On one occasion, she bought me a $35 frog. It was a tiny silver-plated figurine the size of a gummy bear. It wore a tiny gold crown and came in a fancy little matchbox bearing the words, YOU ARE MY PRINCE. I had a well-paying job at this point, but part of me still reflexively boggled at the idea of paying so much for something so small and essentially useless. But I’ve kept it to this day precisely because it has no other purpose than to serve as a marker, a portable folly. It reminds me that for Nicki, love was well worth $35.
With Nicki’s prompting, I learned to say “I love you” every day. My bristling was replaced by outright P.D.A. I expressed my emotions, via my mouth and everything, and found myself doing things I never thought I’d do: going to candlelight dinners, agonizing over birthday presents, planning vacations, buying the right shoes to dance in. We ate and traveled and gave gifts. Follies multiplied on our shelves. It’s true that I had less money in the bank as a result, but I knew I never had more love. I also knew I wanted to get married. She knew, too.
On our one-year anniversary as a couple, Nicki was adamant that we go to a nice sushi restaurant to hold what she called our first “State of Our Union.” Humans across the lovestruck ages have worn their finest duds at their most splendid feasts, and this night was no different. We put on our nice clothes and ordered pricey sake and fish, as if to underscore the significance of the event. This was the night we said, out loud, that we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. Then we paid the check and left a big tip.
Now, not all was rosy. My parents didn’t approve of us. They didn’t attend our wedding and closed me off for a decade, perhaps angry that their years of sacrifice only led to me marrying a non-Korean girl. Not what they’d bargained for.
Our love made so little sense to them that they could only explain it as a financial conspiracy. My parents were afraid that Nicki was only in our relationship to siphon my money away. It didn’t help when Nicki and I both quit our jobs to become, gasp, writers.
Skip cutscene to many years later. One day, everything turned around. Maybe it was because my parents were facing their impending mortality, but suddenly they began accepting us. I think our success (and the buzz it got in the Korean parental gossip circuit) had something to do with it. Nicki jokes that it only took her two No. 1 New York Times best sellers and film adaptations for them to finally take her off their romantic grifter watchlist. Things improved when my own novel debuted well, too. It’s as if by proving we could pay the bills, we proved our love.