Rumpus Original Fiction: On Sight

By

You’re at a red light on Venice, en route to meet Sonny at the farmers market.

Your friend texts. Why are you seeing him? Motherfucker ghosted.

You double-check for police before answering: He can’t help it, he’s light-skinned lol.

Jk, you add. You know I’m not about that life.

Actually, your hobbies include personal training at Equinox. Also, you’re in an improv group. The Decolonial Antics. The MO? Stage the absurd to expose the social order. This season, it’s all about criminalizing whiteness. In a new sketch, you play a worst-case version of yourself. Instead of ethnic studies, you’re a David Foster Wallace scholar, the field’s token Asian. In one performance, you’re reading Infinite Jest at a coffee shop when two woke hapas come up to you. The thousand-page novel is disturbing their chill. They start harassing you, beating you up, so you raise your most prized possession, a first-edition hardcover, and fight back. Stand up for your right to whiteness!

So, really, you kind of are about that life.

The car behind you honks. The light is green. You feel watched. It takes you three tries to parallel park.

You’re early. Sonny will be late. He always was. You put on Lemonade, turn the volume up. Ghost tones fill your car. They speed. They scatter.

After a year of silence, he texted you last week. He was ready for your apology. Yesterday, he called—a first—and said he wanted to get hummus.

A banner alert, another text from your friend, Rick: Let him go. You have to make room for…

You brush it away. You check your screenshots of Sonny’s Grindr profile. His bio: “DTLA architect by day, WeHo daddy at night. Been rooting for everybody black.” His degrees and graduation years. His three immaculate pics: overalled, tuxedoed, and booty-shorted, looking like a different man in each. The only constants: his pensive gaze, a tight-lipped smile, the casual beard and diamond stud.

The screenshots are your only proof of Sonny. You have no evidence of the dozen dates you went on, no photos of you together. All you have are the memories.

“Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you,” you sing along.

You two never had sex. You still don’t know why. It confirms your worst fears about yourself.

Illegible.

Undesirable.

Inevitably unlovable.

On your second-to-last date, summer, you were both down to underwear in his bed. Your thighs were thick and tan. You traced the easy V of his arm.

“You know I’m seeing someone, yeah?”

His boots pressed hard on your bare feet.

“Yeah,” you said. “Yeah.”

Early on, he told you he wasn’t into monogamy. Later, in passing, he mentioned he was in an open relationship. You never asked for details. It was hard enough to believe that he was interested in you. You didn’t need more to overthink.

You sat up against the headboard. An Infinite Jest paperback—the one you bought for him when he asked to get to know you better—lay bookmarked on the nightstand. It looked worn, the spine torn. LP covers decorated Sonny’s wall: Miles Davis in a teal suit, Big Boi and Andre in front of a black-and-white American flag. It hit you that you’d never heard him sing.

“Step down, they don’t love you like I love you,” you sing now before turning off the car stereo.

It’s time. You’re done playing your memories on loop, thinking of everything you might have done wrong. Today will be the end.

You delete the screenshots. You jaywalk to the median. You take a timed photo of yourself under a tree.

You don’t look fat in the shot. Your arms and legs bear lines you barely believe. You look young though. Like a child. It’s your puny mustache and barely-there brows. Your round nose and big cheeks. The long hair helps though. Your brown skin, too.

You have a hard time holding all of the bodies you’ve been. The ones in photos, in mirrors, in memories. In the squishy, blank-faced Asian men you walk past every day. Lately, in the right outfit and the perfect lighting, you even find yourself cute. Attractive, even. Sometimes, you value yourself more than you think your body deserves.

You follow a chalk-drawn trail up Abbot Kinney. You avoid eye contact with clipboard-carrying pushers from the HRC. You stop outside a Salt & Straw and breathe in the waffle bowls baking. You pinch the fat at your waist and move along.

The trail ends at a parking lot. That’s when Sonny texts you. Running late! See you soon, Darrell.

 

The alt-V FM, a farmers market, is canopied and air-conditioned. It’s packed with folding tables and white people.

Sonny is twenty minutes late. At a crystal stand, you pick up a purple rock. You scrape your arm with the sharp edge.

You do another lap before calling. It goes to voicemail. It’s too loud to hear his greeting. You don’t need it to mouth along. “Leave a message for the man you think I am. I’ll get back to you if you get it right.”

You have his bullshit memorized.

You’re coming up on the crystal stand again. It looks like a white girl’s living room. Fake trees, a millennial pink couch, a belly-up cat, striped with rays of sun. You stop to think of what to tell Sonny.

You aren’t alone. Somebody’s sitting in the corner. He’s wearing a t-shirt with The Scream on it. He holds a Sartre paperback like a mask.

Twenty-three minutes late. Same old Sonny. The trunk of the fake tree is smooth. It almost feels wet. Necklaces and wind chimes hang on the slim branches. You brush the metals. Silky, sonorous.

“Sonny, it’s Darrell. I’m at the altV-FM? You sure know how to pick them. This is the whitest shit.”

The person in the corner lowers his book. He’s Asian. Pale. He looks offended, like you’re taking a piss in somebody’s yard.

“It’s so white, I’m turning gluten-free. It’s so white, I’m going to read Ulysses in one sitting. It’s so white—”

A white guy appears. He gives you a look on his way to the corner. The white man puts his hand on the Asian man’s head.

“It’s so white, I’m going to find me a sugar daddy. Call me back, Sonny.”

The couple leaves. You sit on the couch and imagine the two of them fucking.

Twenty-six minutes late. Sonny texts you. You’re at the wrong farmers market. There are two. He’s at the original one, the hummus one. Not the alt-V FM.

Venice.

Take it easy, he writes. You hold on to the plastic tree. Your fingers clot around the branch. Another buzz on your phone. I’ll see you when I see you.

Twenty-seven. Fake wood snaps. Wind chimes clang at your feet.

 

You play it all back. Two springs ago, when blossoms were bursting from branches, Sonny took you to a Little League game. It was in Echo Park or Silver Lake—or was it Los Feliz? His godson was playing, his best friend’s kid.

It was the day of another police non-indictment. It was before white people put Black Lives Matter signs in their windows. Before Asian people claimed the cause as their own. (Any day now, they’ll start chanting, “Vincent Chin. Say his name.”)

You wore a white t-shirt that read HELL YOU TALM BOUT. It’s from a Janelle Monáe show. Your hair kept blowing in your face. The all-white parents of the all-white teams kept looking at you sideways.

“Do you think they’re confused? Angry? Angry that they’re confused?” you said.

“They don’t know what they’re doing,” Sonny said, bouncing against the wire fence. “They can’t see themselves—never as well as you can see them. TBH, they make me feel good. Powerful.”

“Maybe that’s the difference between us.”

“What’s that?” he asked, like a parent would a child.

“Nothing about white people makes me feel big. If they treat me as small, I act small right back.”

You didn’t know this about yourself until you said it. Was it true?

“It’s why I avoid them now,” you said. “I’m sick of shrinking.”

Ball popped off of bat. You flinched, dodged, embarrassed. He squeezed your shoulder and pulled you toward him. A shepherd and his sheep—a good couple’s costume for Halloween.

The game ended. A picnic began. You two sat at your own table. You were making up BS rules for baseball, a sport that neither of you ever played, when a white guy waved at Sonny. He was holding a big, silver balloon. He turned his fitted hat backwards.

“Bring it in, big brotha!”

He was two heads taller than Sonny. That’s the best friend? A white guy?

They hugged. The white guy let go of the balloon. It drifted towards the trees.

They sat side by side in slim-fit tees and Air Force Ones. Neither included you in the A-and-B conversation—“Wallace’s fiction is hella hard.” “For real.” “Consider the Lobster is way more fun to read.”—so you left for the table with the sweets.

You were cutting slices of a sheet cake when a curly-haired kid walked up to you with a bat. Sonny’s godson. He didn’t look white, not quite, so the bat he carried didn’t look so threatening.

“Is that your dad?” you asked, pointing a plastic knife at the white guy.

“Yeah. Are you and Sonny boyfriends or husbands?”

You laughed. Guffawed. Married? A future as unthinkable as another white best friend. Still. This thing with Sonny wasn’t nothing. There was no denying that you cared more, but at least he answered. At least he showed. No one else came close. You stacked the cake for Sonny on the thin slice for yourself.

The white guy put his arm across Sonny’s shoulder. They looked like a real couple.

Fuck it. You forked a bite of both slices. Mouth full of chocolate cake, you told the kid that you were just friends.

He asked you to get his balloon, the one stuck in a tree. It was his half-birthday.

You walked to the tree together. The balloon was losing shape. You pawed at the trunk for grip.

“The picnic’s supposed to be for me,” he said. “My dad really likes having me around.”

“Well, yeah. He’s your dad.”

“That’s not what I mean. I mean, he really likes that I’m Black.”

“So he’s proud of you?”

The kid kicked at the base of the tree. He made a hole in the dirt with the bat.

“More like he’s proud of him. Because he’s not Black but I am.”

“It’s okay to say white people are white, you know?”

Look at you. Finding teachable moments.

“I know. Dad tells me that all the time. But he loves that he made a Black boy when he’ll never be one.”

The white guy sprang from the picnic bench like a jack in the box. Speaking of the devil.

You climbed up the tree. A first. You straddled a thick branch within reach of the balloon. In the reflection, you looked five and terrified.

You glanced down. The kid asked if you were okay. The white guy pointed at you. Sonny met you at the tree. The three of them looked like a new kind of family. Where did that leave you?

“You need me to come up there, babe?”

He was already pulling off his shirt, white, folding it against his body.

Grab the balloon and leap, you thought. He might catch you. You might break. Either way, the boy would get his balloon back.

You couldn’t. You felt stuck. You stayed. Sonny climbed and sat by your side.

“How do we get back down?” you asked.

“I don’t know. But we’re here now.”

“We’re here now.”

He held your hand till sun reached overhead.

 

That was the fourth date. You fell for him on the second.

It was winter. You wanted to see him. He wanted to dance.

He lived in a West Hollywood high-rise. You drove two times around the block looking for parking and a third to finish your pre-date playlist. “YOU THAT BITCH, OR 🍰🍰🍰.” You parallel-parked perfectly on the very first try in between a Tesla and a Maserati. You sat in the car to hear the end of “6 Inch.” Bass notes filled the car like magma. Beyoncé prayed for her lover to come back.

She begged.

She broke.

It was your first time at his place. He buzzed you up. His door was unlocked. As you took off your shoes, Cardi B played on the speakers, calling you a little bitch. The whole thing was straight out of PornHub except there was no porn that looked like you and Sonny.

He sent you a text—he was getting ready still—so you waited in the living room. The ceiling was high, the windows tall, the music surround-sound. A dot matrix of birds was making ink blots in the sky when you wondered about the rent. That, and the interior decorating. Was it his work, or did he pay to have it done? Architecture must pay well.

Oh fuck. This was anti-Black. Doubting his taste, his class.

The music cut off just as Outkast was getting started.

“Hey, get in here,” he called from the bedroom. “I need your opinion.”

Outfits piled on his bed. All he had on was briefs. His thighs were pale but hairy, thin but firm. You sat in an empty spot to hide your growing hard-on. You didn’t see a mirror anywhere.

He slipped on a burgundy blazer that was too dark for his skin. He buttoned a pair of plaid pants that was too dark for the blazer.

“How do I look?”

Looking at his body—boyish, effortless—you felt ashamed of your own. Your softness. Your excess. He looked at you, you held his gaze. Thick brows, elm-brown eyes. He looked sad like he’d lost something. Or maybe you were projecting. A Black man with a tender face and a taut body—people must see in him whatever they wanted.

“It looks like someone stole all your clothes and left you with nothing but accessories. Let me play stylist.”

You walked into his closet. Kaleidoscopic. You handed him something short-sleeved, pale pink. It was tight in all the right places.

He took you club-hopping. You felt ill at ease everywhere while Sonny looked free.

Then, at The Abbey, a high-ceilinged clusterfuck, a muscle-daddy type grabbed Sonny’s ass. The dude was shirtless, naturally. Asian, implausibly. His chest bulged like buttered burger buns. Sonny took hold of your hand. He told the dude to fuck off.

The daddy looked at you and laughed. He got in your face. Sweat gleaned on his forehead, pink and blue from the club lights.

“I bet he beats up your pussy real good,” he said. “The brother and I can take turns on you. People say I have Black dick. You wanna have some real fun tonight?”

You couldn’t believe it. You weren’t surprised. All around the room, television screens flashed shots of Migos playing mahjong in a Chinese restaurant. Your heart thumped like a gavel.

“What does that mean?” you said, loud enough for Sonny to hear beside you.

“You know what it means.”

“Explain it to me. What’s so special about a Black man’s dick?”

The daddy pulled your free hand to his crotch. You smelled Sonny’s cologne, his sweat. Like a forest after rain.

“Why stop there?” you said.

He tightened his grip.

“I’m dying to know.”

He let go. He took one last look at Sonny and walked away.

In the daddy’s absence, you felt the cram of all the bodies in the club. People danced in clusters, each off-beat differently. Miley Cyrus twerked on every screen. You were drained.

Sonny tucked his thumbs inside your pockets. He breathed beside your ear. Lightning. Warmth. You closed your eyes and kissed him. You opened your eyes to his smile. He led you out of the crowd

It was late. The two of you walked along Santa Monica. A sex toy shop played SpongeBob in the display window. You passed a dispensary as bright as an empty stadium.

Sonny reached a crosswalk before you. The signal was flashing red, so he ran. He smiled at you from across the street. Then traffic flashed past, and just like that, he was gone. Disappeared. Nowhere to be seen. You crossed the street in panic, walked up and down the sidewalk. You went inside a building that looked nice enough to be his. No luck. No one. You felt like a kid again. Forgotten at after-school pickup. Left to wander big box stores and outlet malls alone. It must have been something you said at the club. You were doomed to be like the daddy—like all Asian men.

Out of place.

Out of touch.

Dying to make sense in the world.

Everything looked different in the dark. You had no clue where you’d parked.

You ordered a Lyft. The driver made eye contact with you in the rearview before you dozed off.

You woke up downtown to a call. Sonny. He explained. He had walked you to his place. Waited for you to come inside. Wanted you to spend the night. You didn’t know how to explain all of your assumptions. How to say that your story still made more sense to you than his.

Then, as you were lying on the floor of your apartment, he asked to come see you.

And he did. He fell asleep in your arms, on fleece blankets and dusty hardwood. With him, you felt at home.

 

WeHo again. Late fall. Last date.

You’d gotten toned. You were sleeveless and freezing, all to show off. Sonny didn’t say a word about your body. At the speakeasy though—Black-owned, soft open, everything oaken—he slid his hand up your back. You felt something cool along your spine. A ring. An engagement ring? You were never sure which finger meant what. You wanted to ask, but how? How would you ask your boyfriend if he’d gotten engaged since the last time you saw him?

Boyfriend? You saw each other once a month. You still hadn’t fucked. What a joke. A fucking humiliation.

You got up to look for the bathroom. A Black waiter in a leather apron came to the table. His ears shined with piercings, a daisy and a fist. He squatted next to Sonny.

“I know this one’s been here and then some,” the waiter said to you about Sonny, “but allow me to introduce myself. I’m Gabe. You?”

You gave him your name. Sonny set his hand on Gabe’s knee. You left for the bathroom.

It wasn’t locked. You walked in on a man on the toilet. Hat brim low, phone in hand. His pants were on. So was the volume of his porn.

He looked at you, shadow hiding his face. You didn’t flinch. He looked down. The video got even louder. Moaning, sucking, gagging.

Tears coming on, you locked the door. Engaged or not, Sonny saw you when he saw you. He didn’t owe you more than that. It was clear now he didn’t want you, not enough to keep you, so what was the point of doing this any longer? Of pretending that you mattered?

“Yo,” the man on the toilet said and stood. He was Asian. He wore all black. Oversized hoodie, slim-fit denim, chunky Nikes. He held out his phone. “Look what I did.”

It was a picture, a photo he took of you. Your hair was down to your chest. It framed your jawline, sharp. And your quads. Your quads were impressive.

You looked good. Sad—but good. You looked like the you in your head.

“Would you send me that?”

“So you’ll give me your number?” he said. “Cuz you deserve better than whoever made you feel like that.”

You texted yourself from his phone. You left the bathroom first.

Gabe was in your seat now. He and Sonny were laughing.

Were you the punchline? You weren’t. You weren’t.

“Anyway,” Sonny said as Gabe stood. “I’ll have whatever Darrell’s having.”

You ordered a mezcal old fashioned. Gabe complimented your choice. He winked. He left.

Sonny traced his finger up your leg.

“You’re his type, you know.”

“Who?”

“Gabe. Our waiter. Or did you already forget his name?”

The ring was the only thing on your mind. The man who was good enough for Sonny.

“How do you even know him?” you said.

“Black people don’t all know each other,” he said.

He looked away. At the bar. At the door. A bit of chapstick clung to his beard.

You fucked up. You always did. Doomed. Daddy.

Sonny put his hand on your chin. Held you like something dear.

“Hey,” he said. “Hey.”

“Hi.”

He picked up your hand, slid his fingers between yours.

“I’m just teasing. I went to school with the owner, so I’ve been the guinea pig here. You’re good.”

We’re good. We’re here now.

He moved your hand to his thigh. Guided you closer, ever closer.

“Gabe basically trained on me. I can ask if he’s free later. I mean, he’s into you. I’m into you. Could be a fun night.”

You imagined the three of you sneaking into a whiskey cellar, the scent of sweet and spice. Wood creaking, liquor swashing, bodies tumbling, but it wasn’t you between the two of them. You stroked and looked on while they fucked a white guy in both holes.

Sonny’s man had to be white, right? White best friend. White fiancé. That left Gabe, the Black fuck buddy, and you, the Asian side piece.

Sonny was hard. You felt it. You moved your hand, dug nail after nail into your arm.

“So now you want to fuck,” you said.

His chest rose with breath. You felt hot. He set his elbows on his knees.

Shut up.

Shut the fuck up, you told yourself.

You said more:

“Now that you’re engaged, you want to go out with a bang? Is that what this is?”

“Engaged? I’m engaged now?”

“Or what, is the ring a trick to get me off your dick? Just tell me if you don’t want me. It’s not like I don’t already know.”

He stood. The ring hung by your face. In the scratched-up band, your eyes looked small. Slanted.

“I wear a cheap-ass ring from Target. That’s all it takes for you to lose it? Do you see yourself right now?”

He tugged the dull thing off and dropped it on the table.

He was out the door before you had time to say his name. To say I’m sorry. To say anti-Blackness. Anxious attachment. Childhood abandonment. Any number of words for why you’d imagined a whole life of his that left you out of the picture.

Gabe came back. He set down two cocktails. You breathed in the citrus smoke. He handed you two shots. On the house, he said with a smile.

He went to another table, greeted three brown men standing around in boat shoes. They each wore a different color of gingham. You downed the mezcal and held the glasses to your eyes like binoculars. The gingham brothers blurred. They dripped. A camouflage of men.

You paid and pocketed the shot glasses. You wrote your number on the receipt for Gabe. You scratched it out and left.

You got lost looking for your car. You walked past a sky-blue mural. Painted in a rainbow: LOVE YOURSELF TO LOVE SOMEBODY ELSE #DRAGRACE. You pitched the glasses against the wall. You sat between the shards until a huddle of drunks asked you to take their picture.

Can I see you? you texted him that night.

I’m sorry, you sent the week after.

It’s a bad idea to see each other again, he answered finally. You know.

You did. You didn’t. You deleted his contact.

When you told Rick how things ended with Sonny, you lied. Said that he ghosted. Said nothing about projection, activation, cognitive distortion. You were still too wounded to say that you were wrong.

Pain made you thin. Anger made you hard.

A year drifted by like continents breaking apart.

 

Last week, on the Vincent Chin anniversary, in between sets of chest presses, you got a text: I see you. The number wasn’t in your contacts, but who else could it be?

You scanned the mirrors at the gym. He was nowhere in sight.

Fuck Sonny.

You took another look and clocked four Asian men: the perfectly preppy start-up CFO, the white CEO’s child-sized husband, the Silicon Beach reformed bro, the beach beach bro bro. You didn’t see yourself in any of them. You lay on an incline bench and Google-imaged Crazy Rich Asians. You saved a still of the Henry Golding character with his best friend in the movie. The men were shirtless on the sea. The star held out a ring to the sidekick as if the love was theirs.

What if the Decolonial Antics did a sketch where you played the Bachelor? The queer Asian Bachelor. And Sonny, all twelve of him you met—thin ties and discrete chains, white tees and tie-dyes—what if they were the ones fighting for your hand? Performing for your gaze?

You met Sonny at this Equinox. You two used to work out at the same time, eyeing each other often. The day that you finally talked to him, he was wearing all black. When he put the bumper plates back on the rack and headed for the locker room, you stopped whatever you were doing and followed.

He was cleaning his shoes on the bench. His locker was opposite yours. You sat close to him. You were taking your time untying your shoes when a part of him touched a part of you. You looked over your shoulder. You thought you saw a tattoo on his back. He turned too. The two of you held the partial glance, a moment that felt like forever.

You both headed to the showers. After, you walked past him shaving at the sinks. He wore nothing but a towel around his waist. You didn’t see any tattoos this time, only a slender chain.

You got dressed alone, feeling yourself in your look. You were deleting forwards on your phone when he came back, dripping. You typed out what to say to him until he sounded dressed. When you turned around, there he was, looking at you.

“Any chance you’re free right now?” you said.

“Always. I’m a free Black man.”

He was nobody you knew and everyone you wanted.

“Do free Black men like brunch?”

He laughed. He squeezed your arm. At the restaurant—on the patio, all sun—you took bites off each other’s plates. You gave him your number. That was how everything started.

When it ended, you stopped seeing Sonny at the gym. But now this text. I see you. Was it really him?

You arnolded a weight that was too heavy, too fast. You did Spider-Man pushups till your whole body gave out. Collapsed on the floor, you texted Rick: You won’t believe who just hit me up. You texted the Bachelor idea to your improv group. You texted the guy you were seeing, the one from the speakeasy. Decent politics, good-looking, great heart. Had no clue about Vincent Chin when you brought it up. You asked if he wanted to spend the long weekend up in the Bay.

You were still stomach-down on the floor when a pair of Air Force Ones stopped in front of your eyes. Your phone lit up at the same time, the words a blur.

No. You stood and put your hair up. It made you a different man. You got hard and decided you were why. You were hot. You were worthy.

Fuck it. You read the text.

Lawlz hilarious love it but is it too much? Who’s gonna believe a gay Asian bachelor?

It was the Antics. You switched to the I see you. You typed, Fuck off.

He texted again: I’m ready to meet up.

Him: For your apology 😂.

So it was Sonny.

Another text, Asian bae: Let’s go!

Another, Rick: Not that bullshit again.

You: I’m ready too. Tomorrow?

 

So, you went to the altV-FM. You read the map outside the canopy. The legend was in emojis: 🏬👨‍🌾 (urban farmers), 💎👩‍⚕️ (crystal healers), 🎩🌳 (craft cannabis provisioners). Not exactly a hummus crowd.

Ten minutes late—you wanted Sonny to show. At fifteen, you thought that he would never. Twenty. You stopped at a crystal stand. Twenty-two. You whispered Sonny’s voicemail greeting. “The man you think I am.” Then he texted. Your hand was clammy on the plastic tree. I’ll see you when I see you. Fake wood snapped. Wind chimes clanged at your feet.

A pedicab screeches to a stop. The driver sets one foot under the canopy. He’s bald. He has on blue compression tights and a matching puffer jacket. Genie.

You get on. You’re going to find Sonny. It’s time to end this. You put your hair up.

“The farmers market,” you say.

“You’re there.”

He doesn’t bother looking at you. Typical white man. He probably thinks you’re a tourist, clueless. You’re furious.

“The other one,” you say.

“No space.”

No space where? His skull is bumpy. You picture bashing bone with bat.

He turns to you. He’s Asian. He looks old enough to be your dad but not dad enough to send you running.

“Well shit,” he says. “I figured you were white.”

“Same.”

You squeeze your fingers one by one, bend each till it cracks.

What if you’d gone through with it? What if you were an Asian American man holding a baseball bat bloodied? You felt guilt ooze. You let breath out.

“Have you heard of Vincent Chin?” you say, looking at a group of hipsters vaping in the parking lot. “Most people haven’t.”

“Heard of him?” he says. “We were the same age when those men split his head open. I was about to meet my girl’s parents. White. I broke up with her the day the sentence came down. Three thousand dollars my ass.”

He knows. Safety glimmers. You look around the pedicab for his name. An Astro Boy sticker shines, holographic on the seat.

“I learned about Vincent around the time of Trayvon,” you say.

“It’s all the same,” he says.

Fuck. Wrong. Dead wrong. The sticker is peeling. You press it down. No difference. You look back at the hipsters. One takes off his bucket hat. He has on sunglasses. A thick chain. Air Jordans. Why do Asian American men love to act Black? Act like we’re interchangeable?

Anger flashes over you. Betrayal turns everything gray.

How do you tell a stranger that what happened isn’t the same? How do you explain the difference between violence as event and violence as condition? Can you? Can you claim Vincent Chin without posing as Trayvon Martin? You don’t know how to say any of this without the ethnic studies jargon. You don’t know how to get yourself across to this Asian American man. You don’t have it in you to look at Asian American men, much less see.

“How?” you ask. “How is it the same?”

“Vincent was a bachelor. Trayvon was a boy. They were young with whole lives left to live,” he says. “But all that potential. They don’t see it.”

“And we can’t see each other.” You notice that your hands are clenching the seat. Release. “I feel like a ghost most of the time.”

He looks at you over his shoulder. The two of you hold the partial glance, a moment that feels like forever.

“The boardwalk’s the fastest way to the OG market. Leggo.”

He gets going. You get cold in the wind. At a red light, he pulls off his puffer and hands you the puddle of blue.

Scars smear his arms. Tattoos outline the maroon wounds. His skin looks topographic. A geography of hurt.

The car behind you honks. The light is green. He pedals. You move as one.

Stop sign. A car of four, windows down, playing Lemonade on high. It’s near the end. Snare drums rattle. Organ chords beam. “I’ma wade, I’ma wave through your shallow love. Tell the deep I’m new.” Cool breeze soothes your face.

The pedicab turns onto the boardwalk. An open-air freakshow. Through the moms and balloons and photorealistic paintings, the muscles and churros and curvy, emerald bongs, you catch sight of a man orbited by three boys. The man is the color of exposed brick. The boys are pink and blotchy, infatuated.

You grip the driver’s shoulder. He stops. The tourists behind you curse. He says you’re free to go. You hold on to him by the collarbone.

The man is out on the horizon. Sunset flecks his fro. Is it Sonny? Sonny or a stranger. Your steps sink into sand. You go to see for sure.

The man is wearing a gray sweatshirt. On it, Black Bart Simpson reads Walden in a city dump. The boys stand close enough to be brothers. To be lovers.

The tallest of the three leans back. He laughs and brushes the man’s arm. Another is shirtless, holding a skateboard behind his neck. The third faces away from you, his legs skinny and bleeding. He sways on his board back and forth. The man watches him like hypnosis.

Then he looks at you. The bleeding boy does, too. The man is mouthing something when you hear your name from behind.

Surf rolls out to shore. The boys close in on the man, shutting him from sight. When you turn around, there he is, looking at you. Sonny. You say his name. He says yours. The two of you head north till dark. You won’t see him again after this evening—today has become the end—so when it comes time to leave each other for good, you hold him for longer than you’ll ever again bear.

***

Rumpus original art by Cowboy Rocky.


Brian Lin is a PhD candidate in creative writing and literature at USC. He has attended the Tin House Summer Workshop and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference and received fellowships from Writing by Writers and the Community of Writers. His work can be found in The Margins, Lambda Literary, Hyphen Magazine, and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Brian is working on his first books of prose. More from this author →