Saturday, November 7, 2015

Second Hand

I'm sitting there, still groggy, my morning coffee hadn't kicked in yet, and it was early. He approaches me and bends over so that he could look up at my face.

"Good morning"

"Oh hey, good morning" I force a smirk.

"I said, good morning." He emphasizes the 'morning'

"Good Morning." I full on smile. He half laughs and walks away. He always brought the energy, the kind of guy you look forward to seeing everyday.

We set up the scaffolding, pulling out the brushes and paints,  and start on the wall just like we did everyday. It was almost 9.

About an hour and half into full on painting there was a loud noise, almost like a crash, unidentified, in the moment it was hard to process against similar noises in my memory bank. I was preoccupied painting, zoned in my own world when the blare startled me out of it. I first thought the scaffold had fallen or someone fell from it, but I looked over and the scaffolds were all upright.

Then I hear "He shot me!" from the far end.

Almost like an echo another person yells over and over again "He shot him! He shot him!"

I instinctively run over as fast as I could, I was the furthest away, painting on the opposite end of the wall about 150 feet away, but some how I was the first upon him. I look up for a moment and notice a figure walking away, his back towards me, crossing the street, confident strides, no hurry.

I found him on the ground fully aware, talking. But going in and out of consciousness.

"He shot me."

I quickly scan for a wound I don't see anything but as I simultaneously feel under his shirt I feel it in his lower left abdomen - moist and irregular. Quickly I put my hand over it and apply pressure, that's the only thing I can think to do. I reach behind him but I couldn't find an exit wound, there isn't one. I know from watching movies that blood loss is the biggest concern so I try to prevent that.

There was one other guy who was painting further than me and he comes up red faced. Feels like moments later.

"What happened?!!"

"He was shot."

He hands me his phone for some reason. No one's thinking straight. I know instinctively what to do. I dial 9-1-1

"Hi, my friend was shot, we're at 35th St and West, the freeway underpass, send someone right away!!"

"Sorry, could you please repeat that?"

"I said my friend was shot, we need someone here right away!!"

"This is the highway patrol, I'll need to connect you to local law enforcement."

"Ok, whatever! Do it!"

Riiiiing riiiiing riiiiing riiiing

"What the fuck...!!"

In frustration I forceably throw the phone back into the other painter's hands.

I look back towards the ground, he says.

"How come no one is doing anything? Do something!" Angrily

I try to calm him and reassure him.

"We are, we called 9-1-1, the ambulance is coming and I'm here."

Then he seems to be losing consciousness. I thought we were going to lose him right then. I lightly slap his face. He comes back immediately.

"How come no one is doing anything? He shot me."

Then his consciousness wanes. I again slap his face to keep him awake.

"You gotta say with me. You gotta stay awake. Don't go to sleep."

He goes in and out of consciousness, we repeat this game over again.

"How come you're sitting on my stomach?"

"I'm not, it's just my hand, I'm putting pressure on the wound."

It seems like so much time had passed at this point. I don't really recall anyone else. I do remember another painter pacing back and forth in anger, almost yelling "He shot him, he shot him."

And I see someone crying nearby. Another was just standing staring. One was panicking but she was there helping me. There were others but I don't know where they were or what they were doing.

"It's been so long, where the hell is everybody!! Why isn't the ambulance here!? We need to get him to a hospital.

He starts foaming from the mouth.

Some black girls nearby almost taunt us.

"This is West Oakland, no police is gonna come. " In that moment for some reason that felt true. We had to act. We couldn't wait for the police that might not come.

"Let's move him to the back of the truck! We gotta take him to the hospital now!"

So we pick him up, I brace the back of his neck and we carrying him to the back of the truck.
He want's to puke so we turn him to his side. He pukes.

I recheck the wound there's surprisingly no blood. And still no exit wound, which I know means he's a mess inside. The urgency suddenly hits me.

"We gotta take him now!!!"

The same girls try to be helpful...

"There's a hospital like 6 blocks in that direction, it's really close."

"Are you sure!? Where exactly? What's it called?"

The last thing I want to do is to be driving around lost looking for a hospital while he's dying in the back of the truck. I was strangely calm until then, my mind started to race and I couldn't decide what to do. This decision could save or kill a life...

We're all in the truck, ready to go when multiple police cars pull up and almost surround us, blocking the vehicle from moving.

One of us goes up and yells at them, urging them to move so we can go. There's still no ambulance in sight.

"Get the fuck out of the way so we can go!"

It takes them it feels like 10s of minutes until finally the paramedics emerge from the around the corner. Time always slows during times of urgency. It only dawns on me later that they were there the entire time just waiting for the all clear from the police. They approach him and cut off all his clothes, except for his boxers. Then they lift him onto the stretcher and put the clear plastic oxygen mask over his face. The oxygen alone seems like it would save him. There was something about it that gave me some semblance of relief. During the commotion his boxers pulled down a few times, exposing him. He sensed this somehow and seemed to want to try and pull them up but his arms were twitching and folded in unnatural ways. Wrist bent. The way people used to do when they made fun of retarded people. So I went up and covered him with a blanket. He seemed to acknowledge that. I continued walking with him holding his hand and head to the ambulance.

"Can I let go now?" I ask the paramedics as they are about to load him in, as if I was doing something important and needed official relief.

"Yeah, you can let go."

"Can I come with you guys?"

"No, sorry, we can't have anyone inside."

"Ok, they're going to take you now." I said as I looked into his eyes.

That was the last thing I said to him. It didn't occur to me I'd never see him again. No words of comfort or inspiration. Just 'Ok, they're going to take you now" Not that words have power but they do and maybe the right ones would've kept his will going stronger, inspire a fight, provide the tiny bit needed that would mean the difference between life and death. Maybe. I can't even think of what I would've wanted to say - even now.

We got updates, he made it to surgery. The oxygen mask, then the ambulance each seemed like steps towards life. He was going to make it.

I hugged another artist and when I walked away I saw the tiny spot of blood I'd inadvertently left on the back of his shirt. That's when I look down at my palm and see a burgundy, dime sized circle.

I wanted to tell him about the spot on his back but never did.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The End

A few years back there was T who started just started his grad program at Mills College. At the same time, in the same program there was J. They were both Korean American, being such a small school, there weren't many Korean Americans, so they connected at that level. During this time J had a substance abuse problem, it wasn't be uncommon to find her passed out on the bathroom floor at any given morning. Through this T and J got close and started collaborating, eventually J would get clean, she had to. T and J formed a band and they soon met another fellow Korean American grad school student D from the art department, and naturally they all gravitated towards each other and would collaborate on many different levels. They grew as friends, travelled together, made a documentary, performed at prestigious venues. But T and J had interpersonal issues which they tried over and over again to work through but simply couldn't. 

Tonight was their last performance together as a band. I quietly snuck in the audience and watched them perform their final performance - captivated, I leaned in, full of emotion, it was so good and so real, so from the heart and it resonated so well, and plus they're both damn good. They were guests, so the host played her next song and during that she allowed for the audience to call out names of people they had lost - my name was obvious - Antonio Ramos - it'd be a name everyone would recognize but I sat there and listened as others called out names- I wanted to but couldn't - I don't know what stopped me and when I felt like I could finally do it - it was too late, the time had passed. Then I saw from a distance T and J hurry out from back stage, exchange a few words and then hug, I knew I was witnessing the end, then T walked out the front. I quickly got up and rushed out the exit closest to me but it went down 3 corridors before it eventually opened up to the outside. He was gone. I looked all around, he was no where to be found. Then J came out unexpectedly, she calls out his name. A homeless guy tells us he walked that way, but there was no one to chase. J started to cry. I hugged her, she stopped. 

"This was our last performance"

"I know, you guys were good, so good, I was captivated."

"Thanks" She smiles.

"You're a damn good performer, don't ever stop." 

We hug again and I walk away. 


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Back in December

Our neighbor told us he had new tenants move into the previously empty flat right above where he lived. So we knew and started to notice previously unseen bodies coming to and from the building. The narrow lot butted right next to ours so whenever someone was on the back deck they could look right down over the fence into our yard and if I looked up I could see them. Conversation could be had a la Home Improvement.

I'd just gotten back from an intense trip to Korea working on a film. I was burned out on all things creative, so I did everything on my list of home improvement To Dos and started a garden which meant I was spending lots of time in the yard. For a while I just saw military fatigues hanging over the railing on the top deck. Then one day there he was smoking, young, black, shirtless, muscular, PJ clad.

"Hey how's it going? You just move in?"
"Yeah, a few weeks ago"
"Cool man I'm Dave, what's yours?"
"Joesh"
"Those fatigues yours? I've seem them hanging out there for a while, wondering who they belonged to."
"They're mine, just got out of the Army and came straight here. I don't need them anymore so I just leave them here to air out perpetually."
"I wanna hear more about that, how was that? But what are you up to now?"
"Just got out of the Army so I'm job hunting. Looking for anything really."
"Hey, you any good at organizing?"
"Yeah, I love it."
"Like figuring out places for things and creating a permanent storage solution type - organizing?"
"Look, you should've seen me in the Army, that's exactly what I had to do, I had to run the supply closet and make sure everything was organized." 
"Ok then, I'm about to sit here and organize this shed, can I hire you to help me?"
"Yup, right now?"
"Yeah, come by and we'll get started."

15 bucks an hour, he could use the cash and I needed the help - a project I'd been dreading for years, it took all day - he started by pulling everything out, Elaine and my storage life strewn across yards of yard, it went well into the night, flash lights in hand, it leaked over into the next day. We talked, for hours he told me about his life growing up in Houston and life as a Army paratrooper - the training he went through, but finished his commitment before ever being deployed. I guess that happens, I mean of course that happens, when there isn't war, there isn't deployment to be had. I never met anyone who went through all that training not to use it but it leaked into life I'm sure, he was definitely disciplined. 

But he went on tell me about Angela, how jealous she'd be if he told her he was organizing, because she loved doing it. They met at an overnight concert, when a friend invited him to hang out with a bunch of strangers he'd never met before. That initial meeting blossomed into something much more. He loved her so much he'd proclaim. Their relationship grew while he was away training and as soon as he was done he moved right into her room in this shared house in West Oakland. She spend her days working at Costco.

One day I drove home and and saw Joesh standing, waiting on the street corner, looking anxious, so I parked and walked over.

"You alright, man?" 
"Yeah, I got locked out, just waiting for somebody to get home."
"You don't have keys yet?"
"I know, we have to figure that out."
"Just go to Home Depot and get them made real quick, it's just down the street, a fews bucks and takes minutes."
"What!? really, I thought it was a whole process, and costs like a hundred bucks."
"No, it's super easy and maybe 5 bucks at most."
"Ok, yeah we need to get that worked out."
"Anyhow, you should come wait inside the house."

We watched movies which he loved, he was a talker - he told me he had an interview, two in fact, we had to pause a few times so that he could field follow up call, we had dinner. Then when Angela came home we stopped the movie for the next time.

This happened a few times before they finally figured out the key situation - he ended up at my house on multiple occasions. He got both the jobs - Starbucks and Best Buy. 

One of the times there would again be interruptions but this time it wasn't the Best Buy guys, it was clearly an angry Angela.

The time after, he left the room abruptly to argue with her.

Another time he'd just found out his cousin back in Texas died in car crash. 

The next time he told me how Angela would tell him how much she hated him in passionate anger.

There was the radio incident and the time she didn't like it when he was venting about her via text to his best friend.

And the times she'd drive off to an unknown place without explanation and none upon return. 

Then on one particular day he was outside crying, I invited him in..

"She's cheating on me, I know but she doesn't know I know." 
He continued "When she'd leave I'd asker her and she never tells me and I never look in her phone but there's this guy she used to hang out with, and I looked and he's texting her"
He starts to read "I want you to come by" "No, I'm not like that."
"But I know that's where she's been going."

Then a few days later another incident. He runs over crying. This time we her speeds off in her car. He tells us he'd try so desperately to clam her but her anger was too fierce. 

Then one day I run into him outside.
"Hey man how are things?"
Fully confident "I'm leaving, flying out at 6 pm today. I've had enough, I can't handle this anymore. It's over." 
Shocked at the abruptness but soothed by the resolve. 
"I was just going to say if you needed to crash somewhere while you figure it out, you could at our place. But I guess you're leaving, are you sure, you just got those jobs? You don't want to figure it out here?"

"I just have to go home and work for a bit but I'm going to be back, I already worked it out with my best friend, we're going to drive out here at the end of the year." 

Despite the loss and pain here was hope and a plan for the future.

"Alright, then I would just call Starbucks and Best Buy and let them know your situation, so that you don't burn any bridges."

And he was gone. 

Angela -attractive, young, Latina, I would see in passing getting into her car, getting out, I didn't want to judge or make assumptions, I'd only heard one side of the story - I'd make small talk just to keep it from being awkward. Slowly learning about her life. Last we talked she was interviewing for a new job at a bank.

I saw her the other day standing on the same spot where I first met Joesh - on the deck overlooking our yard. 

"How'd it go? Did you get the job?"
"Yeah, but it's boring. Sitting down at a desk all day, it pays better but it's not like Costco. But I still have the Costco job so there's a nice balance. I was told there's an opening for a supervisor job at Costco so I'll apply for that."
"What's your dream?"
Caught off guard for moment
"My dream?" "To make enough money to get some land, build a house and farm."
"Nice, well, hope that happens. I have a garden here. Oh I guess it's behind the fence so you can't see."
"What are you growing?"
I name the long list of things as I look around, trying not to miss anything. 
Just as the conversation is about to end. 
"Hey, I just wanted you to know (a tiny hint of an accent), Joesh's mom just called me, I'm sorry to say, he passed away."
I'm trying to recall what I was thinking in the seconds between the first "I" and "sorry" wondering if I anticipated what she would say, but I can't. I was completely shocked.

She was unclear on exactly what happened. He was driving with some friends, one was drunk, 2 lived, 1 died, 

I wasn't even sure why his mom called, the break up was so bad, but I was grateful to know.

In my last text with him he said he was coming back to Oakland in December.

Joesh Hicks, 22, a full life ahead of him, she was supposed to be one of many break ups he was to experience but it was his last.

I actually typed this out a few weeks ago but today Facebook reminded me...

Happy Birthday Joesh.





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