The Dream Team
Magic Johnson changed everything. He was that new rookie kid who took everyone by storm, and then made it onto the Dream Team for the Olympics, completely living up to his name. Though Darius and I were too young to remember when it all happened, we found the old VHS tapes that his older brother had made of the games and watched those again and again. Darius lived with us then, since his mom was still pretty screwed up. We would watch and talk basketball when we couldn’t play it because the courts were taken over by gangs. Though he was really my cousin, we had always felt like brothers.
We knew the Dream Team the best. We had a poster of the entire team in our bedroom and we would lie on our bed and look at their faces, pretending to be one of them. We’d pick either Michael Jordan or Larry Bird and especially Magic Johnson. Then, when we realized why Magic wasn’t playing basketball anymore, we stopped picking him as much.
I learned more about why Magic stopped playing basketball when I got older and understood the meaning behind a few more words. But even though he had AIDS, Magic never really stopped being important. He did for us what Freddie Mercury did for the skinny white men at those parades. AIDS was the gay cancer back then, but at least they gave it a name. They gave it a face. I know there have been books about it now, about the Castro and how it got the gays out of the ghetto. But we’re still in the ghetto, we don’t have a flag (not really, not like that) and we don’t have voices and names and icons. We just have silence.
Magic gave us something to identify with. He was straight and had sex with women, and yet this thing still happened to him. There were other ways to get AIDS, and that was what I found so scary. I mean, it’s like our bodies start to turn against us. As if we didn’t get that enough already with the skin we had on our backs and histories behind us. But Magic could be playing a game, be An All Star Player, and even be on the Dream Team, and no one knew. No one had a clue and he never looked sick. When he did realize he had HIV, he took the disease and tried to establish a new Dream Team, full of drug cocktails and doctors. He tried to do something important with it, so we weren’t left behind.
The only other person I knew about that talked about this type of stuff was Jamaica Kincaid. When my sister went off to college and tried to be smart, she decided to read all of Kincaid’s books. She talked about My Brother so much at the dinner table one night I couldn’t stand it. But I stole it out of her backpack when she was asleep and read it when I had the Xbox on all night to cover any sounds. The brother in the book had AIDS, and, for a while, you thought he was like Magic. He was straight, had sex with too many women, and like the invisible destructive force that AIDS was, it made him suddenly sick. But then Kincaid realized that her brother was gay. Power to him, I guess. I don’t get as hung up about that kind of thing as I used to, though I never finished the book after that point. I knew how it was going to end, anyway, and Kincaid’s descriptions were too good to keep reading.
Darius and I don’t really watch basketball anymore. The teams aren’t good like they used to be and he moved out of my bedroom when his mom got back from rehab. We still hang out, but Darius wants to fight with the guys across the street instead. Though I wanted to back down that one night and go home, he’s my brother, so I stayed with him. As blood spilled on the pavement, I thought about a basketball court and I tried to get us out of there and back to my sister, who knew how to stitch wounds.
Now Darius wants all sorts of competition.
“How many girls can you sleep with, Markus?” he’s asked it again and again, reminding me of the new rules to our game. “How many did you before that? And no condoms, remember, because condoms are for pussies and all these girls are on the pill anyway that they can get from the clinic.”
I suck at lying and he knows me too well for that. So when we talk, I needed conquests. I went out and got girls, because like he said, it’s actually kind of easy if you knew what to say. It’s like remembering a plan for a game, only there was no VHS I could watch later on to review my moves and there was no record whatsoever other than my mind. So I check my mouth in the bathroom for sores, just in case, and I don’t go to the clinic unless I’ll have a scar afterwards. I’ve got to be dying to be seen at the clinic alone.
But that’s the thing with AIDS. You can be dying and not know. Be utterly and completely normal. Just be a man and dying for it. And man, I’ve seen enough death where I live.
Then there’s Magic Johnson. When my sister was home for a weekend, she was trying to watch The Daily Show and pretending to be smart again. But suddenly, she started to shout, “MARKUS! Markus! Come quickly, it’s Magic!”
I walked into our living room and saw her swooning at this large man, still not looking sick, in a big business suit. I sat down and tried to listen, wondering if he was playing again, but only heard him talk about OraQuick instead. It was a test for AIDS that you could take at home. A test away from the prying eyes of everyone else and one you didn’t even have to pay for if you went to this website. Like a dream, Magic told us in the living room that he was still working away at his personal cause. He had found a way for others to know if they were sick, but not lose anything in the process. He understood. He knew the rules of the game, and like always, he had found a way to make the best shot.
When my sister went to sleep that night, I stole her laptop and I ordered the test for myself. Now, I’m locked in a bathroom around the corner and down a block, away from anyone I know. I’m blending into the walls as I wait for that stick to turn.
Everything will change when I know for sure. But everything’s already changed, really, thanks to Magic. I watch myself in the mirror as the seconds flick by and I envision what member of the Dream Team I’ll be this time around.
Evelyn Deshane’s work has appeared in The Fieldstone Review, Hyacinth Noir, and Absynthe Magazine. She holds a Master’s in Public Texts from Trent University and is currently pursuing a PhD. She lives in Waterloo, Canada. “The Dream Team” was first runner-up for fiction in A&U’s 2013 Christopher Hewitt Award literary contest.