My Story

Dina Rozelle Barnett

The following is an excerpt from The Movie Lovers, written about and for my best friend Jose after his death from AIDS. . . . the reason I loved that TV was that it had been Jose’s, and on it we had watched years of movies, the two of us sitting side by side on the carpet, all propped and comfy with pillows. Whatever we couldn’t see on the big screen we watched on the little one, scooted up as close as humanly possible, so that thirteen inches could become thirteen feet, could become Cinescope, could become the world. After Jose died, I watched movies just to be close to the world we once inhabited. After Jose died, what I wanted most to watch -- and could not -- was the video we made of our trip to the falls. Multnomah Falls is one of the most scenic spots in Oregon. Jose had only been out of the hospital a couple days, but ever the host, he had arranged to drive his visiting parents up the Columbia River Gorge to show them the sights. We stopped at all the roadside attractions, Frank, me, Jose, and Jose’s parents, looking at this waterfall, taking in that view, and reading every other historical marker, a feat made more remarkable by the fact that getting in and out of our rented car was a comedy of elbows and good manners. Picture five adults squeezing into a subcompact meant for four, five adults sucking in their bellies and clutching their packages until every door can be closed and the high hum of the highway can be countered with polite conversation in two languages; then, at each stop, all five adults bursting forth like happy candy from a piñata. At each stop, we’d get ourselves upright and smoothed out and then stand a moment to wonder whether we ought also to take out the wheelchair, packed in the trunk three layers down. Then out came the video camera, and we’d roll tape on Jose narrating the history of the Gorge, Jose posing with his parents next to an historical marker, Jose leaning on his cane before a scenic vista, Jose speaking to the camera as he read from a list all the names of family members in LA to whom he wished to send greetings and thanks. It wasn't long before I could see that Jose was getting tired, hungry too. I could see it in the way he walked, even more slowly than usual, and in the deliberate way that he exercised patience with himself, with us. And because I saw Jose losing ground, I took the camera from Frank and told him to go stand next to his sweetheart, not yet knowing that this was to be the last thing recorded that day, in fact, the last video altogether; not knowing that after lunch we will have to cut the trip short and return home. With the camera rolling, Frank cracks a joke about how much Jose loves him. "How much do I love you?" Jose says. He smiles. He licks his pasty lips. He makes a false start, clears the phlegm from his throat, smiles again. "It's not that I don't want to say," he says in a voice suddenly hoarse. He laughs. The joke is that when he and Frank split up it was over love, displays of love. For Jose, the Catholic from Nicaragua, love was something you showed through your actions, not something you said. For Frank, the white southern Baptist, love was the words “I love you” spoken out loud and often. Standing high above the floor of the Gorge where the mile-wide Columbia slow-rolls to the sea, Jose recovers himself enough to say, "I love you more than I could ever say." Then as if to show proof, he adds, "Just wait till we get home." Frank smiles, raises his eyebrows. "A little hoochie coochie?" he says. Everyone laughs. For a moment we are, all of us, silly, embarrassed; in love. Jose's eyes keep rolling up into his head, his long lashes falling, eyelids drooping like those of a child determined to stay up till the celebration at midnight. Patiently, he brings his eyes back down, smiles, flexes the charm he still has so much of. Frank is wriggling his hips in a little happy dance over getting some hoochie coochie tonight when Jose grins at him, a huge smile that says, You know I love you. Out loud, in his lightly accented English, he says, "Maybe." Jose’s eyes roll back into his head. He closes them, opens them, smiles, and in a voice thick as river gravel, "Maybe not."