Monday, October 3, 2011

Rest in Peace Joseph Anthony Soto

My little brother, we called him Jojo, would have turned 38 today (May 1, 2012). Below is the obituary I wrote for him, followed by a poem/rap we collaborated on. Happy Birthday, Joe. You are profoundly missed.

Joseph Anthony Soto: 1974-2006
Joseph Anthony Soto, Sr. of 1439 Rennert Road, Lumberton, North Carolina, was born in Jersey City, NJ, on May 1, 1974.He finally found peace on December 26, 2006, after a long battle with AIDS, at the age of 32. He was preceded in death by his mother, Miriam Esther Figueroa.

Joe gained the love and respect of almost everyone he met, and although he didn't always show it, he greatly apprecated all the love and care he received from the generous people of Lumberton.

Joe is survived by the love of his life, Sabrina Jones, his three children, Joseph Anthony Soto, Jr., Jada Miriam Soto and Jarren Evan Soto, his brothers, Carlos Carmona and Fernando Quijano III, his sister, Kyra Quijano, and a host of other friends and relatives. He will be sorely missed.

I've written three obituaries in my life, and that had to have been the saddest one so far, not just because he was my baby brother, not just because he died so young, nor just because he is the third member of my family (My mother died in 1991, my uncle Andy a few years later) to succumb to AIDS. Yes, it's sad because he leaves behind a wife and three young kids, but what makes it even sadder is the lost potential of a young man  whose power was never truly tapped.

Yes, there are lessons we can still take away from the loss of my baby brother. Always a "man," he would have us believe that he acquired HIV via unprotected sex, but as he was also a drug addict, could have almost as likely gotten it shooting up heroin. The irony that he died of the same disease that killed my mother and uncle, and that he likely started using drugs as a method of coping with my mother's death (Joe was only 16) doesn't elude me. And I'm sure we all need the occassional reminder that AIDS is still virulent here in the U.S.

Nevertheless, I will miss him and his stories. He had many to tell, all entertaining, many I will never hear. Below is a poem, a rap, that Jojo started, and that I helped to polish. It's neither the best example of Hip Hop nor poetry, but it reflected a moment in our lives when we used our grief to create something together. Something we were both proud of. After all, isn't good art merely an honest attempt at expressing our deepest emotions?

Rocked by Ages
    You think you had it rough
    Well I think I had it rougher
    Mommy was a dope fiend
    Daddy was a puffer
Five years old and learning how to suffer
    watching Mommy jump from one man to another

Daddy disappeared when I turned Seven
    He's in jail or hell... know he ain't in heaven
Nine years old, livin' off cheese & Kix
    Mommy sold the foodstamps so she could get her next fix
Eleven years old, first time I saw the needle in her arm
    Imagine my confusion, imagine my alarm
    Just that day, I learned about drugs in school
    They said it was for losers, they said it was for fools
    Tryin' to get her to stop, I laid down some law
    She just laughed in my face, said it was my fault

& I crashed
Thirteen years old, hitting rock bottom
    The disadvantages of life, yeah I got 'em
    so I hit the bottle and the joint to set me free
    Started off slow, but soon nothing could stop me
    'til I looked in the mirror, and all I saw was Mommy
Fifteen, time to quit while ahead
    Before I was too deep, before I was dead
    while at it, I'd get Mommy out too
    Get her in rehab, start our lives brand new
    But for Mommy things would never be the same
    Cuz she'd caught that big disease with the itty bitty name
Sixteen years old, at the hospital to say goodbye
    But I couldn't say shit, I just watched Mommy die

& I crashed...