Living with HIV: Goodbye, Goji
With so Many Friends Dying over the Past Decade, it Seems Odd I Should Pause to Lament Goji's -- My Toyota's -- Passing
Thursday, May 4, 2000 (Los Angeles) -- Funeral arrangements were finalized today for my little car, dear friend and constant companion, "GOJIRAA," a 1991 metallic blue Toyota Corolla sedan.
Gojiraa succumbed to injuries sustained along that treacherous stretch of blasted roadway called Santa Monica Boulevard (currently under "reconstruction" and being turned into a hellish collection of ditches, potholes, concrete pipes and protruding walkways), from what seemed at first to be only a minor fender-bender collision with the rump-end of a medium-sized pick-up truck.
"Goji" was barely 10 years old.
With so many friends and acquaintances being committed to the earth over the past decade, it seems odd I should pause to lament Goji's passing.
Odd to anyone but myself. Both of us survived so many illnesses, personal violations and traumas throughout the horrific 1990s. We might have seemed useless and easily dispensable as far as society (or the insurance company) was concerned; neither of us was accorded much value when tossed unceremoniously upon the scrap heap of disposable commodities growing ever larger outside the glittering gate leading into the "new millennium." Yet we had cared for one another throughout the years, sustained each another in so many special ways. I feel the horrible loss each passing day and cannot help commenting about him.
Goji came to me as a gift from my dearest pal Felix Delgadillo, and was the first brand-new, "hot-off-the-showroom-floor" automobile I'd ever possessed (or ever will possess). Felix passed away in the summer of 1990 after struggling bravely with a variety of HIV-related illnesses. He left a provision in his will for me to receive a new car after his death, and his beloved sister Alba saw to it that his instructions were carried out to the letter.
Felix had a thing about giving great Christmas surprises and he told Alba to select a blue Toyota sedan and give it to me on Christmas Eve. When Alba called, invited me to her house on the special night and opened the garage door, revealing the shiny new little car with ribbons and self-adhesive bows stuck to its roof, I stood there in mute amazement. That amazing son-of-a-gun Felix had outdone himself this time! He'd never let on, never given me a clue in all the months of his monstrous illness, what he had in mind.
I know it required all the self-control he could muster to keep something like this to himself. But that was Felix.
From that moment on, Goji and I were inseparable. I went to the DMV the following Monday to order a personal license plate: GOJIRAA (Godzilla's name in Japanese). I agonized about leaving him on the street every night and, over the ensuing months, endured each and every scrape, nick and crumpled fender inflicted upon him as my own personal injury.
In spite of my drastically limited income, Goji always got the best of care: new tires, brake jobs, and special tune-ups at Mas Auto Repair Shop in East Lost Angeles. Rarely did he give me any trouble; no garrulous temper tantrums, no whining refusals to start on wintry mornings.
While I was still part of the work force, Goji always saw to it that I got to my jobs on time. Occasionally we would treat ourselves to trips to the beach or a real vacation in Northern California or Orange County to visit my family. He never balked at bearing my cumbersome baggage.
When I fell ill myself from pneumonia and CMV retinitis in 1994 and watched my few remaining material resources begin dwindling away, Goji was one of the only constants in my life. Often he would carry me to the hospital emergency room at a moment's notice and wait patiently in the adjoining parking lot for my release. Many times he had served as my helpmate in shuffling me around between social service agencies, back and forth to the supermarket and on trips to the laundromat.
As I began slowly to recover and made regular visits to 5P21 clinic at County USC each month for treatment, he would whisk me back and forth efficiently, often carrying bundles of Positive Living for distribution in his back seat. Volunteer work gave him special delight. We even delivered Project Angel Food meals throughout the Silver Lake area for a year, until the cost of gasoline and insurance made it less and less possible for us.
When I mistakenly turned onto Santa Monica Boulevard on that hot and ugly April afternoon, the inevitable happened. Goji became an ugly statistic: a crumpled wad of aluminum and broken plastic, his lifeblood of radiator fluid dribbling down into a puddle on the pavement. My eyes had been taken from the roadway for only a second -- going barely five or 10 miles per hour in that incessant stop-and-go traffic -- to watch a marauding SUV determined to surge into the lane ahead of us. Before I could jam on the brake, an explosion sent our whole little private world flying into a thousand pieces. Had we been made of sturdier stuff, it might have been a different story.
Within the space of a few glass-splattering seconds, our friendship came to an abrupt conclusion. His life was over while mine will never be the same. The insurance adjuster called this morning to inform me, in a few terse and indifferent sentences, that my car, my Gojiraa, was deemed a total loss: a wreck not worth saving. He would be held for only 48 hours at the collision center where, no doubt, he still sat trustingly, waiting for some nimble mechanic to eventually appear and begin much-needed repairs. It would be necessary for me to come down and authorize his immediate removal to a salvage yard. This would not be an easy task for me to do.
A buddy and I came to remove my plates and personal effects. Goji sat wonderingly in the back of the lot amongst older and uglier wrecks, thoroughly oblivious to the fate awaiting him. Choking back my emotion, I did what I had to do and rushed away; I turned my back on him and left him behind. No way could I tackle on my own the costly project which might bring my friend back to life.
And every night since it happened, I lie awake and see him slumped there, still waiting, still hoping, slowly coming to realize what his fate is to be.
Goodbye, Goji. That is what I try to say to him and to myself, but the words seem to be growing more painful, more impossible to say, as reality widens the gulf between us. Goodbye.
This article was provided by AIDS Project Los Angeles. It is a part of the publication Positive Living.