I'm walking home after I fucked this guy who writes self-loathing poetry and has Yellow Fever, which is ridiculous because nobody walks in LA. Home is currently in Silver Lake, a neighborhood where there's a lot of new job openings for a position called Being Pretty and Prancing Around the Sidewalk. I make the walk halfway in my heels down Sunset Boulevard, in a dress that's debatably a shirt, and decide to haul-ass barefoot down the burning cement sidewalk. It might not be super-mentally healthy for me to be shapely, brown, average height, and live among tall, anorexic blondes so I can stare at them. But even if I don't fit in, I like being part of it. Sometimes I look around and it seems as if the Holocaust were successful or something.
I look ambiguously raced but clearly Asian. I'm single and earlier today the self-loathing poet told me he was more Asian than I am because he'd lived in Japan for six months. Only weirdos have to go to Japan to have sex so women attribute their weirdo-ness to cultural differences. I fucked him anyway because I need sex just like everyone. At least he finished with a condom. Most guys just bitch about it. He's an intellectual so he asked me if I'm Filipino, the less clever ones tell me I look Hawaiian or like Pocahontas. I'm none of the above. After the sweaty fuck, he disingenuously offered to drive me home. I said I felt like walking to spare him the guilt. I really am thoughtful.
Ten long LA blocks later I'm finally back to the non-boutique-boutiques. I pass the fancy Vietnamese restaurant, the vinyl, comic book, recycled toilet-paper store and look up at the hills full of million-dollar-view houses. There are two identical apartment buildings at the bottom of these hills. Mine, a kind of crap-beige, and the one next door, a turquoise Safeway cake-frosting color. They could both use a power wash, some men with money, and some of that eco-friendly shit. Trust—these studios are not lavish things. There's one hippie dude with long hair, a closet gay who blasts Shania Twain at 2 a.m., FML. And me, a "fake" Asian. The other units are occupied with families of at least four people. All the families are Mexican. One man who's missing two front teeth collects recycling from our building and the neighborhood to pay his rent. My building leaves our recycling outside the dumpster so he doesn't have to go swimming in it. Last month he started throwing up every day, waking me at 5 a.m. I think he's dying.
I stomp into my studio as my fat neighbor makes his bed. It's like I'm never really alone there because of him. He lives in the turquoise building. His kitchen window looks directly into my kitchen, my bedroom window directly into his bedroom. Our units are identical, adjacent, and no more than seven feet apart. He glances up at the walk of shame written all over me and shakes his head to himself. Judgmental pig.
Fat neighbor and I have what I term, an uncomfortable intimacy. He sees the dudes come and go. He knows me better than any of them but the crazy part is that we've never spoken a word. We simply steal glances into each other's lives when we think the other isn't looking. I hear the bottom of his slippers scuff the floor as he drags his large horse legs across it. I hear him take a deep breath and sigh. We're connected in a way that I am not with anyone else. In this city, he'd be the first to realize I'd gone missing.
Tonight I feel like staying in and my fat neighbor won't stop farting. The low acoustic rumble of gas to leather chair echoes loud into my room. I don't think he's been eating well. And I'm not being mean when I call him fat like he's 20 pounds past chubby. When I moved in two years ago, he weighed what I would guess to be 250 pounds. Now he's about 400. He doesn't have a big butt or some small man-boobs, there's just fat hanging on his body. So we can all agree I'm not being mean when I call him fat. I've never heard his name. I call him Fred.
Fred's nocturnal. He's making my insomnia worse because we're so close.He wakes up around 6 p.m.. These days I fall asleep around 3 a.m. and I always see his lights shining through my tattered plastic shades as I doze off. I fall asleep listening to Fred play videogames or do whatever he does on his computer. Fred has ugly brown-draped curtains that he keeps drawn during the day while he sleeps. Then at night, after he takes his long "morning" piss, he opens them. He disgusts me. His fat, his lifestyle, his posture, his huge black T-shirts, or shirt, his squinty glasses, baldhead, and goatee. He looks 40, but maybe he's older cause he's got so many chins that his skin can't shrivel up with wrinkles from the constant stretching. He and his skin arerarely exposed to the judgment of the sun and sidewalk. When I first saw Fred's room I almost moved out. Every single inch is covered in Japanese martial-art film posters—blood, swords, fit Asian men flying their fit bodies through the air. He's got one huge black La-Z-boy chair that he often falls asleep in that's planted two feet from his TV. He's so close to me he could reach out and touch me.
On good nights I gchat with a guy I've been hooking up with on and off for five years who's in grad school in New York and will never love me. Most of the time I sniffle up my tears like a dog on display at the pound with a lazy eye, who knows it's one budget cut away from lethal injection, as I chat with him about how good L.A. life is. Fred must fucking hate me. He must be thinking: "God get on some fucking Prozac already, you fucking whiny, fake Asian bitch." I'm sure Fred felt sorry for me at first, but there's only so much sympathy you can have for someone until you want to tell them to cheer the fuck up, move the fuck on, and grow a pair. I bet Fred talks like that. I bet he talks like me—with a foul mouth. I'm sure Fred's had his share of understanding sadness, but I'm not sure he shares my dislike for pills that medicate a dissatisfaction of who's willing to fuck you. I wonder if Fred's parents are dead yet, if he's an only child, or if he thinks I'm hot.
I parallel-park my car on my street after an exhausting day of pretending to be a highly functional person. I'm too tired to move, let alone lift my body from my car, so I check my phone, which I never use as a phone. The guy I've been in love with for five years, New York dude? He's got this hot Asian-bitches contingent following him on Instagram and I hate it, and I am one of those bitches! Ugh. Shoot me. "PinnedPanda" left a million flirty comments all over his boring landscape pictures today. They aren't even special. Desperate slut. And of course, of course, her profile's full of just fucking-the-camera selfies and I'm sure she's not that pretty in person. We all use what we have to get fucked, so maybe it's my fault since I knew he had Yellow Fever and I used that to my advantage. Earlier I fantasized about all the mean comments I could type. Instead I decided that what wouldn't make me look like the bat-shit stalker I am, would be to go to the grocery store, buy three different kinds of cheese, two bottles of red wine, and consume it all. I know. Bad habits die hard. I'm counting on it.
I grab my grocery bag, hoist my body up, and head to my apartment. I look up and Fred's walking down the street straight at me. We lock eyes for a split second before we quickly avert our gaze down to the cement, like we have no clue who the other is. Maybe he doesn't want me to feel uncomfortable. That's nice of him. But I feel very uncomfortable. He knows Louie CK is my laptop background picture, how often I talk to my mother, my bowel movements. He knows how much I complain, how fake my fake orgasms sound, that I want people to need me, and nobody does. We keep our blinds closed the whole night so we don't have to face how we couldn't face each other earlier.
After two bottles of red wine, I get tired. Wine is the one and only cure for insomnia. It's better than therapy. I get into bed and out of nowhere I hear a gun being loaded in Fred's bedroom. I freeze. Heart pounding. My blinds are drawn. Is he going to shoot in my direction, hoping he hits me just because I didn't say hi to him earlier? Is he going to kill himself? Why are you choosing to kill yourself today, Fred? Why? I'm gonna be a lead suicide witness to top off the end of this happy day. My grandma always said God works in mysterious ways. And Grandma died.
I roll Mission Impossible style off my bed opposite Fred. No bullshit. I crawl on my forearms to my kitchen where my blinds are up, lean against the wall, edge my head around the corner to peek at Fred. He's holding an orange plastic gun up to the TV and shooting at it. Fuck-shit. I walk back to bed, curl up, and don't sleep a wink. The She-ra Warrior Princess look-alike in Fred's game has double Ds and runs with no bra. That doesn't even make sense.
I got my period tonight and Fred's watching porn, so that means I'm listening to porn. Some soft foreplay and moaning, nothing special. I should've known my period was coming—I sobbed during Legally Blonde earlier and ate 11 mini-wiener dogs for dinner. Yes, I fucking counted. I'm a real Asian. It's amazing, I'm 28, got my period when I was 13, so in period-years I'm 15 minus the two years in grad school when I was so stressed that I didn't get it, which means I'm 13 in period-years, and that shit still surprises me!I'm like, "Oh, my God! What's happening? There's blood pouring out of my body and onto my underwear and I bet everybody knows!"
And while I'm thinking this, I hear Fred unbuckle his belt and then I hear that sloppy slapping, skin overlapping skin rapidly, his heavy breathing. His drapes are drawn. Does he forget I'm over here? Or he just needs to rub one out so bad he doesn't care? As he masturbates, his cell rings, and he answers it! Why would you answer that phone call? Aggravated he shouts, "Hey ... What do you think I'm doing? I'm playing with my fucking dick!"He does talk with a dirty mouth. I knew it, I just knew it. He hangs up and he's fast and aggressive with himself, methodical and ungentle, faster, slap, slap, slap. He hasn't been masturbating as much lately since he started farting more, so good for him.
I have a problem enjoying sex. It's a recent problem. I couldn't even do it Saturday night. I'm worried I'm becoming asexual like my sad celibate Fred.I haven't fucked or slept right since the poet dude a month ago.This weirdo sat across from me last Saturday night at an oceanside seafood restaurant and told me he wants to marry a creative Jewish girl but that he's really attracted to Asians. My mind was racing, but I just ended up asking him to be more specific. I couldn't bring myself to have sex with this level of weirdo. Like, what's wrong with me? I'm going to have to force myself to have a one-night stand tonight just to prove to myself that I haven't become a none-religious nun.
I wear a short skirt to the Echoplex. This debatably hot white dude stares at my vagina, or somewhere high between my legs. I can't decipher exactly where his focal point is, but it's in that area, so I dance with him. His name is Kevin. I hate that name. It's my least favorite name that exists out of all the names, in all the alphabets, in all the worlds. I take my heels off as we walk to his car once the bar closes. He drives us drunk back to my place.
I take off my shirt/the cloth covering my boobs. Kevin asks me if my tits are fake, "No, shh, my neighbor can hear you." We're fucking and I'm trying to keep quiet but I'm sure Fred can hear. Sorry, Fred, maybe you can jack-off to us moaning and yelling. We finish and Kevin rolls over on his back … and opens his mouth. Mistake. Disaster. "Uh … I think I should tell you I have a girlfriend. But, like, uh… we haven't even been, like, as intimate as we are." Whatever that means. Precious, man. I hear slow applause from Fred. That fat fucking fuckless asshole's ridiculing me. Kevin has no idea the applause is for him. I roll over, my back to Kevin and Fred. Dammit, sex with stupid-Kevin-with-a-girlfriend is the best I've had in months.
"You should tell her."
"Do you hate me?"
"No. Thanks for being honest."
The next morning I let Kevin fuck me again, I mean, he's already cheated on her, so Fred can judge all he wants. But then Kevin just lies in bed and won't shut up. Tells me his whole life story, doesn't ask me a single question, and to be perfectly honest, his life's as boring as Lawrence of Arabia. And pathetic. This guy is like a child who has the emotional depth of a teaspoon. A 35-year-old man who finally got off unemployment and thinks being a manager at … I don't know what, insurance? Cars? He counts inventory of some kind, probably just smiles thinking about himself naked all day…is the most fascinating, important thing next to NASA. Fred's openly scoffing at this point and so am I. I need to stop fucking these stupid guys. I feel like if I fuck any more stupid guys, their juice is gonna make me stupid, get into my system, and mess with my brain. The only good thing about bringing dudes to my place is that if they're psycho serial killers, at least I know I can scream and Fred will hear me and call the cops. I hope Fred would call the cops if he heard me screaming. But who knows. Maybe he hates me. Maybe he wants me to die. Maybe he thinks I'm a brat and I should be choked.
The New York guy. Man, he's the worst. He's nowhere to be found when I want to talk, but I'm on gchat whenever he wants to gchat and have gchat sex. It must be so fascinating to go through life looking like being pretty is your job. He can just go anywhere and people help him, and Asian girls all around the globe fuck him. Yeah, including me. He's got a couple of Asians in L.A. that he fucks. I'm not the only one. At least I'm honest with myself about the situation. Fred is the only man in this world who knows I cry myself to sleep unless I'm passed out drunk. The men I fuck and sleep next to don't know that, I turn my back when I cry. I start leaving my blinds open all the time as a friendly gesture to Fred. He's doing the same and I think it makes us both more cheerful.
The other night, sick toothless guy in my building and his wife were screaming at each other for hours in Spanish until she called the cops on him. Fred and I couldn't get enough of it. We were rolling on the ground laughing. We still won't look directly at each other, but we do work, watch TV, and clean our dishes in front of each other now. Like roommates I guess. He even plays less-violent video games. I think he knows I detest those. Sometimes I think he helps me decide between shirts. I don't change in front of him though. I would never do that. I hide behind the closet door so he won't see me in my underwear.
I wonder if Fred and I fucked missionary-style if I would suffocate under his weight or if I could spread my legs wide enough to fuck him on top. I know, ew, but I've thought about it. Fred's manipulating me. I'm spending too much time with him. And all the strongest women I know are being weak and controlled by their male counterparts/fuck-buddies/boyfriends/husbands, and I'm depressed about it and just want to fuck something pretty tonight. Anything to not make me think about myself is a great gift. It's been two weeks since Kevin, so I won't feel like a slut if I go out with someone else tonight. I shower, lotion, and try on clothes. This one guy's been asking me out forever, and by asking me out, I mean he keeps texting me after 1 a.m., "sup" without even bothering to punctuate. Whatever, I'll go out with him, work on my social skills, and try to make him love me. I put on a skimpy black dress/Hollywood uniform, prance around, and I know Fred sees. He looks suspicious and peeks in often. I douse my eyes in black pencil, jewelry myself up, slip on 3-inch clog heels, smile over in Fred's direction and head out. I look as hot as I'm ever gonna look. The hem hangs halfway between my knees and my crotch, and my hair bounces in front my shoulders like a true WAM, waitress/actress/model. God I heart L.A., it's like someone went to hell and tried to decorate it with Palm trees.
This date is a total disaster. Shocker. First thing the guy tells me when we sit down at a wine bar is that he just divorced this quiet French lady because he realized he's really attracted to Asian women. Lucky me. I finish my fourth glass of red wine. He says he's also been to China. I ask if he went there for the hookers. Through his ear-to-ear grin he replies, "I didn't have to pay. Ha-ha. Everyone in China wants to fuck a white guy. Redheads especially." Great job, dude. He kisses me on the lips. I want to puke and wash my mouth out with turpentine. And his fingers are all little chodes. It's very off-putting. I've been backing my stool away from him the entire night but trying not to be rude, and for some reason I couldn't just bring myself to say the word "stop."Can't he notice I'm not having a good time? Or is he that oblivious? Or he just doesn't care? I feel really bad leading him on and not delivering now. Men ought to be so grateful for women's guilt. I bet it gets them 50 percent of their fucks.
I'm on top and he sits up to hug my waist. I shove him back down against the mattress, "Fuck my Asian pussy you ginger-hair fuck!" I slap him and punish him til he cums like a full bottle of tartar control toothpaste that was stepped on by Fred.
I come back to my dark studio. Light from Fred's place illuminates mine, and I'm hating my face, hating my inner thighs, hating my fat-soluble boobs, hating my armpit hair, and really, really hating my droopy left eyebrow. It ruins everything. I turn on my lights. Fred's blinds are open but he sits in his La-Z-boy with his back toward me. He's mad. He should know I had a terrible time and that it meant nothing. I take off my 3-inch clog heels. I'm tempted to jump out of my window. Fred won't move. I walk to my window and open it. Fred's surprised by the noise and he turns his fat, triple-chinned head around. At second glance, it looks like he's been crying, his TV has no signal, and it seems like he's hurled his remotes and PlayStation against the walls. They're shattered across the floor and one of his posters is ripped. He waddles to his window and opens it too. I look straight at Fred, walk backward to my bed, and lie down on it, our eyes still locked. Fred rolls onto his bed, facing me. We share a slight embarrassed grin. I unzip my little black Hollywood dress, pull it off my shoulders, and down my body.
I have on a skinny black thong and no bra. Fred looks away to the ground. Then back up at me. We stare at each other, ten feet apart, maybe less. He's wearing his XXXL dirty black T-shirt that hasn't been washed in weeks. I pull down my thong and take my legs out of it. It's cold from the wind but I like how it stings my skin. Fred just stares at me, paralyzed. I want him to undress. I want him to get naked and touch himself when I touch myself. I caress my boobs and make my way down between my legs. Fred watches me and takes the bottom of his shirt in his hands. He lifts the shirt up an inch, then runs to his window and yanks his curtains closed. I listen for him to unbuckle his belt and he doesn't. I close my window, sit on the window frame facing my room, my bare spine pressed against the ice-cold glass. I lean forward, sulking. On impulse I squeeze my boobs together as hard as I can, pressing them together like two balloons. I'm pushing them so hard I wonder if I can make them pop. My eyes water from the pain, so I stop, catch my breath, and let my tits sag lower and lower.
Fred never opened his blinds again and I've gone full nocturnal now as well. I've got to keep going. Some people are broken and unfixable and I won't let myself become one of them. I box up my minimal life, clean the floors, and sell most things. I consider knocking on Fred's door to say bye, but that might be awkward. He's been quiet these days. I hear his slippers every once in a while, but that's it. I even wonder if he's been eating. Finally, I hear him pick up his keys. In a split second I race outside. I stand in front of my building and wait for him to come down. When he does, he sees me, pauses as he closes the door, hesitates about going back inside, but he doesn't. His Toyota's parked behind me so I know he has to walk past me. He drags his enormous legs down the cracked sidewalk, still in his slippers, and stares at the cement. As the distance between us gets smaller, I open my mouth to talk, but I don't have any idea what would be appropriate to say and then I'm totally frazzled—his fucking shirt is maroon and this whole time I've been thinking it's black. Fred glances up at me as he goes by, like I'm just another sidewalk pedestrian. I haul myself back inside and pack the last of my trinkets and plants. Fred doesn't have any plants in his apartment. He comes home eventually and packs his refrigerator. Fatso.
There aren't any more boxes to move, they're all in my new place, and Fred's blinds are still shut. I stare at his ugly brown curtains and think of a million things I could scream over like, "Fucking make something of yourself," or "Lose some fucking weight, Fred," or "I'm leaving forever, don't you have anything to say to me?" or "Stop feeling sorry for yourself," or "Everyone has someone out there that will love them a little," or "You cunting whore, stop going on empty dates and fucking them." But I don't say anything. I can't. I need to leave now and never think of this dark cave again.
And then Fred opens his curtains ever so slightly. Just a small amount so I know he did it, but I can't see inside his muddy abyss. I smile, write on a piece of paper, and tape it to the window facing him. I leave for the very last time and lock the door behind me. I hope in a minute when Fred knows I'm fully gone, he'll open his blinds back up and look over into the room and read my note. It's just one sentence—"Keep it moving, Fred." There's a smiley face drawn beside it. And the thing he'll probably think is, "That's not my fucking name."
Beth DeAraujo is a writer and filmmaker in L.A. and graduated middle school from San Francisco Day School. She has asthma and is afraid it will affect her teaching or force her to quit smoking. She tweets at @BethDeAraujo.
[Illustration by Tara Jacoby]