Jean Chen Ho, Korean Boys I’ve Loved

There was Dr. Park, my dentist. When he put his fingers in my mouth the smell of the latex turned me on, and I made super intense eye contact with him while he scraped the plaque off my teeth. You’re a smoker, aren’t you, he said. Uh-huh, I replied, which made drool drip from the side of my mouth. When he unclipped the bib afterwards, his hand grazed my left nipple so I knew it was on.

What do you write? he asked me once. I answered, but he wasn’t listening.

This bitch is bleeding me dry, he replied, his eyes watching the phone screen. He was separated from his wife, and every other Saturday he picked up the twins from the house in Larchmont where he used to live. He never asked if I wanted to meet them, and I never expressed interest. Sometimes he showed me pictures of them in his phone, two little Korean boys grinning. They had his mouth, his ears. Little assholes, Dr. Park called them. They don’t really like me, he admitted. They’re mama’s boys.

The writing wasn’t going well. I felt it coming but it still hurt when my manager dropped me after another flopped pilot season. I needed money so I pinched Dr. Park’s Rolex one night. Snuck out, hit the road, I-15 towards Vegas. He knew I needed the money, and if he’d just given it to me, it would’ve been easy, but he wanted to prove our affair wasn’t dirty, when in fact. Well. Let’s just say I was alternating antibiotics—Cipro, Amoxil, whatever—every other week, bladder infections and tonsillitis and pink eye; must’ve somehow got into my eyeball. Always begging to fuck me in the ass. Said his wife would never let him, and that was why Chinese girls were better than Korean ones. That was a compliment, I guess. Ha. Ha, ha. It’s funny now.

I pawned the watch, doubled it in an hour at the craps table at El Cortez, then somehow lost it all again. Every last chip. Nothing left to do but call him and confess. He said he understood, told me to come home and he’d give me the money I needed. When I got there he was waiting in my apartment, smoking a cigarette in the dark. Don’t know how he got in. Dr. Park had his ways. He stood up and slapped me a couple times. Guess I deserved that. Then he shoved me against the wall and really started hitting me—not in the face, you understand. Never in the face. I took it. He was crying. I felt so tired. You probably won’t believe me, but we really did love one another. Later he went back to his wife. Said it was because he didn’t want to lose half his money if they divorced for real, and I had to respect that. Plus they had the kids to think about. What could I do?

Kyung, he used to be my best friend. I met him in my first-ever screenwriting class at Santa Monica College. We only did it a couple times, in his dank little room, that narrow apartment off Olympic and Alvarado. From his bedroom window you could hear MacArthur Park. The ghosts moaning. I was drunk off Chamisul, as usual. The Decemberists singing something, something. We knew it was a bad idea to touch, all the things they say about sex ruining friendship and so on but it was the week between Christmas and New Years, and we were both lonely. My best girlfriend had just gotten engaged, and I was turning thirty in January. But you don’t even care about that crap, Kyung said.

Do you? I asked him.

Naw, he said. All my married friends are miserable and hate their lives.

He told me about their annual boys trip to Vegas, a tradition they started four or five years ago, when most of his group turned thirty. The married guys go nuts, he said. Drugs, hookers. Call their wives crying like little bitches. Last year I had to lock their phones in the safe.

You should write about it, I said. Like, a Korean American Hangover.

No one wants to see that, he replied. They only want the Korean guy with his tiny dick naked in the trunk, talking in a fucked-up accent.

Are the hookers white girls? Are they hot?

I only go for the golf, he said. Want another shot?

We blamed the soju the first time but had no excuses the next couple times. His mouth tasted like menthols burned to the filter, and the whole time I was thinking: He’ll never leave this apartment, this neighborhood. This is where he’ll die. Inhaling the asbestos, slow and steady, or else shot. He’d already been mugged twice and started carrying a knife around, but I knew he wouldn’t ever use it.

I was wrong, though. Years later, after all the drafts of our suburban vampire romantic comedy went nowhere, he chose law school over Asian American Studies at UCLA. A few years back he got married to a German woman. On Facebook I see their camping trips to Yosemite, Zion, places even farther than that. He seems happy.

My first real boyfriend, Danny Chung, I met when I was sixteen. His friends called him Casper because he was so pale. After his parents died of cancer, one after the other, he and his addict brother went their separate ways and sold the family liquor store. He had money but didn’t ever want to do anything fun. Couldn’t sleep for shit. Couldn’t talk about the sadness, either. Instead he got stoned twenty-four-seven and stuffed his face with junk. King Taco carne asada fries, Shin ramen with ripped up Kraft singles, sourdough Jacks and jalapeño poppers picked up from the drive through. Not that he was in great shape before, but he really blew up after that. He still had those dark mean eyes that got me, a softness in his face. The night he got arrested, I was with him. He insisted he was fine to drive. Idiot. When the blue and red lights flared behind us, he pulled over to the shoulder and turned down the music. Drew out a cigarette from the pack resting in the cup holder. We were almost home, just one more stop on the 10. He told the cops it was my fault. She was hitting me—she made me swerve! That’s what he said. Motherfucker, I thought, but kept my mouth shut.

When I was still a girl, there was Paul, the pastor’s son. We were both twelve. He said he wanted to show me something behind the church, and I followed. In the stairwell of the parking structure, he unzipped his Levi’s and pulled his dick out— swollen, purple, lifted. I stared at it. The stiffness seemed almost mechanical. He asked me to touch it, and I said no. Just a little, he said. Please?

His dad scared the shit out of everyone, talking about the rapture. Gnashing teeth, fire and brimstone. I believed it all. Thought for sure I was going to hell. I was sure Paul was going to hell, too. I don’t care, Paul said. I love you, he said.

You do? I said.

The next week, he told everyone at school about my mouth, my tight wet pussy. One of my older cousins––who claimed Wah Ching–– got wind and kicked his ass. Paul shut up after that. My cousin said, You don’t have to go with Chinese boys but stay the fuck away from Koreans. I promised I would. Not long after that, my cousin was caught in crossfire at a pool hall shoot out in El Monte. He got arrested, and kept getting arrested after that, until they hit him with the third-strike rule. I haven’t seen him in a long time, but I think about him. He would’ve hated Dr. Park and all the rest of them.