I was extremely fortunate to have been in China just weeks before my girlfriend Weishi’s Da Gu (first aunt) died. There was an old wooden box full of smooth stones near the back door, and she walked up and down on it with bare feet each morning. Whether a way of stimulating certain nerves in the soles of her feet or just serving as a meditative practice, it was supposed to help somewhat with the extreme pain of the stomach cancer that was slowly killing her.
Da Gu was an extremely tough woman. She never once let her physical ailments get in the way while spending time with us, and she insisted on making us tea and having ranting, passionate discussions with me. After growing up in China as a child, she had traveled to England to study english literature. She returned to work as a reporter and, ultimately, editor for the China Daily, China’s english language newspaper. Her use of the english language was so far superior to my own that I felt almost as ignorant saying hello as when I tried to discuss American history and politics with her.
Da Gu’s ex-husband was a literature professor, and apparently just as tough, opinionated, and stubborn as she was. They had been divorced for more than fifteen years, and to the day still took the time to argue with each other. She explained that two people so strong willed could simply never make it work. What she said next etched itself forever into my brain. “But if I was ever going to get married again, it would only be to him.” Weishi assured me that he had said the same thing to her.
Several weeks after I left China, the cancer finally won out. Someone likely scattered the smooth stones that took in so much pain, leaving them, too, to rest. I wonder how her ex-husband felt now that she was gone. To me those almost, but not quite, solvable problems that linger forever are the most tragic. Is there a point when they should have given in and cut off communication forever? Or was it the dynamic struggle that made what was left of their relationship so irresistible? Maybe, once again, the only answer is to continue to ask.