Before the End, After the Beginning

Before the End, After the Beginning

by Dagoberto Gilb

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Overview


Before the End, After the Beginning is a personal and honest collection of ten exquisite stories from Dagoberto Gilb. The pieces come in the wake of a stroke Gilb suffered at his home in Austin, Texas, in 2009, and a majority of the stories were written over many months of recovery. The result is a powerful and triumphant collection that tackles common themes of mortality and identity and describes the American experience in a raw, authentic vernacular unique to Gilb.

These ten stories take readers throughout the American West and Southwest, from Los Angeles and Albuquerque to El Paso and Austin. Gilb covers territory familiar to some of his earlier work—a mother and son’s relationship in Southern California in the story ‘Uncle Rock’ or a character looking to shed his mixed up past in ‘The Last Time I Saw Junior’—while dealing with themes of mortality and limitation that have arisen during his own illness. Confronting issues of masculinity, sexuality, and mortality, Gilb has recovered and produced what may be his most extraordinary achievement to date.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802120007
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 11/01/2011
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author


Dagoberto Gilb's previous books are The Flowers, Gritos, Woodcuts of Women, The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuña, and The Magic of Blood, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in many magazines, most recently Harper's, The New Yorker, and Callaloo, and is reprinted widely. Gilb is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has been a finalist for both the PEN/Faulkner and National Book Critics Circle Award. He makes his home in Austin.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Before the End, After the Beginning

PLEASE, THANK YOU

at first, their people came and went. my children or the few close friends who worried about me dying, they came and stayed some too. im talking about staff people. nurses? not all of them. or they all werent schooled as nurses, years of classes, even if they act like they are or even do what nurses do. they do something every hour. if i try to say something, they start asking the same questions. what is your name? what is the date? where were you born? like that. or sometimes, como te llamas? que es la fecha de hoy? like im from mexico and just crossed, not american like them. im from here! ill bet my familys been here longer than yours! i was semper fi, cabron, and then i was an ironworker for ten years, were you? always, always has made me so mad, even if i dont say it out loud to these people here. i was cooperative the first few times, but then i just wanted to be given answers to what i was asking. like, am i going to get better? or worse? i didnt like them ignoring me, or acting as if what i said was not important. even if it wasnt. i knew what they were thinking. i was someone who didnt matter, who didnt count much. in the large, i know its true. i am a name, just another, one they think is foreign even, when there are so many hurting. but then, so what? i accept it always, in my life, but now too? it makes me mad.

so i started not answering, ignoring them back, or yelling at them. maybe yelling is what i was doing in my mind. maybe muttering under my breath is what i did. like, oh fuck off. what would yelling at them do for me? i practically couldnt move. so sometimes i did answer but lied, made up names and places. just said anything to shut down the questions.

every hour or few they would wake me up. i was dazed because i was messed up, but as much, i finally realized, because i didnt sleep enough. i wanted them to stop, and they kept coming at me in my haze. strangers with no names who just ignored what i tried to say who would say my name off a sheet. at night i became scared even, like my thoughts were exposed, like these people would be mad if anything wasnt exactly what they wanted. night that is early, early morning. nobody can really be feeling good to be awake, to be alive, then. not one of these workers. and i cant see their faces. i dont believe they look at mine. they dont care. i am weak, and everyone is bigger, stronger, tougher than me. they take blood or pull my body around. they turn on a light when it is supposed to be sleeptime dark. what does it matter what i think or feel? nobody sees this work they do, and i am just meat, a carcass. if i kick them with the one leg that can, will i at least be more wild tasting meat?

a few days like this i am so tired i can barely function. hard to think where i am and what happened to me. i dream but nothing familiar to my own history. one of them comes in and is telling me something. words as blurry as sight. i cant tell if it is kind or hostile but i am being shoved around, like i am doing something wrong, something bad. my body seems to be on something that i dont feel and i dont care but they care and act like i should too and they throw it on me. an arm with a hand, a third arm and hand, not from my body. no, it is mine. or was. i recognize it but it is inanimate, lifeless. i touch it with my other hand, pick it up. i was lying on my own arm. this hand. my hand and fingers. i know them. i knew them. im shocked. my own arm?

i am glad to be moving from intensive care. id say i counted the days but i dont know how many. my children are here to help me. i trust them. i wish they could stay, back me, protect me. its how it is now. i feel so small, and they are big, life-size, as big as them, unlike me. they are not weak. i dont trust these hospital people but i know i cant say too much. its hard to say much anyway. i dont want to say anything to my children either because they are doing so much already, and i dont want to worry them, or, worse, i am afraid they will think its me.

you werent making sense, my daughter says. they couldnt understand you.

i lied to them. they werent listening to me.

daddy, im telling you, you werent making sense. you couldnt talk.

it wasnt that, i say. besides, i know i made sense. i still have a brain.

but your speech was bad, she says. its better now. sometimes you said things that nobody could follow. or you said things that were wrong.

wrong?

once you said you were born in new mexico. another time you said argentina.

i lived in new mexico for a while.

you said you were born there.

ive never been to argentina. i would never go there. a bunch of gringos. i said argentina?

one time they asked and you said you were born there. you said the year was 1994.

when did i say that?

when they asked.

maybe i got confused.

thats what i mean.

i hate argentina.

you said it.

i didnt want to answer their stupid questions. i started saying anything because i didnt care. thats why i gave a wrong name too.

it was that strange name, daddy. harry? ... i dont even know what last name you said now, but it was odd. we all wanted to laugh.

truth is, harry was a name i didnt know. ive never known a person with the name harry. harry anything. ive never met a harry, dont even know what kind of name it is, where a harry would come from. and i dont remember giving the dates or saying new mexico either. definitely not argentina. but it doesnt change anything. this is how they beat you down, and they make money. im meat to them, i know it. im nothing, im nobody. just nothing else is possible for me to do and im not going to do nothing. im not not saying something.

it isnt that i dont want to jump and hop around and be wide-eyed sparkly. if i could, i would dance for everyone. though i really didnt feel like any of it, even if i dont say so. i cant, much as i wont admit it out loud. any moving much is hard for me. i used to be strong. just the other day! just the other day, a couple of weeks ago. now, now these people come into my room. my room is more my bed. a modern bed that moves up and down with a control.

i cant find it, i say. i couldnt even buzz you.

she looked around the edges of the bed, under and in the sheet knotted around me. she found it under me, behind my right shoulder. had to leave a big impression in my skin, deep enough to cast a souvenir pewter model.

i couldnt even feel it? i say. how is that possible?

its okay, mr sanchez. you have it now.

her name is stephanie. shes mexican, mexican american. has that happy pocha kind of name. i remember the era, just the other day, when those educated lefties of ours named their children after aztec deities. my daughter we named gloria, my wifes choice. my son was joe, like my own dad and my suegro both.

but youre all good now, she says cheerfully. do you need anything? maybe youd like to take a shower?

i dont think i can stand up, i say. and with all this added weight, probably cant.

you probably havent gained weight, mr sanchez. and youre not fat.

i meant all the dirt on me, the layers of it with several coats of laying around sweat.

i could help you in the shower.

shes like sixty pounds and four foot tall. the other day i wouldve had to use binoculars to see her if i were on my two legs. from the bed, she almost seems full size.

i dont know.

i wouldnt look at you. id just stand there outside the curtain.

i meant i dont think you can handle me. your size, my size.

of course i can. i thought you were embarrassed.

embarrassed? hell, im proud when im naked.

mr sanchez, youre such a joker. i thought it was because im a girl.

normally id like it better because youre a girl. i dont feel too normal is all.

if you change your mind, she says, stephanie-like, sleepy and positive both.

its a good idea, this shower. and after i think about it, decide i will. but stephanie doesnt come back. now its scott, the other one who comes sometimes. there are quite a few of these employees. scott is the one who is confused like its three in the morning, not afternoon. he repeats things. for example, he says thank you even when it should be a tense there! or a relieved finally its done, or maybe he has to change the sheets, or dump the urine in the piss bottle, and always when hes leaving he cant believe he has this job and isnt still in the army.

he brings over the wheelchair. i roll and squirm and push myself to sit in it like its any chair to take a seat in. i land hard, as though the side that barely moves has petrified into heavy rock on the bottom and drags me down faster than i want.

thank you, says scott.

no problem, i say. the problem is standing up. the problem is not standing up. the problem is slipping off my clothes, even when its a tshirt and gym shorts. the problem is holding soap and washing when i bobble like im in a torrent of winds blowing into me from all cardinal directions. and im even sitting in a yellow plastic chair, a toilet seat throne. it is pounding to feel the water against me. it feels so good to get clean.

i cant reach the button that means enough. i talk. i cannot talk loud enough without screaming, which i wont.

i hear, is everything okay, mr sanchez?

i say i am done. i cant yell.

i hear, when youre ready, ill be there.

im ready, i say. hes not hearing me. finally i can turn off the water with my left hand. i just wait there, trying to figure a way to reach the help button. i try to lean and get it with my left hand, but it is a little behind me too. stand? try to stand? i lift off with my left leg and groan and there i am, standing! but i feel like a golf ball balanced on a plate. the tile wall isnt that close. not sure what to do, i begin careful movements. turn a little, turn a little, a little more, like a first time rock climber. i reach for the button and miss. the second shot is a hit though, i think, but no apparent buzz ring anything from the button. i push it again and again. im expert at punching it, could do it for many many minutes if i can stand much longer. i am there naked and wet, and i feel lost and pathetic because i cant do much besides this.

good shower, mr sanchez?

great shower, i say.

thank you.

he is drying me. it feels good. i am grateful.

i sit back into the safe wheelchair and he gets me a tshirt and clean pair of gym shorts. i dont want underwear, so i can pee quickly. he pushes me to my bed home. he pulls the sheet over me and it is comforting. i am clean. i am back to what i know. thank you, i say to scott.

least i know i can stand, i tell my son. next stop, up and down from the toilet. and then flushing by myself.

itll take some time, dad. you know that.

no rush. its all good exercise too.

were watching basketball playoffs. he likes them. i really like it that my son and daughter visit me and sit here.

whos winning? asks jannette. she doesnt even look up at the tv when she says that bursting in. shes come in to take my blood pressure and give me my evening cup of pills.

the girl across the hall, i say. shes got a no salary cap team. the girl across the hall, who cant be more than thirty, has so many visitors all the time i think they had to rent chairs. she had a stroke too, same every symptom as me.

shes popular, says jannette. she got lots of family.

my bp is still high.

whatre you doing in here, mr sanchez?

i think its the pills you people give me to keep my people down.

jannette laughs. we trying to keep you here cause you so pretty.

aside from the young one across the hall, how many victims arent mexican or black?

mr sanchez, you a nutcase.

see? im right, arent i? its an experiment being conducted.

you know you are a wrong man, mr sanchez, you always messing. but i am here for you, so you need something, you just buzz.

what i notice, i tell my son, is that all the help is black or brown until its like from two in the morning to six. those are the crazy people hours.

whatre you talking about? asks my son.

when they come in at three or four, and you can barely see them, its these deranged, sleep deprived white people out to get even. actually, those visits at those hours are harsh and blurry and 100 percent unfriendly. i dont know for sure what theyre for.

well, first of all, those sound like the worst jobs, so there goes your conspiracy. second, they must have something to do with your health. ...

they wake me up so ill be tired all day like they are. either become like them or die from fear. this one guy just turns on a light when he comes in and starts talking like im the weird sleeping man in the dark. one night, reacting like a human, i cry out, whyd you turn on the light? he gets mad, you know, says its so he can see. now i know he turns on the brightest one to torment me and teach me whos boss. if i werent a cripple in bed helpless, id bust the fucker in his face.

i can ask about that, about you not getting to sleep.

youll probably piss them off more and theyll do more cruel shit to me. get to me when im finally having a sweet dream.

and third, says my son, i think over half to three fourths of the staff i myself see here is anglo. and the patients too.

and almost all of the therapists too, i say. my point therefore proven, that they rule the world, even if they dont have any players of importance on any playoff team.

pau gasol is on the lakers.

spaniards and argentineans dont count. and you notice how they dont even bother to learn to pronounce his name right? like its ga-salt, which they insist is not healthy, even though theyre the ones who soak everything in it, not gasun, which is the one and only source of all our light and energy! hes a star on the team too, not just kobe, whose name they did learn, as strange, and two syllables, as it is. always treating our heritage like its common and unimportant, even when its a pinche spaniard.

youd think speech therapyd be about speech. half my body went dead. that means half my face too. kristen, my therapist, taught me that even half my tongue went too. it is what i learned from her, its the most complex muscle in the body. thats why i sound drunk when i talk. however, we dont seem to ever deal enough with my speech or numb face.

kirsten, she corrects me again.

maybe its because of the stroke i cant get that right, i say.

nice try.

at least i got cover for my drinking.

i do think your focus might be affected.

i cant tell if shes teasing or not. she really takes her tests seriously. like there are answers in them. she has a library of three-ring binders she looks through until she finds tests for my homework, though sometimes i have to take one or two right there in her office. she times things i do. i hate this. i hate this speech therapy. i think shes making it up, doing some project on her own. wheres the speech part? i feel like its sunday school with mormons. i do not believe. im not a mormon.

excuse me? she says.

i didnt say anything. or mean to.

howd you know i was a mormon?

i didnt. maybe you told me.

no.

in truth, i had no idea. i was just thinking to myself and that sentence came out in public.

anyway, you need to put all the pills from the jars into the organizers.

all these? there must be a dozen jars of pills.

theyre all yours.

no wonder i cant talk right.

you have to be able to do this without getting confused.

what?

into each day. into the morning slot or afternoon or ...

i know what you meant.

and you have to look at what each pill requires. if its twice a day or morning only ...

yeah yeah okay.

you have to do it with your right hand.

but i can barely use it. i cant feel anything with it.

youll get used to it. we want you to do this when you get home.

they arent pills. theyre colored beads and nuts and washers. i drop every one. then i dont drop every fifth one. i make it first try into the organizer slot only one in the five of the beads i do manage to get between my numbed fingers. not very good success odds.

i miss a lot, i say.

youll get better with practice. you have to be able to do this right.

so important that i am using my almost worthless right hand. i would never try to pick up real pills ... but its good. it takes up time. i hate speech therapy and this will take me days of practice.

nancy insists on my being buckled up in my wheelchair to go to physical therapy. and she wont push me, unless were in a hurry. that is, unless she is. today shes in a hurry, and we have to go through an uphill hallway to the therapy room. i dont think shes a lesbian, though she has that short hair, ironed, tucked in shirt, fitted jeans, and never married to a man bark, and fire hydrant frame of ... maybe its just her, who knows. shes nice to me, or means to be, when shes snapping. i like her like you do your hardass coach. even if i dont know her win-loss record.

move your arm in. you want to lose those fingers?

my right arm often hangs too limp and casual near the spoke wheels of the rolling chair.

i tell you all the time. you want to learn when its too late?

shes right. i pull my arm to my lap.

now youve got it like you had a stroke and cant use it. put it on the armrest. it has to do what the other arm does.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Before the End, After the Beginning"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Dagoberto Gilb.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

please, thank you,
The Last Time I Saw Junior,
Willows Village,
His Birthday,
Uncle Rock,
Cheap,
Why Kiki Was Late for Lunch,
Blessing,
To Document,
Hacia Teotitlán,

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