You Were Better Than This World

We were so much older then.

They found Jesse.

I keep playing those words in my head and everything they don’t say.
Was he lost? Yeah, the entirety of his life.  
We were kids. His mother wanted him home, but there was nobody sober to take us. She didn’t care. So we walked from Los Feliz to Boyle Heights in the middle of the night. He was a year younger than me and I was maybe 12. Not older. I didn’t see Jesse much after 12.
We followed train tracks, the L.A. River (you know the one you always see in movies), and tracked along the 101. Along the river we stumbled into a pissed off homeless guy who chased us with a knife. There was more than one pitbull chase along Broadway. At least the damn dogs helped us make good time.
We got to Nana’s house sometime after 2 and Jesse’s mom was pissed so she beat him for walking home in the middle of the night. He was afraid she was going to beat him we had stayed at our aunt’s house. I decided to hate her. I still do.
He’d been dead three days when they found him.

Jesse, Joey, and sometimes Rudy. And even though Rudy was only sometimes there, Jesse was always the afterthought. That wasn’t always a bad thing. When your world is constantly throwing shit in your direction you might prefer it just forget you from time to time.
He was living in a tent in Hollenbeck Park.

We left California in October of 2014. In the few years preceding that I got to reconnect with Jesse. When my dad died and my mom came back into my life I had hoped I would see him again. I had hoped he was okay.
Somehow, after a few stints in prison and being shot more than once, he was not only still alive, but doing really well. He was on his feet, sober, and with a family. A home.
What about your mom?
I forgive, you know? I mean, what else can I do, she’s my moms?
Do I have to?

We cannot go backwards and recapture the time we lost, but there was a moment when I was a child when Jesse was my brother before I had brothers. He told me how Joey died. Murdered while sleeping in a van. He told me he wrote something and wanted my help with it. He told me he was acting so we went to see his play.
This is the part that breaks my heart the most:
He was a truly amazing actor. I was absolutely blown away. But not surprised.
Jesse spent his life playing a part. Any part that might get him acknowledged, loved. Whenever me and Joey had a stupid idea Jesse would do it first so we could see if it worked. Catch those wasps bare handed. Set a fire so we can jump our bikes through it. Grab that pan dulce and run out of the store.
He was intrepid.
So to see him on stage, owning it, was no surprise. It’s what he was born to do.
How the fuck did he end up living in a goddamn tent?
We left California in October of 2014.
Before we left we attended his daughter’s birthday party. I promised I wouldn’t disappear. He needed that. Frankly, so did I.
We’d text from time to time. I would send him photos of the beach and he would talk about coming to visit.
He told me he lost his job, but was working on something.
He told me he was moving out, but didn’t tell me where he was going.
Then… nothing.
A few months ago my mom called. Jesse was in the hospital. I forget why. Diabetes, or maybe a bullet. But I talked to him. He sounded… different. Resigned. Maybe that’s just grief revisionism.
He was homeless. Unemployed. County hospital was probably a welcomed respite.
I wonder how his story would have turned out if he’d been as lucky as I was. If he’d had at least a little bit of love and encouragement and faith in him I wonder if he’d be better than all of us. I wish so much that my dad could have been his dad. He was such a good thing.
I believe that there was a part of Jesse relieved when he got to the end. This world is a heavier burden to some of us than to others.
You’re free now, Jesse. You can finally just breathe.
Postscript – as long as I can remember Anthony Kiedis has ALWAYS reminded me of Jesse. I can’t explain why, he just does. So I can’t hear them without thinking of Jesse. I don’t know what my point is except, maybe, when you hear RHCP on the radio think of a kid who was willing to take on any dare, who wanted desperately just to be loved, who made this world richer than he ever knew.

Copyright 2022 Rudy Martinez
©2024 Rudy Martinez