Stalking Josefina Lopez

Fourteen years ago, the creator of Real Women Have Curves dumped my ass

I don't know if I can really convey how strange it was to turn on the TV at night and see your classmates guest-starring on Who's the Boss? and Moonlighting, to catch the guy from History in a Burger King commercial or the girl from Physics shaking her flawless booty in a Whitesnake video. A sweet girl I knew in my sophomore year was in Night of the Comet; two kids from my Spanish class starred in Baghdad Café. The halls of LACHSA were full of extroverted and sometimes blindingly gorgeous young people, and jeez, if I hadn't had an inferiority complex before . . .

As I entered the school, I was going through a bad patch even by the usual standards of teenage heavy-metal goonboys. I was seethingly miserable and alienated, and in a normal school, I suspect, I would have gone all Columbine by November. Thank god LACHSA was not a normal school, but even so, my early days there were a dark time: I shambled through the happy halls, an incongruous creature in my clunky Frankenstein boots and Iron Maiden T-shirt. I didn't speak for days at a time.

And then Josefina came along.

I don't recall how we met, or how she became my girlfriend. Somehow we hooked up, despite obviously having little in common besides feeling ill-at-ease in our own skins. Josefina was chunky, which she pointed out often, apparently figuring she'd get the topic out of the way before anybody else could bring it up. I liked her a lot. She had some major smarts, and she was funny. And I saw her zaftig physique very differently than she did; Twinkies had been good to this girl.

Unfortunately, being with her meant pretending to enjoy her plays, which I thought were the worst things I'd ever read. Ever. Very anti-male and just achingly performance arty with lots of non sequitor declamations about women's autonomy and the oppression of her people and all that. Her characters spoke English and Spanish at random, with no provisions for translation provided, so if you weren't fluent in both languages, you were in for a memorably tedious evening at the theater. While I agreed with many of her essential points, to my eyes, her writing was all one endless screed titled My Angry Latin Vagina: One Girl's Lonely Struggle Against the Honkie Patriarchy.

I attempted to politely voice some of my criticisms, but really, it was impossible to discuss Josefina's work in any detail without betraying my abject distaste. So I tried to regard her plays as an unfortunate phase she would hopefully grow out of, perhaps not unlike how she regarded my mullet and burgeoning collection of Iron Maiden bootlegs.

I never imagined Josefina and I would get married and have a house full of little neurotics, but I thought things were okay between us until the wintry day when Josefina dumped my ass. The dumping itself was no fun, but worse than that was one of Josefina's stated reasons for splitting up, which repeated over and over again in my head for much of the '90s like a terrible mantra: she said I wasn't attractive enough for her.

Now, when you've got a face like mine, right on the border between exotically lovely and monstrous, you're never really certain what people think of your looks, and it can make you insanely insecure. Well, that's how it works for me, anyhow. And so when Josefina said I wasn't attractive enough for her, it stung like a motherfucker. The fact that she wasn't comfortable with her own looks and yet still felt she could do better than me, well, that stung like a grandmafucker. And then, after we broke up, when she hooked up with a guy who looked like a crossbreed between Stephen Hawking and Ric Ocasek? Well, the idea that I hadn't lived up to such lofty standards stung like a nephewfucker.

But for me the worst and weirdest aspect of the whole dumping was something that happened weeks later, just before the start of Christmas break. I came to think of it as the Confetti Story.

One morning, I was sitting at my desk, blearily oblivious from hours on the bus, waiting for first period English to begin. Josefina burst into the room, laughing giddily, and hit me square in the face with a big fistful of confetti. I sat there blinking shredded paper out of my eyes, not quite believing what had just happened. Then she skipped out of class, and I trudged off to the restroom; I tried to scrub as much confetti off as I could, but it had worked its way down the neck of my shirt, and by day's end, I was still finding little flecks of pink paper stuck in unwholesome places.

Years later, a mutual friend told me that Josefina had told her the reason she dumped me was actually because I took too much time away from her art; apparently, saying I was unattractive was "simpler" than the truth.

Hate? You have no freaking idea.

* * *

Nearly all of the kids I mentioned who were TV and movie stars while they attended LACHSA dropped out of the entertainment industry following graduation, taking up careers in real estate, marketing and septic-tank repair. Some promising talents ended up homeless, became strippers or vanished into an obscurity so total it was as if they'd been spirited away by goblins. Out of hundreds of kids who trained for years to become artists, kids who could sing like opera divas, dance like angels on the head of a pin, or play a guitar like they was ringing a bell, only a precious handful went on to have anything to do with the arts. And one of the few was Josefina, easily my least favorite person in the entire school. It seemed cosmically unfair.

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