HIV/AIDS storytelling: kearns: sorting it out at lulu’s #3 — taking a beating from percy at breakfast (022)

richardkerns.cpv.laccmugwamc_1224melrose, where my money
machine lives, is a garish
narrow-painted two-story gray
purple pink plum cranberry & navy
town, & black & white & typography’d too
the southside macadam is slicker’d
in wet shadows, the north dry &
cream & beam-blanch’d by a determin’d &
lockjaw’d summer sun southeast &

madly-grinning. late-arriving & west
over the distant pound of surf —
an icon of forgiveness like faith in mary —
rain hurries to make an entrance
rain scudd’d & scurry’d & shoal’d
rain dark & moist & cloud-fist’d
rain that’s pacific-rim-inevitable
rain flapping six pairs of archangel wings
rain recalling death, ever nearer, never here
rain undisturbing the hipsongs
exhale’d through open-mouthed boutique
doors into the street air singing
airs of consumer’d fairy tales moral’d
thus: “buy me. buy me. buy me now”
i harvest three bright green leaves
of grass in twenty dollar denominations
from my bank’s money garden
rebundle myself cash inmost &
shuffle fast up detroit in the
direction of lulu’s, in the direction
of beverly’s broad- & better-lit uplands
dodging drops & arriving
safe from the storm just as
it breaks pattering canvas &
the heat lamps caress me &
wash me over with memories from
back when i felt safe eating in
the dining room in
the meat locker inn
i live in


“mornin, percy”

“morning richard. how are
you today?”

“a better morning, thanks. every
little bit helps”

“you got that richard. every little
bit helps”

“how are you today?”

“i don’t have no negative days. i pray
a lot. i don’t take baths. i don’t go
out, except to the pool. i don’t eat”

—¿que hot cereal?—

“yeah, mama. hot milk?”

—si. hot milk. ¿you?—

“no thank you”

“you don’t like hot cereal richard?”

“i like it. i can’t eat it first
thing. it sends my blood sugar

“i understand. it sure gives me
energy. but you’ve got too much
energy already.” percy pauses
“i burn a lot of energy off”

“i do too once i get up and going”

“nothing seems to bother
me. only the people sometimes”

“me too, perc. but morning’s the
roughest time for me, first couple
hours after i take my medicine & give
myself my shots. i can have a lot of
side effects to my medicine, but it’s
pretty good today. & i wrote all day &
all night yesterday”

“hot cereal & warm milk & juice are
my medicine”

(one more time, i try to figure out how
to explain to him i have AIDS. i really
don’t want this friendship, but i am
sucked into it)

“that’s the problem with drugs,” he says


“they learned me when i studied at
xavier university, since i was sick
not to do drugs”

(ah. the catholic roots.) “xavier?”

“yeah, xavier”

“what did you study?”


“do you like chemistry?”

“chemistry is what the
doctor’s got to have”


“i have a friend. every day he goes
to the hospital. day and night. that’s
his way in life. i don’t knock that”

percy gestures, which percy doesn’t
normally do. percy is blind, mostly
“chemistry— that’s how the doctor gets
paid for it. for getting you to go back”

i chuckle

“once you get into chemistry, & you
don’t get it—you die. most of the
time. or you feel so bad you gotta
i studied that in san quentin. they’d
come in & be sick sick sick sick sick
sick but they’d kick it”

—¿escrambled eggs?—

“yes, thank you”

“mama, can i get scrambled
eggs & toast this morning?”

—si. toast—

“bananna mama?”


we resume

“people have different styles of life
richard. i pray for them, though”

suddenly, ringing in my head, a section
from what i wrote last night, what i think
i still might be writing today:

you must know how it is
to have AIDS. i must tell you

you must know how it is
to lose access to your
dying love who wanted
suicide. how it is
you failed him. how it is
to wait on the sidelines
for him to starve to death
on morphine, completely
out of his mind. a rat in a
cage. to satisfy the needs of
church dogma & the stale
agonies of priests. a sad but firm &
hostile takeover by his unenviable
“real” family

how it is to wait for rumor
of his passing. (what
would you like to
know about marriage? i can
tell you all there is: we need
each other. it’s not a
choice. it’s a sacred celebration)

“my baby brother. he was seven years
younger. he took chemistry. my mother
gave him money & he took drugs. we gave my
mother money, & we knew she gave it
to him. we stopped giving her
money, she stopped giving him money
he killed her & he killed himself
he was my baby brother
another brother. christmas 98
a drug overdose. and my sister—“

“i gotta ask you to stop perc. that’s
too much for one morning. you’re
making me sad”

“that’s ok. just tell me to shut up”

“i’m not telling you to shut up, perc. i
want you to keep talking. just not this
morning—i gotta ask you to stop”

hal—who is sensually tubby & ravenous &
always rubbing himself like the evil
homosexual baron in dune — hal breaks in
at this point: “percy, do i come to your

“no. i done ate ‘em up myself”


“we’ll get more later”


they are either talking about ribs or fried

after, waiting in the hall for the elevator
one of the wheelchair’d guys advises
his stroke-slurred buddy: “take the elevator
by yourself. don’t take it with you-know-who”

(that’s me. & i wasn’t even wearing my
dangly turquoise-feather earrings this
morning either. close to pumps
though. sketchers. gym pumps)

as the door closes, i hear:
“hold the elevator!”

i don’t

“thanks a lot!”

escaped to the safety of my room
telling you now. whispering. confessing
this story. this day

a hit of nausea. after two, i will medicate


safe from the storm at lulu’s
i watch my tears meander river-like
down clear plastic sidewalk tent windows
the coffee burns clean & hot in
my hands


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