“How was your week?”
“Long, tiring, six meetings about future meetings in four days kinda week, yours?”
“It was the norm but extremely low key, you know; when you have him during your week my life seems less chaotic. Not that I don’t like having him here every other.”
“If it’ll help, maybe we can look at AJ staying with me during the weeks and you during the weekends? If it’ll help I mean.”
“We’ll see, what are you doing with yourself this weekend?”
“Meaning getting drunk beyond recognition and then stumbling around in a haze until you’re sober enough to drive home. Let me go grab the oxy’s, two is good right?” and get them.”
“Wait, Tiffany, these are clonidines, are you trying to have me walking around Mount Vernon, naked again?”
“You know you need to stop drinking and popping pills anyway, something bad could happen to you.”
“No worse than getting a ‘say no to drugs’ speech from my drug dealer. I see you put a new Zeta Phi Beta sticker on your car.”
“I see you’re still hating on my sorority.”
“I’m not hating just never thought you the sheepish type.”
“Ok Aaron, I’ll call you later, gotta go…”
Green fur, ripped in places, beer stained
Red, orange, blue black, solids and stripes
race, crack smash, crash into corner and side pockets,
19oz is heavy in drunk hands,
2 loses later Semisonic echoes
resisting the urge to leave,
for 4 more loses
nodding by lights on.
A Friday night Charles St. is a strange thing to eyes weighted by two pitchers of Killian’s red: foggy, cloudy, deserted. The trees lean further over the sidewalk, lurching closer to the gutter. They cause a thick layer of darkness which consumes everything beneath their wavering green canopy. As he walks down the street, he notices that no one is going the same way. Even though others are also leaving the bar, Aaron barely senses them getting further away from him. The faint murmur of random conversations catches his ear from behind, he’s not alone, no matter how it feels. The amber glow from the street lamps dances between the cars, across the pavement; reflecting off every piece of glass in the buildings and cars passing by or parked out there. None of the yellow light catches Aaron’s ground turned face; his brown features stay brown amidst a sea of yellow. None of the light breaks through the canopy; and so, Aaron stumbles along the dark sidewalk. Step by step, he clumsily makes his way toward his car; the noise from the bar’s closing drifts backward, disappearing from earshot. Soon he is alone.
No more than two blocks from the bar; somewhere between Charles and Gilford, he sees them. Four guys in hoodies. Four guys in thick winter hoodies and gloves. In the middle of August. In Baltimore. At 2:30 in the morning. He knows what they are up to and decides to cross the street before the group is up on him. As he steps off the curb, he notices that one of the guys has also stepped off the curb and is on a path to intercept him. Aaron tries not to panic, but drunk instincts take over. His sloppy samba toward his car turns into a decided quick step and then a fucked- up trot. Now on the opposite side of the street, slightly cloaked by the darkness of the row of Maples along the curbs edge; the guy approaching just a few steps in front of him, Aaron feels himself running. Unabated he continues running. He struggles to keep breath and pace steady. Through the alley and then around a corner. Across another street and through two more blocks. He finally stops, leans on a tree and tries to catch his breath. He doesn’t see anyone behind him. The enveloping darkness that is a drunk Mt. Vernon at night must have swallowed him, allowing him to escape. The same darkness stopped him from seeing the four guys ascend one of the sets of steps jutting from the row of Brownstones on the street where Aaron had first noticed them. He had been alone for blocks and no one had chased him.
He arrives at Guilford, still short of breath. Slightly confused he stops and looks behind himself. Then back in front and up and down the street. Struggling to comprehend where he is, he notices two things. The first is that the guys were long gone and he was a good 4 blocks past where he’d last seen them. Secondly, his car was on Preston and Charles and he’d walked; well, ran all the way to Guilford and Biddle. He turns around and heads back up the hill. He struggles to level his eyes as the oxys he’d gotten from Tiffany fought him at every effort. They swung from his eyelids drawing them like window shades. His eyeballs spun slowly upward in their sockets. He was pretty sure he was close to the car but he wasn’t sure if he should trust what they were showing him.
Exhausted, he leans against the red brick apartment building on one side of an alley. His back pressed firmly against the rough face of the building, he’s comforted in being supported by something stronger than himself. The roughly pointed mortar stabs him in the back a little. The smooth face of each individual brick is worth the inner lying rows slight annoyance. He realizes that the alleyway will lead him straight to his car. Pushing himself from the wall, he is able to see his driver side door and part of the car’s roof. Once through the alley, he’ll have to cross the street but still, it’s almost over.
Garbage cans, a huge flat screen TV box split down the front, exploded garbage spewing kitchen trash all around, a few hatch-backed hybrids parked on cement squares just big enough to fit them, cat tall rats. Piss, fried chicken, spilled liquor, toothpaste, bleach, pine sol, comet, shit and more piss. Overwhelming piss smell forms a hard block on the back of the tongue; choking, ever expanding. Crumbling orange- red bricks that scrape the soft, light side of the hand, as the body stumble- tumbles along; drugged they bleed at the knuckle and on the palm. The houses on one side of the alley meet the apartment building on the other side above Aaron’s head; darkness once again canopied from above. At tunnels end, hunter green, paneled, windowless, van sits, sealing the exit.
He didn’t think anything of the van and so, he just half stepped backward turned left and started around it. His foot still in mid- air, barely lifted from the curb, the sliding door on the side of the van opened and slammed back against its framework. Startled by the reverberation that followed, Aaron’s want to run rose in him again. He stutter stepped but decided not to run. He didn’t want to show fear or seem like an easy target. He took a deep breath but held his chest as flat as he could manage and kept moving toward his car. Almost immediately, he regretted his decision not to run. The two guys that jumped from the van’s open door as Aaron went around it followed him to his car. The two guys that wouldn’t have been able to grab him, one on each arm, and carry him back to the van. Aaron again wished he’d run as he felt the cold hard steel brace that ran down the center of the floor of the van bruise his left cheek on impact; his ribs feeling like they had suffered the same.
Multiple poles in multiple holes,
spit and shit,
swords pushed until they fit,
1 and 2 in one apiece
and then 3 and 4 if two in one
5 and 6 if one in each hand,
7 stands pants- less camera in hand,
8 just watches, blue and white orchestrated,
Screaming, kicking, swinging, scratching,
convinced, subdued, forced
Firestones screeching non- stop
Beretta steel met bald brown scalp more than once
convince and reiterate to a straight mind that this had happened
blood and shit and sweat and piss out slicked wet
Bricks and concrete met bald brown scalp.
Aaron had lain in the gutter for hours, he thought. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been in the back of the van. He wasn’t sure how long he’d laid with the rats running across him. They followed the mix of bodies’ fluids draining from him and his clothes. The brickwork beneath soaked, the mix pooling beneath him. Still, he felt like lying there, so that’s what he did. He laid there until the late morning joggers started asking him if he was ok. He could understand why a half-naked man in his state would draw a crowd but why ask him if he was ok. Did he look? Torn black t-shirt stained yellow, red, brown, white; head busted open, more red. He couldn’t see it bleeding but he knew the difference between the blood trickling down the left back side of his neck and the piss covering his nose and mouth. Not to mention, he had no pants or underwear on. He was pretty sure that the warm fluid trickling from his ass and down the inside back of his thighs was blood too. No one offered him anything to cover himself, just snapped pictures and continued the incessant, “Are you ok”. Slowly pulling himself to his feet, he found his way to an alley and sat against similar brickwork to that of the gutter. Aaron leaned with his back against the wall before sliding down it, letting his knees meet his chest.
He sat there between two overflowing garbage cans, waiting for someone to come help him. Eventually he heard the sirens wail and then the alley was flooded by spinning blue and red lights. For the first time, in his whole life, this black man was relieved to see the police. The two tall black men in dark blue uniforms starched so heavily that white crust cracked and peeled at the creases.
But life goes on.
It was a rough few months. Aaron kept the incident a guarded truth that didn’t need to be brought up. He’d tried to deal with it alone but things weren’t as easy as he would later remember. He didn’t go to any shrinks or talk things through with his pastor. In his mind, he just got over it. He had asked his pastor to pray for him as he recuperated which resulted in a weird gay- innuendo laden semi-sermon, phone conversation on the places that we go versus Sodom and Gomorrah. The conversation was partially the catalyst for his, “I’m one of the only straight guys to ever be gay bashed” stage. That lasted about two months. Then there was the “Maybe I need to lay off of the trashed weekends” self- blame blowup and fallout. Aaron stayed in that stage for 3 and a half almost 4 months. If it hadn’t been for flood day; the day that he cried all day long for no reason at all, he may have stayed in self- blame land forever. But flood day, he just cried. Actual tears. He hadn’t cried since he was a little boy and he couldn’t remember what had made him cry even then. After flood day however, he was able to start piecing his life back together.
He didn’t let AJ come over for a month, though he spoke to him on the phone every day. When he finally did come to see his father, all of Aaron’s wounds could be covered with a t-shirt, the physical ones anyway; and so, he saw his father as he always did. When AJ wanted to go to the game center to shoot pool like the two did on their weekends together, Aaron took him. During which he ignored his worry that he may pop the stitches that stopped his intestines from falling out of his ass; at least that’s what he’d convinced himself they did. Most times, after AJ had gone home however, Aaron was left exhausted and sore from head to toe.
Tiffany had been over a few times during his recovery. She actually drove him home from the hospital. She cooked a bunch of food and left him with a refrigerator stuffed with overflowing Tupperware. She’d already gone and gotten his car from where the incident had happened, before he got home from the hospital. Anything that he needed, she ran to get without him asking. About 4 months into his recovery she even tried to have sex with him. He had brushed it off but thought later about having more kids with her. He never told her what happened. She assumed that he’d gotten super drunk and mouthy and again, got into a fight and deservingly got the shit kicked out of him. Either way, she stood by him. He wondered if calling off their engagement was the wrong decision more than once.
Six months later, it was time for him to deal with the last part of the incident, the second HIV test. The one he’d taken earlier in his recovery was of course negative but the doctors advised him to get a test at six months just to be sure. Plus, some of the semen removed from his ass had indeed contained HIV antibodies. Supposedly, the barrage of pills that were forced down his throat by the Sisters of Mercy emergency room staff would prevent him from catching it.
He of course went alone, even though he was sure Tiffany would have gone with him, but he didn’t think that it was a trip for her to accompany him on; until he saw her at the HIV doctor’s office. The specialist that the city’s victim relief fund mandated that he see if he wanted them to pay for things. She was arm pressed against arm with some dark skinned, preppy type brother. Sweater vest, bow tie, matching socks type of brother. And then he saw it. The sigma ring on his finger, immediately he knew once again Tiffany was messing with another one of her sorority brothers or frats or however you refer to them. Then he thought to himself, “why is she here?” The doctor only saw people for one thing and she was sitting here arm pressed against arm with another guy. “Maybe she’s here to lend moral support,” he relieved himself in thinking. At least until the guy leaned over and pecked her on the mouth. It was clear, that she and Aaron would not be having any more kids together. One of the doctors came from the back and greeted both Tiffany and her “bro” as if he’d known them for a while. He shook the guy’s hand vigorously, grabbing it deep within his own hand almost up to the wrist. He gave Tiffany a slight hug and the three started toward the back of the clinic. On the way through the door, he heard her “bro” speak and suddenly he realized he recognized his voice.
Medical steel meets coincidence
Sounds and familiarity take us back
voices from unique incidents
faces unseen before
Beretta steel and 1 reluctant participant
Enemy and ally allied, confused
Doctor ally established relationship, more confused
Ringing two talls with negative results in hand.
Tiffany’s bro struggled a little as the cops drug him toward the car, one on each side holding an arm apiece. Aaron watched from across the parking lot, half ducking behind his own car. He opened the door and put one leg into the driver’s side. The other he left on the ground just outside the door frame, he wanted to leave but something inside of him needed to see the guy arrested. He wanted to go to Tiffany and tell her what her boyfriend and his friends had done to him but she would look at him differently, he knew it. Plus he was lost as to why she was at this doctor’s office, with the guy in the first place. Instead of asking, or even approaching her, he just started his car and pulled off. There was relief enough in the mental image of the guy rotting away surrounded by grey bars and cement tiers. Not to mention the thought that somebody would do to him what he himself had done to Aaron. Further satisfied when the cop let the guy’s head bounce off the frame of the car door; on the way home, Aaron laughed aloud for the first time in months.
“Good Morning Officer…”
“Good Morning Mr…. well Aaron, sorry for waking you up this morning, especially after what happened yesterday at the doctor’s office but I have to ask you some questions, if that’s ok.?”
“Come on in…”
“No need, we can do this here. First how were you and Tiffany getting along?”
“We get along pretty well for ex- fiancés with a kid together but if you mean are we sleeping together, no we’re not. We haven’t in a while but I think…”
“No that’s not why I asked, I meant does she have any reason to hate or despise you, want you dead?”
“No, we aren’t in a custody battle, I’m not behind on child support, the breakup was amicable…”
“I’ll be back to talk to you again but your kid is in the back seat of the car and all I can tell you at this point is that his mom has been arrested for her participation in your incident. Well, orchestration of… the district attorney will be in touch.”
“You’re kidding right, she wouldn’t gain anything from…”
“You know the old saying, keep your enemies close and your friends closer!”
Aaron sat across the table from his son, a pitcher of Killian’s between the two. He was content in listening to his now, 21 year old knock- off of himself, regale him with boastful stories about the girl that sucked off every member of his frat. He didn’t see it coming but he should have known it would come up eventually. As he finished laughing at his brother that had nutted before the girl even got to him, Aj almost silently asked his father, “Why did my mother do what she did to you”? It wasn’t the first time Aaron had been asked by his son about the incident but he always found a way out of discussing it. Thinking that he was old enough to know the truth, he tried his best to explain.
It’s like this AJ, I can’t give you a solid answer. We weren’t beefing. I never did anything to her. I never cheated on her, when it was over I told her so without milling around the issue. Once we were apart, anything she needed I got. You never needed for anything. I tried to ask her through a letter about 5 years ago but she never responded. I tried to go see her to confront her in person but the district attorney told me that it wasn’t a good idea as it may look good to the parole board later down the line. A few years ago, your first year in college. My first year alone. It hit me. I would never know why she did this to me but it doesn’t matter. I had to get on with life anyway and by that time what would knowing what demented reason she had in her head for having me raped and trying to intentionally infect me with HIV.
AJ’s eyes widened as he watched his father’s brick like exterior crumble in front of him. Eyes welled with tears, voice cracking, almost silent. He didn’t know what to do to bring the blubbering mess across the table back to the unshakable rock that he knew as his father. After pouring another glass from the plastic pitcher, AJ looked at his father and said, “but you got over it dad so it doesn’t matter, right”?