Post 71: Excerpt from The Rooming House Diaries

The second novel by Bill Mathis will be published in August 2019 by Rogue Phoenix Press. Available for preorder through Amazon as eBook or paperback around mid-July, 2019.

Diary 6

Manny Rodriguez

March, 17, 1940–June 8, 2009

Diary written in Ledger Four

“You finally got to experience what a family, a true family, is. Didn’t you?”

I nodded.

There were tears in her eyes as she pointed to Grant, Luisa and Louis. “I can tell. Why else would you do this?”

They looked at me with expressions that said, yeah, why did you do this?

I waited. I wasn’t certain myself why I did this. I thought of Tato, how he intervened in my life, how Hank took me in and called me son, how Mae loved me. “Well, I sure as hell didn’t plan this. It wasn’t on my calendar or list of things I wanted to do.” I smiled. So did the kids as Maria watched me intently, almost hanging on my words. I leaned forward in the old recliner, trying to think what to say next…“Now that you are here, you’re here. All I can say is that I will do everything I can to care for you.” I stood and blew my nose. “Sometimes I guess family is where the stork drops you, no matter what size you are. That’s what happened to me before.”

I turned to rush to the kitchen to get the coffee and rolls, didn’t want them to see the water in my eyes, but Luisa put her hand up to stop me. “Señor Manny, you mean we can stay here till, till we…I mean, you won’t get rid of us when we get sicker?” Louis translated for Grant, who smiled as if he already knew the answer.

I emphatically shook my head. Maria pulled them up and into a hug. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and opened her arm inviting me to join them. Slowly I stepped over and joined the group embrace.

“What happens,” Maria whispered, looking at me, “if the stork brings more kids, Mexican ones?”

Luisa answered in Spanish, “We will help Señor Manny as much as we can. They can be family, too.” Louis again translated for Grant.

Gruffly, I said, “You just can’t call me Daddy, Papa, Tato, Tio or Señor. I’m Manny.”

Last Days as a Rooming House

That was the beginning of the AIDS rooming house years. Not officially, not publicly. Maybe the Underground AIDS Rooming House for Wetbacks would be a more accurate name. Those years are now one long blur. Certain memories poke through when I look at the photos of each person we took in. They’re in a separate album that’s bound to confuse the hell out of anyone until they read this. Can you imagine finding the other pictures of regular people, then this album of barely alive, wasted skeletons?

Shots, pills, doctor visits, diapers, laundry, cooking, cleaning, social workers, filling out forms in English and Spanish, dealing with undertakers, and holding people in our arms, or their hands, as they died was my life from 1983 to 1995. Not all died. As the medications and cocktails improved, so did their lives. I still receive letters and occasional visits from AIDS patients who spent time with us, especially in the ‘nineties when the medication breakthroughs started. I would have to count the names in the register to tell you how many people stayed here those years. I would need a lot more whiskey to do so. I have no desire to stir up those memories or think of what it cost me in money, lost income, and my health. Though, I’m guessing, my health problems are mostly from my Camels and hand-rolled cigarettes. I’m addicted and it’s too late to quit. I ain’t going to a doctor either, even if Medicare pays for it.

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