Anything can become morbid if you’re fascinated enough by it, Antonia Madrina learned after enough time spent obsessing over the same thing–or rather, the same qualities of a specific type of person. Her enunciated brand of strong interest was tailored to white boys in their mid to late twenties who seemed to have an endless reserve of money from which to withdraw in order to prolong youthful folly and therefore a bubble of fantasy. When she first moved to L.A. from Calabria, it wasn’t her intent to attract this ilk. They just sort of came to her. Maybe it was the types of places she frequented, Barbrix, Edendale, Tenants of the Trees. They all had this sort of bougie cachet underlying the so-called grit of being in Silver Lake. It was their attempt at experiencing bohemia, Antonia later supposed. But only in the most sanitized fashion possible, whether they were aware of this or not.
Antonia, on the other hand, flocked to these places because she wanted to feel materialistic. Like someone special. Someone who belonged–who could afford to belong. After leaving Calabria at twenty-three years old to make the kind of money she had always dreamed of, doing something she actually enjoyed–translating literature for University of California Press–Antonia vowed never to feel like the poverty-stricken country girl she was so often pigeonholed as whenever she would travel to places like Milan or Florence. No, those days were over and gone. She would never be made to feel inadequate about her class standing again. And this could very well have been the reason why her level of determined maintenance of staying at the sociological top spoke to something else within the white boys that gravitated toward her. She was just “edgy” enough to bring home to mom and dad–ruffle their feathers a bit to make whoever he brought home next seem infinitely more suitable–but not “pure” enough to be marriage material. Marriage, what an Eisenhower notion. In any case, this made her ideal prey for the white boy looking to branch out at a certain moment in his life. That is, until they became her prey. She didn’t start to use this knack she had for attracting the genre until after the second or third fuck-over, when she realized it would be far more beneficial for her to study these men rather than expect anything concrete out of them.
As she turned thirty-two years old, sometime late in the month of March, she encountered Patrick Sims, a twenty-six year old who had only just moved to Los Angeles after his Seattle-based father bought him a production company to “channel his artistic creativity into something practical.” He lived in her apartment complex, one of those quintessential “communities” that could have been plucked off the set of Melrose Place, or 3 Women–shared pool and all. He started talking to her one day at the mailboxes (apparently, they were both still fond of tangible mail), asking her “her story,” how and why she ended up in L.A. That’s what everyone in a big city wants to know about you, an attempt at establishing a shared bond about how you’re both trying to accomplish the same thing. But Patrick and Antonia were not trying to accomplish the same thing, that became very clear to the latter as she listened to him talk of his production company. Still, she was now interested in looking for a job in film, and he just so happened to have the available cash flow to give her one. Writing scripts. Which meant working from home for a large bulk of the time. Her sweet fantasy. She thus saw Patrick more as savior than potential boyfriend. After a few weeks of writing, she presented him with a teleplay called Sequestered in Silver Lake, a mock reality show about four twenty-somethings who get locked in the house where the LaBianca murders take place, only to be forced to witness the killing of Leno and Rosemary every night until they figure out how to stop the Manson family from going through with it.
Antonia wrote it as part joke, part testing the waters of how far she could go with Patrick. “We can’t call it this. The murders happened in Los Feliz,” was all he said after reading the pilot. It was then Antonia knew he might be more than just friend material based on his unflappability in the face of her morbidness. Ah, that word–“morbid.” It was only what felt like eons later, after she had been institutionalized for losing control of just how far her level of obsession went, Lisa Nowak-style, that she finally understood what a close friend of hers had cautioned her about one day as they were sitting in a coffee shop together.
Ferdinando was his name, a longtime resident of Echo Park who had moved to L.A. from Mexico City with his sister and parents when he was three years old. He had met Antonia by happenstance at a reading by Dennis Cooper at Circus of Books. As a Calabrian woman, Antonia had nothing but appreciation for the macabre nature of Cooper’s writing. Apparently, as a Mexican, so, too, did Ferdinando. Seeing the development of her latest romantic typecast, Ferdinando couldn’t help but roll his eyes a bit at her. He was sort of the paternal voice of reason in her life that she never had, cautioning, “Replacing one obsession with another doesn’t mean you’ve gotten rid of the obsession.”
Antonia balked. “What’s your obsession?”
“White women, I guess. And literary esoteria.”
“Is that a word?”
Antonia ignored Ferdinando’s warnings against getting involved with Patrick, knowing somewhere in her mind that he was right, and that she would become just as fatally hung up on Patrick as she had all the others. Like Andrew, Campbell and Todd before him, Patrick started to drive Antonia a little crazy. His ardor was at first divine, placating her suspicions that he would turn out like all the rest. He took her to places she never thought she would be able to afford–Nobu, Mozza, Trois Mec–it was a veritable smorgasbord of all the best of L.A.’s foods. He even managed to prove to her that there was some cultural value to the city by taking her to an L.A. Philharmonic show–it was mostly olds and gays in attendance, but that didn’t detract from the romance of it for her. The sheer magicality of feeling adult, a feeling that can sometimes only come from being with a white boy before he shows his childlike nature.
And this is precisely what Patrick proceeded to do about a month later, when, on a whim, he “felt like” selling the production company and spending some time in Belize to find himself or whatever for awhile. Antonia was livid: not only did this mean he was roundaboutly breaking up with her, but also that she was out of probably the only job she could ever feasibly handle.
“Sorry,” was all he could muster, shrugging as he zipped up his suitcase and put up a wall between them that might have lasted forever if she hadn’t ripped it down roughly two years later. At this point, she had made a strategic move to Seattle, claiming to anyone she ran into that it was to make a career change, flitting, apparently, from literature translation to screenwriting, and now, to music management. This is what she told Patrick’s father, Jeffrey, anyway, when she deliberately sought him out in a cocktail bar and happened to mention she needed some capital to start a music management company that could “put Seattle on the map again.” Jeffrey, himself falsely nostalgic for the early 90s grunge revolution in the Pacific Northwest, of which he was not really a part of, felt compelled both by Antonia’s passion and the lowness of her décolletage (a word he actually thought in his mind).
Weeks later, they were in the full throes of an affair, still with no mention on Jeffrey’s part of Patrick’s existence or potential return from whatever foreign country he was currently discovering himself in. And if she hadn’t already known the backstory behind where Patrick’s mother, Catherine, had ended up (yes, the loony bin), she likely still wouldn’t have been surprised. So, one day when Jeffrey finally brought it up in a delicate manner after bringing her flourless, wheatless pancakes in bed, she did her best to feign shock. “My god, what caused her to lose it like that?” According to Jeffrey’s account, she had simply attacked him in the night toting a letter opener (rich people of the old money variety always have letter openers) without warning or explanation. But Antonia surmised Catherine had suppressed her rage over a long period of time and it at last boiled to the surface. Though they weren’t divorced for reasons of “keeping Catherine calm,” the only time he ever saw her was once a month at the very lavish and private psych ward she was staying in. “So there you have it…do you think you can still be interested in a technically married man?”
“Of course,” Antonia simpered. “Is there anything else you want to tell me while you’re confessing?”
Jeffrey looked down. “I have a son. He’s a few years younger than you. He called me last night to tell me he’s coming home for a bit. He’s been in an ashram in India the past six months. I didn’t think he’d be back so soon, to be honest. I kind of forgot about him when I got swept up in us.”
Antonia smiled to herself. “Well, I do so look forward to meeting him.”
The next day, when Patrick returned, Antonia immediately noticed a palpable shift in his appearance: gaunt, unshaven, stronger presence of wrinkles and fine lines. What was her big fascination with him anyway?, she asked herself upon this appraisal of his physical shell. Maybe there was still something in the personality she might like though. She’d have to get him past the initial blow of finding out her place in Jeffrey’s life to find out.
At the dinner table that evening, things were more than garden variety awkward. Patrick picked at his saag paneer, muttering, “Why the fuck would I want Indian food after just getting back from India?”
“What was that son?” Jeffrey demanded.
Patrick sighed, looking from Jeffrey to Antonia. “So you guys just happened to meet–and had no idea of Antonia’s connection to me?”
“How would I? You never told me any of the girls you were with’s names.”
Patrick then glared at Antonia. “You knew.”
“It crossed my mind, but he never mentioned he had a son, so I didn’t think about it again.” She was very pleased with the seamlessness of the lie.
Patrick was not. “This is insupportable. I can’t even look at the two of you.”
Antonia thought she might burst with the pleasure of her reprisal. This was for all the times they had done it to her, those callow white boys. Made her feel secure in their love, only to rip it from her on a whim. Unfortunately, what she hadn’t taken into account was that living with Jeffrey was starting to feel like torture. He, too, dropped the honeymoon phase behavior once Patrick fled back to his usual far reaches, this time Cape Verde.
As she found herself sliding into a retro domestic role that also included secretarial work for his various investments, she began to feel as though Catherine’s insanity was coursing through her. This isn’t what she had signed up for, she just wanted the satisfaction of revenge, her other morbid fascination. But now, she found herself trapped in that house on Laurelcrest Lane. It was as though an invisible hand was keeping her there. For she knew that outside the confines of Jeffrey’s castle, there would only be more white boys waiting to destroy her, and she had already expended all the youthful energy she had on exacting one fulfilling avengement. Her strength, both mental and physical, had withered.
“I told you to leave well enough alone,” scolded Ferdinando roughly five years later when he came to visit her at Gateways Behavioral Health Hospital, just outside of Dodger Stadium. Jeffrey had banished her back from whence she came after her own stabbing attempt against him. Antonia nodded, a bit of drool coming out the side of her mouth as she did so.