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Excerpt

Excerpt

Fade to Black

Pinedale senior high school
"home of the panthers"
PINEDALE, FLORIDA

TO: Eugene Runnels, Principal
FROM: Celia Velez, Assistant
DATE: October 27
RE: Incident Involving HIV-positive student

Alejandro Crusan, a senior, was apparently attacked this morning at the corner of East Main and Salem Court. According to his parents, Alex was en route to Dunkin Donuts at 35 East Main at approximately 6:00 a.m. A witness, Daria Bickell, a special education (Down Syndrome) student at Pinedale, saw Alex's red SUV stopped at a red stoplight. An assailant, said to be wearing a blue Pinedale Panthers letter jacket and carrying a baseball bat, attacked Alex's car, smashing the front windshield and passenger-side windows. When the assailant attempted to run around to the driver's side, Alex was able to drive away. The witness saw Pinedale student, Clinton Cole, 17, leaving the scene.

Although this incident did not take place on school property, I have contacted the school board, and they have pledged full cooperation with local police. Due to the nature of the incident, and also Alex's HIV-positive status, police will investigate the incident under the Florida Hate Crimes statute.

Memorial Hospital, Monday, 10:50 a.m.
Alex

My mother's crying. I make out shapes . . . IV pole, television set, window. Hospital window with flowers on the windowsill. I shut my eyes quick. Mom can't know I'm awake. My face aches a little, and the rest of me feels like it's still asleep. Like, numb. Even closing my eyes hurts, but I keep them shut tight anyway. I'm not ready to talk to anyone and, what's more, I'm not sure I can. I can't even believe this has happened, so how can I talk about it?

And my mother's crying. Again.

When I was first diagnosed with HIV, my mother cried a lot. When she finally stopped crying, my parents took me to Disneyworld. It was pretty cool. Even though we lived in Miami, we hadn't been in years because my sister, Carolina – who's nine, now, eight years younger than I am -- had been too young to go on many rides before that. I didn't think about why we went, that I was like one of those Make-a-Wish foundation kids who wants to see Mickey before he dies. It hadn't totally sunk in yet, you know?

Even though I felt fine, Mom made me ride in this wheelchair we rented. In a stroke of brain dead-itude, I went along with her. There were tons of gimpy kids there, and we got to go right to the front at every ride. The line for Space Mountain was, like, two hours, but we shot up front and I stepped out of my wheelchair and got on. When the Disney guy let us ahead of this one family who was waiting, the dad turned to his son and said, "Don't you hate people like that -- rent a wheelchair just to go first."

Mom started crying then too. She yelled at the guy, "You should thank God you have healthy children. My son has HIV. He's dying." And all around, people who'd been happy and smiling started looking afraid or away. It ruined the whole trip.

That was the first time it really sank in that I was going to die. Me. Die.

Die.

We haven't gone back to Disney since then, and if I did, I wouldn't ride in a stinking wheelchair. I don't need one. I'm no poster boy, and I am nowhere near needing to see Mickey. Besides, they're making some big gains in AIDS medications. I could live twenty years, maybe. Maybe longer.

Or maybe not.

I don't have AIDS yet, anyway – that's the first thing anyone needs to know about me. I read all these books about it, and I know all about T-cell counts and viral loads, but the bottom line is: I was diagnosed with HIV a year ago, and I still feel fine. I'm not on meds yet. I'm hanging in, living with it. My doctors say if I keep doing what I'm supposed to, maybe they'll find a cure before I even get really sick.

So this year, we didn't go to Disney. In August, before we moved here to Podunkville, Florida, we went to New York City, and my mom and Aunt Maria took me to see this Broadway play called Rent. It won a lot of awards, and it's about people with AIDS. Of course, of all the musicals in New York, we had to see the one about AIDS. The people in the play, they're all junkies and homosexuals, and they're dealing with the fact that they're going to die, like, tomorrow. Aunt Maria hated the show because 1) It had loud music with electric guitars and stuff, which interfered with her sleeping; 2) It was depressing; 3) She said, "None of these people are like you, Alejandro. You are an innocent victim." I guess she meant because the people in the show were in what you'd call high risk categories. Still, I think everyone with AIDS is an innocent victim. Most of the people I've met with HIV are in those higher-risk categories, and who cares? I don't think anyone deserves to get sick or die. I mean, I wouldn't wish this disease on Clinton Cole, much less some innocent homosexual.

Clinton Cole is what D.C. Comics would call my nemesis. He's Joker to my Batman, Green Goblin to my Spidey. Since we moved to Pinedale, people have pretty much been assholes. But Clinton's, like, the uber-asshole.

The first weeks of school, it seemed like any time I turned a corner, everyone dove together, whispering. Did they think that because they were whispering, I didn't know they were talking about me? And the people who don't whisper walk right past you in the hall, looking down pretending not to see you. I try not to get mad at those people, because I remember I used to do it myself before. When you see someone in a wheelchair or missing a leg or something, you don't want to seem like you're staring, so you look away. Which I now know is worse. And a lot of people backed up close to the wall when I walked by. The up-side (if you'd call it that) was, I didn't have any trouble getting through the halls because no one would touch me.

But then there were the people like Clinton. People who didn't care what I heard or thought. When I walked into the cafeteria the second day, he stood up and said, "Go back where you came from, fag." And you could tell everyone was with him. Since then, he's been doing all kinds of other crap. He wore a surgical mask one day to government because we sit next to each other. I think he's one of the people who left threatening notes in my locker, though I don't know for sure.

We moved here for Dad's job. We lived in Miami all my life, and it wasn't perfect, but it was better. I had some friends, like Austin and Danny, and other guys I hung with at school. Sure, a few people were weird, but not as many. And even though I stopped playing baseball when I got diagnosed, I was on the debate team. I made it to State with my original oratory last year, and I was going to try again this year.

Then, Dad's company wanted to start an office here in Pinedale (Why here? Hell if I know), and they transferred him. I knew my parents didn't want to live here in the sticks, where there isn't so much as a Target, much less a mall. We have to drive to Gainesville to find a doctor who knows how to deal with me, and there are for sure no AIDS centers here. Without me, my parents probably wouldn't have come here. They'd have choices. Dad could get a different job. But Dad had to stay with the company to keep his health insurance. We're pretty much uninsurable as new patients because of me.

And you know what the debate team at Pinedale is? Two guys who gave me the evil eye when I walked through the door. I walked right back out. It's not even worth trying to make friends in Pinedale.
And now I'm here in the hospital, listening to my mother crying because one of these rednecks thought I wasn't dying quick enough and tried to take me out early. But he didn't finish it off, so I'm here.
I hear my mother, moving around, and I keep my eyes closed, so she won't know I'm awake. I can't deal with any more crying right now.

But when I close my eyes, it's like I'm there again. This morning. The sun streaming through my windshield. The baseball bat, the broken glass. The outline of some guy – the guy who attacked me.
And now, I'm here, face aching, and the rest of me just numb.

Numb.

Excerpted from FADE TO BLACK © Copyright 2005 by Alex Flinn. Reprinted with permission by HarperTempest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Fade to Black
by by Alex Flinn

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 0060568399
  • ISBN-13: 9780060568399