Had unhealthy but delicious dinner at In-N-Out this evening. When we decided to go there I knew I couldn’t get anything healthy there so decided to make it even unhealthier by asking for a "3×3." That’s where they stack on 3 patties and 3 slices of cheese. The poor burger could barely fit into the sleeve.
As we waited for our order to be called, I looked over B’s shoulder and noticed the painting of an early In-N-Out shop that looked identical to one we had in my hometown of Pasadena, CA. It is the kind where there is just a tiny box of an ordering section and kitchen, with two drive through slots on either side, making it look like a toll booth.
This of course made me think of the night that changed my life back in 1988 when Jaime died tragically.
I got the call from his aunt the morning after. When the phone rang I thought it was Jaime asking if I was ready to go to the beach with our other friends. I had already worked out a very lame excuse to avoid going, something involving my girlfriend and other plans.
I didn’t want to go to the beach because the old gang was now more interested in doing drugs than enjoying the surf and sun. For me, driving and drugs were the breaking point.
When I hung up with his aunt, I was in shock. I had know Jaime since Kindergarden and we had grown up together. We played lots of baseball, football, and arcade games together in our time. Later on, in our mid teens, we drank a lot together and had fun sharing stories and lies about our new and old girlfriends as best friends do.
Jaime was truly talented, but he had a temper on him that I could not understand. He played on the varsity baseball team and was a league all-star. But the one time I saw him play, he struck out and threw his bat across the field in a fury.
He was usually all smiles but when he got triggered he would get into these kind of rages. One time our usual group was walking home and somehow Jaime got into it with Fernando (we used to call him "Caveman" because he had a head shaped like a large rock) and Jaime started punching Caveman in the face. Caveman was not even fighting back yet Jaime would jab then punch over and over again until we separated them.
After that baseball game with the bat-throwing, I talked to Jaime and he said that he would have to smoke some weed later.
"You have to?" I asked
"Yeah, after pitching I get this pain in my chest. Smoking helps it. You don’t know what it’s like." Jaime shot back.
After graduating high school we kept in touch and would still hang out some, when I came down from Stanford on break. He was so talented at baseball (and many other sports) that long-time Dodgers recruiter Mike Brito invited him down to play professionally in Mexico. Jaime balked at the opportunity. He had heard of other players going down to Mexico and getting chewed and spit up. He didn’t want to go through that on his own.
The following were the circumstance of Jaime’s death as they were told to me from various sources. He and some friends were at a party and got pretty stoned. It was someone’s idea to go down to In-N-Out totally whacked out. There was gunfire from Jaime’s crew and an In-N-Out employee was wounded. Jaime did not know this was going to go down so he went across the street to get away from the melee. When the crew was ready to flee the scene, everyone packed into the truck and Jaime jumped on.
As the truck started to speed away, Jaime spotted a bunch of guys who had previously jumped him so he jumped off the truck and landed in a thud. The getaway gang threw him back on the truck and hauled ass back to the party, even though Jaime had clearly bashed his head on the impact of the jump.
When the police arrived at the party, the story is, Jaime was still alive and snoring, though clearly bleeding. His "friends" told the police that he was alive but the police said he was a goner and they left him there for dead until it was too late.
At the funeral I watched as his so-called friends walked around looking angry, as if the police or some other force was to be blamed for what had happened. I wanted to punch someone but knew that would not help. A deeply religious Catholic, I knew that Jaime was no longer suffering and was looking down on the scene and laughing his big laugh.
Years later, my mother told me that she wanted to slap me in the face because I didn’t cry. I’m not sure if she believed me when I told her that I had faith that he was in a better place.
But my faith did not hold up and as the next school year rolled around I got into a spiritual slump. I took a Philosophy of Religion class to see if that would help me explain what had happened but it only confused me more. How could a loving God do this to someone so young?
After graduating college I started teaching at the elementary and middle school level. Whenever I’d come across a student with a lot of problems or behavior issues, I would see Jaime’s spirit in them and would be patient and do what I could to help. This is something I have never regretted.