Wednesday, March 11, 2009


In my time
The first time I saw someone truly cursed was in one of the interview rooms at the Parkland (Dallas County Hospital) Psychiatric ER. I was talking with a woman who had brought her daughter and granddaughter in and their story was that the grandmother’s husband (daughter’s father and granddaughter’s grandfather) had started abusing (sexually, of course) the granddaughter and the grandmother was telling my student and me that her husband had abused her too and then her daughter and indicating the child, she said, “He’s not going top get this one” – "God-damn him!” And it felt really still and ancient and maybe a little scary in that sterile room with its government surplus chairs and desk. I knew he’d been cursed.

The next time was when I was sitting on a stoop on Annex Street where so many of the Cambodians lived. The same building where Pheap T died and that other woman who bled to death and where Esmeralda died of smoke inhalation – and I just realized that it was in the same apartment where Esmeralda died where I was sitting one day with Peng N, her son and my student, Olivia G and at one point Olivia turned to me and said in a very calm voice, conversationally, “Mr. Kemp, there’s a fire in the closet" and I turned around and sure enough, the flames were about 2-3 feet high and so we all ran to the fire and started throwing burning/smoldering clothes out the door and I remember I got hold of a tennis shoe and some melting rubber stuck to my fingers. I’ve always loved how Olivia said that. Anyway, I was sitting on the stoop of this building and a woman ran out holding a plate with both hands high over her head and ripped out an angry string of ritual-sounding words and shattered the plate on the ground.

A lot of other stuff happened in that building – 1519. Jose’s family lived there (a book right there), the two Vietnamese sisters and the daughter with MR and lots of seizures, the woman whose younger son killed the older son when they lived at San Jacinto and Peak, the man with AIDS – found by my students on outreach & the only person I’ve known in the US who had big weeping buboes, the woman with TB (well, several people there had TB, but I remember her the best because of her really sweet daughter, Patty). There were gangsters there, several of them serious criminals. One of the cops shook me down pretty good upstairs. That’s where B lived, a kid with Down’s, and his sister, who I loved and now I realize I was the best friend she ever had and may ever have. The last time I saw B, he was 20 or 22 and he was at some apartments on Bryan and someone had given him some speed and he was motoring around like people do, so that was a downer.

I read an obituary the other day and it was less in some respects and more in other respects than what I would want, so for that reason and because it’s not easy writing an obituary when you’re grieving. This way I'll take some time, get in what needs to be in. I’m starting mine now.

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