Johnny Corino’s Body
My friend Kay and I were the two women who found Johnny Corino’s body. We weren’t looking for him. He was just there.
A few months ago was go for a hike in the mountains. We’d gotten our vaccines. We were tired of staying at home. It was just a normal day, on a normal trail on National Forest land between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. Nothing out of the ordinary.
About an hour into the hike we were taking about the usual stupid stuff only Kay and I can talk about like how we hate the fact that all of the most radio DJs sound like idiots, you know how the women sound like they’ve had a horrible throat disease then gargled with napalm and gravel mixed with broken glass, then are so proud of so many men they’ve fucked despite their frizzy perms and voices from hell. Yeah, Kay and I get snarky like that. Then we talked about how we are so proud of our kids, and that we’re happy our dogs get along. Then the dogs, her giant brown Lab Howard, and my German Shepard Mix Sadie, started barking like the world was coming to an end.
We smelled him before we saw him. At first we thought it was a dead deer or racoon. Off to the side of the trail was the body of a man. Long dirty blond hair was like an obscene halo around a half eaten face. His clothing was caked with red dirt. An old Columbia jacket was off to the side by a backpack that had been torn to shreds by animals.
Kay called 911. As soon as she got off the phone she started to cry. I just felt sick and threw up. It was weird and sad. We stayed about 30 feet from the stranger we’d found until a couple of park rangers showed up.
The drive home was calm as we talked about what we’d seen and wondered what had happened. I drove as Kay called our husbands. We told ourselves that we were fine. We were fine. We were alive and safe. Dead bodies can’t hurt us.
Kay had nightmares that frightened her husband and kids. I finally told my family to stop talking about it. A few weeks later we were informed that the dead man, Johnny Corino, had died of natural causes. He was only 39 years old. He’d been a transient who’d never had a driver’s license, but was in the system for minor drug and prostitution offenses in the past.
I thought that was all there was to say until my friend Val called me and told me that Mr. Corino’s sister wanted to talk to me. Her name was Jeanah Adler. We met at a coffee shop where she told me about her brother Johnny.
Jeanah told me that their mother, Star Corino, wanted her children to feel like a family so she named them all J names. Jordon, Justine, Jeanah, Johnny, Jilly, and Jimmy. There were six children and five different fathers. The J was the only thing they had in common.
Jimmy, Star’s last baby, was born when Jeanah was ten. Star and Jimmy’s father Marcus Smith were going to prison. Marcus talked Star into giving the baby up for adoption. It was easy to find a home for blonde haired, blue eyed Jimmy, who later was named Logan by his new parents.
Logan grew up with a normal family, went to college, and is now an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles. He contacted Jeanah a few years back. She warned him not to try to find Johnny, or Justine. By then Jilly had died of a heroin overdose, and Jordon had been murdered.
Jeanah said she didn’t care that Jordon had been shot in the head and left in the middle of the street in a residential neighborhood in a bad area of town. He’d raped Jeanah when she was fourteen and attempted to rape Jilly. Justine slept with him of her own free will. At the time they were living with their grandmother. Rather than make it her problem the grandmother sent all of the kids away to foster care. It wasn’t the first time they’d been in the system. Jeanah said she thought she’d been in foster homes more than she’d been with her family.
As a child, especially as a teenager, Jeanah and Jilly longed for a normal middle class life. Unfortunately it wasn’t that easy, and wishing or being pretty wasn’t going to make it automatically happen. They also wished they didn’t have to worry about Johnny, or live in fear of Jordon.
According to Jeanah, Johnny had never been normal. There was nothing wrong with his sight or hearing but half the time he’d never respond to what anyone did or said. She said she never remembered seeing him smile. When some well meaning adult would ask Johnny what he wanted to do when he grew up he’d give some odd or disturbing answer. Once he told a well meaning Christian youth minister that he wanted to be a turkey vulture and soar around the sky all day and feast on dead things. He usually told people that he wasn’t ever going to grow up, but if he did he’d live in the woods like a cave man. Sometimes he told people that the Mother Ship was tracking his chip and would come bring him home any minute now. Johnny never had any concept of work, or what it meant to be an adult, or why school was important. He lived in the minute, alone, and outside of the rest of the world.
When Johnny was about twelve he started smoking pot, then selling it. He’d always been sort of cute so he started selling his body too. He said he never felt anything so selling himself didn’t bother him as long as he got money for it.
A customer once took him to a nice hotel. After a long hot shower, and being wrapped in a nice soft robe, Johnny was asked to smile. Johnny never smiled. Instead he hit his customer over the head with a wine bottle and stole $2000 from him. Johnny was 18 at the time. It would be another ten years before Jeanah saw Johnny again.
The next time she saw Johnny he was at her front door with a backpack asking if he could have a meal and a shower, and money for the train up to Reno.
By then Jeanah had made something of herself. She’d finished high school, gone to school to be a veterinarian technician, met a nice guy, and left her past behind. She had two dogs and two cats, and two kids who didn’t know they had an Uncle Johnny, or a grandma in prison for murdering her boyfriend’s ex-wife. They didn’t know about Aunt Justine the old meth head who lived somewhere in Florida and was kept away from Jeanah’s family with a restraining order. They didn’t know their grandfather was long gone and had another family in Utah. A grandfather who wanted nothing to do his grandchildren or their bastard mother. All they knew was that their Uncle Logan was pretty cool and fun to be around.
After we found Johnny’s body, my friend Val, who volunteered with homeless shelters and worked with the mentally ill, told me that Jeanah wanted to talk to me.
I was surprised by the small woman with pixie features wearing jeans and a pink cardigan over a white button down shirt. We met at a local coffee shop on the deck outside overlooking pretty murals, and a parking lot where a vintage hot rod gathering was going on. She showed me photos of her dogs, and photos of her son and daughter. She looked a lot younger than her 46 years, but her eyes were tired and had seen a thousand years of pain and abuse before she was 18.
“Don’t let Johnny become your nightmare. I already did that. It isn’t worth it. He wouldn’t have cared. Honestly I don’t think he even had a soul to worry about. My brother was just a shell of a human. Even my mom didn’t know who his father was, or what his father was. In some weird was I cared about him and looked out for him as much as I could but I never loved him. I couldn’t love him. Nobody could. There was nothing there to love.”
Then she thanked me for meeting her and left. I was sort of in awe of this woman who’d grown up with abuse, in shelters, foster care, and group homes. My friend Val told me that somewhat happy endings like Jeanah and Logan have are few and far between.
I called Kay and we talked about it for a while. The next night Kay and her family came over and we grilled chicken, drank gin and tonics, and listened to the kids play in the backyard with the dogs.
Later that night when everyone had gone home I thought about all of the children who don’t have families who love them, or dogs, or souls. I think of all of the throw away kids.
Right now there are thousands of children in the United States who are homeless and living in bad situations – no fault of their own. Reach out. Help if you can. One organization in the Sacramento, California area is WIND Youth Services. If you can’t find an organization in your area to support (their needs are great) contact WIND and they might be able to hook you up with someone, or just google it. It doesn’t take much. Sometimes just some new sweatshirts, or a public transportation ticket to get to a job interview, or a new blanket, or just a hot meal. Things we take for granted mean the world to these young people.