Doris Sanford and Graci Evans spent the 1980s making inconceivable books about childhood trauma, and they’re my favorite team of well-intentioned maniacs. Today, we’re going to read two of them. One, Please COME HOME, is about divorce because Doris and Graci are always careful to soften a book’s subject matter with a vague title. The other one is called DAVID HAS AIDS. Oh, did you think David has trouble making friends? No, AIDS is what David has. It’s Upsetting Day, not Happy David Day.
Let’s start with Please COME HOME. It opens with Jenny sitting alone in an orchard and thinking back to the time her newly single mom told her her father doesn’t love her.
This is pretty standard development for a Sanford/Evans mother character. When they write moms they think, “What would a lazy Skeletor do here?” I’m not a psychologist, but I do own nineteen of these womens’ books about depressed kids, and the mother in each one is a neglectful sociopath. There’s no bedrock of hope in a Sanford/Evans book. It’s madness and sadness all the way down, and God is there ignoring all of it.
Jenny has decided to never speak to her father again, but quickly changes, then loses her mind. She has entered the Bargaining stage of grief, followed by the Demanding Help From Trees stage. And it can really feel like that, kids. Trees everywhere, and not one of them a custody lawyer. I never thought I’d say this, but this kid’s book about divorce is too depressing and we should switch over to DAVID HAS AIDS.
This is the very first page of DAVID HAS AIDS. It opens not with the dangers of his deadly disease or its origin story, but with a group of mean kids saying, “Keep it moving, buddy. The AIDS section is over there.” This lonely child is dying and we’re going to focus on how he’s being bullied.
Already this is better than Please COME HOME. “My body is filled with AIDS, but theirs are filled with fear,” is something you would say if you were in a prison wrestling league and also a genius. It’s only page 2 and this book is calling 9-year-olds cowards for asking a classmate with full blown AIDS to play somewhere else. It’s amazing. At this point in most Doris and Graci books, the main character would just be sitting around explaining their problem to God.
Right. Exactly like that. What is going on here? Is David praying or sending God a letter? And why is he explaining AIDS to God? As someone who grew up in a religious, conservative household in the ’80s, trust me, God knows exactly what AIDS does. Theologically speaking, this is like explaining how bug spray works to your exterminator. Oh man, that sounded darker than I meant it to… maybe we should switch back to Please COME HOME?
So when we left Jenny she was holding her head and shrieking for a tree, any tree to deliver her from the unbearable pain of a broken family. She’s since pulled herself together to calmly express herself to her teddy bear. This is hard, and it hurts, but her parents’ divorce has not driven her insane.
Jenny, no. What are you doing? Product of divorce or not, you absolutely need to stop sharing your secrets with the talking bear in the woods. Let’s go back to the kid less doomed than you, the one with AIDS and a God who hates him.
So David got a mysterious bag of cookies from a child who calls himself “Washington,” a name two elderly white women, after a difficult discussion, decided to be “non-racistly black.” Washington has been watching David, and he wants to play with him. It’s all very normal, including how he ends the note with the default 5-word message Shopify prints on every gift receipt, “I know you have AIDS.”
The two become fast friends, so David writes a very weird, very passive aggressive letter to God.
Ha ha what? His comfort is the kind with a FORT in it!? Are you sending me the “maybes” from your grandma’s needlepoint idea notebook? This sucks. If you want to figure out why I don’t treat you like most people do, SEE FUCKING ABOVE.
I know you have AIDS,
P.S. I know you have AIDS.
Jesus, is this kid still talking about how safe AIDS is? Look at Washington’s face. Even he is tired of hearing about this shit. David will be going over this for awhile, so let’s see how Jenny’s mental breakdown is going in Please COME HOME.
Not great. Her teddy bear is still speaking in the tongue of Man. You know, it’s been several pages and it’s still not clear if this is a therapeutic exercise, rhetorical device, or total psychotic break.
Wait. Oh no, what. The teddy bear can wave goodbye to her while she’s not looking at it? S-so this isn’t taking place in her head? I hadn’t considered this fourth option: something unknowable whispered life into this toy after hearing a forsaken child’s screams on the wind. It’s safe to say we’re now in a murder race between Teddy and AIDS. Let’s see what David is doing. Probably talking about how safe it is to be his, despite his AIDS, friend, right?
“Class, let’s thank Sandra for bringing in her box turtle, Battlecat. So cute. Now up next for Show n’ Tell is… ugh. David. Okay, let me guess what you brought in. Your AIDS?”
He’ll be doing this, again, for a while, so let’s get back to Jenny.
I don’t know what Jenny’s mom and whatever now lives inside her teddy bear said to her, but Jenny has decided hurting her father is how she is going to make them happy. And Graci Evans knew exactly what you’d be thinking: “I’d love to see a colored pencil drawing of the custody handoff after Jenny rejected her father’s unopened birthday gift.”
This is rough. You know what might cheer us up? Hearing what David is talking about.
Damn it, Dave. Are you still lecturing your classmates on the safety of AIDS? How is that disease your most likeable personality trait? Let’s see what Jenny is up to.
It’s important to remember Jenny is not the narrator of this book, so when you hear them stop the story to editorialize, “UNDERWEAR IS NOT A PRESENT!” remember it’s not a second grade girl. This would have been the perfect time for her to realize she shouldn’t have rejected her father’s love or his presents, but instead her teddy bear stares into her soul and tells her how special she is, forcing her to repeat its words fifty times. I’m, of course, kidding. Can you imagine how insane that would be?
Ha ha, reader. You fell for the classic demon teddy’s gambit. Let’s go see if David has finished his 831st presentation on why someone should play with him, and by “play with him,” David means “listen to his 832nd presentation on why someone should play with him.”
Hold on a second. Is David sitting inside watching Washington spend time with his grandmother? Was the weird bag of cookies and the note a plan to… okay, this is going to sound nuts, but did this kid just steal his grandma? Is this the dying boy version of cuckolding?
We’re not cutting back to Jenny. We need to see where this is going.
Last week, you had a grandma and AIDS. Then I sent you a friend with a bag of cookies, and now all you have is AIDS.
“What is dying like!?” I’m an eternal being, the Alpha and the Omega, and you’re a little boy whose entire life was spent suffering organ failure. Like, you tell me, David. Asshole. You asshole.
P.S. If you think this is bad, let me show you what I do to kids who betray me and follow the teachings of witch bears.
Jenny’s story wraps up nicely with her mother neglecting her, her father being pushed completely out of her life, and her teddy bear just fucking ecstatic about it. It’s nothing, certainly. A horror egg hatching from a broken mind, but a happier ending that any of us should have expected. Let’s see how David’s story concludes.
Dying is… it’s like what? It’s like fucking what, Grandma Brown? Doris and Graci gave Jenny a magical teddy bear to emotionally counsel her through her parent’s breakup. Yet this withering child of God has been begging his creator for an explanation since the day he learned the word “AIDS” and the best the authors could do for him was to send a confused old lady to his death bed to tell him dying is like a reverse movie something, maybe? This is so fucked. But I guess with the way David’s story was going, we’re lucky the book’s finale wasn’t a two page spread of his grandma wordlessly grabbing his neck and ending things her way.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme, Dan Bush: who understands that dying is like a backwards movie and living is like a sideways book and fucking? Baby, that’s a horizontal game.