An Oral History of Love in Contemporary America: Selections from Us #4


Dominic Sclafani, Age 30
Tucson, Arizona

“He’s like, ‘She’s going to eat you alive.’ And I go, ‘Yes, I know.’”

I like people who play. People who are fun and who punch me at random moments and who do weird shit. The first time I met Chyna, we were at a rave. She bit me. I was totally into it. I’m like, “Fucking bite me harder!” And she got all excited and I got all excited, because I like being bitten and scratched up. That was orgasmic. When we left, people were actually frightened of the way I looked. She had torn me apart from my forehead to my waist. I mean, forget just blood—I was bruised and bleeding. And I was singing out, I was so happy about it.

I was living on the border of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, California. I was in college, studying philosophy, which I found out later was a mistake. I’m much more into psychology. I was working at a sushi bar in Huntington Beach where it was expected that you drink on the job. Korn and Orgy and all those bands used to come in. It was a party restaurant. I was having a lot of fun—nineteen and doing coke probably three times a week, just getting into Ecstasy. I got a whole new group of friends. Chyna was a part of that scene.

Chyna ended up getting together with my best friend, Randy. I’ve known Randy since we were eight. Anyway, it was cool the way it worked out, because this way, I still got to see Chyna without having to deal with her bullshit. Honestly, she was a kind of a pain in the ass sometimes.

Chyna’s mom was a drug addict and Chyna was abused by her mom’s boyfriend. She never had a clean slate to begin with. But Chyna was really smart and a good survivor. She was a beautiful, beautiful girl—about five one, a great mix of Chinese and Native American. And she was—well, by this time we were doing speed, so she was about 102 pounds. But she was strong as shit. She’d punch Randy. He’d be like, “Ow,” and I’d always think, “Fuck, I wouldn’t be saying ‘Ow!’ I’d be saying ‘Again!’ ” (laughs)

When Randy and I moved to Huntington Beach, Chyna just kind of tagged along. Thing is, she wasn’t working, wasn’t cleaning the house, she wasn’t giving anything, just living off of me and Randy. And it started to feel like we were both her boyfriend. She had Randy, the guy she went to bed with, and she had me, who provided most of the money and drugs and fun stuff. But Randy never understood how to keep her under control. I was like, “Dude, you gotta man up if you’re gonna deal with her.” But he was such a puppy. And slowly over the months, she started seducing me. I mean slow.

Chyna smoked a lot of meth. One night I tried some. It was fucking fantastic. All of a sudden I had a ten-day week. I could get all my schoolwork done. I could do my shift at the restaurant every night and have plenty of energy for my band. My grade point average immediately jumped up. Randy started doing it too. But eventually he was like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” He’d come out at seven in the morning and there I am, fucking having been up all night. And instead of he and Chyna having sex, she starts staying up with me, doing meth. So Randy starts getting pissy.

Now this is where she’s gifted. She tells Randy things, then she comes to me and tells me things slightly differently. She starts fighting with Randy more, and she makes it look like it’s his fault. So now their whole relationship starts going to shit.

To clear his head, Randy went out of state for two weeks. And that was it. Chyna made her move. Walked into my room at two in the morning. And I’m like, “Okay, what? Are you cold?” Because I didn’t… I was totally not suspecting it. And she’s basically naked in my bed kind of thing, and I’m like, “Oh, oh, oh, okay. Shit. Yes.”

At first I thought, “Well, maybe this isn’t such a big deal.” But it was. It was like finishing something off that should’ve been taken care of a long time ago, when she clawed me up at the rave—just kind of a completion of that experience. Very soon into it, I realized I wasn’t just having sex with her. I was starting our relationship. And I knew it. It wasn’t like we just had this little fling and I was going to let her go back to my best friend. No, we’ve really crossed this boundary. She’s mine now.

So Randy comes back. I’m a Southern man. I can’t lie to my best friend. I had to tell him. By this time I’m totally into Chyna. I loved her, and I believed in the relationship. So I looked at Randy and said, “I like your girlfriend.” Well, he totally flipped out. He threw a fit. He was like, “You got to stop! You got to stop this shit right now!”

I got down on my knees, took off my glasses and put them in my pocket. Hands behind my back. Like I said, I’m from the South. It’s etiquette for someone to punch you if you sleep with their girlfriend. I said no, it’s not going to stop. I told him to hit me. But he didn’t hit me. He destroyed the house instead, which I ended up having to pay for. I would rather he broke my nose. I mean, I was kind of insulted. And I still had insurance at that time.

But you know, all I could do is say, “I’m fucking sorry, it crept up on me.”

He’s like, “She’s going to eat you alive.”

And I go, “Yes, I know.”

And he goes, “Yes. You’re fucked.”

Chyna and I both moved out right away. She had another place to stay. I started sleeping in my car because I didn’t want to go back into the house. Randy was my best friend and I was just experiencing so much sorrow and guilt. For the record, Randy and I are still friends. But after all this shit went down, our friendship was done for around two years. At the time, though, there was really no other choice. This shit was really happening.

So by this point, I’d busted up a friendship, I dropped out of college, I was addicted to speed, and I was going to get used and abandoned by the person I’d done it for. I mean, I knew it. And so with all this knowledge, I figured, ah fuck it, let’s do it any- way. Just, you know, like the end of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. What else are we going to do?

Eventually we decided to move out to Tucson, Arizona, where my mom lives. When we first got out there, we stayed at her house. My mom got sick of us pretty quick. So Chyna and I both got jobs at this local restaurant and moved out to our own place. Since we weren’t at my mom’s house, we started doing even more meth.

Chyna and I always had this instant physical intensity as a couple. I have a really strong stomach and chest, so she just punched me whenever she wanted to, as hard as she could. She bloodied me up pretty good all the time—not just during sex. She was just really affectionate and passionate and fun and smart.

We played music all day long and all night long. We loved the same music, and that’s a really big one for me: Tool, Radiohead, Zero 7, Tricky, stuff like that—experimental stuff, from Pink Floyd to The Mars Volta. I don’t think there was a single band that we had static on—ever. We’d get high together and experience the music physically. I’d play DJ, changing the music every few songs, and we’d just sit there and soak the music in, really like studying the notes, losing ourselves to it, then coming back, seeing the world, seeing ourselves and the music in a different way. Which is really kind of an intimate experience.

We used to do art when were on speed. We’d be drawing, just one piece for about thirty hours. We’d keep switching the CDs to make sure we got the mood right. We were always very in tune with everything, from the rhythm to, you know, the undertones of the vocal intonations, where it becomes visual, where you can see the person singing the lines, like they’re onstage, like they’re doing theater for themselves. Chyna could access the music at a holy, deep level, the same way I was able to.

We loved the same lines. We heard the same things in the songs. She was better at that than probably any girlfriend I’ve had, and it was really attractive to me, because music is… I don’t say, like, “It’s my life,” because that would assume that it’s still outside of me. And she would attach to it the same way.

Due to being on the same drug we could do a lot of the same things. There’s a reducing valve in the brain for sight, which is why you normally can’t see oxygen, nitrogen, things in the air. But after you’re sleep deprived for thirty-six hours, it goes away, so all of a sudden you think you’re hallucinating, but what you’re seeing is really there. So we’d get fucked up, and I’d start playing with energy, and by playing with energy I mean I’d intend certain hot spots of magnetism and basically create a ball out of it, and then not say anything and have her try to watch it and follow it around the room. It can be done. Magnetics are intense. And she was very open to that, which is nice because most of my girlfriends haven’t been into that. Even most of my friends aren’t. We did a lot of that. And also, like, using body energy to play around. We were very much in tune with each other’s bodies. There were no boundaries between the two of us.

But the speed was making me crazy. Chyna and I were both doing lots of it. I’m stealing from work, I’m supporting the habit for the both of us. I did it for almost two years and I could tell when I crossed a line with it. I noticed the second when it was like, okay, I can’t do this anymore.

When we stopped all that stuff it got different. The timing was off. We’d be tired, uninterested. Even three days without, you get really, really tired. It feels like taking tranquilizers all day long. And it’s not that the speed was the predication for our sexual relationship, but the lack of it definitely hurt it. We didn’t adjust very well, because I had to get drunk instead. Drunk boys, you know, we go to sleep. After a long day we go to sleep. We’re not as affectionate.

I’m one of the one hundred that quits cold turkey, just goes nope, I’m done. She couldn’t do that, apparently. She had a detox freak-out, and she kept on doing speed. We had a fight. She tore everything off the wall. So Chyna didn’t quit. And she was nuts.

I don’t fight. I’ve had seven girlfriends, and I’ve never fought with any of them. But Chyna could get me every time. Her favorite line was, “Why don’t you go fuck your mother since you love her so much more than me!” She was always baiting me to punch her in the nose. She’d get right up in my face, screaming at me over God knows what—usually something about how I left the kitchen cupboard open.

So she was staying up, doing speed with other people while I was, like, passed out on the couch. I was just drinking, drinking, drinking, drinking—pouring alcohol into my face. I’m kind of mourning the relationship at this point because I knew it was going to be bad, I just didn’t know when. I could see that she was starting to make ties with this new guy we were hanging out with. And I couldn’t seem to do anything about it. She was getting her next boyfriend lined up.

I was over my mom’s house, drunk as a skunk, and I told her, “You know, I don’t like my girlfriend, but I’m not going to break up with her.” My mom was like, “Well, that doesn’t sound very smart. What do you plan on doing?” And I said, “I think I’ll drink myself to death over the next six months.” And my mom just looked at me, like, “You rat fuck.” (laughs)

I was in a deep slump. I was doing over a bottle of vodka every day. I drank enough to black out on a daily basis. I’d lose entire weeks. I drove drunk, I drove blacked out. I’d developed liver failure and jaundice. I’d actually turned yellow. And every time I got sober, I’d start getting drunk again.

I know psychology. So I know that people have their own velocity when they go through trauma, pain, guilt, all of that stuff. And I know it’s retarded, but I wasn’t done with her. I wasn’t done with it yet. And I had nothing better to do.

One day, in between a double shift at the restaurant, I came home and drank a pint of rum and went to take a nap before going back. Chyna comes home while I’m passed out, turns off the alarm clock, and goes back to work. At the restaurant, she tells them I’m acting all fucked up and crazy, and I’m really drunk. When I finally come in, I get fired. And the next morning, when I’m passed out again, Chyna throws me outside, calls my mom and tells her she’s calling the cops unless she comes to get me.

Next thing I know I’m in Delaware. That’s where my dad lives. The minute I got there, I blacked out on his floor. When I woke up, I knew I needed help. I went to my first AA meeting. I ended up doing probably four hundred meetings in the next year.

They say that 3.5 percent of people who go to those meetings get helped. Well, I wasn’t one of those 3.5. I started working again and started drinking again.

During the time I was struggling to get clean, I found out from my mom that Chyna had become a manager at the restaurant she’d gotten me fired from. And that she already had another boyfriend. Five months after moving to Delaware, I finally wrote her a breakup note—which is hilarious, because she had already dated two other guys by then. I was basically left with nothing.

I was stuck with my dad in Delaware, because Chyna was living in the same town as my mom. I just never wanted to see her again.

You know, I’m an intimate guy. That’s just the way I am. I’m always kind. I’m very dedicated. When I’m with somebody, there’s nobody else in the world. And that’s how I was with Chyna. I was broken up bad for about a week, and then I was like okay, this is how this was supposed to end.

But my body knows that it will always care for her and get a little bit excited when I see her on Facebook. My body will always wonder how she’s doing. But that’s just the body. It does what it does. I don’t get hung up on it. I mean, I’ve probably shared more time and intimacy and knowledge with Chyna than anybody else. If you count the nights we stayed up, we basically spent the equivalent of seven years together. I’ve known her since she was eighteen years old. And she’s thirty now. But the truth is, we broke up seven years ago.

I haven’t had a real girlfriend since we were together. I haven’t lived with anybody except my parents. I’m on disability now because of too much trauma and who the hell knows what else. I still drink, but I switched to whiskey because it tastes bad and so I only drink a pint or less. What I’m drinking right now won’t kill me—not until I’m fifty-five or something. Which is fine. I thought I was going to be dead years ago, so everyone’s kind of happy about that.

I’m in Tucson now. I moved back as soon as I found out she had gone. I think she’s in Vegas. I haven’t seen her. I know she’s alive and healthy. The last time I talked to her was around a year ago. I was about to go to a Pixies concert. I called her to tell her, because she loves the Pixies. But she took offense and hung up on me. We talked for five minutes. I was drunk, and I could tell she was fucked up. I was trying to be friendly and she took it the wrong way. I never heard from her again until recently. I think she accidentally sent me a group e-mail.


Rumpus original art by Christina Gualy.


Excerpted from US: Americans Talk About Love edited by John Bowe, published in February by Faber & Faber, Inc., an affiliate of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by John Bowe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase.

Read “An Oral History of Love in Contemporary America: Selections from Us #1.”

Read “An Oral History of Love in Contemporary America: Selections from Us #2.”

Read “An Oral History of Love in Contemporary America: Selections from Us #3.”

John Bowe has contributed to the New Yorker, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, GQ, The American Prospect, PRI’s This American Life, and McSweeney’s. He was co-editor of Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs, the co-screenwriter of the film Basquiat, and the author of the book Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy. More from this author →