Like so many of the heartbroken, I found my own way to deal with the loss of my wife. I didn’t know if her betrayal caused some short circuit in my brain and it broke me. I really didn’t want to have sex with her very often before she had her affair, but once I found out that she was fucking someone else, I had to have her. So, I found myself standing outside a window of the big old home we recently shared. I was on the outside looking in like a forgotten dog let out that would more likely be picked up by the dog catcher than let back in the house.
I tried to peer through the semi-sheer curtains in the living room on the side of the house. The lamp in front of the window on the end table next to the couch was turned on. Beyond the lamp I could also see that the TV was on. I could feel my heart beating throughout my whole body. I had to keep taking deep breaths, and I thought I was going to have an asthma attack, so I took a puff of my inhaler. It was a warm humid summer night, the aftermath of a rain storm, but I was shivering uncontrollably. My legs shook like Barney Fife’s.
Why was I doing this? If I couldn’t have sex with my wife anymore, did I want to see her get banged by this guy? This fantasy wasn’t new. During the last couple of years of my marriage, while I avoided having sex with my wife, I was more interested in fantasizing about another man fucking the shit out of her. Her perpetual whining and complaining merited this kind of discipline. But in my fantasy I wanted her to enjoy it, so I’m not so sure it was a discipline for her. I really wasn’t so sure what it was about, except it was further evidence of the state of my own mental health. I guess got what I asked for. My life had played out like the cliché of some weird morality story, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” The deviant nature of the protagonist, me, a voyeuristic cuckold, was like an anti-hero, a nemesis for a super hero like Batman. I felt a darkness in me that was akin to the super anti-hero, the Joker. With villains there’s a masochistic, as much as a sadistic, nature. Villains inflict pain on themselves prior to, and while in the process of, inflicting pain on others. Both villains and super heroes constantly experience pain on some level, but it obviously motivates them differently.
As I strained to see through the window, I didn’t feel any sexual excitement at the prospect of seeing my wife having sex with another man. I felt an anxiety with a level of energy that had to be pathological. It was excruciating, infuriating, and sad. This was nothing like the fantasies I had.
I couldn’t see anyone in the living room. It looked like they had gone to bed in a hurry and left the TV on. I stepped away from the house to view the upstairs bedroom windows. There were two of them and they faced the street. I could see dim light through the pulled shades. I imagined them doing all kinds of kinky things with the lights on. He was a guy that liked to watch.
The porch roof was below the windows. I had been up there at least twice a year: in the fall to put on the storm windows and in the spring to take them off and put on the screens. There was a ladder in the shed in the back. I could have been up there in minutes, but I don’t think I would have gone unnoticed by the passing cars on the street, as I hunched like a gargoyle on the porch roof late in the night with my nose pressed against the bedroom window.
I still had a key to the house. I walked around to the backyard. I stepped onto the deck, and the wood creaked and the nails squeaked. To my ears it was extremely loud. My senses were heightened, so everything seemed exaggerated.
I looked through the window in the door. The light was on, but no one was in the kitchen. There was an open pizza box on the counter by the dishwasher. I put my hand on the doorknob and it turned which meant it was unlocked. While I stood there for a second wondering if I should go in, I heard the pounding of footsteps along the side of the house. Before I had a chance to decide what to do, I saw some young guy launch himself over the six foot wood fence dividing the front yard and back. Right behind, and I mean, right behind him, a cop flew over the fence and tackled the guy immediately. Both the young cop and the guy panted heavily. The chase must have gone on for a while. To this young guy’s misfortune he had a physically fit cop chase him. Most of the cops I’ve seen in town or have been stopped by for a traffic violation were sporting a donut shop gut. I don’t think one of these guys would have made it over the fence.
After the cop had the cuffs on this guy, he noticed me standing on the deck watching everything. “Where’s the gate?” he asked, still breathing heavily.
“Over there,” I said and pointed to the one leading to the alley.
“Thanks,” he said and then led his suspect away.
“Holy shit,” I said to myself. I didn’t believe in signs. And I didn’t have much belief in god, but this was surely serendipitous. I might get away with entering my own house, which was now off limits to me, and in doing so discover whatever might be going on inside there and then do whatever I might end up doing, but I could also become the prey as this young man had, rather the predator I just realized I was. I quickly left through the same gate the cop had. Now completely paranoid, thinking I might hear, “Stop police!” I headed to my car. Once I was there I figured I was home free. I parked two blocks from the house, and it was, to my memory, the longest and most terrifying two blocks I ever walked. The entire way I chastised myself for my actions. I could have just stayed home feeling the pain my adulterous wife caused, but no, I had to escalate the situation with panic and fear. Apparently it wasn’t enough for me to wallow in the cesspool of spurned love. I had to risk going to jail for being a peeping Tom, a voyeur, or maybe worse, if I had mustered the courage to play out one of my hate fantasies and bash her boyfriend’s head in with any available blunt object once I was inside the house. “Oh, shut the fuck up,” I said to myself, “you don’t have the balls for that.” Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t.
I made it to my car, and at the last moment before I turned the key and drove away, I feared a tap on my window from the police, but it didn’t happen. The entire way home, I looked in my rear view mirror anticipating the unmistakable flashing red and blue lights of the law. It didn’t happen, but even after I was inside my apartment, which never felt more inviting, where I never felt more grateful to be, I still experienced anguish at the thought of a knock on my door. It never came, and a couple hours later while I was watching TV I realized I felt safe. I smiled to myself, knowing my life was no different now than it was before I decided to stalk my soon to be ex-wife, and it wasn’t a bad thing.
My phone rang. It was Angelo. We had been friends since high school, and now it almost twenty years since then. He had recently broken up with his girlfriend and was going through the hardship and insanity of his own break up. We talked a lot, supporting each other, listening to each other’s ranting.
I immediately heard how distraught he was. “I just spent the last hour sitting in the bushes at Jane’s house. I’m all scratched up and bit up by mosquitoes. She has some guy over there.”
Strangely, I didn’t know what to say. The image of my short Italian friend hunched in the bushes below his girlfriend’s window, as sharp twigs scraped at him and buzzing mosquitoes fed on him, made me want to laugh. I covered the mouth piece of my phone, as I suppressed my laughter but not completely. I had to pull it together quickly. I’m not quite sure why I thought it was so funny, except maybe it was that I wasn’t so bad that I got all scratched up in thorny bushes and eaten up by mosquitoes.
“I know what that’s like, man,” I said. “You know that behavior just makes things worse. Doesn’t it?”
“Ah shit. I just can’t seem to help it. Damn it, I could have gotten arrested,” he said.
“What were you expecting to see?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see anything.”
“What if you did? What would you have done?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Probably nothing.”
“Seeing is believing. I guess we just want to know that it’s really over,” I said.
“Yeah, could be. I still feel like shit,” Angelo groaned.
“Well, just be grateful you’re not in jail,” I said. Next time I would have a better plan. Next time I would jack off and ejaculate on the side of the house, rubbing my cock on the warm brick, marking my territory. Next time I would have the balls to do something else.
Mike Sharlow lives in a small city on the Mississippi River. He's had three novels published. His current goal is to have 100 stories published. He has 97 to go.
The front door of my dad’s house is a storefront gate, like many of the other
front doors in North Vietnam. But unlike a normal gate’s purpose of keeping
people from coming in or going out, it’s only slightly closed at night, to show
people that the two shops at the house’s entrance are closed. The gate is never
locked, in case a family member has to enter or exit. There’s an unspoken
understanding that if you don’t live there, then you shouldn’t come in when the
gates are visible.
At the front of the house is a mini snack shop that
sells things like chewing gum, chips, and cigarettes. The items are either set
up on a low table or hung from a nail on the wall. The shopkeepers rent the
spaces for their businesses. At the end of the day, they pack up their
commodities and go home. Behind the mini snack shop is a glass counter filled
with medicine, which is run by other renters. To call it a pharmacy is an
overstatement because you don’t need a prescription to buy anything. Whatever it
is, it must be legal because it’s been in business for as long as my dad can
Only a wall separates these shops from the rest of the house,
but it doesn’t stop people from wandering in farther than they’re welcome.
People regularly pop in to watch TV in the space that is considered the living
The gate, the shops, and the lack of privacy could appear
bewildering to a Việt Kiều, or Vietnamese person living outside the
motherland, like me.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to process the front
half of the house, the back of the house was even more confusing.
Besides the absence of bedroom doors and windows throughout the house, it lacked a
modern bathroom, a bathtub, sink, and flush toilet. There was an open space
towards the back of the house, with a cement floor intended for bathing. After
undressing, you used your dominant hand to scoop cold water from a well with a
pot, and your other hand to clean yourself as efficiently and quickly as
possible, before the waterfall you created ran out. If you were serious about
your hygiene like me, you’d force yourself to ask somebody to pour water on you
while you washed your exposed body with both hands.
There was a roofless section of the house with a drain and hose for hand washing clothes and
hanging them up to dry, and for urinating. Since there was no toilet paper or
trash bin around, it was clear you had to wash yourself with the hose when you
The only room with a door was what could only be called The
Poop Room. I was relieved when I first saw this door because I thought I’d
finally see something else familiar, something I assumed to be a worldwide
commonality: a flush toilet. The door was a bonus, since privacy seemed to be
such a rarity in Vietnam. I even got the good kind of chills just thinking about
how I planned on relieving myself here in privacy for the entire month we were
staying. But when I pulled open the wooden door, the chills turned into
Where was the light switch? And more importantly, where was the
toilet? The cement stairs leading up to the wooden door were a little
suspicious, but I didn’t expect to see what I saw. Behind the door was a dark
space, no bigger than two by three feet. In the middle of this cement-surrounded
space was a hole that you had to carefully position yourself over, to fill with
whatever you can manage to get out of your system while balancing yourself,
holding your breath, and trying not to get your underwear and pants
The Poop Room smelled like a combination of dank cement walls,
excrement rising from below, and the smell of your own repulsion. It sounded
like a mixture of hollow sounds produced from the closed-in space and the
orchestra conducted by your very own bowels, and sometimes the sound of yourself
gagging. As for the other two senses, taste and touch, it’s best to just forget
about those altogether.
It’s a good thing my siblings and I speak English to each other out of habit because if our family knew what we were saying, they would’ve shunned our parents for raising such ignorant children.
Our cousins were shocked to see our reaction as we stood outside The Poop Room.
In hopes of hiding our disgust and shock, we asked them questions, like, “How
deep is the hole? How do we flush? What are some strategies? What happens if the
hole is filled? Who cleans it out? Why isn’t there light?” These questions came
as a surprise to them because these were questions they’d never heard,
explanations they’d never given.
When we were done pompously interrogating them and they were done proudly answering us, they turned the
tables and asked, “How do YOU shit?”
I explained to them in my best
Vietnamese, “We sit on a white chair with a hole filled with water in the middle
that sucks in your pee and poop when you’re finished.” My response created
hilarity. They laughed at us. In our own way, we laughed at them, too.
The language barrier and intimidation made it difficult for us to bond with our
cousins. We only spoke Vietnamese to adults, so it was both uncomfortable and
unusual for us to stray from our tendencies. But the adults demanded us to
fraternize. When we began to speak the language with our cousins, we found out
they’d made a lot of funny assumptions about America, based on movies and TV
shows they’d seen. They thought Americans were wasteful because they supposedly
threw bowls and utensils away after each meal instead of washing and reusing
them. I’m not sure where they’d seen this, but it was as untrue as my assumption
that everyone in Vietnam rode in bike taxis and wore bamboo hats. They also
couldn’t understand why people left their cars outside for people to steal, not
knowing that American cars are alarmed, locked, and weigh 4,000 pounds. Of
course they had more stereotypes about America than we had of Vietnam, because
we don’t see modern day Vietnam in movies or TV shows as often as they see
A few weeks after we settled into our new living environment,
we took some family members to a beach with us for a weekend. We rented a van,
which gave everyone motion sickness, since motorcycles and bicycles are the main
forms of transportation in Vietnam. When we got to our hotel room, everyone
needed to vomit, except for us Việt Kiềus, who decided the people who
needed to pee should use the bathroom first. Since everyone was unaccustomed to
locking doors and doors in general, my cousin left the bathroom door unlocked,
which made me assume it was vacant.
Before my cousin opened the bathroom door, he probably had an image of what would be inside. There would be
a glorious hole where he could dump his nausea.
Before I opened the door, I expected to see a slightly cleaner version of the hole like the one in
The Poop Room. Instead, I was greeted by the vision of my cousin, squatting,
with a foot on each side of the flush toilet that was unfamiliar to him. He was
holding his nose as if it were the same smelly hole he’d been using all his
life. My siblings and I had an even greater laugh than my cousins had weeks
Either he’d forgotten my response to his “How do YOU shit?” or
he was too accustomed to his own way and preferred his regimen. Either way, his
position on the toilet proved that it wasn’t because the area where he lived was
poor and they couldn't afford a modern bathroom. It was because they were
accustomed to their own ways, just as we were accustomed to ours. We simply
found each other strange, and ourselves normal.
Regardless of how differently everyone poops, we’re all full of shit and we all need to get rid of
it in one way or another.
Amy Leu is a recent English major graduate from Emmanuel College in Boston.
Her works of creative nonfiction are the love children of her two desires: to
relive and share her collection of stories, which others may typically call
"life." When she is not balancing school with her non-career-related jobs, she
is exploring and inventing new laying positions in order to comfortably read
both panels of books on Oprah's Book Club List.