So, mortality's a bitch. Not that being a crip is necessarily a death wish, but I’ve learned the hard way with my best friend, Noe, a friendship that started in the 3rd grade to his death in ’91 and my brother’s, Joey, death in ’00...especially, my brother, who’s cripness shouldn’t have killed him. It was another friend that knew Noe, commented about missing him and missing out on the end. It's not the first time I'd been asked. I'd only given the bare bones answers partly, because I didn’t know this friend and it hurt, and partly, because I didn’t know what exactly happened after the ambulance left his place. I do know now, and it chills me to think he went through that alone…on purpose, so the rest of us wouldn’t have that as the last memories of him.
So, let's go back to 14-year-old Jason.
This is for you, Rob...
"Gloriaaa!" I'll remember that call as long as I live.
It was June 19th, '91. I was hanging at Noe's as we'd done countless times over the years, more so, since he went to Alamo and I went to Midland Christian for 7th and 8th. Noe'd really declined since he'd been in the hospital the day the Gulf War started. His MD (Muscular Dystrophy) progressed so much. He’d gotten better and made it back to school, but he was never the same. Yeah, he made it through the rest of the school year, but then, he got sick again, and he was virtually bed bound on oxygen. So, instead of going out walking the streets like normal, we hung in his room, I in my chair, he in bed. We looked at Lowrider mags, mostly the chicks, and watched MTV back when it was good. We used to sing to videos by Extreme, Motley Crue, and Poison...cliche, I know. We were dorks, but we were cool dorks. We made plans to go to the roller rink that Friday, which was the place to go for all school kids.
Anyhoo, we also had Gloria's, Noe's mom’s, home cooking...best damn Mexican food this side of the border. Noe, ate a bit, but played around more with his food...not like him. He was the original Mikey. He was antsy, and kept trying to adjust his oxygen tube, getting more and more agitated calling for Gloria. We tried to calm him down, but nothing was helping. As a matter of fact, he was getting worse. Then, the ambulance was called after his oxygen was maxed. As they were loading him up, Poison's Life Goes On played on the tube, ironically. I told him I'd see him tomorrow. He said nothing. Gloria told me he said he didn't want anybody going with him in the ambulance.
My babysitter, Syretta, came to pick me up, and by the time we got home, Dad was just getting off the phone. I knew. It was 3:15 when Mom called from the hospital to tell us Noe’d died. She didn’t even make it to see him awake. I wailed. Kat, my little sister (9 year difference), who I have always close to, came up to me, gave me a hug, and told me she was still here. Afterward, she'd sleep in my room on my daybed to keep me company, cementing our relationship.
I keep up with Gloria and Manual and Noe’s sisters’, Emily and elaine, and their families.
My brother, Joey, who was three years older than I am, went to the hospital Easter of ’98 when his shunt, a valve that naturally drains the fluid off the brain, but in Spina Bifida people they sometimes have a condition called hydrocephalus, where said shunt doesn’t exist, so one has to be installed, stopped working.
He was rushed to the hospital for surgery. The surgery went well, but when he came out of anesthesia, he contracted something called ARDS, or Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Only 20% live through a bout of ARDS. We found out it fried his brain stem, which controls the automatic breathing. He’d be on a ventilator for the rest of his life with times he could be off it as long as he consciously thought about breathing. His memory was affected also, but he remembered his sign language alphabet, which he’d taught himself years before just for the hell of it. Slowly, we thought he was getting better and there were near misses to wean him off the vent that never panned out. This went on for 18 months. I couldn’t imagine seeing the same four walls for 18 months.
The last Friday of January ’99, we got a call from the hospital in San Angelo Joey’d been moved to, because it specialized in getting people off long-term vents. He apparently gotten another bout of ARDS and was fighting, but we were called to come down to support. I think we all knew this was end badly, but we tried to keep optimistic…even as he slipped into a coma over the weekend. I was given the privilege to be with him as he slipped under. We listened to “How Do I Live” by Leann Rimes.
I was in college and Kat was still in school, so we were taken home reluctantly with me in charge of watching my sister. She’d stay with me at my house, and a friend would take her to school. Of course, my heart wasn’t into school. I’d promised Joey I’d see this through the end, and Mom made the decision for me to come home. I didn’t get the chance. No one lives through a second bout of ARDS, but Joey fought until the early morning of Wednesday, February 2, 2000. I got the call at 3:15 AM, the call for Noe came in at 3:15 PM…coincidence? I didn’t bother waking Kat to tell her, I just took the call, hung up, and quietly cried to myself the rest of the night.
I had to tell Kat when she woke up, which was the suckiest thing I had to do to her, but Kat’s always been a trooper.
Of course, the wake sucked, and I refused to leave my brother’s side while others paid their respects. After the wake, Mom took me aside. She explained to me relationships. She told me that Joey and I were close, and that Kat and I am close. Kat and Joey weren’t very close at all, but I was the tie that binds. Also, I learned from my brother the difference between childish and child-like. Growing up, I was childish, Joey was child-like.
“Believe me, nothing is trivial.” Eric Daraven (The Crow 1994)
Thanks for reading.-J-