex soul. You may not know this: in my eyes, you are so rare and precious you ought to be the most cherished of treasures in this world. I hope that you continue to shine forever, and that your brilliance will never fade.
Lastly, thank you for your trust and cooperation all this time. No matter how ‘unreasonable’ I may be with my demands, you have always strived to fulfill them even if it meant subjecting yourself to discomfort and pain. On more than one occasion, I have felt this: getting to know you is one of the greatest things that has ever happened in my life. Thank you, Gao Zhun.
Date: 7th of the 7th lunar month
Tears streamed down his face along the side of his nose as his hands shook uncontrollably. Fang Chi wrote this for him on that day – the day he told the truth about what had happened to him. Gao Zhun could not tell how he was feeling right now. Joy and fear welled up within him, enveloping him with an exquisite sweetness and overwhelming him with agony at the same time. Even as he yearned to give in to his desires like a moth to a flame, he reeled from the fear that all of this was nothing but his own pathetic wishful thinking.
He berated himself for not reading the letter earlier, and for throwing a tantrum at the clinic. Taking his phone out of his suit pocket, he dialed the number with trembling hands. The call went through after a single ring, “Mr. Gao?”
Tears began to fall again at the sound of Fang Chi’s voice. “Are you seeing a patient now?”
“No. I cleared my schedule for this morning.”
Both fell silent. After several moments, Gao Zhun stammered, “Your letter… I read your letter.”
Fang Chi did not respond, not even to acknowledge Gao Zhun’s utterance with an ‘oh’. He simply waited in silence for Gao Zhun to continue. This was a gamble – and whoever gave in first to temptation would be the one to lose it all. “I’m sorry…” Gao Zhun murmured, “I shouldn’t have acted up this morning.”
Fang Chi was very pleased. “Why did you?” he asked in a gentle voice.
Even at this distance, separated as they were by the phone call, Gao Zhun was still mortified. “Do you really not know?”
Fang Chi, on the other hand, remained unaffected and at ease. “I want to hear it from you.”
Gao Zhun wanted to hate him, but he could not – he could not bring himself to. “I just…” Wallowing in some kind of self-abandonment, Gao Zhun continued, “I couldn’t stand the sight of you giving your business card to that boy. I can’t stand you being as nice to others as you are to me…” – a sudden word came into his mind – “It makes me… really jealous!”
- Narrative therapy: It is a form of counselling that views people as separate from their problems. It enables clients to distance themselves from their issues, helping them separate their identities from their conditions. In so doing, the therapy enables them to gain new perspectives that empower them to ‘rewrite’ their life stories for futures that reflect who they are, what they are capable of, and what their purposes are.
- In narrative therapy, therapists play the role of facilitators rather than experts. They perceive their clients’ lives as multitiered and full of latent possibilities waiting to be discovered.
- Narrative therapists typically make use of methods, such as letter-writing, which help clients see that they themselves are the experts of their lives. In so doing, they empower their clients to recognize their own potential to uncover the dreams, values, goals and skills that define who they really are, separate from their problems.