• After It Rains
• I'm Jesse
      • My Birthday?
      • You Remembered!
• Pool? Animal Style!
      • Dumplings w/Neptune
• Sicilian Sculptor
• The Golden Years
• Human Hangers
• Just a Barista
• I Need to Dance
• Can't Stop Looking Up
• Be Careful What...
• The Collection
• Into the Light
• A Perfect Interview
• The Abbey
• Who You Know?
• What's This Life For?
• Unexpected Talent
• Just a Dog's Day
• Chester
• Darren
      • Darren and the Circus
• Voice of God
• Aaron
• 5350

• Resurrection
• Private Dancer
• Eye Contact
• Bullying
• The Surreality of It All
• Sound of Silence
• 31 Days of Christmas
• Giant!
• Fear or Comfort?
• You're Different
• Another One Bites...
• Stroll with the Clouds
• Walking with Banshee

I'm Jesse (03/04/21)

The first day of my one-year counseling ‘program’ to help me detoxify from a long life of drinking, I had selected a seat in the room, which held 18, making sure I kept my distance from the other 3 guys that were already there.

Shortly after sitting down, this guy whose attire screamed gang banger had come in, looked around, and sat right next to me. At first I could not figure out why he had chosen that seat instead of picking a chair that was a distance away from me and everybody else.

Gabriel would end up being a good friend and fellow artist (read Unexpected), and is still a part of my life to this day.

Four weeks into the program, another young gang banger walked into the room, full of that ‘why am I here’ attitude. He was dressed for the part; black shorts falling off exposing his boxers, white socks up to his knees, black slide on sandals, and a white tank top.

The white tank top barely covered a chest, back, and arms full of black tattoos—and bad tattoos. I tried not to stare, but I noticed his name was Jesse, simply because it was tattooed across his chest.

Jesse looked around, saw Gabriel sitting on one side of me, and though there were many open chairs at other parts of the room, Jesse approached with a mean glare in his eyes and sat down on the other side of me.

There I sat, an old white guy with a head full of gray hair, surrounded by two early 20 year old gang guys. And I could feel them glaring at each other through me.

The first few minutes of that encounter was tense, then this new guy nudged me with his elbow… “hey!” I nodded and said hey back, the entire situation just rattling around in my head. What was the attraction these gang guys had to me?

After a few minutes, Jesse asked how long I’d been going to these sessions and what had caused me to be there. I explained my story in a few shorts sentences, the entire time feeling Gabriel on the other side leaning out and glaring at Jesse.

“I’m Jesse.”

Who would have known? Then he chuckled saying I probably had figured that out. He then turned around so that I was looking at his back, stayed that way for a few seconds, then turned back to look at me. Yeah, I got it, 'Jesse Hernandez.' How the tattoo artist had managed to fit that entire last name across his back? Wow.

“Is that so you don’t forget your name?” As soon as it came out of my mouth I heard Gabriel laugh, and I regretted having said it. I stammered to get out of the comment, but before I could get a complete apology out, Jesse nodded and said he liked people that had a sense of humor. He leaned out and looked at Gabriel “Not many are smart enough to have a sense of humor.”

I swear I was gonna get shivved in the fight, I could just feel it.

Gabriel just grunted and paid no further attention.

The next couple of weeks had that same aggressive attitude between the two, who still sat on each side of me regardless of how many other chairs were available. And to my amusement, nobody else in the room ever sat in either of ‘their’ spots—it was the oddest dynamic. I wasn't aware that I had needed body guards!

One day, at the end of our session, I started heading out the door to walk home—at that point, due to some seizure issues I had experienced, I was not driving. Neither was Jesse, and he was walking the same direction to get to a friends house, so the two of us proceeded to walk the 3 miles to our mutual destinations.

It was one of the most interesting walks I had experienced. Jesse was a really interesting character, and a really smart guy. He just had issues with impulse control—and problems controlling his drinking. He was on his 3rd DUI, and had been court ordered to attend the weekly counseling sessions. He and Gabriel had something in common.

I felt bad. What had he been through that made him drink so much that at only 21, he already had 3 DUIs. I would soon find out.

The two of us walked from the counseling center together for the next few weeks, and I heard all about Jesse, his family, his extended family (his gang) and how he felt stuck in the life he was in. But it was not the life he wanted, he just could not figure a way out.

His father and brother were in prison, and his uncle seemed an always present danger in his life, and was also part of the gang. As Jesse told me, he would be dead if he stayed in the gang, or killed if he tried to get out. There wasn’t much to look forward to.

I felt even worse knowing there wasn’t anything I could do to help but to listen, and maybe show him how much more there really was in life.

At our counseling center, along with our weekly group sessions, we had to have ‘interviews’ every other week with a counselor, to check in on our status with our battle with sobriety. Jesse’s appointments were always scheduled immediately after mine.

One rainy Saturday a friend of mine said he’d come and pick me up after my interview so I didn’t have to walk home in the rain. At the end of my chat with my counselor, I started walking out and heard two guys laughing up a storm. One of them was my friend Graeme, an Aussie, that deep Aussie accent was immediately recognizable. The other guy was Jesse, who had been waiting for his interview, and had struck up a conversation with Graeme.

“I thought those accents were only in the movies, I didn’t know they were real.” Jesse was completely amazed that Aussies were real. Aussies, unicorns, who knew?

Jesse had never been out of the town in which he was born, nonetheless out of the country, so Australia, and those with an Aussie accent, were nothing more than a ‘movie character’ to him. He was completely entertained by Graeme. And when Jesse found out Graeme and I were friends, that changed our relationship even more.

Graeme said we would wait till Jesse was done with his interview, and take him home as well. Jesse was right on board. We stopped for lunch before taking him back home, and when we got within a mile or so of his house, he asked us to stop and let him out. “Nothing personal, just can’t be seen with you.”

That left Graeme and I feeling bad. Was that really a life that people chose?

The three of us continued to go to lunch every Saturday after counseling and interviews, and it was a great feeling getting Jesse out in the real world away from the troubles he had at home.

Occasionally we would drop him off in some obscure parking lot so that his Mom, Isabella, could come pick him up. She was such a wonderful mother, who started to join us for lunch, and we saw in her that desire for her youngest son to do something other than be a gang banger.

Many months into our friendship, late in the evening, we heard a thud at our door, and opened the door to find Jesse beat to a pulp and bleeding from multiple wounds on his face and torso. He could barely move. We went to call an ambulance and he pleaded that we didn’t.

We couldn’t just leave him there hurt, so he agreed to let us take him to the local emergency room. He asked if we we could call his mother, and let her know where we were headed.

Isabella met us at the emergency room where they stitched him up. Several hours later we walked him out of the emergency room with stitches on his face and head, bandages covering numerous wounds on his torso, and a few broken ribs.

Jesse had told several of his gang affiliates that he had found a way to make something of himself, and wanted out. He had been 'beat out' of the gang—and was alive.

Graeme and I were amazed at the courage, he could have been killed. Isabella was concerned about the injuries, but ecstatic that he was out of the gang and still living. But she felt that if he stayed at home it would just mean more trouble for him.

We agreed with his Mom and had Jesse move in with us, which meant he would not be living in gang territory, and would not be close to the influence of the gang. He could mend his injuries, and get rides to counseling from Graeme.

Life mellowed out for all of us, Jesse’s injuries healed, and some unusual friendships started to evolve. Graeme, Jesse and I had become closer than ever, and we started getting him out of the house and experiencing all that SoCal had to offer—and making sure Jesse experienced it all.

Trips to the Getty center, LACMA, Norton Simon. Day trips to San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Venice beach, and out to as many different restaurants, concerts, and events as we could manage.

Jesse and Gabriel became friends, and Jesse worked at the gallery a couple days a week. We always felt there was a negative tension between Jesse and others in the neighborhood around the gallery, but nothing ever came of it, so everybody was happy.

Jesse’s mom Isabella and Graeme’s mom Rosslyn had become great friends and had started spending time out and about like a couple of sisters. We saw a positive light come from Isabella as she spent more time away from home and the troubles that entailed.

And then there were the dogs—Jesse loved them, and they loved him in return. Jesse had not known a life where dogs were literally our best friends, and he would spend hours playing with them in the yard, chasing them around, and the dogs chasing him in turn. Misty, our white lab, and Jesse, had become especially attached and would spend every minute of their time together.

The first Christmas that Jesse spent living with us was another set of firsts for Jesse. Though his family always had a small Christmas tree, it was never of the caliper of the ones we had at our house. Christmas was special for us, with the tree touching the ceiling, and seriously covered in lights and ornaments.

I mean, the tree could have been orange and nobody could have known due to the number of lights and ornaments. And it was a tradition in our group that any new friend into the group always got to pick all their own ornaments to place on the tree. We took Jesse to the store, he picked a group of really cool ornaments, and on the tree they went.

Though this seemed like a small thing to most of it, it was a big deal to Jesse. It meant he was part of our 'family'—that had come to be the most important thing to him—the support of his new family. Another first that took us all by surprise was the fact that Jesse had never worn cologne. He had been raised that women wear 'perfume,' men don't, so had never had the experience of wearing a good cologne—until he met us. And he fell in love with Terre d'Hermes. We made sure he had his own bottle of it under the tree for Christmas!

About a year after Jesse left the gang, everything was going fine, with only an occasional run in with gangsters in the neighborhood. Graeme and I, and a group of our friends, had been planning our yearly trip to Vegas and Lake Mead. Each year we rented a houseboat and jet skis at Lake Mead and spent a few days in the sun and water. This was followed by a few days in Vegas, eating ourselves sick, dancing the nights away at several of the hip clubs, and seeing every show Cirque produced.

In order for Jesse to join us, he needed a suit, so one weekend Graeme’s mom took him, Graeme and another one of our friends to the local Macy’s and got the three of them suits, shirts, shoes, and all the other accessories needed.

This was one of the highlights of Jesse’s life. The smile across his face as he returned in his new suit was priceless—Jesse had never owned nor worn a suit, and looked spectacular in it.

Jesse had learned that even though he was covered in tattoos, with the proper clothing, nobody really knew about them, so he knew that he could ‘dress to impress,’ even if that meant only jeans and a t-shirt!

The week came when all of our friends packed up the cars and off to Vegas we went. It was quite a memorable time, especially since so many of the things we did on vacation that we took for granted, Jesse had barely even imagined. He’d never been on a houseboat, nor jet ski, never been to Lake Mead, or any other lake. You could tell that he reveled in every moment of the trip.

One of the days out on the boat, Jesse had crashed in the afternoon to take a nap. There was only so much swimming, jumping off the boat, and racing around in the jet ski that anybody could take.

While he was asleep, all of us guys wrote our first names on our chests with black lipstick, and then woke Jesse up to take a group photo! At first he looked at us like we were all a bunch of nuts, then realized we were laughing ‘with’ him not ‘at’ him, he joined in the epic picture of all us clowns and our new ‘tattoos!’

After our 5-day boat rental, we docked the boat, and headed into Vegas. Jesse’s eyes were bugged out the entire time, stunned by the architecture, in awe of the casinos, dazzled by the show girls, and amazed at the fact that he could eat anything and everything he wanted at a buffet! "And really? We have a room with a spa in the corner?" Yes, yes we do. Jesse was the first one in!!

He was a kid in a candy shop, and enjoyed every minute!

Then night time came, we had a table at the largest dance club in Vegas! We all had to be in our suits. Once Jesse got dressed, he strutted around the room, then through the casino and off to the club like he owned the place.

Pride, excitement, amazement, and who knows how many other emotions were evident on his face as we spent the night at the dance club. The boy couldn't dance, but it didn't matter. It was more than apparent, he was having the time of his life.

When we got back from our adventure in Vegas, Graeme, Jesse and I went to lunch with Rosslyn and Isabella so that Jesse could talk non-stop about all the fun he had, and describe every detail of everything he had seen and experienced.

Isabella was beaming that her son had such a good time.

Several years after getting out of the gang, Jesse had started living back at home with his Mom, though he spent every weekend with us, which included taking him to his counseling sessions—he was on the court ordered multi-year plan. He would spend the week at home, and Isabella would bring him over Friday morning to stay with us for the weekend.

One week Friday morning came, and no Jesse nor Isabella. As the morning rolled into the afternoon, I tried to reach both of them, with no luck. Graeme and I began to be concerned, but had no way of reaching either of them other than their phones.

Saturday morning came, we headed over to the counseling center, hoping we'd see Jesse there, and no Jesse in sight. Graeme headed off to work, leaving me wondering what had gone wrong.

Later Saturday afternoon, after more unanswered calls to Jesse and Isabella, there was a weak knock on the door—it was Isabella. She was white as a ghost, and I could tell she had been crying. She slowly stepped in the door.

A few nights earlier, while Isabella was at work, Jesse had been at the house hanging out with his uncle, who, the entire time we had known them, had been nothing but trouble.

Somehow during an altercation with his uncle, Jesse had been shot, once through the heart, and had died instantly. His uncle claimed it was just an accident.

Isabella had barely managed to get the words out, and by then had tears flowing down her face as she slid down to the floor leaning up against the door.

I just stood there.

Some deaths make you cry, some are upsetting but simply a part of the circle of life, and others, well, they just tear at your heart and leave you in a state of shock, making it difficult to attach an emotion. That was the death of Jesse.

I just stood and stared for the longest time, the hole in my heart growing larger by the minute, making the proverbial broken heart a reality. I couldn’t find the words, couldn’t find the emotions—I just stood there.

Then I realized, like getting struck with a bolt of lightning, that I had to tell Graeme, his mom, all the guys. We’d all become Jesse's extended family. I couldn't bare the thought of seeing them after explaining what happened.

By the end of the day, all of us were emotionally trashed. Graeme’s mom had simply broken down in tears. Graeme, like me, just stared and kept asking why it had happened to Jesse.

All my life I had dealt with the deaths of many—that happens as we get older. But Jesse’s death ripped at my core—and hurt. It was the only death I experienced in my life that just hurt. A deep down, dull, constant pain that nothing could stop.

Isabella told us the funeral was private, and as the tears streamed down her face, said he would be buried in the suit he was so proud of—the one Rosslyn had bought him so he could be 'one of the guys' when we went out.

After a week has passed, I got the address of where Jesse was buried, and the guys and I went out to not only leave flowers, but put a framed photo of all of us on the house boats with our names blazened across our chests.

We’d had Jesse in our lives for a brief 3 years, his death coming shortly after he had turned 24. Twenty-four! His death was such a waste. But what an impact one life had made on all of us in such a short period.

In 2020 it has been 6 years since Jesse’s death. The picture of our group with our lipstick names, still hangs above my desk, but no longer causes the pain his death once caused, instead it always bring a smile to my face, along with a fear tears.

Isabella and Rosslyn have become extremely close friends, and every Christmas we all get together to hang Jesse's Christmas ornaments on the tree, and proudly share our experiences with him with new friends that come into our lives.

Yet, though Jesse is physically gone, he has not quite left… (read, My Birthday?)


#Jesse #Vegas #houseboat #suit #funeral