The first time I met Oscar was at Rutgers. We were roommates our sophomore year, cramped up in Demarest, the university’s official homo dorm, because Oscar wanted to be a writer and because I’d pulled the last number in the housing lottery. You never met more opposite niggers in your life. He was a dork, totally into Dungeons & Dragons and comic books; he had like a billion science-fiction paperbacks, all in his closet; and me, I was into girls, weight lifting, and Danocrine. (What is it with us niggers and our bodies? Not even Fanon can explain it to me.) I had this beautiful Irish-Puerto Rican girlfriend, a Plainfield girl I couldn’t get enough of, a firefighter’s daughter who didn’t speak a word of Spanish, and I was into clubs like a motherfucker—Illusions, Foxes, Mercedes and Mink (on Springfield Ave. in Newark, the only club on the planet with a Ghettogirl Appreciation Night). Those were the Boricua Posse days, and I never got home before six in the morning, so mostly what I saw of Oscar was a big, dormant hump crashed out under a sheet. When we were in the dorm together, he was either working on his novel or talking on the phone to his sister, who I’d seen a few times at Douglass. (I’d tried to put a couple of words on her because she was no joke in the body department, but she cold-crumbed me.) Those first months, me and my boys ragged on Oscar a lot—I mean, he was a nerd, wasn’t he?—and right before Halloween I told him he looked like that fat homo Oscar Wilde, which was bad news for him, because then all of us started calling him Oscar Wao. The sad part? After a couple of weeks, he started answering to it.
Besides me fucking with him, we never had no problems; he never got mad at me when I said shit, just sat there with a hurt stupid smile on his face. Made a brother feel kinda bad, and after the others left I would say, You know I was just kidding, right? By second semester, I even started to like the kid a little. Wasn’t it Turgenev who said, Whom you laugh at you forgive and come near to loving? I didn’t invite him out to no clubs, but we did start going to Brower Commons to eat, even checked out an occasional movie. We talked a little, mostly about girls, comic books, and our corny whiteboy neighbors who were pussy asshole cocksuckers. Girls, though, were point zero; they were the world to Oscar. I mean, they were the world to me, too, but with him it was on some next shit. He got around a cute one and the nigger would almost start shaking. Easy to understand; our first month as roommates, he’d told me he’d never kissed one! Never! Jesus fucking Christ! The horror! It wasn’t like I couldn’t sympathize, but I didn’t think acting like a nut around the mamacitas was going to help his case. I tried to give him advice—first off, cristiano, you have to stop gunning on the superbabes—but he wouldn’t listen. He said, Nothing else works, I might as well make a fool out of myself.
It wasn’t until the middle of spring semester that I ever saw Oscar really in love. Catalyn Sangre de Toro Luperón. Catalyn was this Puerto Rican Goth girl—in 1990, niggers were having trouble wrapping their heads around Goths, period, but a Puerto Rican Goth, that was as strange to us as a black Nazi. Anyway, Catalyn was her real name, but her around-the-cauldron name was La Jablesse. You think I’m kidding? Every standard a brother like me had, this girl short-circuited. Her hair she wore in this black Egypto cut, her eyes caked with eyeliner and mascara, her lips painted black, a Navajo tattoo across her whole back, and none of it mattered, because homegirl was luminous. She had no waist, big perfect tits, wore black spiderweb clothes, and her accent in Spanish and English was puro Guayama. Even I had been hot for Catalyn, but the one time I’d tried to mack her at the Douglass Library she picked up her books and moved to another table, and when I tried to come over to apologize she did it again.
So: one day I caught Oscar talking to La Jablesse in Brower, and I had to watch, because I figured if I got roasted she was going to vaporize his ass. Of course, he was full on, and homegirl was holding her tray and looking at him askance, like, What the fuck does this freak want? She started walking away, and Oscar yelled out, We’ll talk later, O.K.? And she shot back a Sure, all larded with sarcasm.
You have to give it to Oscar. He didn’t let up. He just kept hitting on her with absolutely no regard for self or dignity, and eventually she must have decided he was harmless, because she started treating him civil. Soon enough, I saw them walking together down College Avenue. One day, I came home from classes and found La Jablesse sitting on my bed, Oscar sitting on his. I was speechless. She remembered me. You can always tell. She said, You want me to get off your bed? I said, Nah, picked up my gym bag, and ran out of there like a pussy. When I got back from the weight room, Oscar was on his computer. On page one billion of his novel.
I said, What’s up with you and Miss Scarypants?
Nothing much. Then he smiled and I knew he’d heard about my lame-ass pickup attempt.
I was one sore loser; I said, Well, good luck, Wao. I just hope she doesn’t sacrifice you to Beelzebub or anything.
Later, the two of them started going to movies together. Some narratives never die. She was the first person to get him to try mushrooms, and once, right at the end, when he was starting to talk about her like she was the Queen of Everything, she took him to her room, turned off the lights, lit some witchy candles, and danced for him.
What the hell was this girl thinking?
In less than a week, Oscar was in bed crying, and La Jablesse had a restraining order on his ass. Turns out Oscar walked in on Catalyn while she was “entertaining” some Goth kid, caught them both naked, probably covered with blood or something, and he berserked. Started tearing her place up, and Gothdude jumped butt-naked out the window. Same night, I found Oscar on his top bunk, bare-chested, the night he said, I fucked up real bad, Yunior.
He had to attend counselling, to keep from losing his housing, but now everybody in the dorm thought he was some kind of major psycho. This is how our year together ended. Him at his computer, typing, me being asked in the hall how I liked dorming with Mr. Crazyman.
Would probably never have chilled with him again, but then, a year later, I started speaking to his sister, Lola de León. Femme-matador. The sort of girlfriend God gives you young, so you’ll know loss the rest of your life. The head of every black and brown women’s progressive organization at Douglass, beloved Phi Chi hermana, blah, blah, blah. She didn’t have no kind of tact and talked too much for my taste, but, man, could she move, and her smile was enough to pull you across a room. I began noticing every time she was around, it was like she was on a high wire; I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. I asked my boys what they thought about her and they laughed, said, Yo, she looks like a slave. Never forgave any of them for that.
Our first night together was at her place on Commercial Ave., and before I put my face between her legs she dragged me up by my ears. Why is this the face I cannot forget? Tired from finals, swollen from kissing. She said, Don’t ever cheat on me.
I won’t, I promised her. Don’t laugh. My intentions were good.
We were still together at graduation, and we took pictures with each other’s families—there’s even a couple of me and Oscar. We look like a couple of circus freaks: I’m muscle-bound, hands as big as hams, and Oscar’s heavy, squinting into the camera like we just pulled him out of a trunk and he doesn’t know where the fuck he is.