Heaven Send Hell Away

A couple of weeks after Chris Cornell died, I stumbled upon a YouTube video of him covering Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U“. His performance was angelic, prophetic, haunting. I had heard it sung before by Sinéad O’Connor and by The Artist himself, but the emotions transmitted by Cornell’s raspy raunchy baritone voice, were visceral and raw. They denuded him, stripped away his rock star pretension, leaving behind his voice and guitar. He may have been a pop icon, he may have been a sex symbol, he may have been dead for under a month, but it wasn’t until I heard him sing “It’s been so lonely without you here, like a bird without a song, nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling,” that the weight of his absence truly made my heart and tear ducts heavy with blood and tears.

I don’t react to these kinds of things immediately. It took me months to process my grandparents’ passing. The only two people I have lost. I’m slow at feeling the feelings I’m supposed to feel. It’s not emotional numbness; it’s more like emotional dumbness. Sometimes I don’t know how to feel. I just sit there, through experiences, taking in the life-altering stimulus, not knowing what to do with it.

I first heard of the news via a Twitter hashtag (#ChrisCornell). As soon as I saw it, I feared the worst. My life started to flash before my eyes. At least the parts in which the music of Cornell played in the background. I thought of childhood summers in Tijuana, Mexico, running around in my grandmother’s asymmetrical lopsided house. My uncles, then angsty teenagers, blasted grunge music through loud speakers, whose sound made every window in the house shake to a point just below shattering.

I remembered the countless times I spent hanging out at my cousin Melly’s house, watching music videos on MTV. Melly and I were very close; she was like an older sister. I don’t know if it was because she debriefed me before I began my first year of middle school or because we used to make out with each other when we were younger. In any case, the week before school started, her kissing mentorship reached its point of culmination.

“If a girl asks you if you want to scam, you always say ‘Yes’,” she advised.

“What if I don’t like her?” I asked.

“You still want to do it. If you don’t, then people will think you’re gay.” That made sense. In the same way that I saw her as an older sibling, she saw me as her little brother, and at times, her little sister.

“Why are you putting make up on me?” I asked her as she applied eyeliner à la Brandon Lee circa “The Crow.”

“‘Cause it makes guys look really hot,” she answered emphatically. Her enthusiasm and intrepid application were good enough reasons for me. “Besides, Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain both do it too.” I smiled with the unabashed smile of a blind man. I was obsessed with Cornell’s band, Soundgarden and their latest single at the time, “Black Hole Sun.” Both the song and the music video haunted me like nothing before. It felt emotionally heavy, yet it was as easy to listen to as a lullaby. It sounded familiar, like a Beatles or Led Zeppelin song and at the same time like nothing else I had ever heard.

I had a pretty refined ear when it came to rock music, having been raised by my mom’s brothers on a diet that consisted of classic rock. Soundgarden and Cornell’s voice fit in seamlessly into my frame of reference like my ass did into my cousin’s Levi’s 501 jeans.

Mourning Chris Cornell’s death was, in part, the mourning of a death that had taken place long before his. That of my relationship with Melly. Of a time when I used to look up to people, like Cornell, and not down at their most deplorable flaws. His death reminded me of Melly, how she was always there for me and how she didn’t care about my fucked up family situation. Partly because she was so cool and partly because hers was as fucked up as mine. Our mothers were sisters, after all.

I felt disappointed in myself because I let both of my friends slip away. I abandoned them. I never went to see Chris Cornell perform live when he toured LA. I didn’t even try. I took him for granted. It’s been a while since I’ve reached out to my cousin and her daughters, the oldest now the same age we were in the nineties, back when we were wearing eyeliner and trying to be cool. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

In my mind’s ear, nothing will ever compare to Chris Cornell’s powerful soulful singing, one that hooked me from the first listen. A voice that had been an invisible playmate in our sororal gatherings. The sun will wash away the rain, but never the raindrops falling from my eye. The tears for a man that took the sunshine with him and left behind a black hole.

Heart in a Brown Paper Bag

Someone once told me that Portland is a combination of San Francisco and Seattle. Having been to San Francisco twice before and spent a few days in Portland, my excitement to experience Seattle came as no surprise. It was like meeting someone’s mom and younger sister and imagining how that person would look like based on how attractive those two people were. On the long four-hour train ride there, I started to get a jittery feeling in my stomach the closer we got to the downtown station. I could hardly wait to get there and see it.

Visiting other cities—in the US or elsewhere—brings up the question of “Could I live here if the opportunity presented itself?” I’ve discovered that a city, while you’re vacationing there, behaves similar to a person on a really good first date. Seattle, Washington was no different. Everything you say is funny, every quirk is adorable and nothing about them can be considered negative. Even their curt assholeness is seen as assertive, as charming. Seeing another city? That’s totally fine with Seattle, because it will do things that the city you’ve got at home will not. Seattle will be a slut for you. You know your home city too well. There are no surprises, no fireworks.

Seattle didn’t care to know why I was considering leaving LA, and I really wasn’t concerned with its past either, or its crime and homelessness. The grime on and under its streets or the time I’ll have to waste on its trafficked highways and crowded public transit. Seattle and I wanted to start something fresh.

I booked a small room for four days in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Each day was an opportunity to get to know this place a little better, like going on back-to-back dates. I wanted to spend all day and night getting to know Seattle’s streets and shops and explore its seductive and supple body of water. To take in its beautiful Sound. There was this intense creative energy in the air. One that made me feel at home.

Like most annoying qualities in a person, most are not apparent at first, even though they have always been there, in plain sight. Maybe we choose to ignore them, or the person we like does a great job at suppressing them. In any case, when these qualities do reveal their ugly heads, they do so with an unperceptive slowness. The things that were once cute about them soon become unbearable. Initially, I really enjoyed having mini conversations with coffee-shop employees. They were courteous and took the time to shoot the shit. But after a few days, it started to become a chore, an obligation. Sometimes, I just wanted to order coffee, pay for it and leave. That’s it. Their shit-shooting also started to distract me. Their deconstruction of how faithful the adaptation of Captain America from its comic-book source material to the cinema screen was piercing through my every thought.

“You just have a bunch of ripped dudes running around,” a bearded beanie-wearing barista ranted, “fighting each other and they pay no attention to what the characters really stand for.” The other barista and customers at the counter agreed, anxiously awaiting their turn to get on a soapbox of their own.

This sense of urgency coursing through me is probably something that rubbed off on me from LA. It’s a quality that Seattleites don’t really appreciate and one that I myself hate in other people. It seemed strange to think that in just a matter of days I could already fantasize about living here. I’m only human. Besides, LA and I haven’t made anything official. I haven’t bought a home there yet. She’s making it really difficult to do so. I can barely stay in my apartment, with a few measly things to call my own. In Seattle, I felt as if I could live a better life.

It was love at first sight and as such, it was over in the blink of an eye. As I folded the shirtsleeves on which my heart was worn, I could see myself loving my life and work in Seattle. The new habits I would form there, the new paths I would walk and the stuff I would get used to. LA still has my home, my heart. I couldn’t just leave her. There’s too much baggage. I missed her. Her smoggy breath, urinous perfume, sultry weather and asphalt forests. I will miss Seattle like one misses a past lover, continuing to fantasize about it while still inside of LA. However, even after I visit other cities in distant lands and relocate there permanently, I will always go to California with an aching in my heart.

Pater Noster

Our Father which art in heaven…

My dad hated when my siblings and I misbehaved in church; the House of God as he would refer to it in order to make our actions carry on a more sinful weight. In that stuffy environment full of boring people trying to stay awake, all I wanted to do was anything to distract myself from the holy minutiae bleating out of the preacher’s mouth onto the flock.

My dad would threaten us, “Just wait ’til we get out of here.” Then, once out, he would ask, “Do you know why I’m hitting you?” I always did, nodding up and down with watery red eyes. I preferred my dad’s style of corporal punishment as my mom’s went overboard to borderline abuse. I didn’t enjoy it, but I appreciated it as this was one of the few times that he showed any real interest or concern for me. I liked that.

Hallowed be thy name…

Aside from the occasional corrective beatings he’d bestow upon me, the most detrimental and damning action his hands ever inflicted on me was when he wrote in a name identical to his in the box “Name of Child” on my birth certificate.

His name thrusted upon me his criminality and the shame that accompanied it. My family automatically fashioned a path for me in their minds, one similar to his, one paved with drugs, lies and perdition. “He’ll probably grow up to be just like him.”

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven…

My dad wasn’t a mainstay at our household. If my childhood were a sitcom, he would’ve been a recurring character. However, when he was home, he felt like he was the star of the show, a king and demanded that my mother, my siblings and I do as we were told. Do whatever made him happy.

Even though he was unemployed and unemployable, he felt that any money that entered the house–whether through his wife’s paycheck or his kids’ allowance or birthday money–was his to claim. He was the husband after all. It was his divine right. He would smack my mom and us around if we went against this holy decree. He slapped my sister square in the face when she told him to “get a damn job.” According to him, his job was to take care of us, but the way we saw it, the only person we needed protection from was him.

Give us this day our daily bread…

The money that he did manage to weasel out of my mom was squandered on things that were not bread. He didn’t fit the role of provider very well. The food that stocked our pantry and refrigerator came from what little money my mom made. We often went hungry for whole days. That never seem to bother my dad. I remember telling him that my siblings and I hadn’t eaten all day and that we were wondering if he could pick up a pizza for us. He asked if my mom had given us any money to pay for it. I said no. He told me not to worry, that he would find a way to buy it. He left the house in a hurry. I couldn’t help but to worry.

One hour turned into two and then three and before I knew it, it got late. My siblings and I fell asleep with empty stomachs that night. Then, around 1:00 a.m., he came in empty-handed and told us that he had forgotten to buy the pizza and that he would buy us one later that day. I don’t know if it was the fasting or the fact that he had made too many false promises before, but I was beginning to see everything with more clarity. I didn’t believe him anymore.

Whenever my siblings and I would ask him for anything, he would scoff and shame us by saying “At your age I was already finding my own food and cooking it.” My mom hated my dad’s methods and when we would tell her about what he said she’d say, “That’s because your dad and his brothers were raised like animals.” He wanted us to fish without having taught us to do so. When he himself wasn’t.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…

Most of his money came either from the sale of controlled substances, primarily Schedules I and II, or from selling our family’s things; like my rare can collection, letting his friends “borrow” my social security card or asking me to pee in a cup for his buddy. He’d entice me to give him these things by saying “Don’t be stupid, don’t you know that I can give you a lot of money?” Whenever I would ask him to pay me the money that he had promised, he would simply laugh and say “I don’t owe you anything. You owe me your life.” I don’t think anything that came out of his mouth irked me more than that simple truth. “How much is that worth?” I asked, “I want to pay you every single penny, so that you can never say that again.” He laughed. “You can’t pay me back for that. I’m your father.” Scratch that. The latter fact was what truly pissed me the fuck off. He enjoyed having that unrequitable debt over me. It was the one thing he couldn’t sell. Or at least hadn’t tried to yet. His last claim to any shred of dignity.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…

One would assume that a person who deals in illegal drugs would have considerable to a fair amount of monies. But not in the case of my dad. He was bad with finances and would often take other forms of payment, such as clothing, CDs, video games and even eye wear. Sometimes right off of the person’s face.

One of his favorite forms of requisition was sending us to school with strange men. His loyal customers. He was mostly carless, so in a sense, he was killing two birds with one stone: making sure his kids went to school and shielding them from seeing him and his buddies get high on his own shit.

For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

In the end, my dad was the perfect one for me. Because of his bad example, he inadvertently swayed me away from ever wanting to be like him. Had he not been the irresponsible, unreliable and perilous presence in my family, I may have not realized the importance of being a good person.

Through his absence, he taught me the importance of being there for people. And through his lack of affection, that of expressing your love for those you care about.

I thank him for being my father because he taught me what it truly means to be a good parent.

Father and son on bicycle [Photograph]. (1938). Shades of L.A: Jewish Community , Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles.

Cupid Painted Blind

The night that I sent her a friend request I had also sent one to four other people. I tend to add people that I have more that ten friends in common with. I bumped it up to ten from five after I was unwittingly attached to a Messenger chat group in which the members messaged each other lewd GIFs of large penises coming on women’s faces.

Most people simply add you if you seem like a nice person. Not this girl. She took a special interest in me. She wanted me to work for her friendship, like a real friend, not a mere Facebook friend.

“Where do I know you from?” she messaged me a few minutes after I clicked the “Add Friend” button next to her profile picture. I didn’t know what to reply. I drew a complete blank. What the fuck was I to tell this girl? Uh, I added you because Facebook’s obscure and cold dystopian computer programming pinned our accounts together. I had to lie in order to add some warmth to this ill-conceived union.

“I think we had a class together,” I replied five minutes later. I thought it would be the end of that or at least buy me an hour or two to come up with some bullshit story about how we knew each other. Just as I was about to close the Messenger app, I saw the greyed out speech bubble with the blinking ellipsis.

“No, I’ve never seen you before.” If that were indeed true, then why did she accept my invite in the first place? She could’ve just ignored the friend request from the strange man. I needed an exit strategy.

“Hmmm…I guess I thought you were someone else.” Alright, if this girl unfriends me, I would understand. She probably thought I was a creep, and her observation wouldn’t have been all that inaccurate. I wanted to diffuse the tension by taking a vow of lying. I wanted to write the whole thing off as a simple honest mistake. A case of mistaken identity.

“Who do I remind you of?” she asked. The beast of deceit wouldn’t die. I found myself in a situation in which I would have to dig my way out of a lie by continuing to lie. I could’ve been more proactive and simply unfriended her myself, but this whole situation was a matter of principle. I wasn’t going to let anybody prove that I was a bad liar.

“You look like a girl I took a class with.”

“What was the class?” Before I could even type a single letter, the stupid ellipsis came back and she laid on me a double lashing. “What did she look like?” and “What was her name?” This girl was playing a fucked up game of “I’ll ask questions because I’m bored and you’ll answer them because you’re an idiot.” I was going to answer these questions and then drive up to a cliff, walk up to the edge of the bluffs and cast my phone far and deep into the sea’s insatiable abyss. Enough was enough.

“Well, she kind of looked like you and her name was Sonia.” Out of all the fake women’s names I could have used, I used the one that had a one letter difference to hers.

“I think you’re lying.” She was after a truth that was nonexistent. A truth that was a lie. We both knew that I was lying, but to different ends. I was lying to not seem like a complete asshole. She thought that I was lying because I was trying not to come off as a dickhead casanova that added her as a friend only to flirt with her because I thought she was hot.

I figured that the truth would only bring more bad than good. So, I kept lying to her. After all, we were on Facebook, an ethereal and ephemeral cybernetic realm where everybody lies about themselves and projects an image that only exists in that realm and in no way reflects what goes on in their daily existence. Some call it lying. I call it having a great fucking profile. It’s a place where you’re allowed to cut people out of your life and out of profile pictures. It’s not your fault that you still look good in that picture the two of you took together at that one party you went to while you were still a couple.

“So, I see that you have a lot of female friends,” she texted. She had deduced that by going through my friend’s list. “You’re a big flirt. Don’t you have a girlfriend?” Her questions transcended mere curiosities and dwelled more in the realm of uncomfortably personal. They required answers that led to more questions. Questions that I didn’t have the answer to because I never bothered to think about them until that very second. Questions that I myself was afraid to find out the answers to. Revelatory in an undesirable kind of way. It was as if I was in a confessional with the internet’s priest being forced to divulge all of my social media sins.

“Yeah, we’ve been together for five years now,” I retorted. I was against the ropes falling victim to a flurry of interrogations. A quarrel of queries. Like her, I had also snooped around in her Facebook pictures and seen that she had a boyfriend herself. “How long have you been with your boyfriend?” She went silent for the rest of the day. At around 3:27 a.m. of the next day, I got a reply.

“How do you know I have a bf?”

“I looked at your profile pictures.”

“LOL, you were looking through my pictures? Why would you do that? It’s weird.” She seemed shocked that the person she had been messaging for weeks had looked at her public profile pictures. As if casual Facebook stocking were a serious crime. I was surprised that she didn’t quite understand how social media worked. I kind of felt bad for her.

“Listen, I’m sorry for looking at your profile,” I replied.

“No. It’s just that I’m a private person.” It sounded like she wanted to be serious. “I met my bf on fb.” Her reply had an unspoken innocence to it. She wasn’t trying to be sneaky by inspecting my profile or overstep her boundaries with her questions. She was just trying to make sure that all of her Facebook friends were people that she could actually be friends with face to face. Real people, not people who just wanted to casually chat, flirt, sell you stuff or have a larger friends list. For some reason this realization was as bizarre to me as when I first opened a message from the ultra-sexualized Messenger group I had to block. Two extremes. Two sides of the same coin.




What We Were Supposed To Be

Ms. Castillo was a petite woman in her twenties, fresh out of college with a degree in Liberal Arts, plying her trade. She had long brown hair that draped straight down to her lower back. She had big round eyes, a small hook nose and a smile that could comfort even the rowdiest third grade bastard. Her voice was soft spoken and her gestures to the class were small and gentle. Most of my classmates, including myself, were the same height as her, even at eight years of age. She was kind and treated all of her students with care and respect; however, I didn’t feel a maternal attachment to her. I found her incredibly attractive. While the rest of the kids in my class where focused on the movement of the clock’s hour and minute hands, I was focused on the way Ms. Castillo placed hers on her hips and their movement. I had yet to develop the emotional and hormonal infrastructure to fully process and explain what I was feeling. All that I knew was that she made me feel weird. Good weird.

I would fantasize that her and I were boyfriend and girlfriend and that we were holding hands in the school playground. Even though I had never kissed anybody–save the time I bucked teeth with a girl in the first grade after a crowd of our friends shoved us against each other in the playground–I knew that I wanted to kiss Ms. Castillo’s thin glossy lips. The concept of holding a woman was as alien to me as that of asking one to go out with me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with Ms. Castillo, but I knew that it involved things shown in movies my parents didn’t allow me to watch. Things that I knew were not permissible for her and I to do. It was the same feeling I got when my older cousins’ friends were sitting across from me. It was exciting. Dangerous. I felt alive. I didn’t know why I felt that way with her. It wasn’t logical. It was biological.

I had a faint idea of what Ms. Castillo might look like naked, as imagining her without clothes was most of my preoccupation during class. I had seen a couple of nude scenes in movies and pillaged through my dad’s weird porn stash, which included images of naked women riding horses, bending over in kitchens or lying on the beach spangled with sand and glitter. Ms. Castillo kind of looked like the girls in my dad’s magazines. You could say that we had a similar taste in women. I would never see my teacher riding a horse or lying on a bed of sand, so I made the most of the times she bent over to pick up something off the floor.

Everything seemed perfect until my dad caught a glimpse of her.

“I want to go talk to your sexy teacher,” my dad said in a serious tone. He didn’t care about my schooling. His only involvement began and ended with him dropping me off and picking me up from school. He never asked about what I did or learned there. He didn’t even know my teacher’s name. My dad was only a father by default; in name but not in practice.

“Why? I’m one of the top students in the class,” I assured him.

“No, I want to talk to her about us. About her and me.” He couldn’t hold a straight face. Its color was turning from light pink to bright red trying to hold back laughter. Darts of air started to spurt out of his mouth like a tea kettle ready to burst. Snorts were followed by light chuckles and neighs until he couldn’t hold it in anymore. He let out a deafening horselaugh, so hard that the car began to swerve.

“Hey, watch the road.” My warning only made him laugh harder. He was looking at me to draw more inspiration for his scorn.

“I just want to go say ‘hi’ to her.” He enjoyed using my feelings for my teacher like a blade buried in my skin, digging it deeper and twisting it with every tasteless joke. His advances made me want her even more. Love felt more alluring in the face of adversity and pointless if you came out of it emotionally unscathed. My dad was like a mama bird regurgitating decadent morsels of desire. Beak to beak. Man to man.

“Dude, just shut the fuck up and get the hell out of here,” I muttered as I looked out the window. His laughter was interrupted by a cough. He was choking on his own saliva.

“What did you say?” wiping tears with the palms of his hands. “Is that how you talk to your father?” He grabbed me by the back of the neck. “Who the hell do you think you are?” I knew that my dad was strong, but the pressure that he was applying to my neck was quickly crossing the threshold of tolerable. I couldn’t even swallow my own saliva.

“Alright,” I yelled.

“Alright, nothing,” he pushed me toward the passenger side window. “Get the fuck out!” I bolted out of the car.

The abuse was worth it. I didn’t want my dad to talk to my teacher because I felt embarrassed of him. I didn’t want Ms. Castillo to see what kind of a man my dad was. I thought of him as an anus. We all know that everybody has one, but nobody needs to see it. I only wanted my teacher to know of my dad’s existence, but never have to actually see him. My dad payed very little attention to his physical appearance. He had mastered the just-rolled-out-of-bed look a little too well. His face carried the grace of one who didn’t get enough sleep due to having fucked around all night long. His eyes were in a perpetual state of bloodshot. His hair stuck straight up on one side and was matted flat on the other. All of his clothes were a few sizes too big and came primarily from stuff he had rummaged from other people’s trash. I knew what a responsible adult was supposed to look like and my dad looked nothing like it.

The next year, Ms. Castillo left the school and went back to college to work on a law degree. It seemed like she’d rather work with adults that acted like children than with children themselves. I never heard from her again. My dad went back to not giving a shit about my education. And I went on to the fourth grade, taught by an elderly bearded man I grew to respect very much. No physical attraction whatsoever. The way it was meant to be.

Blonde Redhead

She was standing outside the college’s recital hall waiting to be let in. She was late. I too was late, but there just in time to finally be able to talk to her. I had been secretly not so secretly spying on this girl, asking friends and classmates if they knew who she was.

“She has blonde hair. Well, she had blonde hair last week. Now she has dark red hair,” I said.

“What does she look like?” my friend Nick asked.

“She has big blue eyes and a big smile. I think she may be Russian.”

“Nope, I’ve never seen her.”

The search for this mystery girl coincided with a phase I was going through, one that involved the “hunting of tigers.” Nick and I used the word “tiger” to refer to a woman that we wanted to sleep with. It was the systematic process of selecting, staking out, luring and finally gorging on their sweet lips and bodies. Once this mission was accomplished, we would simply text one another:

“The tiger has been tamed.”

This girl presented herself as the perfect catch. She was beautiful, foreign and right in front of me. The prize was there for the taking. I ran my hands through my hair and began to walk towards her. She was tugging at the door handle, flustered at it not budging.

“Did they close the door on you?” I asked. She turned around and laughed.

“Yeah, they did,” she answered.

“I hate it when they do that.” She laughed again. Her dimples were high on her cheeks, closer to her nose than to the corners of her lips. Her laughter had a soft percussive melody to it, like someone tickling your ears with feathers. “Hi, I’m Jose. What’s your name?”

“Galathea,” she said with a big smile. Galathea, Galathea, Galathea. I kept repeating her name in my head as she continued to talk. Everything was falling in its right place. We were two big jigsaw puzzle pieces getting closer and closer to interlocking with every word uttered. Our instant chemistry gave me such a level of confidence that asking for her number didn’t feel like an act of creepy desperation. We were alone, laughing and in close proximity. Conditions were perfect. Limber tongue. Check. Salivary glands producing just enough moisture. Check. Lips opening. Shit.

“What it is?” Nick came out of nowhere calling to me from afar. His boisterous voice was meant more to alarm than to find out what “it” really was. He raised his hand expecting me to high-five him. I looked up at it and reluctantly succumbed to his request.

“Hey, what’s up?” I replied. What I really meant to say was “Get the fuck out of here. You’re ruining what was up to this point a perfectly executed luring excursion.” I turned his high-five into a handshake and squeezed the shit out of it. I wanted to communicate with my grip what I couldn’t with words.

“What’s wrong?” Nick asked extricating his hand from mine and massaging its mangled surface. My furrowed brow and bulged eyes helped Nick deduce that the redhead in our midst and the one I had been nagging him about were one and the same. “Is that the?”

“Shhh…shut the fuck up,” I yelled as loud as one can in a hushed tone. Galathea was unfazed by our bickering, talking to another person who had also been locked out. “Yes, that’s her,” I said through the side of my mouth. His eyes lit up as he backhanded me hard on the chest.

“I just thought of something,” he said. I was surprised at Nick’s level of intuitiveness. Was he going to leave and give me room to ask Galathea out? What a great fucking friend this guy was.

“What’s the game plan?” I asked with excitement.

“We should have a threesome with her.”

“Fuck. No.” I replied. “This girl is different.” And she was. I had been staking her out for over six months and now that I had her, I wasn’t going to share her with anybody.

“Come on,” he insisted. “You know how we’ve always talked about having a threesome. About how we wanted to become milk brothers.” Nick was obsessed with the idea of us sharing a woman. However, I wanted nothing to do with it. “Whatever, man. You suck,” he said with a pout. Nick begrudgingly embraced the role that he was born to play at that exact moment and began to walk away from us. I turned around and began to talk to both Galathea and the other person that she was talking to. I was looking intently at her and she began to smile at me again.

“We should hang out sometime,” I said.

“Yeah, for sure,” she replied.

“Can I have your number?” As she was giving it to me, I realized that maybe she wasn’t Russian after all.

“Don’t worry about typing in my last name. It’s a weird Hungarian one.” She was Hungarian. “I was born in San Diego, but my family comes from Hungary.” Her soft laughter ended every one of her sentences. “We should kick it sometime.” I smiled.

We went into the recital hall and I took a seat across the hall, away from her. Mainly to seem like a bad boy, but more importantly, to not seem needy or annoying. I couldn’t stop staring at her because I couldn’t believe that I was finally able to talk to her. I immediately texted Nick:

“The tiger hasn’t been tamed yet, but I’m afraid that in the luring phase, she has managed to tame me.” Although he replied with a disapproving sad face emoji, I was happy to know that my tiger hunting days were over.

Yellow Tigers Crouched in Jungles

There are three types of pressure points in the human body. The first may cause fatal injuries and must only be used in cases of extreme danger. The second will cause lacerations, fractures or mutilations, but are not deadly. The third type cause a shock to the nervous system, resulting in immediate pain.

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As soon as I raised my fist to strike him, I felt an unshakable feeling of regret bathe the back of my neck. The fear and penitence in his eyes inspired in me forgiveness and an urge to dissolve from my hand the bludgeoning instrument my fingers had morphed into. My left hand was grasping his shirt collar, feeling the warmth of his panicked breath, beating moist on it. Beating hard like the heart lodged in my throat. His pleas of “don’t hit me” and “I’m sorry” were slowly chipping away at my rage, but the savage pleas of the crowd forming around us were louder and more coercive. My right fist was patiently waiting for me to make up my mind as to whether I was going through with the whole thing. I blinked and pried my fist from my conscience’s tight grip. It tore through the space between the white of my knuckles and the tears welling up in the white of his beautiful forest green eyes.

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When you’re in a fight, you can’t allow your anger to influence how hard you should clench your fists. If you’re also clenching your jaw, then you’re doing it too hard. Your punching hand, the only one that you entrust to spoon food into your mouth and wipe your ass with, should feel loose. Weightless. A feather falling slowly as if defying time and gravity. Once this state of relaxation is achieved, you must deliver a quick, deliberate stroke meant to immobilize your opponent. The last place you want to strike somebody is on the head as this will cause more damage to you than to your opponent. You want to hit your opponent behind the ear, jaw or chin. Those are the sweet spots. When you punch in the mouth, you just want to knock their fucking teeth in. If your opponent is accustomed to fighting or full of adrenaline, that shock may not be enough to knock him out or subdue him and the amount of effort required to win will be multiplied exponentially.

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My hand felt numb as it descended. It felt like an alien tentacle outgrowth with a mind of its own. I couldn’t stop it. The situation was beyond me. When you raise your fist like that in a playground full of hormonally charged, emotionally unavailable middle schoolers, you’re better off punching yourself in the face than simply lowering your fist like a civilized person. You would be the laughing stock of the entire school. Generations of students would remember you as the coward who let another kid push him down during a basketball game in the playground. I could imagine their jeers and their pointing to this very basketball court we were standing on. A few seconds before my fist pummeled his face, he closed his eyes and turned his head to the right as his last recourse. The impact of his ear’s cartilage colliding against my knuckles’ tendons shot painful shock waves up and down my arm. I didn’t derive from it the orgasmic catharsis that my guts were craving for.

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Fighting is like fucking in that not everybody is good at it, and if you are, you want to do it all the time. Its complexity is determined by the person with whom you are engaging in the activity and someone always gets hurt in the end. You need to seduce your opponent into this carnal act, this dance of death. Although drawing blood from your opponent feels good and is a dependable indicator of the pain inflicted, it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t scar or bruise them. The blood vessels that rupture under the skin serve as a reminder, to you both, of your victory. It’s a branding. A trophy.

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I released his shirt collar to nurse my throbbing hand and he scurried away, rubbing his swollen neon-red ear. As I thrashed my hand to shake off the pain, the kids in the playground patted me on the back in a congratulatory fashion. Now my whole body felt numb. I could see the boy I had hurt running away to sob in solitude. I wanted to go after him to apologize, but what I had done to him had turned us into enemies. Besides, had I done that, the rest of the crowd would’ve followed me thirsting for more blood.

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There is no such thing as a perfect punch as in most instances there is never enough time to prepare for it. Fighting is improvised. You should fight because you need to, not because you want to. Moreover, you must induce a level of fear into the mind of your opponent through the demeanor in your eyes and position of your body. You must conceal your own fear, you most powerful weapon, even more so than your clenched fists. For if there is no fear of succumbing to injury, then it is a sign that your opponent’s combative prowess is inferior to yours. If this is so, disengage immediately. It is better to appear weak than to prey on the weak.

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The day after the fight, I bumped into my opponent in the hallway. He didn’t make eye contact but his avoidance of it told me that he too felt remorse about what had taken place in the playground. The jittery feeling that had coursed through me the day before as I brushed the embedded asphalt off my scraped knees, the one that had spurt me on to fight was now spurting me to make peace with him. I never wanted to punch him, but my actions spoke louder than my intentions. I flanked to the left before he could pass me and stood in front of him. With eyes bulged, he looked up sheepishly. I could see a reflection in the darkness of his dilated pupils and in it was reflected the darkness in me. It didn’t matter what I said to him. The damage had been done. I simply stepped aside and he ran away. I had won the fight but lost something I could never win back.

Photo Credit

Leach, L. (1963). Husband tells of stabbing [Photograph]. Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles.