In Thought, Word and Deed

As soon as the words “with mouth” left my lips, her head began its slow descent towards my lap like a discordant apple falling from the branch of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We had created our own vocabulary. Our own language: part verbal, part body. She was in a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across the world, in Singapore, her home. Close enough for sexting and dirty show-and-tell via Skype, but far enough for her to seek supplementary companionship. She craved the warmth of physical contact. While we lay in each other’s arms after having made love, she used to tell me that her boyfriend refused to have sex with her. Vaginal. I asked why. She didn’t know. I brought up the slight possibility that he may be gay and using her as a beard. No, that wasn’t it, she assured me, as if I was the one who needed assurance. He liked doing it in every way, fill all her holes, except for the one that mattered most to her. He was a devout Christian and would not lose his virginity before marriage. Having been raised in that sexually stunting, hormonally frustrating climate— with balls as blue as the Virgin’s cloak— I totally understood his apprehension and guilt.

I was raised to fear the villainous and venereal woman’s vagina as if it were Satan’s filthy mouth itself. To plunge my virginity into it would swing open the gates of Hell and drag me in, kicking and screaming, digging my bloodied finger nails into the landsliding abyss. However, she was a friend in need and aside from having learnt the lesson of divine chastity, I had also learnt that of divine compassion. Now, this compassionate heart of mine had given me the task of filling not only her woman-sized hole, but the one the size of the Atlantic. One that needed an ocean of love to fill. So there we were, fucking under God’s watchful, wrathful and vengeful eyes. We didn’t hide our naked bodies in shame. Instead, she opened her mouth and took a mouthful out of my apple.

* * * *

Music was our drug of choice. It always seemed to get us in the mood, playing with our emotions. We liked the same bands, and the ones whose affinity we didn’t share we accepted because we trusted each other’s taste. We were sitting in my car listening to Foxygen, and the song “San Francisco” came on. My eyes began to gather tears as my throat closed up. She noticed that I had suddenly gotten quiet. She touched my clenched hand on the steering wheel, and I relaxed it.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

“It’s just that this song reminds me of my ex-wife,” I replied. She looked confused. “It reminds me of her because that was the last place that we went to as a couple.” It was our last resort to make things work. It was also the place where we hit rock bottom and broke up for good.

“We can just skip this song if you like.”

“No, it’s fine.” I looked over at her. In the blurriness of tears I could see a concerned look in her eyes. “Just keep your hand on mine and sit here with me.” I wanted to listen to the song and mourn in silence. So we did.

* * * *

We were lying on a blanket on the floor. I was lying on my side, propping my head up with one arm and placing the other on my thigh. She was sitting on her calves— inside the curvature made by my legs and torso— perked up looking down at me. The lights were off, and the only light was emanating from an old Bed Bath and Beyond pine-scented candle I dug out from under the bathroom sink. The candle’s dimmed brilliance reflected the tears welling up in her eyes, as if there was a feeling she was trying to disguise. I smiled and asked her what was wrong. She nodded away my question with a soft hum. I could tell that she didn’t want to make eye contact with me. I placed my free hand on her thighs, and she looked down on it. She bit down on her bottom lip. I felt a single, sultry tear sprinkle on my knuckles like the first raindrops of summer.

“What’s wrong?” I asked again. She let out a flustered sigh and wiped the tears from her face and the secretion from her nose.

“It’s hard to explain,” she answered. It was difficult because her English was pretty good, but not good enough to express a complex emotion. An emotion that even a native English speaker would have a hard time explaining. I dragged my body closer to her knees and outstretched my hand to meet hers.

“You can tell me anything.”

“I know,” she sniffled. But it wasn’t so much a matter of intimacy as it was a matter of fluency.

“Just say it in Malay,” I said. I didn’t care if I couldn’t understand it. All I understood was that she needed to vent. She had been building up so much pressure in her heart for so long, that it seemed impossible to release it. At first, she began to speak softly to me. Slowly. Then her speech became louder and faster. Violent. She was looking at me in a way she hadn’t before. Flailing her arms, clicking her wrists, gripping her palms. I felt conflicted. Sad because of the eruptive catharsis I was beholding and aroused because of the level of intimacy we were reaching. That look in her eyes. Those dark, soulful eyes.

I propped myself up into a seated position and buried her in my arms. Her body was shaking. She felt warm and cold. Stiff and frail. I held her close and tight, suffocating any doubt in her mind. She continued to speak in a language I couldn’t begin to decipher, let alone understand. However, I understood everything she was feeling, everything her heart was expressing. Every single word.

* * * *

It was a steady, slow-building orgasm. It had been welling up inside of me like tears held back from a repressed emotion. The care and passion with which she was tugging at my penis had the charm of wanting to do a good job that comes from inexperience. It was naïve, coy and playful. She was pushing buttons without knowing the type of reactions they would trigger in my body. It reminded me of the first time we had been intimate, when we used to meet in her apartment to listen to The Beatles and drink Japanese wheat tea. At the time, I didn’t know if it was the sweetness in her eyes, the bitterness of John Lennon’s singing or the savoriness of the tea, but I felt the need to invade her lips with mine. To occupy her mouth with my tongue. At first, she pulled away— half appalled, half pleasantly surprised.

“Why did you kiss me?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I saw it in your eyes.”

“Well, in case you didn’t know, I have a boyfriend.” She said it more so to remind herself of the fact than to get me to stop. She was still within firing range, and her eyes were still conveying the same message as before.

“OK, can I just have one more kiss?” This time, I was the one who had to pull away. We decided to forget the whole incident and go back to listening to music, each of us sitting at the couch’s extremes. She kept looking over, smiling nervously. I knew what she wanted, I could see it in the way her slightly crooked teeth were digging into her bottom lip. In her quivering silence I could hear her screaming for another kiss. For what she had so strongly opposed and at the same time couldn’t get enough of.

Her lips were starved for love, the kind of love that only I could give her.

“Do you want to kiss me?” I asked. She nodded her head affirmatively. I slid over to her end of the couch and placed my arm around her. I wanted to take her to a secluded place, a place beyond shame, beyond judgement, beyond inhibition. A place beyond love. What we felt wasn’t just love. It was lust. We kissed each other like it was going to be the last time. I placed her hand on my thigh, and she started to slide it up towards my crotch, which by this point seemed like it was going to burst out of its seams. I heard the sound of my zipper becoming undone slowly. I felt her digging inside, removing the layers of cloth between her hand and my stiffened flesh.

She took its content in her hands without questioning. All of the questions, the doubts that she had from when we first kissed had dissipated by now. Her willingness to humor my hormonal urge compelled me to help with the unzipping and simply pull it out and place it in her hands. By this point my heart was throbbing with desire, and I didn’t care whether things were moving too fast. We were ready. She welcomed me in her hands. Part of me felt that she was jerking me around, using me as a surrogate lover. Her touch felt cold. Almost robotic, as though she was simply going through the motions. We both wanted the same things, but each for very different reasons.

We looked at each other and realized the murkiness of the situation. I placed her face in my hands and gave her a kiss. I felt her grip get tighter and the rhythm of it getting faster and warmer. It told me that she finally understood what this was about. She treated my body as if she herself was a man, stroking with the skill of a chronic masturbator. As if my penis was her own and she was going to be the one who would climax through it. I felt strong in her hand. In its clasp, that hardened tissue had a purpose, and its purpose was to be the best it had ever been. Not for me, but for her. For all of the hard work she was investing in my happiness and pleasure. There was something lodged inside of me that I needed her to help me get out. I was full of love for her and filling up more and more with every one of her kisses. I was about to reach a breaking point. A point of rapturous rupture. I felt a feral, starved beast trying to claw its way out of my urethra. It was my turn to release the pent-up pressure.

It came as a surprise, as it always does. I didn’t know how to feel, so I just felt. I simply was. It was an out-of-body, ethereal experience, losing myself in the moment, letting go of conscious thought and welcoming chaos.

As I came back to coherence, I realized that she was still toiling away. Throughout my life, I have always been told, if it feels good, then go with it. So, I did. It was electric. A religious experience and a celestial dialogue with the divine. This was her way of thanking me for being there for her. For treating her like a woman and not just like some stupid Singaporean girl with no say in her sexuality. That night, I returned her generosity and helped her release her tension and turned my hands into instruments of torturous pleasure. The sight of her face writhing in the exquisite pain of sex told me more than her words— in English or Malay, from human or demonic tongue— ever could.

* * * *

In the months that we spent together, we created a little world for ourselves. A four-walled Eden in a one-bedroom-one-bath apartment. We fought, made love and learned many things about ourselves that we wouldn’t have had our paths not crossed. She taught me how to be intimate with a woman and how to tend to her emotional needs. I taught her how a man likes to be touched and that it’s perfectly normal to have sexual thoughts and feelings. The only lesson we forgot to teach one another was how to live life without the other.

Bilicko, C. (2017). Bridging the Gap [Painting]. Acrylic on wood, Long Beach, CA.

The Sweet Scent Of Garmonbozia

A Strangely Isolated Place

In Mexico, it is an honor to be the firstborn male of the family. It is an even greater honor to bear your father’s name. It is also a good way of killing two birds with one stone: honoring an ancestor and naming your kid. This ancient practice keeps cacophonous names in rotation for longer than they should be. It is a lesser crime against humanity, a misdemeanor at best. A branding. A form of physical, living, breathing graffiti.
*          *          *          *

The heist was all planned out. We knew what we needed to do and what we needed to take. My brother and I were own our way to Sacramento, California with one thing on our minds. Our mission was to take as many toys as we could carry. It was the strategy that we had devised while sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car, on our way to my Uncle Venus’ house. My cousin Jose and his brothers had troves of action figures— more toys than any eight-year-old could ever want. All of the ones that my brother and I drooled over while perusing the toy aisles at department stores. All of the ones that would elicit a firm ear-pull from our mom after begging her for them unsuccessfully.

We had already stolen some smaller items, like weapons and Happy-Meal-sized toys, but this was the big sting. The one that, if caught, could get us a leather-belt-on-bare-butt-cheeks spanking. This operation required pockets larger than those equipped on a pair of standard jeans. We needed to bring in the big guns. Taking a full-sized action figure would require a garment with additional cargo room. That was why we decided to bring our bulky winter jackets. These would aid our effort of concealing and carrying the contraband.

My cousins were very generous with their toys, which gave my brother and me a perfect in. As we played in their room, my brother and I would take turns slipping a toy into one of our many pockets. At first, my cousins were none the wiser to our slimy scheme. But soon my cousin Jose noticed that I was sliding something into my jacket. He was a smart kid and soon let out a loud yelp that brought our parents into the room. He told my uncle that I was stealing his toys. Our dads looked at each other and started to laugh. Some sort of brotherly inside joke. My uncle yelled at Jose to stop crying, that there was no harm done. I was pulled aside by my dad and told that he was going to kick my ass when we got home. I could already hear the sound of finely-crafted Mexican leather making contact with tightly squeezed flesh. That night, my brother and I came away with pockets full of threats. Enough to keep our kleptomania at bay. Well, until it was time for my cousin Jose and his brothers to visit us down in LA.

*          *          *          *

When you come from a culture where the scrotums are potent and the wombs fertile, you don’t simply get one person named ‘Little Bastard Jr.’ or ‘the III,’ you get a swath of ‘Little Bastards’ named after the grand master bastard— the grandfather that can never remember who you are. It defeats the whole purpose of even having a name. “Hey, you!” becomes a more comprehensive way of distinguishing you from the rest of your similarly named cousins. Any certified arborist would take one look at our family tree and deem its long branches ripe for firewood and demand that the rest of it be chopped down and interned in an insane asylum.

*          *          *          *

His hair was long and silky, dark and lustrous. It draped down between his shoulder blades to his mid-lower back even as he wore it in a ponytail. The light mustache and goatee on his upper lip and chin, along with the sharp cheek bones still bore vestiges of his boyish face. Since I last saw him— ten years ago— it had blossomed into that of a handsome young man. I remembered the times when he used to curse out my other cousins and their mothers with anger in his eyes. Now those eyes, interlocking with mine, were deep and soulful. He had a timid smile and quiet grace. As soon as he became aware of my presence, he instantly remembered me. I didn’t really know how to approach him without looking weak or coming off as slightly gay. I wanted to mirror his calm and collected energy. I had to repress my feelings of admiration and longing for a cousin who, for all I knew, could have been dead this whole time. I was mourning my inability to express my true emotions in words. I wanted to tell him that I missed him and find out about what he had been up to.

The occasion for our meeting was the wedding of our youngest aunt in Tijuana, Mexico. My cousin and I were 22 and 21-years-old. She was two years younger. He was wearing a form-fitting suit that added to the elegance in his demeanor. Since we last saw each other, my dad had been imprisoned and we had moved a couple of times. His dad remarried and had a couple of kids with his new wife; Uncle Venus used to pick us up from school from time to time, maybe because he felt he owed it to my dad to take care of us while he was locked up. I think my siblings and I saw my uncle more often than Jose did. I didn’t want to make the same mistake of going years without hearing from my cousin, so I gave him my address. I figured that we could open up an avenue of communication by writing to one another. After a few letters back and forth, the silence between us began to set in once again.

*          *          *          *

The tradition of genealogical nomenclature is meant to bring the family closer together. By having various reminders of the patriarch peppered in each of the extended family units, the children of the elder attempt to create an immortal bond. A man is not his song and his name should end when he does. It should be remembered only if he himself did something worth remembering; summoned by memory when his presence is craved for and not thrusted upon his descendants by means of filial guilt.

*          *          *          *

Jose invited me to a local pastrami place in Seattle. It had been yet another long serendipitous 10 years since I had last seen him. As I was making my way there, I didn’t know what to expect. Was he the indomitable, incorrigible kid who used to nosh on bright red radishes as we fought and lusted over a young Sofia Vergara— bouncing around on the beach— kissing the warm, bulbous television screen? Or, was he the elegantly poised young man with whom I had a brief, dreamlike conversation about nothing in particular?

The closer I got to the pastrami shop, I kept looking around to see if I could spot him. Did he even wear his hair in a ponytail anymore? Nervousness began to set in. The thoughts in my head were barraging me with an infinity of questions. They were reeling a movie in which I once again was playing a character too cowardly to express his true emotions. Part of me wanted to turn around and run away from the situation. Maybe it was better that we didn’t meet. There was a reason why we hadn’t in the past decade. And out of nowhere, there he was, standing right in front of me. My cousin Jose. I could see in him the boy and the young man I met on two separate occasions, two lifetimes ago. He waved me down from the entrance of the place as I crossed the street. We instinctively embraced as if not a single day had passed since the time we saw each other last. As if we were no longer 32 and 31-years-old, but 9 and 8 again.

As we were ordering our meal and even as we sat side by side, few words were exchanged. I asked him about his dad, and he said that he hadn’t really heard from him in years. I told him that I was in the same situation with mine. The silence could be cut thicker than the sliced meat on our paper plates. It was the loss of words that came from the meeting of two lost souls. It wasn’t our fault that this deep and wide valley had developed between us. We were like two falling leaves, helpless in the air, ripped and flung by the torrential winds of our parents’ shortcomings.

My eyes were full of curiosity, but I kept filling my mouth with cured meat and bread. Sitting there with him, listening to him tell me about his wife and three children, I made the decision of breaking with family tradition. The age-old stipulation that our fathers needed to be around in order for us to have a relationship, as family or friends. I wanted to eschew all of that firstborn-namesake bullshit and reach out my hand to my cousin and be a family. I wanted to welcome my cousin back into my life. Our relationship— as children and teenagers— suffered, but that didn’t mean that we had to continue suffering. Before we departed from another brief encounter, I invited him to visit me in LA sometime. I felt that it was time to take charge of my relationship with my cousin.

My brother Jose.

 

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). The Sweet Scent of Garmonbozia[Painting]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles, CA.

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.

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). Tazza di Caffè [Painting]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles, CA.

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.

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). I ❤ U, CPU [Photograph]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles.

 

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.

Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017). Together in the Black Lodge [Painting]. stripSearchLA, Los Angeles.