Thursday, May 8, 2008

A plague on both your houses

The first person who I ever met that was HIV Positive was actually the first person registered in Lubbock as such, or so she said. I don't remember her name. Don't think too bad of me, I only met her once and never saw her again.

I was seventeen and had wound up in a flophouse that had been abandoned by its owner to vagrants in the middle of the "Tech Ghetto". This was the sprawling slum that bordered the Texas Tech campus in the old part of Lubbock, back then. The whole neighborhood has since been torn down, and rebuilt, in the name of "low-income" apartment housing - financed by the city of Lubbock and profitting one of West Texas' richest men (whose son was the Mayor at the time). Judging from the number of superbikes and boats in the parking lots of the new apts, I'd say it's just full of rich frat boys and sorority girls.

I can't say I miss the neighborhood, regardless. I've been mugged, shot at, fought in gang fights, and even may have committed a few bad deeds myself there back in the wilder days. It was a true shithole, populated by poor college students, poorer minorities and white trash like myself. There were four of us running around late on a weeknight; two of my 'road dogs', T-bone and Axl, my little brother Tommy, and me. Back then almost everyone in our gang had little metal-head nicknames, from our favorite bands. This was what passed for street names in our "gang". I never got one because my name was Kirk- and Kirk Hammett was the lead guitarist for Metallica, and hell- that was good enough.

Our gang was simply the only nine white boys in the 'hood. We banded together because it was too much shit to be in a mexican gang when you couldn't speak enough spanish. Even IN a gang like that, you get your ass kicked by your carnals on a weekly basis if you have the misfortune of being a wedo.

We survived for three reasons: one of our guys, Red, could tat like a maniac and was the only person, white or mexican, who could go to parties with VES, VSS, or VOR (east-siders, south siders, and north siders. The V's for Varrio (barrio) I don't know why they used the V. Never put much thought into it til now.) He gave badass tattoos to anybody who wanted one and so we were cool with the mexicans. The second reason was because of Axl's mom. She ran a run down apt complex where we all stayed- I'll call it the "P". She lorded over everyone who needed a place to crash for a week or a month, needed a fix, or needed whatever-it-was-you-might-be-needing. She had four boys, Axl was the youngest. All three of his older brothers were in the pen when I met him the first time. She was a tough fucking bitch.

The third, and most important reason we survived is because we were all batshit-crazy. And everyone in the hood knew it. Fuck, you had to be.

My little brother didn't hang out with us much. He was a jock, and a good one, and he detested all drugs (good boy). But at the time my mom and his dad were living 40 miles outside of Lubbock in a trailer that was set up on the only hill for a 5 mile radius. We called it the Tornado Suicide Shack. It was winter, so Tommy had no farmwork he could do and was working at a Burger King in the Tech Ghetto. He drove a beat up 65 Chevy truck with a Z-28 motor in it. Even though our primary means of fuel-allocation was a siphon hose- it was a losing proposition to make the drive home when he got off work each night. So, like everyone else, he crashed at the "P".

I got off work at the manufacturing plant at eleven pm. I went straight to my older brother's house, picked up a case of Michelob Dry (haven't drank the stuff since high school) and headed to the P. We started drinking and T-bone told us about some people partying down the way. That's how we ended up in an abandoned rental house with about fifteen strangers. I remember thinking that this was the craziest thing since the kids crashing there (a half dozen people from age 14 to 25) had no electricity and no water. There was a makeshift campfire on the non-carpeted floor in a melted metal barrel and old mattresses and blankets spread around. Luckily winter in West Texas isn't a severe problem. Some years we don't even have snow. I don't remember much more than the rusty barrel and the shock of seeing kids living like complete vagabonds right there, in the middle of town.

I remember her, though.

My brother, straight-laced though he was, is a good looking guy and always one to impress the ladies. Tommy didn't like being poor. He didn't look like the rest of us, with our metal militia uniforms (dirty black concert tees, torn blue jeans, high tops). He dressed like a prep and hung out with the popular kids. He'd never admit to our family being poor. But he tried to fit in with the druggie punks that were his brother's friends when he hung out with me. He did that with jokes. He knew how dangerous it could be to get singled out, so jokes were his camoflauge. As the rest of us smoked a joint, drank our beer and introduced ourselves to the familiar and not-so familiar faces, he told jokes. One of his jokes stopped all the conversation though.

He was talking to the prettiest girl there, a stained street angel, probably seventeen years old with dirty blonde hair pulled back in a short ponytail, a cute smile and deep green eyes. Axl stood close by her arm, giving her his best seductive smile.

"Did you hear David Copperfield has AIDS?" Everyone got quiet and Tommy paused with a silly grin and hit the punchline "He was playing with Magic!" Tbone, Axl, and I chuckled, even though we had heard him tell that lame ass joke ten times today already. But everyone else was quiet, even wide-eyed. "What?!" Tommy said, a little too loud in the silence. "Someone here related to Magic Johnson?" All these stoned people just kind of looked embarrassed and a little anxious.

"No," the stained angel said, "I'm HIV Positive." She said it a little apologetically, but not ashamed. Tommy took a step back and stammered an apology. The walls for him, I could tell, had shrunk in on him a little bit, like I've seen a thousand times, when he wonders just what the fuck his brother gotten him into this time. I stepped up, apologized for my dumbass brother and introduced myself. She was beautiful. Conversations resumed and pockets of people moved this way and that, in the shadows. Axl gave up any attention he had entertained for her as of this stunning revelation and moved towards one of the other girls there.

We talked for a good while. I was intrigued and I learned that she was from California, had only been in Lubbock for a little while and had no where else to go. She claimed to be the only person who was registered as being HIV Positive in Lubbock. I believed her. AIDS and HIV was something new, something you only saw gay guys in New York dying of on tv. You didn't find it in a pretty girl at a party in West Texas. So it was frightening and eye-opening.

I shared a beer or two with her and Axl hooked up with another girl in the meantime. Tommy had since escaped out to my car, away from the freaks. We ended up loading up the Angel, Axl's girl and ourselves and taking off. I dropped Tommy off at the P so he could crash. We decided to go by another guy's place since his mom was never home and it was much cleaner than the rat trap we stayed at. The guy was named Stacy and he was an 18 year old speed freak, needles and all. Of course, he was up.

He welcomed us in- immediately Axl hit the bedroom with the girl, T-bone hit the bathroom with Stacy, and I ended up drinking the last of the beer with the Angel. She was smart and sweet and tragic. She didn't know how long she had left to live and it was all so romantic and horrifying at the same time. I was pretty drunk at that point, 17 year old alkie that I was- and we ended up making out on the couch. I tried to go further. I told her it didn't matter- that I didn't care and she didn't deserve to live her life without love and all the other bullshit that a seventeen year old thinks when he's sober much less when's he's stoned and drunk. But she told me no, that we couldn't. And so we cuddled and I passed out.

When I woke up about 30 mins later, she was shooting speed with Stacy. Axl was up, drinking some cheap vodka and T-bone was going through metal cassettes. The girl Axl was with was nowhere to be seen. After they were done shooting up, Stacy was rubbing Angel's back through her shirt. I laid there unmoving, staring at her and her eyes met mine across the room. She looked away and Stacy smirked like a king. Fucking figures, I thought. Just another junkie. I took the bottle away from Axl and took a long swig and went to join T-bone and play some music.

Stacy and Axl told me they were taking a walk. The Angel (who had now fallen from grace in my mind) went with them, after a little cajoling by the guys'. It was still dark, about 4 or 5am. Stacy still had that shitty smirk on his face and Axl just looked like he always did, like a pitbull on acid. I didn't think much about it at first. I was still vaguely hurt and feeling dismissed. I turned away as she walked past, but looked up as they were walking out and saw Stacy's hand on her arm, pulling her.

I sat and stewed for a bit. T-bone was jamming to the music and I was all alone with my thoughts. Finally he looked up and said "Where the hell did everyone go?" "For a walk, man."

He looked incredulous. "At 5 in the fucking morning?" I shook my head to clear it. What were they going outside for? Did they take my car? No, keys are here. I saw T pull his stash from his pocket to make sure it was there. Okay, they didn't gank his dope. If they were going to fuck, they'd just go back to the bedroom. If- Oh, hell. "Come with me" I led him outside and we walked down the street to the park. Before I set foot on the grass of the park I already heard her. Not screaming, not yelling, but a persistent plea-almost for him too- "Don't, Please you can't. I'm positive. I'm positive."

I took off running. There they were in the dark, on the ground, Stacy on top of her with his pants down, Axl patiently waiting for "his turn." I grabbed a handful of Stacy's hair and jerked him backwards onto the ground and started kicking the shit out of him. Axl played stupid "She wanted it man. She told him she would do us both if he got her high man." T-bone steered Axl away from me and I gave Stacy one final savage kick to the side of the face as he lay there gasping and panting with his pants down around his ankles. She stood up and brushed herself off, arranged her clothes and looked me in the eyes. She didn't seem upset, she didn't seem angry. She just seemed high and kind of dead, too. "I told him we couldn't." I looked from her needle track arm to Stacy's fried ass on the ground, still sounding like an animal dying. Jesus christ what a fucking waste of it all.

I couldn't meet her eyes directly after that. "What... what do we do?" I asked her. The cops, I thought?

She brushed some grass off her pants leg. "Take me back to my house." T-bone gathered up Axl and they walked home. I left Stacy in the dirt. We retrieved the girl from Stacy's who was still passed out in the bedroom after having sex with Axl. I dropped them both off as the sun was coming up. When she got out of the car, she apologized to me. "I had a good time with you... I'm sorry."

I looked at her for one last time. What was she sorry for? For being HIV positive? for being a drug addict? for getting raped? I felt as dead as she looked right then, just icy cold to the core. I'm sorry too, is all I thought.

I would like to say I quit hanging out with my friends right then and there. But I didn't. I went to the P, showered and woke Tommy up. I popped some vivarin, washed it down with a coke. And then we headed off to school. Just another day in the life.


James. said...

Wow, intensely haunting. Well done.

Utah Savage said...

Oh my god! You are one hell of a writer. And this is one hell of a story.

Lubbock, the asshole of Texas. My third ex-husband's parents lived in Abilene on Don Juan St., and we used to drive through Lubbock often. I didn't know there was a hill anywhere near Lubbock.

This is a really powerful and very honest and real piece. The very best kind of writing. Keep writing and keep it real. Always write what you know is true and as honestly as this. You'll end up with a Pulitzer.

I have written my own difficult story which is now a book called "Maggy," and if you are ever interested in a female version of a hard story like this, only not quite so gritty, you can find it by going to my full profile where I am slowly adding chapter after chapter. Please leave a comment if you do read. Comments are the only way we know how we need to edit.

This piece of yours need no editing at all. I imagine if you sent it to a magazine like the Paris Review you just might get it published. Get a writer's market--it will list every publication the takes unsolicited manuscripts, and manuscripts without agents.

Don't go away again. Please. If you ever want to talk privately email me. But please stay in touch.

angry ballerina said...

Wow, the stupid hick from Texas knows how to use spell check.

I'm impressed to say the least

beartwinsmom said...

Oh my goodness... This is such excellent writing, I could feel myself in the setting. AngryBallerina posted the link to your post in her blog. I am SO impressed with your writing. I used to live in Houston, so I can totally relate about the vatos locos.

Keep writing... please keep writing!!

Warm regards,
Michelle aka The Beartwinsmom

The Blogger Formerly Known as DCup said...

I like this blog of yours. Excellent storytelling.

crackedheadblog said...

angryballerina paid you a helluva compliment at her place. Still, I'm not sure it does you justice.

I especially like writing that paints a picture or makes me feel like I'm there. This post does both.

Thanks for sharing the story and your talent. Very cool.

Freida Bee said...

Tragic true stories are so powerful and you told it so well.

Comrade Kevin said...

I have a strong stomach so please let it be known that after reading this story I threw up.

But please don't take that as a swipe at's a testament to how chilling this story was.

This--what you wrote about-- was part of my old life and reading this story makes me fortunate to know how glad I renounced that part of myself.

Faded said...

Well, I'm glad this was well-received. I wasn't sure what to expect. It's a pretty stark tale, and I told it just as it unfolded in my mind's eye from memory.

Utah- done, and done. And yes, that was the only hill, with our dinky trailer perched right up top like we were daring god to bring it on in the middle of tornado central.

angry- Bitch,please. I don't need no stinking spellcheck. I's a brain in these heah parts.

James, Michelle, Dcup, Freida, crackedhead- thank you all for the feedback. Let me know if any lines seem glaringly bad. I realize my writing is more like storytelling and I write the way I talk, so some of my grammatical errors are probably due to my West Texas vernacular.

CK- you said it. Makes me want to throw up too. Like many of you guys, I wonder how the hell I made it out of my teen years alive.

James. said...

The best storytellers write as if they're talking. Don't change a thing. First-person narratives, though kinda cliche, are the back bones for writers like Palaniuk, King, Thompson and Mailer.

You got a good thing going here, don't let it go to your head but don't be too critical of yourself either...

Mauigirl said...

Great writing, harrowing story. I'm sure you wonder to this day whatever happened to the Angel...

I agree with Utah, you should submit it, I think it would be published.

Thanks for pointing me to your new place, I'll be sure to add it to my blogroll and Google reader!

Liberality said...

Ditto what everyone else said. I want to thank you for protecting a messed up person. You show true humanity there.

rick said...

okay, i'm a believer. i'm blogrolling you.

Utah Savage said...

I checked tracksy and was curious about a reader located in London. Turns out to be House of the Rising Sons. What the fuck's
up with that? Where are you Man? Still House of the...... Or still living in West Texas? I know it's not really any of my business, but it is curious that I have a London reader whose calling himself House of the Rising Sons. Same logo, and a rather interesting post. I would have commented, but couldn't find a way to.

Faded said...

utah- I'm not in london... give me a link to that guys' site if you get a chance...

Utah Savage said...

I would if I knew how to link anything other than my blog roll, and that actually took the help of my admin. I's a hopeless illiterate when it comes to these here intertubes.

Erudite Redneck said...

Re, "I realize my writing is more like storytelling and I write the way I talk, so some of my grammatical errors are probably due to my West Texas vernacular."

The best writin' is just good story tellin' -- and this rocks.

I lived in Wichita Falls for 10 years -- "Not hell, but the gate to it." And I lived with a gal for a couple of years who was your Angel, sans HIV, when she was 21-22and I was 27-28 or so. Cute blonde. She asked me to dance at a hotel bar and I was done for. She told me right then and there that she was four days out of rehab and in recovery from booze and crack. I learned the hard way what that shit means. I have a pigeon feather in a Resistol to this day that I got off the steps of a county courthouse down by Houston one day when we were there tryin' to keep her from going to the pen.

H.L. Mencken said, "People can't write because they can't think."

You think well. Keep writing well.