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.
"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.
"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.