Stalking Josefina Lopez

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

"No," she says, her breeziness sounding a little strained. "This is so great. It's so great that the movie's out there, and a lot of people from my past know what I'm doing. I've reconnected with a lot of people, so this is such a . . . treat."

A treat? That's hardly what I was expecting. At least she's not calling the cops.

I begin the interview with questions any journalist would ask. What was the process involved in the play becoming a film, etc. And for a time, it does sound like a conventional interview. I can hear Josefina's relief at this as she discusses bringing Real Women from the stage to the screen and the changes the project went through along the way.

But then I ask her a question about the vast difference in tone between one of her surrealist plays I read in the olden days and the realistic comedy-drama of Real Women, and somehow that faint invocation of our time together begins to crack the thin veneer of professionalism between us. Josefina tells me she's interested in doing more experimental work in the future, that next June, she's hoping to direct Add Me to the Party, a film that will have magical-realist elements. Of course, I'm barely listening as I wait to get to the stuff we both know is coming. Finally, I do.

"This could be entirely ego talking, but I did wonder: Is there any element of the Jimmy character that's based on, uh . . . our experience?" I can't quite make myself say me.

"No," she says with an inscrutable little chuckle. "It was another guy. It was a boyfriend after you."

My feelings a little hurt, I then tell her not to worry about sparing my feelings.

"No," she tells me. "You sound very mature. You sound like a very stable man."

She puts me on hold to tend to her baby, and there is a long stretch of tape that's nothing but background hum. Finally, I'm heard heaving a heavy sigh.

"Very stable," my voice says in the darkness. "That's me."

When Josefina returns, I begin to plead my case that Jimmy is indeed me. "There were definitely elements, when I was watching the film, when I said, 'Well, that's not me.' But there were other things where I thought, 'Well, that's sort of familiar.'"

"That's true," Josefina says. "You used to compliment me. You complimented me a lot, which at that time, I think, was kind of hard to take."

The conversation wanders into talk of mutual friends, including the friend who told me Josefina actually dumped me because I took time away from her art. I ask Josefina if that was true, and as I do, I don't quite manage to keep 14 years' worth of bitterness out of my voice. At first, Josefina's response is calm, but as she continues, it's clear the sheer weirdness of the call is starting to get to her.

"I actually wrote about this in an essay, about when I was trying to break up with you and you just wouldn't give up. I remember I was trying to get to class, and then you pulled at my hand, and I slipped and ended up skinning my knee."

"My god," my voice says on the tape. "I don't remember any of this."

Now a bitter edge begins to creep into her voice. "I started crying. You pulled me, and I remember you were very adamant, like, 'No! You're dumping me? No, you're not dumping me!' I was like, 'Gosh, I'm sorry.' I felt really bad. And then I fell, and all these people were watching us, everybody saw that you did that. You were very public."

As she speaks, the memory comes back to me. I remember the morning we'd been standing on the school steps between classes; I'd asked Josefina about getting together at lunch, and she was evasive and clearly uncomfortable. Then she announced she wanted to break up. While I was still reeling, she said she was late for class and started to leave. I remember the panic I felt as I realized the only person I knew in the entire school—almost in the entire world—was about to walk away for good and the anger I felt at how she could do this and then march off to algebra class 10 seconds later. I did grab her arm as she turned to go, not intending to hurt her, but she took a header off the steps and landed with a thump on the asphalt below. I remember the blood on her knee. I remember the way my stomach imploded as I realized a horrible situation had just gotten so much worse.

Now, so many years on, we're talking on the tape, and I can hear an ancient hurt rising in Josefina's voice. "I just said, 'You know, that's it.' I ran off to the women's bathroom, and you chased after me, saying, 'Oh, my God, I'm so sorry; I'm so sorry!' I went inside to a toilet stall because I knew you wouldn't leave me alone. The bell rang, class started, and you kept sending women in to come get me, to say please come out and you were very sorry. So, I waited, like, 15 minutes, and then you came in to the women's restroom. Do you remember that?"

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