Barbara Williams was always praying. She prayed as soon as she got up in the morning, and she prayed before she went to bed at night. They knew her at Catholic churches all over New York City: St. Mary's, St. Theresa's, St. Joseph's, St. Anthony's. Maybe because she was so close to God, Barbara was sometimes visited in her sleep by dreams that foretold the future. The dreams came in vivid bursts of color, and their accuracy so bothered her husband, E.J. Williams, that he implored her never to tell him about them. "Please," he said, not wanting to hear.
Once when her son Jayson was a teenager, Barbara dreamed that he was in a car accident. That night a knock came to her apartment door, and when she answered it, a police officer was standing outside. "Jayson was in a car crash," she said.
"How'd you know?" the man asked. "I told them at the station not to call you."
"I had a dream," Barbara said.
More than once she told Jayson, now a 6'10", 230-pound center-forward for the New Jersey Nets, "God only promised us bread and water." And it wasn't hard to see what she was getting at. Jayson seemed to have everything, including an NBA contract that paid him a fortune. But at the same time he had nothing.
"Dear Jesus," Barbara told Jayson to pray, "you take the heavy end and give me the light end."
But Jayson wondered why God would bother to help him carry either end. God was picking on him, he believed. God, who had taken his sisters.
He was only 15 years old in June 1983 when his oldest sister, Linda, age 26, died of AIDS, one of the first female casualties of the disease on record in New York City. Three years before, says the family, she had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion after being mugged for $2. Her assailant stabbed her more than a dozen times and beat her over the head with a hammer, ravaging a face that Jayson had considered as beautiful as any on earth.
After the attack Linda was given morphine to help ease her suffering, and she found her way to other drugs. Occasionally she shot up in the company of her sister Laura, who was 20 months younger and who shared with Linda the Meeting bliss that spilled from the points of hypodermic needles. Linda later learned that she had AIDS, and when Laura was discovered to be HIV-positive, the family had to face the possibility that dirty needles had been the likely source.
By the summer of 1988 Laura, too, had died of AIDS, and Jayson, then a rising star at St. John's University, wondered why God seemed singularly disposed to take from him everyone he loved. "Follow God," Barbara counseled him. 'Are you going to church? Jayson, you need to go to church. You need to thank God every day and ask him for a better day tomorrow."