Paco came to the after party on the day of the last show.

He said he saw it; I didn’t believe him. It’s a 99-seat house, and even with the lights heating the retinas in my eyes, I burned my gaze right through the light to see who else was there. It’s a fun little game I like to play when I am performing in a show—sometimes I expect to see my parents, or a dear friend, and I like to perform directly to them, as a special way of saying, “I see you there, thank you for coming. This one’s for you.”  It’s even better when someone doesn’t tell you when they are attending, and you find them in the audience in the middle of a soliloquy. It was sweet when my boyfriend Thomas came. Earlier that day, he said he got called into work at the bar that night. In the middle of one of Kate’s speeches—I think it was the one in Act IV, scene iii—I caught his eyes in the middle of my line, and the butterflies fluttered out of my chest and launched my adrenaline forward, excited to give the entirety of that performance directly to him.

I feel like I would know if I saw Paco during the performance that night, and I don’t think I did.

People respect Paco. He was a neighbor of the theater space. The theater’s mission was to bridge the arts to the Latinos of East L.A. It didn’t quite help that most of the company members were actors and directors with MFA degrees, or with the assimilationist will and determination like mine. They offered discounted tickets to residents of the 90033 ZIP code, but so few took advantage of such an offer, especially since the Latino mentality discredits anything that is not tangibly useful to them, which means that the theater is out. The theater manager knew that they had to make their mission look credible, and that’s where Paco stepped in. He was always invited to fundraising events and opening night parties; in turn, he is sure to bring “community members”—boisterous Chicanos named Lola, Angel, and Cupid—all of this to build credibility for the theater as a place “for the community”. They knew they were posing, but not unwilling to pass up the opportunity for free booze. For Paco, he really seemed in it for the attention, not necessarily for Chicano interpretations of Shakespeare. Nevertheless, the exchange was mutual and seemed to benefit both sides. But I was willing to accept the theater’s mission, as it gave me a role that I’ve always dreamed of, and as my first professional play, I was happy to accept their terms, even if it meant knowing Paco.

At first, I would see Paco around at the theater, chatting with the theater manager. I kind of assumed he was a groundskeeper or janitor. But later I usually saw him whenever I had gotten off from rehearsal, soon realizing that I parked on the street where he lived. I saw him once when I was walking to my car as he was smoking a cigarette outside of his craftsman home. Eventually, we would wave hello. Once, after rehearsal, I ran into one of my fellow castmates, Ernesto, talking to Paco while I was walking to my car. He asked if I had met Paco yet.

“Honestly, no, just in passing,” I giggled, hoping I wasn’t coming off as rude not knowing who he was already. “I’m Gaby.”

He was tall for a Chicano man, but pale skinned and blue eyed. I assumed that I saw his placasos peeking out from under his flannel collar, only the top button fastened, in the classic EastLos style. The 501s and the Nike Cortez looked brand new. He reminded me of what my mother had said about men who looked like him, and how she worked hard to move out of east LA to raise us away from cholos. But he seemed nicer than the ones she depicted, and despite the protestations in my head in my mother’s voice, I still thought that he was handsome. He had a smile that softened his hardness, melted away the threatening aura of his tattoos and his dress.

“We were thinking of going to the taco truck on Cesar Chavez,” said Ernesto. “Do you want to come?”

“Oh, that’s really kind,” I responded. “But I made plans with my boyfriend tonight, I’m going over to his house.”

“Who needs him?” said Paco, laughing. I force a laugh also, trying to be amicable but feeling myself stiffen.

“Maybe another time, promise!” I said.

The next day at rehearsal, Ernesto talked about what a cool and interesting guy Paco was. He said he was still pretty hungover from the night before, but it was worth it nonetheless. He knows all the coolest spots in Boyle Heights, and he claimed that Paco got them free drinks wherever they went. All the bartenders and liquor store owners knew and loved Paco.

“What did you and your man do last night?” Ernesto asked me.

“Oh, we made a really cute dinner and had some wine. It was chill, but still really fun!” I responded.

I pruned this to be better than the truth, which was much more boring than that. Thomas came home tired from his shift at work. I did have intentions to cook, but he wasn’t up for it. We ordered take-out from the Thai restaurant over in Silverlake, his favorite comfort food. I suggested that we watch a movie, but he wanted to watch Sports Center to see any Dodger highlights from the game, they beat the Giants 8-2 that day. But even 30 minutes into turning on ESPN, he fell asleep on the couch. I went to his bedroom, attempting to fall asleep, but instead I was thinking about what Paco and Ernesto might have been up to, daydreaming about jokes I would tell to make them laugh.


When tech week came, my time was soon consumed by work in the day and rehearsal late into the night. Thomas and I didn’t see much of each other, any free time spent was upon waking up in the morning, and on the off chance that Thomas was awake when I arrived at night. But even then, it felt like my body was not apparent to him when I slipped into his bed and wrapped my body around him. The drudgery of daily life living as a couple, but without the actual commitment of being one, despite me being at his house all the time, became all the more heavy with each passing day. It felt as though the thought of the other was no longer a spark but an ember dying and slowly dissolving into a cinder, with barely enough smoke to give a convincing enough last breath.

But I didn’t see Paco around during this time either. He was almost completely forgotten. I was consumed with the meaning of the love Thomas and I had, if it was even there, if he was feeling the way I felt too.

I was, however, reminded of Paco the night before opening. We got out of rehearsal around 1AM. My car was parked at the end of the block where Paco lived. I looked down the block as I dug my hand into my tote bag looking for my keys, and saw something glow in the distance. I realized it was his cigarette, his silhouette illuminated his face from the light of his phone.

After the show opened, the opening night festivities made its way to Tenno Sushi, the karaoke and sushi spot across the street.  It was a very small group—mainly the cast and the significant others, which dampened the excitement and stress relief of an opening night celebration. The theater manager sat with his head in his hand texting in the corner of the booth, seemingly disappointed that the energy was not more lively than he had expected. In a sense, I wished it were more exciting, too. Even Thomas, who got off work early and wanted to join us for drinks, didn’t alleviate my overwhelming sense of desperation for something exhilarating to happen, as if I needed something to change my life at that very moment. Not even the celebration of the opening night performance of my favorite play, not even my boyfriend, could help me feel grateful for the blessings before me. After a couple of drinks, he wanted to call it a night—I don’t know why I found it predictable of him and resented him for it, but it was time for the disappointing night to end anyway.

On our way home, I saw Paco while Thomas drove us down 1st St. He was speaking intently at a small Mexican-looking woman, and then all of a sudden, he kissed her. It wasn’t gentle, it was hard, dominating, the gesture itself was all consuming, staking his claim on this object of a woman, whether she knew it or not. It was jarring to see him in such a state like that, as if it was something that I knew about but I didn’t want to imagine.

“Do you know him?” asked Thomas. I didn’t realize that he was looking at me.

“I thought I did,” I lied. “I thought I saw him in the audience at the show tonight.”


I didn’t see Paco for a while after that night. Since rehearsal ended, I didn’t need to be at the theater until the weekends. I sort of forgot about him until I noticed him at the closing weekend after party.

I saw him the moment I stepped out of the dressing room, standing in front of the bar. Of course he had a smile that I couldn’t forget, but now he looked like any other gangbanger to me. He seemed even more unsettling to me, worse than an unwanted catcaller off the street, and I think it was because I felt his eyes follow me wherever I went and didn’t let go, no matter how hard I tried to ignore it. I didn’t know if I was forcing discomfort, or if there actually was any at all, but the attention he latched on to me with was much more forceful than what I felt when I had interacted with him before. All attraction seemed to dissipate as soon as I felt his persistent gaze, stronger than those stage lights that I was under, as if it were a spotlight whose lens was closing in on me, tight and burning around my face.

I tried to ignore this by burying my head in my phone. I texted Thomas.

Are you almost off?
11:57 pm

So soon. Don’t think I will be able to swing by the after party. I got called in for a double this morning.
11:57 pm

Oh noooo. :(
11:58 pm

I know, it sucks.
I think I’ll probably head straight to bed.
I’m dead.
11:59 pm

I totally get it.
11:59 pm

You can come crash here if you want.
12:00 am

12:00 am

Yeah. So long as it’s not too late.
I still wanna hold you.
I’ll leave the back door unlocked.
Love you, be careful.
12:01 am

I had typed “I love you too,” but didn’t get to send it. I felt a large presence over me that almost made me jump. It was Paco.

“Hello,” he said. “You don’t have anything to drink.” He handed me a beverage.

“Thank you,” I said, taking a sip. It was so sweet but the vodka was well on its way to overpower it. I smiled, and, having nothing to say, still reeling from his unexpected entrance, I forced myself to think of something, even though I didn’t really feel like engaging.

“What’s the matter? You scared of me?” His face seemed so stern.

“Huh?” I squeaked.

“Girl, chill. It’s a party!” he said.

“Oh, I know,” I replied, giggling to alleviate the tension within myself. “Sorry, it’s just been a while since I last saw you!”

“Aww, that’s nice that a pretty girl like you would miss me.”

I smiled and looked at the ground. I saw confetti and Corona bottle caps scattered about.

“You were really good in the play,” he said.

“Really?” I said, my curiosity piqued. “You were there tonight?”

“Yeah, I saw you in your pretty dress. I can’t believe they dressed like that back then. Imagine wearing that in L.A. all the time.”

“Well, I guess I had a taste of it for a month.”

“I liked it when your mans in the play threw you over his shoulder and you were all mad. You’re really good at acting, Gaby.”

I felt like I could pick out the scene that he was referring to, the one where Petruccio encounters Kate for the first time, but that’s the scene that everyone knows. But I also don’t remember him in the audience at all. I would have picked him out sooner, his gaze undeniable, in the same way I was able to see him lock onto me as soon as I left the dressing room and into the afterparty.

“I don’t really know plays, though. I know very few of them.”

“What plays do you know?”

“I read the actos by Luis Valdez. Have you heard of him? My favorites are Los Vendidos and La Quinta Temporada. That was amazing.”

My eyes widened with surprise. “Oh I love Luis Valdez!”

“I bet you only know Zoot Suit from college, huh?”

I laughed. “I actually find that play kind of boring. And I’m not in college.”


“Nope. I wanted to start acting right after I graduated high school.”

“That’s pretty cool,” he said with a smile.

We ended up falling into a conversation about plays, and I was impressed that he had quite a body of knowledge. He talked about how much he loved Short Eyes by Miguel Piñero. I really wanted to ask him if he related to a play about inmates because of his lived experience. I didn’t expect him to be well-read. Had I not known his connection to this theater company and I just saw him on the street, I would’ve looked down and walked as quickly as I could to try to lose him off my path, clutching my bag and feeling the looming presence of a dirty Mexican who might take my purse and run.

“Where are you from?”

“Here,” I responded. He rolled his eyes.

“Nah, where are you really from?”

“My parents are from Mexico. They met here. My dad is from Sinaloa and my mom is from Chihuahua.”

“You’re raza,” he smiled.

I had fallen quiet. I never identified as such. Again, I heard my mother’s voice, shaming recien llegados and cholos who didn’t assimilate fast enough and who seemed to choose to not change. But his eyes were intent on me. It was just so unexpected from him, that a guy that looked like that would go after a girl like me.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“I’m 19.”

“You’re 19,” he said, and again, “wow, you’re 19.”


Me, Paco, and some of the cast and crew ended up across the street at Tenno Sushi. He quickly ingratiated himself into the group pretty well, despite interacting with only a couple of us, and not for very long up to this moment. My words were slipping around. I sang a Shakira song whose words I forgot, even though I knew the song by heart and the words were projected on a screen. I didn’t even open a tab at the bar, but somehow a vodka soda was always in front of me.

I needed to catch a breath. My head was spinning and I didn’t really have a grasp of the conversations, or what was going on. I wanted to leave. Thomas said to not be at his home too late. I took my purse with me and wobbled on my heels to the bathroom.

I felt my phone buzz. A text from a 323 area code.

“Are you on your moon?” I was too stupid and drunk to understand who was texting me this and why this person wanted to know. Until I realized it was Paco.

“No,” I texted back. Did I give him my number?

My phone buzzed again.

“You took your purse with you to the bathroom,” he said in a text. “I just wanted to make sure.”

I sat frozen on the toilet. This was my chance to take my purse and run. My phone started buzzing. It was Thomas. It’s okay, I told myself. I’m leaving, I’ll be back at his place soon. I declined the call. I open the bathroom door to try to find my way out, only to see Paco waiting outside the door for me.

“Ready to go?” he said, clutching my waist and pulling me in.

“Where is everyone else?”

“They’re gonna meet us at the next spot.”

I couldn’t believe he drove across the First Street bridge. He parked in the valet drop off of the Oasis club, as if it was his right to do so. The bouncer told us to move, and Paco raised his voice at him. Nothing escalated further, as I buckled to my knees and vomited behind his Honda Civic.

“Mija, are you okay, mija?” he said soothingly, rubbing my back. I really did feel better, that I even started laughing.

The rest I don’t remember much. When my castmates left, I didn’t really know. I don’t remember how we got from that club to the M Bar. But I remember seeing the entire right side of his car completely over the curb. The bile I felt in my mouth when he pressed his tongue into it. The time on his dashboard said 2:23 AM when we left that bar. The fluorescent lights of the billiard hall, the drunken Mexicans with their beady eyes following me, smiling, entertained by me but without me knowing why. I fell asleep for a moment there and then slid into the passenger seat, where the time said 3:38 AM. My phone buzzed on and on against the vinyl of the seat. And then the car parked haphazardly in front of some driveway, and I realized that we were back on Chicago Street, in front of his craftsman home.

He held my hand and pulled me towards his front door, as I started pulling away.

“I should go home.”

“You can’t go home, mija.”

“I have to. It’s 4AM. I can’t—,”

He opened his door and yanked me inside.

I tried to explain that I think I was actually on my period. I felt it falling out of me. But that seemed to make him act more quickly. Under the force of his hands, my body went limp and I was subdued. It was easier to comply. He pushed me over the couch and pulled up my dress. He held one hand around both my wrists and held them against my back. At least it was fast.


I was wide awake next to him on the couch. The room was pitch black. I stared down at my phone. 5:10 AM. The light on my phone made me jump, my breath shortening as if the light would awaken this beast of a man from slumber. But the snoring sounded consistent, so that was my chance. Every creak, every step felt loud and thunderous, that I was prepared to run with such uncontrollable speed if my efforts to not wake him were to fail. I made it out the front door, running to my car, shaking, fumbling to get my keys into the ignition, and hitting the gas pedal so hard I lurched forward, committing to running the red light, zooming down First Street, as if Paco was right behind me instead of in a deep sleep.

I checked my phone at the next red light, at a safe distance far away from Paco. 12 missed calls, 5 voicemails, 22 iMessages from my boyfriend.

The text thread said:

You wrapping up soon?
12:34 am

Text me when you’re headed back home
1:00 am

What are you all doing?
1:15 am

Can I come?
1:17 am

1:20 am

Do you want me to come or not?
What are you doing?
Everything alright?
1:40 am

Please pick up.
2:00 am

Are you DUMB
2:05 am

I’m going to bed.
Let me know if you crash somewhere.
Just not at a guy’s.
I’d hope you know that.
2:15 am

I don’t fucking care.
2:17 am

I just hope everything is ok.
2:25 am

Just say something Gaby!
2:33 am

I locked the back door. Fuck off.
2:50 am

You wanted it.
3:14 am

I think I must have, I tell myself. And yet I didn’t know how to respond. I was in Little Tokyo. I was driving in the direction of his house. I assumed I was invited. But I couldn’t go there. Not anymore. I pulled over to the side of the street and parked the car. I thought about telling the truth, but for some reason, despite typing and deleting and trying to rephrase my texts, over and over again, nothing could bring me to hit send. The tears were warm as they were streaming down my face, ceaseless and unbearable and unforgiving as my body grieved for my actions.

I typed and deleted, typed and deleted, shaking as I wrote, and ultimately hid behind my shame through the text message that went:

“Omg I’m sooo sorry! I’m just seeing this! Ernesto had an afterparty at his house and me and some of the cast just passed out in his living room. I bet you’re dead asleep, so I’m gonna go to my parents’ house and crash there. Can I call you before work tomorrow?”

I hit send. I drove to Alameda to take the 101 east, changing onto the 10 freeway heading east, driving 80 miles per hour to my parents’ house.