ERIC C. WAT
Pub. Date: August 2019
ERIC C. WAT
The Permanent Press
Sag Harbor, NY 11963
Copyright © 2019 by Eric C. Wat
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For my parents.
My mama said to get things done
You’d better not mess with Major Tom
—David Bowie, ”Ashes to Ashes”
have an eight-ball and the plan is to party until we run
out. Based on the quality that I’ve been getting from my
source the past few months, that should last us to early
Sunday morning. I would take Tyler home and still have
more than an afternoon to rest up before going to my parents’ for Sunday dinner.
I’m ready to leave work by four, but Tyler, who works
as a paralegal in the law office a floor below us, isn’t in
charge of his own time. While waiting for him, I go to Pavilions to pick up some provisions for our weekend: a case
of vitamin waters, a bunch of bananas, two cans of soup,
half a dozen hermetically sealed Styrofoam cups of instant
noodles, over-the-counter sleeping pills, and a couple packages of microwave sausage muffins on sale.
He calls me at six fifteen. We meet in the underground
garage. There are still a dozen cars or so, all belonging to
the attorneys from his office, none to my people. He comes
toward me with his collar loosened, tie in his right hand—
no casual Friday for him. I pin him against my Mazda 3. My
tongue goes searching for his. He is in his mid-twenties and
a good two inches taller than me. When our bodies press
together, I feel no part of his that is soft or loose from his
bones. I, newly forty years old, am what gay men charitably
call height-weight proportional. He doesn’t resist me.
We make out for a good minute, and then I drop my car
key in his hand. It lands on his folded tie like a jewel in a
“Can you drive?” I ask.
“Did somebody start without me?” He winks at me.
His wink is both adorable and annoying. Adorable, because
it inevitably lifts one side of his mouth into a smile, and
he has a beautiful, dimpled smile. Annoying, because he
knows he has a beautiful, dimpled smile.
I nod. His eyes light up. He wants to know how.
I back away and turn open my empty hands. I don’t
have a pipe with me. Half an hour ago, tired of waiting for
him, I went into the restroom and pulled a small sheet of
toilet paper. I sprinkled a pinch of the crystal in the middle
of it and wrapped it up. I let it stay in my mouth for ten seconds, moistening the package, before I swallowed it whole.
“You parachuted,” Tyler guesses.
“Smart boy. Now drive.”
Now in my bedroom, I prep the pipe for him, like I
always do. If I leave it up to him, he would hold the flame
too close to the bowl. The first time I let him be in charge of
the pipe, the bowl was charred within an hour. These little
things ruin my high.
We’ve been partying every or every other week for the
last five months. He’s my latest regular, but he’ll move on
eventually. He’s a beautiful boy, all taut and athletic. His
muscles would swell if he works on them, and he probably will soon. At least in the time we have together I’m
teaching him control. How to skate along the rink at the
mouth of the abyss without falling into it like so many
others do. Don’t smoke too often and only on weekends.
Don’t do it by yourself—what’s the point if you can’t touch
Eric C. Wat
someone when you’re high? Never slam. Never miss work.
And avoid people who are really having a relationship with
crystal meth but just fucking you on the side. Then when
you’re ready to move on, you’ll go clean and sober. Just like
my ex Jeremy. It’s not easy, but it can be done. I certainly
don’t want to be doing meth in my middle age. I’ve partied
with people older than me, and they all invariably seem
so pathetic. They have this tentative quality to them like
unhappy office drones; a small gesture would easily turn
them despondent. When the time comes to quit, I will know
it, and I will figure it out. Just like Jeremy.
I steer the stem toward Tyler’s mouth, bowl facing me.
I flick the lighter below it, flame only touching air and not
the pipe. Patience. Tyler wraps his lips expectantly around
the stem’s opening. The crystal starts to crackle.
“I love that sound,” he says gutturally, his lips barely
I shush him. He breaks into a smile, not as big as usual
on account of his lips wrapping tightly around the pipe. No
dimples. The crystal stops crackling and turns into a white
cloud swirling around the bowl, like a soothsayer’s crystal ball ready to reveal something. Tyler is waiting for my
signal, eyes rapt. The cloud begins to escape from the hole
in the bowl. He looks to me. His eyeballs are the only thing
on his face that move.
I give it another couple seconds, and then command,
He sucks it in. The cloud retracts in the opposite direction, up the stem, into his mouth. He knows the rest. More,
more, hold it in. This part comes naturally. I pull the pipe
from him, my thumb on the opening of the mouthpiece. Try
not to breathe yet. I kiss Tyler, and he lets the cloud pass
through our lips. I give him the pipe, and he inhales what’s
left in the bowl. I pull my undershirt over and off me and
lean back on my pillow. My back against cotton, I feel everything, all eight hundred thread count.
Tyler loves the sound of crystal breaking. This is the part
I love, how it begins, how it changes me.
Tyler shoves me to wake me up. I’m sprawled out on
my empty bed. Everything is on the floor, except the pillow
under my head. And the sheet I must have pulled up, covering me to my waist. I turn my foot and it touches the
exposed part of the mattress. Stitches indent in a pattern of
diamond shapes, making rows of soft mounds beneath me.
The stitches feel like ants to my big toe, and I’m the giant
embroidered in their geography. I’m still high. I can tell
because my brain feels like it’s throbbing against the inside
of my skull. My neck has begun to stiffen like it would at
the beginning of a crash.
“It’s your mother.” Tyler shows me my phone. Whatever
was on it, the screen is blank by now. “It’s been buzzing a
few times.” He continues to hold it in midair until I take it
from him. He goes back to the foot of my bed, slinks down,
and starts to jerk off to the porn on the TV in my bedroom.
Using the free hand, he presses the remote to rewind it to
the part that he must have skipped when Mom interrupted
“What time is it?” I get up and ask, but mostly of myself.
I see the alarm clock on my dresser immediately. It is six fifteen, a.m. or p.m.? Now I wonder what day it is. We fucked,
off and on, until around four. We were supposed to just nap
for a while, but I feel like I’ve slept longer than a couple
hours. Is it dawn outside or twilight? Have I missed a whole
day? “Is it still Saturday?” I ask a little louder to indicate
that the question is not rhetorical.
Tyler turns to look at me funny. I can see the pipe lying
on a wet paper towel folded unto itself until it is a square
on a saucer. The pipe is mostly tar black. The paper around
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it is watercolor gray. I know then that Tyler has been up all
this time jerking off and smoking. “Yes,” he says crankily.
I put on my briefs, phone still in hand. Crossing in
front of the masturbator, I walk to the bathroom. The carpet
feels like a soft and wet forest floor underneath my cold,
clammy feet. A headache rushes me and stops me in my
tracks. I have to shut my eyes for a few seconds. When I
do, I visualize mud creeping through the gaps between my
toes and engulfing them, until my entire body sinks through
it. I open my eyes and turn on the lights in the bathroom.
I take a glance in the mirror and quickly move toward the
sink so it can hide my party dick in the reflection. I turn on
the phone, and sure enough, thirty-eight missed calls, all
from “Mom Cell,” resulting in seventeen voice mails. First,
they’ve come in quick bursts as early as midnight. The last
few were fifteen or twenty minutes apart, until around the
time when Tyler woke me.
I press the first voice mail closest to midnight. It wasn’t
my mother. It was Dad. He said Mom had fallen, she was
unconscious, where was I, call him back as soon as possible.
I press the second voice mail that came only two minutes
later. My dad again. Where was I, why had I not called back,
Mom got up from bed, and the next thing he heard was a
loud thump, Mom collapsed onto the floor, what should he
do, should he call 911. The next two voice mails, according to my phone, are two seconds long. I skip them. The
fifth voice mail was almost fifty minutes after the first call.
I’m hoping it was Mom’s voice, finally waking up from her
blackout. But it was Dad, announcing that the paramedics
were there, they found a pulse, and he would call me with
news. The next one was less than ten minutes later. They’re
taking her to the hospital. Impatient, I skip to the last of the
seventeen voice mails, the one within the hour. Dad again.
He said, more calmly now, “We’re back from the hospital.
Please come home when you get this message.”
This is good. I’m relieved. Whatever happened, she is
home safe now. I don’t know why the hospital sent her
home so early in the morning and didn’t just keep her there
longer for observation.
I call my father.
“Where have you been?” he asks, the frantic Cantonese
of the first voice mails. “Why didn’t you call until now?”
“I was sleeping. My phone was off. I only got your messages now. Where’s Mom? Is she sleeping?”
“What are you talking about?” he says and starts sobbing.
“Mom? You said . . .”
“Your Mom passed two hours ago in the hospital. Didn’t
you hear my messages? When are you coming home?”
“You said, ‘We’ve come home from the hospital.’”
“Yes, your aunt and me. She’s still here.”
The beginning is confusing; the end, misleading. Somewhere in the middle is the news of my mother’s demise.
I can hear the fucking on TV in the other room. It’s faint
behind the door, but I can hear it more than before. It alternates with the morning whistles of the thrushes outside
like an echo chamber in my head. I see myself naked in the
mirror. I see blue veins popping on my pecs that I’ve tried
to bulk up this year. But my body is sweaty and pale under
the bathroom light. My ear is sweating against my phone.
I’m heating up. I’m turning into water.
“Carson!” Dad shouts in my ear with the name that
Mom gave me. Dad christened me with my Chinese name,
Yuen Hoa, a distant peace. Mom gave me my English name
when we landed in this country. She named me after the first
American city we settled in. And Johnny Carson, the only
entertainer that was still on TV that time of night when they
had time for TV. “Carson!” Dad shouts again. He doesn’t
use the name he gave me anymore.
“Yes, Dad. Let me clean up. I’ll come home now.”
Eric C. Wat
I pull the hand towel from the rack, wet it without waiting for the water to turn hot, and wring it. I wipe my face
with it. The cold feels good on my forehead but burns my
cheeks. It’s bearable on my arms and armpits but makes me
heave a little when it touches my chest. There is no time for
reload. By the time it reaches my crotch, it has agreed on the
same temperature as my body. I start to go to my thighs, but
even in this state, I cannot tolerate the towel anymore. My
dick is sweat and lube and cum, and not just mine. I jump
into the shower after all that.
I’m on in the shower. I’m in planning mode, shit-getsdone mode. I can tell when I flip the switch. I can get from
my apartment in Lincoln Heights to my parents’ townhouse
in Monterey Park in twenty minutes. Maybe even quicker
on a Saturday. Maybe even early enough to make Por Por
breakfast. Mom always made breakfast, sorted out her pills,
and handled her morning walk. Dad is useless. Jesus, have
they told Por Por? She’s usually up by seven. I need to think
about how to tell her. There are days when she thinks her
daughter is her mother. I need to call Dad and tell him not
to say anything. I’ll figure it out. Can’t leave that to him.
Then I’ll go to the hospital and talk to the nurses or maybe
the doctor. Fuck, Carson, why do you need to go to the hospital?
Do you think you’re going to bring her back? Focus! Your problem is out there now. You got a naked white boy on the other side
of the door jerking a dick that won’t get hard for another three
hours. You need to get out of the shower now.
I dry myself. I need to call Tyler an Uber. Draping the
towel around my waist, I pick up my phone and open the
app. I burst out of the bathroom. I’m really on now. At work,
I can tell my team gets a little on guard when I have that
face on. We are the youngest department. Usually we are
the joie de vivre, with our open-concept cubicles, common
brainstorming space, unofficial comp time, and eating lunch
together. But when it’s crunch time, they know I’m focused,
and I know they know by their faces.
Tyler doesn’t even look at me when I walk in.
“I’m sorry, Tyler. We have to cut this party short.” I go
over to my drawers, as I pick the driver. “I called you an
Uber. They should be here in fifteen minutes. Can you wait
“What are you talking about?”
I put on a new pair of briefs. I go over to him and turn
off the TV.
“My mother is dead. I need to see my father.” Perhaps I
should’ve led with that.
“What the fuck?” I don’t know if he was reacting to the
blank TV or my news.
“I need to go, like right now.” He’s still not moving. Just
to underscore the urgency, I add, “My father is distraught.
He needs me.” I think he’s distraught, but what a word to
use. And does he need me? “He called almost forty times
last night.” I pick up Tyler’s clothes and lay them next to
him. His hand is still on his dick. So I stoop and nudge
him. I say soberly, “Tyler, get up. We’ve talked about this.
You have to be able to stop when you need to stop. I’m not
doing this with a tweaker.”
He finally lets go of his limp dick and stands up. He
finds his underwear in his pile. As he puts it on, he asks,
“Are you okay?” The question makes me feel like an ass a
little bit. “I mean, can I just stay here until you get back?”
And then, not so much.
I gather up the pipe and the saucer separately. I hold
up the pipe to see what’s left. I have to wipe it to find the
melted crystal, small but obvious behind the soot like dirty
snow. I light it up. When it vaporizes, I take a big hit so I
can stay awake. Tyler is finally dressed by then.
“You’re just going to leave me out there waiting for the
Uber to show up? I look like shit.”
Eric C. Wat
I blow out the smoke and wait a few seconds for the
meth to reach my brain. “I need to go. So you have a choice.
You can take a quick shower, or you can take a quick hit for
He reaches out for my pipe and my lighter.
“Not so close,” I say, as he puts the lighter underneath
While he’s waiting to smoke the meth, he says, “I’m
truly sorry for your loss.”
I wait with Tyler by the curb for his ride. I can spare
another ten minutes. The streets are quiet this early, only
birds warbling and the occasional revving of engines, a mixture of low rumbles from hybrid cars and roars of pickups.
One of my neighbors, a Chinese woman in her seventies, is
squatting in her garden and doggedly weeding. Kohlrabies
in makeshift five-gallon soy-sauce pails are waiting to be
transplanted into real soil.
The Uber Prius is on time. It has that first-generation
ugly tan shade, and there are parallel scratches on the side
by the back wheel on the driver’s side like it had just barely
escaped a battle with Wolverine. Tyler looks at me, not
“Really? You picked the cheapest one?”
“It’s early. The pickings are slim.” I shrug in my half
Both hands in my jacket pockets, I watch the car take
Tyler away. It’s a cloudy day, and the sky matches the color
of the sidewalk. It’s brisk most mornings in February, but
the air is especially chilly against my warm skin. I walk
through the driveway of our quadplex toward the private
parking area in the back. My neighbor smiles at me when
I pass her. I don’t know how much she’s seen of Tyler and
me and whether she wonders about us standing in the street
so early in the morning waiting for a car that belongs to
neither of us. I raise my hand to acknowledge her and say
good morning in Cantonese. There are stakes throughout
her yard with shiny CDs hanging from them to ward off
birds picking her seeds. Above her front door, there is a
bagua mirror keeping evil out of the house.
When I reach underneath my shirt to rub my chest, my
body feels like a radiator. My stomach is growling because I
haven’t eaten. I should at least grab a bottle of vitamin water,
but I don’t stop at my place. I get into my car, back out into
the alley, and drive along the retaining wall that separates
us from the next property. I discover my non-driving hand
beneath my shirt, still playing, thinking about sex. I pull it
out and get myself together. I drive by the houses with the
portable basketball hoops anchored by cinder blocks in their
driveways. When I hit Broadway, I see the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregating outside of McDonald’s getting ready
for their missions. Old Latina women carry pamphlets in
one hand, large handbags hanging on that arm, and use
umbrellas with the other hand as walking sticks.
I make a left toward the freeway. Now I’m on autopilot.
Now I can think.
My mother is dead.
I’ve always thought that she would go before my father.
I prayed that she wouldn’t, but I knew she would run out of
steam quicker. She toiled all her life. She liked taking extra
shifts at the convalescent home, caring for people who were
never going to get better. She did this for over twenty-five
years. Overtime or holidays, she liked working hours that
multiplied her wage. She boasted how she could work a
sixteen-hour day, come home for a quick bite and a nap,
and wake up at five in the morning to get ready for the new
shift, rubbing in our faces when we complained how our
work was killing us or how my cousins couldn’t balance a
job and raising their kids. She had seven accounts in three
banks (two Chinese and one American). At the American
Eric C. Wat
one where she used to make a live check deposit every other
Saturday, she savored the moment when the teller offered
to tell her her account balance. She loved watching those
It wasn’t just paid work. Everyone went to her, the
middle child. The older brother is as useless as most men
are in family matters. He leaves them to the women. Once
you get to a certain age, family matters are all there are,
and the world has run out of uses for him. The younger
sister is the baby. My late grandfather sent her to the United
States to go to college in the seventies. She met a citizen, got
married, and brought us over. Her job was done. The three
households, plus my grandmother, who had survived her
husband long enough for the emigration, lived in the same
house for our first seven years in the US. There were eleven
of us in a four-bedroom in Carson, a suburb and, later, my
namesake. My grandfather’s savings paid for the down payment. The younger sister and her husband took the master
bedroom because they had moved in before we came. Or
perhaps the debt of gree ...
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