Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – One
Marlee nodded and squeezed his hand, but said nothing.
“And all I could do was watch.”
She was still silent. She was not going to be satisfied with a synopsis, he realized. It was all or nothing and it was too late for ‘nothing.’
“How long were you together?” She was taking him back to Square One.
“Alicia and I met when we were 14. She walked into the classroom and I was in love. That was it, for me anyway. It took her a couple of years to come around.” He smiled at the memory.
“I wanted us to get married as soon as we were out of school. Of course, both families were dead set against it. Alicia was too. She was determined to get an education.
“She wanted to be a nurse. It was all she ever really wanted. Alicia was going to go after her dream and I was not it. If I wanted to be with her I was going to have to wait. So, I waited. While she went to San Francisco State, I went and took some classes at City College and played in a band on weekends. “
“What do you play?”
“Did play. Guitar. We were pretty good. We had two names. When we played a gig in the Mission or someplace Latino we were ‘Besame’ and when we got booked in some rock and roll club we used the English translation of ‘Besame’: ‘Kiss Me.’
“Anyway, Alicia did it. She got her degree in Nursing, with honors and I got an AA degree in waiting, but it was the right thing to do and worth it all.”
“Tell me about your wedding.”
Luco smiled and Marlee let go of his hands. She could see that he needed them free to talk, words alone weren’t enough.
“Our wedding was…spectacular. All of our friends and families were there. About twenty of her classmates from “State” came, as did a bunch of my buddies from City College.
“We were married at Mission Dolores. We had to reserve the church a year and a half ahead of time. The priest who had baptized us both, Father Castillo, married us.
It was just so beautiful. On the invitations we asked everyone to bring some flowers from their gardens or backyards. The altar was overflowing with Lavender, Hibiscus, Shasta Daisies, low carpets of pansies and spears of Giant Sunflowers that, I swear, seemed to be straining to reach the gilded vault of the church. As Alicia came down the aisle our friends handed her flowers. When she reached the front of the aisle her Mother had a ribbon and tied the flowers together to make her bouquet. It was beautiful. The scent of Jasmine and Honeysuckle was everywhere.
“By the time Alicia and I kissed, everyone was crying. I’ve never heard of a wedding getting a standing ovation, but ours did.”
Marlee had to wipe her eyes.
“The band I was in worked a lot and I put aside every penny for the wedding and reception. We rented one of the big dance clubs in the Mission and we all partied until we dropped. There was enough food for an army and the music was almost non-stop. To save time and trouble we invited everyone who lived within complaining distance and I, personally, delivered invitations to the Police Station.
“The reception went on until the next morning. It was a total joy, no problems at all. Of course I thought to hire a few of my Samoan pals to work the door. Nobody messes with Samoans.” He could see a quizzical look on Marlee’s face.
“Each of the guys was big enough to have his own ZIP Code.
“Alicia and I danced. We were so in love it was silly. We went to Disneyland for our honeymoon. You have to visit there someday.”
Now that he had started it was pouring out of him.
“Alicia was able to get work at SF General Hospital. It was only a few blocks from our apartment. I got a job with PG&E, reading gas meters.”
His smile faded and the animation left his voice as he continued.
“It was all we had dreamed of for four years and now we had it all spread out in front of us. I was still playing with ‘Besame’ a lot and Alicia took up painting. She found she had a talent for it. It relaxed her. Our life together was good. Marriage felt so ‘right.’ I don’t think I can express it to you.”
“You’re doing it beautifully. Go on.”
“Alicia worked in the Emergency Room, a very busy place.
“One Friday night she was on the graveyard shift. The Police and Paramedics were bringing someone through the doors every few minutes – gangbangers, junkies and other O.D.s, a few plain old sick people and all kinds of head cases.
“She was part of a team working on some speed freak who felt that he had cockroaches swimming in his bloodstream. He had tried to cut them out with a butcher knife. He was bleeding from everywhere when they brought him in. He was screaming to be left alone.
“Alicia was trying to get a blood sample for typing. She stuck him and, somehow he got a hand free and punched her in the face. She just got up off the floor and went back to the table. The guy pulled the syringe out of his arm and stabbed Alicia in the neck with the needle. An orderly slugged the guy and knocked him out. All of this happened in just a couple of seconds.
“Alicia pulled the syringe out of her neck and started to go get another syringe, to do her job. One of the doctors and another nurse pulled her aside to examine her.
“The needle had punctured an artery and their immediate concern was that air may have been injected into the artery and was now racing through her bloodstream.
“She was aware of her peril, but she kept her cool as an EEG was set up to monitor her brain activity. Blood thinning drugs were pumped into her to, hopefully, reduce the risk of a stroke. Alicia was able to alert the doctor to anything that she was feeling, any potential symptom of trouble. She gave them a calm and professional account of her possible imminent death.
“On the other table the main team worked to save the bastard who stabbed my wife. He died and I’m glad.
“They saved Alicia. There was no air bubble in her blood. She came home and told me what happened. It was the first time I had ever seen her scared like that. Then she told me that the danger wasn’t over.
“Oh, God, those next few weeks were the worst Hell I could have imagined.
“The dead pig that attacked her was HIV Positive. The next day Alicia went in and her blood was drawn for testing. They told us that even if the results came back Negative that she should be tested again regularly for the next six months. It can take time for the virus to show up in testing.
“They started Alicia on a medication regimen. She was taking all kinds of pills. Those HIV drugs are powerful and have some terrible side effects. Her hair began to fall out; she either couldn’t sleep at all or slept around the clock. On top of all that, the animal that caused this also had Hepatitis and she had to take drugs for that.
“A month or so later, after the third HIV test, they told us that she was testing Positive for the virus. There was no doubt.”
“Oh, Luco, I am so sorry.”
“That worthless piece of garbage killed my wife. We were married a little over a year and she was dying.
“That last set of blood screenings also told us that Alicia was pregnant. We wanted to start a family. We prayed for a family. Was this how God answered our prayers?
“The doctors wanted her to abort, but neither of us could do that – Not now, not our baby. Our baby, in the middle of all this madness.”
He wiped away the fresh tears that ran down his cheeks. Marlee handed him a paper napkin. Silently, her heart was breaking for this anguished man.
“To protect our baby, Alicia chose to cut back on some of the AIDS medications. The health and safety of our child became the primary focus. I had to help her choose.
“The pregnancy was very hard on her. The physical part was hard enough, but the psychological side was just as bad. There was anger, hatred even, fear like you can’t imagine, and a sorrow that made our life into a dark room, literally.
“Alicia was at home, but I still had to work. When I would come home she would be sitting in the rocking chair with all the lights off and the shades drawn. It was like a tomb.
“Before all of this we used to joke about her being pregnant and having funny food cravings. You know, the pickles and ice cream thing. She only craved one thing. She asked me to write poems and read them to her. I didn’t know what to do. The only things I ever wrote were a few songs for the band. It would have been a stretch to call them poems. But Alicia begged me and so, I wrote poems for her.
“I would write them in a notebook over coffee or at lunch and read them to her when I got home. I still do it. My poems are a way of keeping a connection with her alive.
“As the pregnancy continued, Alicia began to lose weight rapidly. The doctors were afraid she and our baby might not make it to full term.
“At twenty-eight weeks they did a C-Section. It was awful. Alicia almost died and our baby was a little over two pounds. They wouldn’t let me in the room for the delivery. When I saw him in the incubator he was so small. He didn’t look real. He was ‘Positive’ too.
“Alicia was tough and she insisted on seeing her son. As soon as they let me I put her in a wheelchair and pushed her to meet her baby boy. She cried and laughed at the same time as she put her hand into the incubator to touch him.
“The name tag on his incubator just said ‘Infant Reyes.’ We had picked out a name months before. Father Castillo, who had married us, came to the hospital and we had a baptism there in the ICU. We named our son ‘Regalito.’”
“That’s very pretty,” said Marlee.
“It means ‘Little Gift,’ and that he was.
“After Regalito was born and baptized I think that Alicia was just worn out. The doctors said it was an ‘opportunistic infection’, but I think she just couldn’t take any more.
“I begged her not to leave us. She died when Regalito was a month old. She died in my arms – my helpless, weak and useless arms.
“When she died, Regalito knew. Babies always want to be with their Mothers. Two days later his kidneys failed and he died inside that glass box.”
Luco paused and took a slow sip of water. He was exhausted.
“We had the funerals at Mission Dolores. Everybody brought flowers again.”