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
Under Henry, the hospice began offering a round-the-clock program to help residents learn to take their medicine and another to prepare those getting out of prison or the hospital to re-enter their lives. It was this readjustment program that Bessie thought would work for her niece. "This is a good place for Dorothy to be right now," Bessie said. "It puts my mind at ease."
There were many things about Carl Bean that Dorothy liked. Having someone help her take her medication was very important to her, and she was grateful for the contact with other people with the virus. "Seeing other people shed tears the way I do," she said, "it releases a lot of my anger." She started spending time out in the lounge area, chatting with the janitors and medical staff as they made their rounds.
One afternoon when Dorothy was feeling pretty good, she saw through her open door that another resident, Ernesto Zapata, was being wheeled out to the lounge. As usual, he was staring off into the middle distance, not paying attention to much of anything. Dorothy got herself out of bed, put on her purple scuffs and smoothed down her hair, which was tufted and patchy like that of a well-loved doll. Tugging her IV stand along beside her, she made her way out to where he was. She stood in front of him and smiled.
Though Ernesto spoke only Spanish and Dorothy did not, she learned from the nurses that he was 35 years old and originally from Honduras. His wife had died of AIDS a few years before, and the little boy Dorothy had seen running into his room was their child. The nurses also told Dorothy that an infection related to Ernesto's AIDS had spread to his brain, and when he did speak, he was usually incoherent. On the occasion of Ernesto's son's eighth birthday, the boy ran to his father's bedside to show him a stuffed animal he had received as a gift. Ernesto stared at him blankly. He did not recognize his son.
Despite his condition, Ernesto liked to sit in the lounge as much as Dorothy did, and she decided to befriend him. Whenever she saw the nurses wheeling him out, Dorothy would go and talk, telling Ernesto about her kids, what she had seen on television, or whatever came into her head. "Sometimes it don't really matter if you can understand what somebody's sayin'," she explained. "Just to know they interested is enough." And Ernesto did seem to respond. When she was not there, he looked around expectantly, then smiled when she appeared.
On this day, just as Dorothy had settled in for a chat, a nurse came over wielding a needle, preparing to give Ernesto a shot. He got these shots several times a day, and usually sat impassively as the needle slid into his flesh. This time, though, he put on an exaggerated expression of horror -- bugging his eyes out and leaning away. He then looked at Dorothy, rolled his eyes and smiled. She couldn't help but respond, erupting in a round, rusty sound that made her shake all over. "Not too many things to laugh about these days," she said later. "But Ernesto always makes me laugh."
FROM THE DAY SHE ARRIVED AT Carl Bean, Dorothy tried to maintain ties to life outside, especially when it came to her family. She refused to give up her apartment, because getting out of the hospice and back with the children was her number-one goal. In the meantime, she fretted over the children's struggles to cope with her illness. James, who was 11, was falling behind in school. After Dorothy had been at Carl Bean for a couple of months, he had packed up his stuff and "run away" from Grandma's house, arriving at a cousin's home just as Grandma showed up there for a planned visit. Though Dorothy knew the underlying problems were real, she could not help but be amused. "He thought he was getting away, and boy, was he surprised," she said, shaking her head. "Now when I see him, I tell him I'm getting better. I tell him I'm getting well."
Antoinette, who would soon turn 14 and resented any sort of parental control, had become withdrawn and would not show or receive any affection. During her last visit she had spoken sharply to her mother, and Dorothy slapped her in the face. Enraged, Antoinette hit back. "What is wrong with you?" Dorothy asked the girl, and Antoinette began to cry. "I didn't mean for this to happen to you," she told her mother, confessing that, in the past, when she was mad at her she had wished her harm. She now believed her thoughts had made her mother's sickness worse. "It's my fault," she said. "I'm sorry."
Dorothy was shocked that her daughter felt responsible for her illness. "I had no idea she was carrying this around inside her," she said. "I was so hurt that she didn't want to be near me, but then I understood why." Dorothy reassured her daughter. "It's something inside me," she told Antoinette. "It's nothing about you. It's not because of you in any way."
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