Wednesday, Second Week, State College
“I want to remind you that the first paper for this class is due next week. That gives you a few days and the weekend. It can be on anything that the class has discussed up to this point. It should be no longer than five pages. Be sure to put your name on it, and the name of your TA. If your TA’s name is missing, and we can’t figure out which section you are in, then I’ll grade it.” He paused to let them soak it in. “And I’m sure you wouldn’t want that.”
They started dissing Quill the minute he walked into the classroom. Roy did his impersonation again. After two weeks it still cracked Bill up. He hit Roy on the leg and told him to quit it. His protests made Roy do it all the more. Not many sat near them. But a few uptight faces threw disapproving glares at the children living large in the back of the room. They went from verbal to written and traded notes back and forth to one another. But the notes invoked the same reactions. Bill still had a hard time containing his urge to giggle.
After a while, it seemed pointless. They didn’t even know what Quill was talking about. So they decided to take it to the café for morning croissants and lattes. They sat at a small table in the corner next to a stained glass window and an unlit fireplace. They were freshmen, new on campus, and they didn’t know any better.
Roy took out his iPhone, while Bill soaked up the form from his drink with his croissant.
“Never thought I’d be ditching classes so soon,” Bill said. “I thought I’d wait until at least my sophomore year.” Roy’s face looked serious. “What’s up?”
“Eddie died,” he said. “This morning. Fuck!”
“Oh, Roy,” Bill said. “Is the guy that got beat up?”
“One of the sweetest guys you’d ever wanna meet. He was bashed over a month ago. Damn it!”
“I’m real sorry, Roy.” He let Bill take his hand and caress it on the table.
“He never had a bad thing to say about anyone. Life sucks sometimes, you know that? Just fucking sucks.”
“Where did it happen?”
“In the park, at 51st and Stevens, just down the fucking block from my apartment. So unfair.”
“There was a gay bar just outside of town, where I grew up. Sometimes folks going there would get harassed, beat up and shit.”
“Guys cruise in the park at night, and the bigots know it. Fuck!” Roy buried his face in his hands, his thoughts stained with red.
Bill took his hands and held them. Their foreheads met across the table.
In line at the counter, across the room, two eyes took notice.
“Look,” Leon said.
“What?” Jameel said.
“Over there, by the window.”
Jameel looked at the silhouettes in front of the sunlit stained glass window. “Is that Bill?” he said.
“Sho’ is. And you see who he’s with.”
“Damn,” Jameel said, trailing off into slack-jawed astonishment.
“Uh-huh,” Leon spat. “You believe this shit?”
“I guess they’re studying,” Jameel said, without thinking.
“Heh, yeah,” Leon said. “I guess.”
“You headed to Euclid’s class, bro?” Jameel said, very much wanting to change the subject.
“Uh-huh. Can’t wait to tell Alfonso about this shit.”
They took their coffees and departed.
Roy looked at his iPhone again. “Looks like there’s gonna be a vigil for him tonight at 6.”
Bill sighed. “Damn. I’m supposed to be at the ASA Freshmen Reception thing tonight. It starts at 5 and it’s supposed to go until 7.”
“Is that tonight? The queer students reception is tonight, too, at 5.”
“Ferreal? Are you going?”
“I was gonna go, yeah. But I’d rather go to the vigil,” Roy said.
“I’d like to go, too,” Bill said.
“Really? You would?” Roy’s face lightened up a bit.
“Of course. It’s important to bare witness to this kind of shit. But I don’t know if I can. I think I’m supposed to help clean up or something. I wonder if Alfonso will go.”
“He has to be at the ASA thing, too, doesn’t he?”
“I’m sure he does,” Bill said. “I haven’t seen him all week. I better give him a call. Hope he’s OK.”
* * *
Alfonso sat on the floor outside of Professor Euclid’s office in Zamudio Hall with his head hanging between his legs. He had knocked on the door, but no one answered. At least the middle of campus was far enough removed from the city streets that he could no longer hear the sirens scream as they hurried to the next crisis. He heard them screaming again as he got off the bus, but he couldn’t remember if that was before or after he learned about Eddie. Time had been playing tricks on him like that a lot lately.
The professor arrived and he stood up.
“Alfonso!” he said, carrying a soda in his hand. “Missed you in class, brother. Where were you this morning?”
“Can we talk for a minute?” Alfonso said.
“Sure, brother. Come on in.”
The professor opened the door and held it for his student. Alfonso sat down in the guest chair while the professor pulled his chair around to sit closer to him. He didn’t like having a big, ugly, wooden desk separating him from his students when they visited. He snapped open his soda.
“I’m sorry I missed class today, Professor Euclid,” Alfonso started. “I’m sorry.” Another flood of tears came and he buried his face in his hands.
“Hey, hey, it’s alright, Alfonso.”
Professor Euclid got up and gave him a hug.
“I’m sorry,” Alfonso said, after a moment. “I’m OK. I’m alright. It just hits me sometimes.”
“What is it, Alfonso?” Professor Euclid said, sitting down again.
“Did you hear about Eddie Long?”
“Isn’t that the young man who was attacked in Huckleberry. . .”
“Uh-huh. He died this morning.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Alfonso. Was he a friend of yours?”
“Yeah. He was more a friend of my cousin’s. They were tight. Now my cousin is gone and Eddie is gone. I found out about Eddie on the bus to school today. At first I couldn’t react. It was like I couldn’t digest the news. I so wanted him to pull through. Then when I tried to go to class this morning, I just broke down. I couldn’t. . .I can’t. . .I can’t deal with this shit anymore!” He suddenly realized that he shouted and may have even banged his fist on Professor Euclid’s desk.
“I’m sorry,” he said, though it felt good to shout.
“Don’t be sorry, brother. Speak you mind. What happened to your cousin?”
“AIDS. Fucking AIDS.”
He summarized his unholy trinity of bad that started with Carlton’s passing, went through the Clinic fire, and ended with Eddie’s protracted death at the hands of anonymous cowards.
“Wait,” the professor interrupted, “you say your cousin helped start the Huckleberry Community Clinic? What’s his name?”
“Carlton Higgins,” Alfonso said.
“Carlton Higgins is your cousin? Oh, Alfonso, I had no idea, brother.” He reached out with his left hand on his desk and took Alfonso’s right, to squeeze tightly. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you.” They released hands. “Did you know Carlton?”
“I met him a couple of times. I’m a friend of Tamera’s. We went to college together. I met Carlton at her church just around the time the collective was starting to put the clinic together. I got to meet a few of them, Carlton, Bingo, Leticia, Harry. They’re a good group.”
“I really appreciated you taking the time to talk about it during class last week, Professor Euclid. I wasn’t expecting it.”
“AIDS is too real, my brother. And it’s up us to make sure that folks know how real it is.”
“Yes,” Alfonso said. “And that’s part of the other reason I came to talk to you. I want to do my term paper on AIDS in the black community, how the community has responded it to, all that. I have to.”
“That’s a big topic, Alfonso. But I applaud you for wanting to take it on.”
“Professor Euclid, I’m not gonna lie and pretend that this is easy for me. It’s not.” He paused. The professor waited respectfully. “You know who my father is. And you know what he thought about the clinic. I’m not interested in dissing my father. I support his career. But we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. Folks seem to think that we do, but we don’t. So I want to write this to explain some of where I’m coming from. You know what I mean?”
Professor Euclid nodded. “I hear you, Alfonso. And I appreciate what you’re saying and think it’s excellent that you are trying to find your own voice. Because ultimately, that’s what you want to do. Find your own voice. I can’t know what sort of pressure you’re under with the legacy you have. But whatever you write for me, for this class, and really for yourself, it has to ring true and you have to be able to support what you say.”
“Let me get you some stuff that may help get you going in the right direction.” He got up and went to a filing cabinet. “I’ll make some copies of these articles for you.”
“Thanks, Professor Euclid.”
“Just hang tight, I’ll be right back.”
Alfonso took out his iPhone and read the tweets. He saw one about the vigil for Eddie, and sighed. The mascot was needed elsewhere. Professor Euclid soon returned with copies of the articles. He passed them to Alfonso.
“This is just a guide, Alfonso, to help get you in the right direction. But at the risk of sounding non-academic, I think it’s your righteous indignation that will ultimately take you to where you need to go. Like I said, you are doing this work not just for me or for the class, but for yourself, brother. This is a very important subject. And with your own personal story, I’m sure you’ll make a great contribution to the class. Your loss can help to educate us all.”
When Alfonso got outside, he lit up a cigarette and took several puffs while standing at the bottom of the steps. Then his cell chirped. He took it out: Leon.
“Hey, brother,” Alfonso said.
“Where you been?” Leon said.
Alfonso took a quick puff. “I had some shit to do.”
“Yeah,” Leon said. “I thought you were doing it here in the office. I figured that was why you missed class today. But you ain’t here.”
No shit, Sherlock, he thought.
“You know we got the thing tonight,” Leon continued.
“Yeah, of course I know, man,” Alfonso said. The conversation is too ridiculous to take seriously, he smirked, so he didn’t let it bother him. “Look, I had a meeting with Professor Euclid, and I’m just leaving. I gotta grab some food and I’ll be in the office in a bit, alright?”
“Oh. OK. See you when you get here.”
Alfonso hung up. Ridiculous. He purposely lingered and enjoyed his smoke, before shuffling towards the Student Union at a leisurely pace.
© 2013, gar. All rights reserved.