I’m in the home of one of the families I nanny for, and I’m going to sleep on their couch. It’s for a good reason, who can say exactly why, but I’m just crashing for the night. I’m staying in their living room, and I remember only Legos littering the coffee table, scattered across the brown rug. Crumbs from undisclosed snacks—cheerios? goldfish?—live in the crevices of the cushions and one cannot sit on the couch so much as sink into it, with a sticky smell rising from the upholstery. A family-with-children couch.
Anyway, it’s night, I’m crashing on the couch, I say goodnight and lie down, cover myself with a blanket, breathe in the stickiness, and start to drift into sleep when the door opens and closes. I lay extremely still, tense, and feel a shadow approach the couch. I look up and this shadowy figure reaches for me and I feel its hands wrap around my neck and my head fills with a buzzing, flapping sensation, like a flock of birds swarming around my face and through my head —and then I wake up.
In January, I started having really vivid and horrific dreams like this—nightmares within nightmares, waking up in one dream then waking up again, gore, bugs, rape, but most consistent were the anxious home invasion scenes that jolted awake once my attacker had his hands around my neck. I don’t actually choke ever, so I rule sleep apnea out, but I do get a particular sensation of my neck under mystery hands, on the verge of squeezing until I’m dead.
Dark!! And I can only assume my subconscious was inspired by the Capitol riots; I’ve been living in D.C. and my route to work in Virginia traces the roads around the Pentagon and grazes past Arlington Cemetery.
I don’t mean to make it sound like I’ve slept angelically otherwise (I haven’t). Sleeping at a normal hour is laughed at in my family. My family is the kind of Mexican that starts the party at 10 and maybe starts to slow down at 3am. And I’ve always been involved with theatre, which blinks to life at around 7pm on any given day. My body is used to doses of adrenaline and attention that begin by 9pm at the latest. But I don’t usually dream of being strangled; mostly, I lie awake and think about the plot of Zootopia—so what could it mean to be dreaming of death? And what could I do, in isolation, to make it stop?
When I was little my dad let me watch so much media that, in retrospect, makes me go— Jim???? What??????????? Why??????
When I think back to everything I watched I remember a lot of ass, titties, blood, guns, knife fights, etc. I do not know why I was allowed to watch these movies and music videos, and I do not know why my father—a conservative, Catholic man—allowed me to watch this deeply inappropriate content. It could just be one of those things. Por ejemplo, when I was in 6th grade, I told my dad we were learning about the Peloponnesian War, and he said, “Oh, let’s watch 300.” We watched it the following weekend, and I still remember the final still of Leonidas pinned
like a freaking MOTH with the same haunted impression it left on me in sixth grade. I told my history teacher that I had seen the movie the next Monday, and his response was something like— Brenda???? What???????? Why???????
I also remember watching the George Clooney/Frances McDormand-led film Burn After Reading and feeling sick afterward but also understanding not even a little bit of it. I saw every Austin Powers movie by the age of 11 (robot boobies!). But the movie that I remember keeping me up at night, and which still haunts me to this day, is Aeon Flux.
Oh my god Aeon Flux. I was in kindergarten when I watched Aeon Flux. It was the kind of dystopian revolution that basked in a bizarre sexual aesthetic tension. Everything in it was tinted silver, blue, and black. There was a lot of high-tech gore, like a patch that could heal a bullet wound but sizzled on people’s skin and formed a weird, foamy pus when it healed a wound.
But there is this one scene where title-character Aeon Flux is locked in combat with another woman, and the woman is wearing hoop earrings, so when Flux has her in some kind of hold, she reaches out her tongue and loops it through the woman’s earring and then, with the power of Girl Boss vested in her, she rips the earring out of the woman’s ear.
I haven’t seen this movie since then but I still remember this scene so vividly. I love earrings. I always have. And after seeing this scene in kindergarten, in the dark of our living room with my stoic father beside me, I thought about this scene all the time. I thought about it when I got a prize from the prize box. I thought about it falling asleep under the bubblegum pink canopy of my princess bed. I thought about it during ballet class. And I could not sleep. And this became a problem when I started falling asleep on the bus.
When it was on the way to school, it wasn’t a huge deal. The 8th graders would still wake me up as they walked off the bus. They would clap their hands near my face or shake me awake so I could blink back into reality and walk into Del Prado.
The real problem came when I fell asleep on the bus after school, and I woke up and looked around, and I was the only child on the bus. The sheer panic that gripped my young heart. The sheer panic that gripped the heart of the bus driver when he saw me in the rearview mirror, and our eyes locked in the spectacular oh shit!!! of the moment. The sheer panic of trying to describe my bus stop and not having a phone or a clue what my address was.
I don’t know what this man did, but he eventually figured out what gated community I belonged in. We arrived at the semi-circle of palm trees where my mother and two younger sisters waited in anger that cooled into relief. (One of her top three fears at this time was someone kidnapping one of her kids, I’m pretty sure.)
Anyway, it was a problem for me to be falling asleep so much, so my mom took me to the doctor, and the doctor asked me about what happens when I try to fall asleep, and at some point I must have described Charlize Theron ripping a woman’s earring out with her teeth because when I got home, my parents informed me I was not allowed to watch violent movies anymore. Instead, we would be watching “Fluffy the Rabbit movies”—my dad’s words, not mine.
And it totally worked. And fifteen years later, after my home invasion dreams, I tried to find my new Fluffy the Rabbit movie. I tried watching shows with plots, but it didn’t really work. I stopped watching I May Destroy You (with a huge degree of guilt because who am I to not support dramatic comedies from women of color?? I want to write?? and perform my own work?? That’s the entire thing??). I deleted Twitter, but the quiet it left behind didn’t help me sleep either. Everything felt bad, until I started watching old seasons of Real Housewives of different cities.
The Real Housewives franchise is the only thing that has made me feel like I could live past the age of 30. Everything I encounter online is fatalistic, but it’s still the only place I can use to seek communication or entertainment. So, watching Gizelle Bryant make her friends travel from the DMV to New Orleans with her in 2018 is enriching. Witnessing two frenemies enter a salt cave for the cleansing energy. Lisa Rinna getting an IV drip of vitamins in Los Angeles while discussing the Brett Kavanaugh hearings with her mother. Kenya throwing several thousand dollars into a lavish birthday party for her baby daughter. Denise Richards talking about how she has sex every morning. Karen Huger getting a new weave in time for her trip to the Cayman Islands. Kyle Richards getting “burglarized”— and what does she do? She goes to Hawaii to relax and buys a Rolex. Because why the fuck not? A girl has got to live! Watching married women live in 2018-2019 is liberating, and depending on the city I can switch between flavors of nonsense and care.
I love these real housewives so much. I love how angry and anxious and funny they are. I love when they cling to youth, and I love when they age gracefully. I love when they cry over their daughters going to college and when they get inundated in semantics when they’re four margaritas in and just not going to win the argument. I love that they dress sexy for Halloween and their daughters say “Mom!” and they say “I am paying for this party, I’m literally gonna do whatever I want.”
I feel instinctually apologetic about how much I love reality TV. HBO has gifted me — me! a woman of color!! — with well-written series, featuring BIPOC protagonists with rich inner lives, and character arcs that swim through the trials and tribulations of youth, and I simply do not have the wrinkles in my brain to take any of it in. In our current timeline, nothing will exist when I am fifty years old. I fear death all the time. So what I really want is the goofiest shit in the world.
I fear the social death of aging as a woman, or the social death of working until I’m dead, or the social death of no longer having fun if I become a parent or older – but then there are the housewives that are Real and the housewives that are not. And the ones that are real continue to just do whatever they want, and if it is possible for them, then why not for me. They serve as a reminder that I can do whatever I want and change however I want to, even thirty years from now.
I’m also – I’ve realized – very bad at “self-care” and learning to take care of myself or treat myself to things. I feel so anxious when I spend money on myself. Half of my clothes come from the costume giveaways at the LCA just because I feel a prodigious ick when I spend money
on myself. But Real Housewives is like a study in self-care. And the anxiety of trotting along with the spirit of consumerism dies down a little when you take stock of how much you are actively curtailing your own joy for no reason. Which is a dumb move. Just so dumb. And bearing witness to women over the age of 30 just vibing and living and being upset with their friends and then reconciling right before they launch, I don’t know, a perfume line, probably, and then falling out again because did you see how she behaved at the launch? I don’t know, I’m gonna go to Provence for a week with the girls, the launch was so stressful and I deserve it. It’s a study in how to treat yourself, because I really never learned how to do that on my own. And really, if Lisa Vanderpump can drop $30,000 to completely renovate her kitchen because she’s feeling upset, I definitely can buy myself a smoothie from McDonald’s and not feel guilty. I know too much about Gizelle Bryant now. That’s okay. It helps me sleep at night.