In her brilliant memoir, comedienne Margaret Cho analyzes her life with the skill of an offbeat poet-philosopher.
I’m The One That I Want is a tiny gem, hard, tough, searing and unrelenting in its honesty. (It’s that unrelenting honesty that made me feel weary by the end of the book. But I felt I’d accomplished something.)
Ms. Cho re-lives a litany of bad relationships with boyfriends she dislikes/hates and can’t wait to dump. Three men stand out. Jon and Glenn—the two men she fell in love with—are incapable of reciprocating her love (not to mention the fact they both have girlfriends). With the third man—Marcel, her fiancé--she almost lives out her “wedding fantasy” even though she is not in love with him.
The book is, at times, stunning, beautiful, unexpected. The scenes of Cho being harassed as a child by other Korean children at camp are painful to read. In her teen years, she was expelled from high school to the deep shame of her conservative/traditional Korean parents. Later, in Louisiana, college students booed Cho while she was on stage. Marcel was a chance at conventional happiness.
She writes that “it never occurred to me to break up with him. . . . I’d also miss all the attention couples who are presumably in love get. . . . People look at you with admiration. I’d see the faraway look that some women would get, the envy, delicious and cold. I was not so willing to give up that privilege, no matter how much it cost me. Everybody thought I was so lucky.”
One day--once Cho had mentally released her “wedding fantasy”--she scribbled out a list that ended with, “Find the strength to leave Marcel.” Weeks later, she was still engaged, still unable to release the real Marcel. “I cried and cried and tried to stop crying as I went into the supermarket.” As Cho waited in line, an elderly lady glimpsed how distraught Cho was and said, “ ‘We have a while. Do you want to tell me what’s the matter?’” Eventually, Cho responded, “ ‘I have to break up with my boyfriend, but I just feel so guilty.’ ”
To which the lady said, “ ’Oh, honey, I felt so guilty, I married him.’ ”
Once she finally released Marcel, “Accepting myself was like getting to know a new friend.” Cho produced a CD and wrote and opened her Broadway show, “I’m the One That I Want”—even as she maintained her sobriety and lost weight (alongside her best friend, her dog Ralph).
Toward the end of the book, Cho writes, “Learning how to love myself from within, to make my opinion count the most, knowing that no one and nothing is going to save me except myself—these are the lessons I have been forced to learn. That is what my life now is all about.”
--Yolanda A. Reid
Copyright © 2012 by Y.A. Reid