Tristan's ECHO

Another Witness and Another Witness and Yet Another Witness


Paying tribute to Les Garcons de Cinematheque, by Mary

Over the past decade I’ve been privileged to be aware of boys “at risk” who were quietly, in a protected way, expressing themselves via video, words, and images.  In the beginning, they died.

The first boy who died knew he was going to die.  He had HIV before the drugs were effective and he was already thin.  Looking into the camera and holding his cat, he said calmly he wanted to explain himself.  He was just a little boy, maybe 7 or 8, and it was hard to imagine how he became infected.  He didn’t think it was important enough to talk about.  He wanted to tell us about his cat and his books.  He sat on the end of his bed in what must have been some kind of group home.  The room was monastic: a bed, a desk, some shelves and a closet, all the furniture built-in and made of that heavy white compressed wood.  He didn’t explain where his family was.

The boy was in Paris but he spoke English, which many Europeans do.  He told the camera that after he died, he wanted his room to be turned into a kind of playroom.  He would leave his books and games -- and I suppose the cat -- for the other boys.  As he wished, this was done.  His books were in wooden boxes that could be turned on their sides and stacked to make shelves.  I don’t remember the titles, but they were ordinary boys’ books, well-worn, maybe second-hand when the boy got them.

One boy had died before I knew this group.  He’s the only one I know of who has a headstone.  It’s not in Paris.  I’ve seen a photo. I’ve seen this boy’s face; he was beautiful and very clever, but then many of them are.  They attract attention.  People want them and that’s the very thing that gets them in trouble.  It’s a circle: their desirability forces their inaccessibility.  Accessibility is what infected them.  My access was a product of my unimportance.

One boy was American, from LA.  A swaggerer, now arrived in Amsterdam and looking for action.  He knew all about everything and was willing to let you know that.  I was critical, even hostile.  But then he was the kindest and most patient with a boy who had been badly damaged and I had to take it all back.  That was the boy whose grandmother had saved him from the rubble of their house, made a run through a battlefield in a school bus, holed up in a small forest, but didn’t live longer than the boy.  He said he wished he had a grandmother again, so I volunteered to be his imaginary granny and made up a story about holding him and rocking him.  He made me a video with mountains and someone singing “Somewhere over the rainbow.”  He might not be dead.  He’s just not with the group now, but the group has changed a lot over the decade.

Some of these boys were the “worst” -- defiant, technically criminal, occasionally berserk and psychotic -- and yet there were the flashes of . . .  flares of . . . cracks into . . . something that broke your heart.  Yearning, maybe.  Ironic vulnerability.  The one who was my hero, the one who was always saving the others, was beaten to death.  He fought hard to live, but was alone until afterwards and then no matter how many skillful people worked to save him, they couldn’t.

The group is self-governing as much as possible and at one point they pushed out a heroin addict who couldn’t reform.  He killed himself.  Regret, rage, grief, and defensiveness washed through the whole group.  And fear, always the fear.  Society’s way of dealing with them is not saving them but pushing them on into death.   They’re a nuisance to officials -- erasure is what they want. But the boys die less often than they used to.  It’s not just a matter of meds, but a way of helping each other take odious prescription drugs on schedule, monitor safety, supply comfort and bonding.

A search for meaning has two sides:  witnessing and testifying.  They have no choice about the first part.  The testifying needs support.  It might be dangerous.