By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
DOROTHY DID NOT DIE THAT DAY. She had burst a blood vessel and for two weeks was moved to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and placed in isolation until the doctors could be certain she had no contagious infections. By the time Dorothy returned to Carl Bean, she was too weak to walk and had lost her desire to eat. Her weight had dropped to 80 pounds, and all nourishment came through a feeding tube inserted in her stomach. She had lost control of her bowels, and felt intense pain in her legs and in her stomach. The truth of her condition was undeniably clear: She was not getting better. When the doctor told her she had the choice to stop all medication, Dorothy agreed. But while she was glad to escape the tyranny of the drugs, she could not help but feel abandoned. "The doctors giving up on me," she said. "They say there's nothing else they can do."
The Thursday before Easter, in a morphine and sleeping-pill haze, Dorothy lay in bed thinking about her future. Suddenly, everything was clear. She had already died, she decided, and this was the beginning of a new life. "I believe I am not the same Dorothy I was before," she said, coughing. "That I've come back into another life, been reincarnated. Except instead of coming back as a baby, I've come back full-grown. I just have to be taken care of like a baby."
Later that afternoon, Dorothy panicked and decided she wanted to leave Carl Bean. Her request for a discharge was denied. "They told me I'm dying," Dorothy said angrily. "I can't believe they would say that to me. How do you think that makes me feel?" The next day, she asked to be taken outside. The nurses got her into her chair and wheeled her out. Dorothy sat silently in the parking lot for a long time, gazing out over the trees into the dense blue-gray beyond. Looking up, she was sure she caught a glimpse of her brother, who had died when they were small, smiling and beckoning her to join him. She stared at the sky for a long while. "Okay," she said finally. The nurses put her back in bed and called Bessie.
All day Saturday and into the night, Bessie sat at Dorothy's bedside, praying and singing over her niece. "Give her to Jesus, Lord," Bessie chanted, "give her to Jesus." Most of the time Dorothy slept, her breathing ragged, her body slumped under the sheets. In the early Sunday hours, as Bessie dozed in a chair near the bed, Dorothy woke with a start. "Help me, Bessie!" she hollered. "Help me!" Bessie took her hand. "It's okay," Bessie said. "It's okay to let go." Dorothy nodded off again, and Bessie resumed her prayers. Then, just as the Easter-morning light began filtering into the room, Dorothy opened her heavy-lidded eyes and looked at her aunt. "I gotta leave," she whispered, closing her eyes and coughing. "I gotta go." Bessie called for the nurse, and leaned over to help her niece. She felt the stillness and knew Dorothy was gone.
"WE CAME HERE TO REJOICE OF A home-going," the pastor declared. "Amen," came the reply. "We are here to celebrate, because Sister Dorothy has gone to a better place."
Dorothy's memorial fell on one of those rare L.A. days when fat white clouds hang low in a brilliant blue sky. The congregation gathered at Bessie's church -- the Universal Mission Church of God and Christ in South L.A. -- and shouted out song after song. The children crowded around a makeshift shrine of flowers and photos at the front of the church. There was Dorothy as a girl in a short pleated skirt, Dorothy peering out beneath a white hat, Dorothy smiling wanly from her hospital bed. Nathaniel took in the dozens of people gathered and grinned. "Everybody really loves my mama," he said. Dorothy's mother made her way up the aisle. Face twisted in sorrow, she leaned on her grandchildren for support. Bessie followed close behind. Antoinette stood with the choir as if to sing, then changed her mind and sat down.
The pastor read the 23rd Psalm and talked of making time for family and God. He called Dorothy "one of God's great soldiers" and spoke of the heavy burden that now fell to Bessie and Dorothy's mother to raise the children. A few friends got up and offered their support. "I'll be there for you," one friend said to Bessie. "You just say the word." "You keep holding on," a cousin said to the children. "In a new season, you'll meet your mama on the other side." "Dorothy's not suffering," Bessie said. "That's the good thing about it. And she couldn't of went on a better day. She was suffering, and now that's over."
None of those who stood before the group explained this early death, or named the reason that these five young children were now without a mother. The word AIDS was never spoken.
*The names of the children have been changed at Dorothy's request.
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