Does anyone remember the movie The Cure, starring Brad Renfro and Joseph Mazzello? The film is about an eleven year old boy (Mazzello) living with AIDS. He befriends Renfro’s character, an older boy with a very different kind of troubled life. When the boys learn of a man who claims to have the cure for AIDS, they set off alone down the Mississippi in search of him.
OK. So it has been a long time since I saw this movie — like 17 years and a whole life between me and my last viewing — but I can still remember certain scenes with grave distinction. (I have no idea how bad this movie actually was. This is not a film recommendation. I have a point. Stick with me.)
There is a scene towards the end of the film when the boys are being chased by vagrants and Mazello’s character cuts himself, drawing blood to the surface of his hand. He holds his hand out, yelling (paraphrasing) “My blood is a weapon!” OR something to that affect.
I maybe should preface this story by saying as a child I was slightly preoccupied with death, but not in a fearful way. Sure, there was a sense of danger that surrounded the notion we could all just cease to be. I knew babies, and children, and parents, and friends died — I had experienced those kinds of deaths already in my life. But my understanding of the how and why was a little fuzzy.
So, I watched The Cure and there is a boy dying, but on the outside looking really normal. And then this scene, wherein I learn whatever is killing him is in his blood. Also, I somehow knew needles could transmit this disease and I can’t for the life of me recall how I ascertained that piece of information. This was 1995, I was eleven years old myself.
Meanwhile, I was already writing, and I was already a troublemaker. Those kind of go hand-in-hand. My fifth grade teacher was not my greatest fan, as she had made abundantly clear by calling my parents about me on more than one occasion. She gave us an assignment to write a short story, and afterward we were going to type them up.
I chose to write my story about AIDS. In the story the kids in a public elementary school are taken hostage by a group of drug dealers and vagrants. These bad guys make the kids do drugs and maybe other things. The vagrants are ultimately overcome by the kids, but not before the main character contracted AIDS.
Now, my understanding of how one dies from a disease was also fuzzy. Like, for years I thought if a woman had diabetes and had a baby she would just die — she had to, that’s what happened to Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias.
The story ended a year later, and the main character, having accepted her fate and enjoyed the rest of her short life, died tragically one night in her bed.
Poof! Her time had expired, the disease had taken her.
Well, my teacher was not happy. She held me after class to “discuss” my story. She explained that this was not the kind of story they were looking for, that I shouldn’t be writing about death and disease, and therefor she wanted me to write a new one.
(STORY OF MY LIFE!)
What she didn’t seem to understand — because she did not understand me, because I was not easy to understand — is that there was no story I could tell that did not involve death. There was no way, in my mind, to tell a story about life without including death. There was no triumph without darkness to overcome.
I took the low grade and wrote another story, and another, and still I write stories. Still those stories are filled with death, either as a catalyst, a mystery, an end, a triumph or a failure. Because I will never understand it, not really, and so I write about it.