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Exit: My Hero This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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You could never tell from the outside of the building that there was an apartment inside, but of course Jay had to be different.

The smell of leather penetrated your nostrils as soon as you were through the door. Everything was out-of-the-ordinary and extremely expensive, but that was Jay. He was not just my uncle, he was my friend, he was my hero, he was Jay.

A rush of memories have flooded my mind in the past few weeks. I can remember when I was five years old and a flower girl in his wedding, and later wondered why he got a divorce. I remember looking out his bedroom window and watching the traffic move along, the sound of the crowd cheering at the baseball game and eating at the Chinese restaurant behind his apartment.

I remember when he used to take my sister and me on trips through the city when we were younger. We went to the top of the tallest buildings and the grand opening of Tower Records to shop. Jay was the most outrageous shopper I knew. Every time we went to visit him he would say, "Did you see this new thing I bought?" It was always something extravagant and very cool, but that was Jay. Now I know where I got my expensive taste.

As we got older, though, the trips and sleepovers stopped. We would go in for short visits and a few times my grandmother and I would go and help him work in his garden.

Then things got worse. The garden became too much for him. In fact, the city got to be too much. Jay needed someone all the time and it was easier for him to move back home. So he completely redid the upstairs of my grandmother's house. It was amazing! It looked exactly like his old apartment, only smaller. It even smelled of leather and he still had something new every time I went to see him.

Things were different though. My visits were reduced to sitting on his leather couch and watching TV just so Jay would have someone there with him while he dozed. It began to get very hard, but I wanted to do anything possible. I knew his time was limited and I wanted to spend as much time with him as I could.

I have distinct memories of playing cards, being happy to make him something to eat or taking him for short walks in his wheelchair, and sitting in a dark bedroom staring out the window while I monitored his I.V. machine and thinking I didn't have a lot of time left with him. It was inevitable, however, and I tried to prepare myself, but that didn't work.

It was January 9th, and I had been looking forward to sleeping in. I was surprised to be woken up around 8:30 a.m. by my dad.

"Amanda, Jay died this morning, hon." I was in shock. AIDS had taken my hero away.

* * *

Jay lived longer than most AIDS patients, but that was not the only difference.

Jay had decided long ago that he was not going to let AIDS lick him. He went to schools to teach kids the dangers of this disease, spoke at conferences, worked with the AIDS Action Committee and, most of all, worked with our family.

Although it has been hard this past month, I have thought a lot about how Jay affected my life. He taught me all about love, strength and courage. If it wasn't for him I would not have been strong enough to make it through. He was and always will be my hero. No one in the world had more courage. I remember feeling this and wondering how I could tell him. I decided to write Jay a poem thanking him for all he had done. It was his Christmas gift.

On Christmas Eve my family went to my grandmother's house as always. When Jay was alone, I went upstairs to see him. I gave him the poem wrapped in a box and watched him open it with difficulty because his fingers were swollen from the AIDS-related cancer.

I sat there and watched him read the poem, and when he was done he looked up and through the tears said, "This is the best present I've ever gotten!" and hugged me. Afterward, he told me it was my very adult way of telling him that it was okay to die. He had fought long and hard and it was okay to let go. That hug is so vivid in my memory because that was the last time I saw him. I should be thankful I got to say good-bye and, most of all, tell him how I felt.

Some people feel that bad things happen to people because they deserve it, but no one deserves AIDS, especially Jay. Of course he was not perfect, sometimes he was obnoxious and arrogant, but that was Jay and he was special. He touched the hearts of everyone he met and made a little space there. When he died, his soul broke into a million pieces and went to all those little spaces. Yes, a light went out that Sunday morning, but it is still shining brightly in my heart.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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