Thursday, March 27, 2014

In Memory of David Alejandro

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

“I have decided to stick to love... Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fifteen years ago, in November of 1998, a few days after Thanksgiving day, David Alejandro, my best friend's brother was killed. He was a kind, sweet, and infinitely talented man with a goofy streak. We'd often watch MST3K all together, go to movies, and hang out when I was fresh out of high school and into early college. I remember always getting this sense when I was around him, that he was the kindest person I'd ever met. You know those people, if you've ever had the grace to meet them - rare people.

He played in a cover band called The Maxx at bars like Acapulco Sam's, rendering 80's music so perfectly, you'd forget you were listening to a live band. The feeling I had most often around David as a young woman, was that I was safe. He was like a brother to me, and just like my own brothers he was protective, patient, and kind.

David and his family encouraged me in my talents - when the Alejandro family saw that I liked to sketch, Steph's dad gave me stacks of beautiful art paper he'd been saving for his own work. David saw a small print I'd done in art class and said he'd love to have something like that for his new recording studio. The studio was built into a vacant leasing office, in the middle of an old apartment complex, behind a movie theater. It was certainly nothing fancy from the outside, and the inside was clean and spare. He'd saved every penny to invest in the sound equipment. He showed me the bare wall where my print would hang, and he insisted on paying me a fair price for my work. I knew he was trying to teach me to value my art and have confidence in myself. But I thought of all the rides I'd bummed off of him, as a penniless college student without a car, all the meals I'd mooched off of him, Steph, and Steph's family, and I couldn't take money for it.

I'm so glad I didn't take David's money for my painting. Because it hung there for just a few months to a year. I wasn't there with him when he died, none of us who loved him were, but I remember it gave me great comfort to know that my painting, at least, was there.

The painting was a simple black and white print: on one side, a man, surrounded by the moon and evening stars, and on the other side a woman, whose long hair becomes the rays of the sun. The two figures lean into each other, as they each realize that neither is possible without the other. I made it to memorialize the love I felt for my high school boyfriend - my first love, whose skin was so dark it was like he was always standing in the moonlight. I poured nothing but love into that piece, and I remember the long summer days I spent, painting it bit by obsessive bit. In the end, if nothing else, I feel that all the love I poured into that piece was there with David when he died.

I remember one evening, probably after a late night of eating bean and cheese tacos and sopapillas with honey and powdered sugar at Las Palapas, one of our favorite haunts, he took Steph and I round to see his new studio. He took out his acoustic guitar and started playing, and Steph and I sang a little. Steph has the real voice, mine was a small, unsteady voice. He listened carefully to my voice and told me kindly that it was a good one, then told me ways I might sing a little stronger. David was like that. He was always encouraging, always seeing you where you were, and trying to push you further.

Then David started playing, and for the first time I heard his voice, unaccompanied, without a band- and the whole room filled with the sound of it. If you've ever had the gift to sit a few inches away from someone really talented play and sing, you know what I mean. I have never, and still, to this day, ever heard a voice so clear, so beautiful, and so strong. When he sang, the simple beauty of his voice brought tears to my eyes. I remember that moment, like it's locked in space - it's one of those moments that tells you there's something more in this world. Unnerved by the beauty we'd witnessed, we filled the air nervously with jokes and laughter.

At David's funeral, the entire church was filled, and St. Anne's is a big church. I looked around and realized that the same way he'd encouraged, protected, and cared for me and for his family, he'd encouraged, protected, and cared for all the people around me. I'm sad to say I've been at many funerals in my life. But there is a feeling you get, when you're at the funeral of a man who was so loved. It's like the warmth and glow of love surrounds you. I think that was the day I began to understand how special David was.

The Alejandro family is like my second family, and I can see how it took that kind of family to make that kind of man. Some of the happiest times of my life have been spent in their living room, cracking jokes, watching movies, eating popcorn, telling stories and always, laughing. But there is never a moment in all of their gatherings that David's loss is not felt.

In one of my darkest moments, on the day that was hardest for me, I found by chance, the words of Ray Jasper's cousin. She filled her post with hope and light and comfort, and all of her words came from the Bible. For the first time, after all the articles and comments I'd read and obsessed over for weeks, I felt peace. I believe in God, and it is only this belief that has brought me hope and sustained me. Seeing that we can believe in the same God, and have comfort in the same hope, spoke to me. In the end, it doesn't matter that Ray Jasper never said he was sorry for killing our David.

My painting came back to me, I can't remember exactly when, but not too long after David's death. The boy I'd memorialized in that painting I broke up with in college - though we met by chance in New York, just one year before he died, too, in 2009. It strikes me that all I have left - all we ever have left, is love.

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