In 1988 a friend of mine fell victim to the AIDS epidemic. I kept a journal of our conversations during the last year of his life, and wrote a series of short stories structured around my experience of his family, his life and his death. My Memory Containers I published a small book of these short stories, to accompany sculptural works, in an exhibition which toured a number of museums, sponsored by the Butler Institute for World AIDS Year.
Eddie and I were driving down Washington Boulevard and passed one of those gloomy looking prison buses you see around here. He got a big smile and said, “You know what it’s like being on one of those?”
It looked miserable to me.
“No, it’s great,” he said. “You been locked in the hole for three or four months not seeing the outside, then they chain your hands and feet into the floor and move you in those buses. You see the streets, the trees, the sky—it’s fantastic! All the colors. It’s like the circus.”
Later he told me about being locked in a Mexican jail. How they beat him and dumped him naked in his cell for three days. Then two cops holding his legs jammed a cattle prod on his balls until he wept and passed out. He was fourteen. Said he’d rather do ten years in L.A. than another day in a Mexican jail.
He’s almost too weak to walk now. Weighs maybe 150. I don’t get to see him much anymore…
Jose’-Luis was within a nightmare. Yesterday he visited his brother Eddie’s grave, and now in his sleep, Eduardo was visiting him. There had been a time when he had wanted Eddie dead very badly, now he was paying for that wish. There are many ways to be afraid, and Jose’-Luis had found this: his mind had become a battleground for his undead past, and Eddie was as relentless as ever …
Ten years fell away like shed skin. It had happened so many times before, but that night was the worst. Maybe it was the Angel Dust, but maybe it was just Eddie. The Projects were alive again. Jose’-Luis ran down their strees, his brother after him, screaming death. The blood ran down his face, into his eyes from where Eddie had beaten his head into the sidewalk.
He vaulted a gate and was through the open door before Eddie had made the gate. Now, with the butcher’s knife in his hand, Jose’-Luis met Eduardo at the door and the chase was reversed. Eddie ran and Jose’-Luis pursued, screaming, “I’ll kill you!”
Abandoning the butcher’s knife, Jose’-Luis gave up the chase and went to his friend Danny’s house. “Danny, I got to nave your gun!” But Danny wouldn’t let him have it.
“You can’t kill your own brother!” Danny drew a line.
“I got to, man, or he’s gonna kill me. Sooner or later he’s gonna do it …look, I’ll just shoot him in the leg …”
But he couldn’t get the gun from Danny. So Jose’-Luis packed and left for Mexico that night. If he stayed he knew he’d die.
It was ten years now and the still had never spoken of the fight. Eighteen months ago Eddie lay dying in the hospital. Neither the fighting, the robbing nor even the drugs had killed him. Eddie was dying from a needle he’d shared in an abandoned house in East L.A.
He phoned to make peace with the brother he would never see again. Jose’-Luis had said OK, but how do you forgive a nightmare? How many nights had he wanted to kill his brother?
And the ghosts of his guilt and anger were still running down the empty alleys of his memory, first pursued by, then pursuing the ghost of the man who beat him, then begged his forgiveness.
Sunday. Today was Eddie’s and Olivia’s birthday. Olivia is Eddie’s baby. She is one year old now. She has AIDS too…
Eddie staked out the place in the park from eight in the morning ’till one in the afternoon to make sure that we’d have a choice location.
He looked thin as a scarecrow but was dressed in a hat, a bright blue and white shirt, and baggy striped shorts with knee socks. He moves like a stick figure. His spirit floats buoyant along with us though his body has abandoned him almost completely.
He held the rope and made the pinata dance as the blindfolded children took turns swinging the stick at the clown’s paper mache body.
Watch her as she plays!
In the grass she finds
her waiting fingers …
In her eyes
all the sorrow and joy
poor flesh can contain.