Other Voices: Dan Guerrero

Dan Guerrero

Dan Guerrero is an award-winning television producer who first met Carlos Almaraz when they were in grade school. His autobiographical solo performance show, Gaytino! (excerpted here), explores Chicano history and his own life as a gay man, as well as his lifelong friendship with Almaraz.

Our friend Carlos? An artist with a growing international reputation. And after a long, rocky search for what he wants in life, he marries another artist, Elsa. They have a baby, Maya. We spend a lot of time together after so many years. And when we’re not, we’re on the phone, just like back on McDonnell Avenue.

Phone call. Carlos tells me he’s at Idyllwild near Palm Springs teaching a summer art course. “But I’ve been sick with a stomach thing and high fevers for two weeks. I don’t know what’s wrong.”

“Carlos. See a doctor.”

Phone call. “The doctor wants me to take an AIDS test.”

“What? You? (laughing) That’s ridiculous, Carlos. You know what? They want everyone to take one these days. I wouldn’t worry about it.” And I don’t.

Phone call. “Danny G.? I have AIDS.”

Time stops.

“No. No, Carlos. That’s impossible. They made a mistake. The test is wrong. That happens all the time. Or you misunderstood the doctor.”

“I have full-blown AIDS.”

We both know what this means in the ’80s. I tell my partner, Richard. It’s a long night.

Next morning, I’m in the shower, deep in thought. I can’t believe it. I won’t. I can’t. Water is streaming down my face. I’m so far away. Suddenly, a horrible sound jolts me back. A cry, a howl like a wounded animal comes from me, from a place so deep you don’t know it’s there.

During one of his hospital stays, Elsa calls and asks Richard, who has been Carlos’s assistant for a long while, to bring sketches for a mural Carlos has been working on for the new Ronald Reagan building in downtown L.A. That’s called irony. When we get there, Carlos is sitting up in bed. Lively. Animated. He proudly holds up a skeletal arm to show how much weight he’s gained.

Richard and Elsa tape the sketches up on the wall. Carlos jumps in. “The Hollywood Bowl should be smaller, clouds higher, the hills deeper purple. And more helicopters.” The creative spirit strong and well.

He tells a story about a friend that visits earlier that day with her five-year old son, Max.

As they leave, Max suddenly stops in the doorway and turns. “Goodbye, old friend.” We all laugh. “Old” friend. The kid is five.

When Richard and I go to leave, I take my cue from Max. I turn in the doorway, “Goodbye, old friend”. Carlos flashes a smile and takes a cue from me. “Goodbye, old friend.” He dies that night. And a part of me, too.

Carlos and I never speak of how he may have caught the virus. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it takes him.


 

Return to Other Voices: Reflections on Almaraz's Legacy  

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