Thursday, August 4, 2011

Raymond’s death: 2001

Ray, 1973
Raymond seemed to find a reason to mock almost everything. School pictures? That's a no-brainer
     I THINK about my little brother Raymond every day. My love for him seems to get clearer with time.
     He was the one “troubled” sibling.
     He was very bright, gifted, talented. He was handsome, and he could actually sing! Most people liked him a lot. He meant something to them. He was special.
     He was the funniest person I’ve ever known (when he was in the mood). I kid you not.

     But, early on, something seemed to be wrong. He seemed to have too much energy. He zoomed around and knocked things over, crashed through windows, swung from ropes, headfirst, into concrete, etc.
     When he was thirteen, he was at Eisenhower Park (how did he even get there?), high on something, resisting arrest by some cop. Everything seemed to go to hell after that. (Fucking cops.)
     He was smoking marijuana. He hung out with the wrong crowd. He had no regard for authority.
     At one point, fairly early on, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
     —Well, maybe.
     It seems plain to me that, during much of his adulthood, he was bipolar. He clearly had “down” periods of some kind. And he clearly had manic periods. I think he was on antidepressants much of the time in his last years.

Ray loved Zappa and the Mothers
     I recall a phone call from Ray—this must’ve been in the late 80s. He was bursting with excitement, and he needed to tell me something. He had somehow solved the riddle of the universe. I don’t recall exactly how he put it, but that was the gist of it.
     I listened to him patiently, carefully. He had a philosophy, a take. There was something intelligent about it all; still, it was utterly mad. I handled it pretty well, I guess. I remember sitting there after that phone call, staring at nothing.

     In about 1980, I was a teaching assistant for Professor Nelson Pike, who was teaching an upper-division course in Metaphysics (at UC Irvine). I invited Ray to one of Nelson’s lectures. Ray seemed to understand Nelson’s lecture better than any of the actual students in the class. I wasn't surprised.
     By then—he was maybe 18—Ray had attempted suicide once or twice, though I was never very clear how determined he was to get the job done.

     I would get calls in the middle of the night from Ray. One time, he called me from jail. It must’ve been 3:00 a.m. or so. I drove there—it was on City Drive in Orange, as I recall—and, as I approached the jail, Ray suddenly popped out from behind some bushes. They had released him an hour earlier, and he was shivering.
     “Why did they release you in the middle of the night?! How come you don’t have a jacket!?” (Fucking justice system.)
     I don’t recall his answer. It doesn’t matter.
     I took him to a Del Taco, the one on Grand near the 22. He loved that shit. Then I drove him home to my place with extra Del Taco crap stuffed in a bag.
     As he often did, he asked me for money. I gave it to him. I don’t know where he went next. It was one of the last times I saw him. Maybe it was the very last. Dunno.

Ray was an excellent hang-glider pilot. He invented a wind-direction device for hang-gliding. After he died, a group in Europe sought to market the thing.
     On a summer day in 2001, I got a call from Annie, up in the Bay Area. Ray was dead, she said. It was an accident; it happened in Reno, Nevada, at a construction site.
     I walked down to Ma and Pa’s. I found Ma in a room; she smiled. I told her to sit down for a second. I told her.
     A day or two later (I guess), I flew up to Reno, started taking care of business. Ma and Pa were a few hours (was it a day?) behind me. They were pretty messed up.
     When they arrived, we went to the place where they had Raymond. We didn’t open the coffin. Ma wasn’t in good shape. It was a very bad moment.
     We took care of things. Paid the bills. Got out of there. I said I’d take care of everything else. Ma and Pa got on a plane and headed home.

Yes, he was a Marine
     I picked up Ray’s van somewhere—at some kind of impound lot, I guess. The van was a real bomb, a sled, a load. Later, I learned that it was unsafe: bad brakes, bad "linkage," etc. Shoulda known.
     Then I headed to his apartment. Collected all his stuff. Found two cats: Cujo and Jack (I later learned their names from Annie). They seemed friendly.
     The apartment complex was bad; it was populated by poor and fringy characters. It wasn’t a safe place to be. But I wasn't worried. I got started, loading Rays stuff.
     A guy suddenly appeared at the door. He said he knew Ray. I went over to his place and had a beer. He was an interesting guy—middle-aged, not entirely without wisdom. He’d had a rough life. He said he really liked Ray. He shook his head when he talked about Ray. Ray was special to him. He had been special to lots of people.
     I got Ray’s junk out into the van. Among Ray’s things, I found porn and lots of self-improvement VHS tapes. The tapes bummed me out. I collected them anyway.
     Then I got those two cats. They seemed pretty cooperative. Later, I learned that Jack was a sweetheart. Cujo, however, was a monster. It was a miracle that I got him all the way down to Orange County without an accident or incident. I was grabbing a saber-toothed tiger and didn't know it.
     There were incidents of another kind. At some point, those boys crapped all over the floor. Cleaned that up. I didn't get mad. "This has got to be rough on you guys," I said to them.
     I must’ve told my mom or somebody that I’d stay at a hotel for the night and then head on home fresh in the morning. But, somehow, I decided instead to just go for it. Just get it over with.
     As I recall, you can pretty much make it to Southern California from Reno just on the 395. So I got started. I just drove and drove through the night. I bought a huge Coke somewhere. Sucked on that.

     WHEN SOMEBODY you love dies, you can hold off the meaning and the emotions at first. That’s what I was doing. They poked through here and there, but, mostly, I was just doing what needed to get done, feeling as little as possible. I was just driving in the night, is all. I was gonna drive and drive like a machine—until I got home, and that’s all there was to it. Then I’d sleep. After that? I’ll worry about that later.
     I recall stopping somewhere north of Bridgeport to call Wendy. I think we were on the outs then. Pretty seriously on the outs. But she was supportive. “Be careful,” she said. I think. She can be that way.
     I kept driving. After a while, I got seriously tired. Even before I got to Bridgeport, I started to fall asleep, over and over. That's no way to drive, I know.
     I don’t know why, but I kept going. I don’t know how I stayed awake, but I did, mostly.
     Once you get to the Owens Valley, it’s a straight shot, more or less. That seemed infinitely more doable than the windy roads in the goddam mountains. “A piece of cake,” I thought.
     Maybe I got my second wind. Dunno. I remember nothing about my drive through Bishop, Lone Pine, etc.
     Somewhere in the lower desert above San Bernardino, I got lost. Took the wrong highway. Lots of stops. It was murder.
     Eventually, I found my way to interstate 15, and then it was smooth sailing again. I stared down the highway and never moved my head, my eyes. I was a laser beam—one that could give out at any second.
     Sometimes, when you know you’re almost done with something, your body starts to shut down. But you’re not done yet! No, not yet!
     I recall getting to the toll road from the 91 into the Santa Ana Mountains. I could barely keep my eyes open when I paid that toll. My eyes hurt. I could feel the inside of my skull. It seemed to fizz.
     Those last few miles were the worst. It’s a miracle I didn’t run off the road. I think I did once. But I just kept driving.

     Somehow, I made it. It must’ve been 5:00 a.m. or so—just before dawn.
     The last thing I had to do was get those two cats inside. I think I took Jack first. He was no problem. He turned out to be a great cat.
     Then came Cujo. When I grabbed him, he suddenly turned into a ball of fur and flying razor blades. He cut me up pretty good. It hurt like hell. I looked into his eyes and roared that I was gonna get him inside now and there was no two ways about it. Fucking cat. So I grabbed him by the scruff. Proceeded.
     As expected, he shredded me pretty good. But I didn’t care. I looked at him and roared, “fuck you!” I just kept walking from that awful death-mobile van to my front door, bleeding all the way. That cat was pissed. But he was no dummy; he figured out pretty soon that I was like death and taxes. So he gave in.
     I guess I just fell into bed after that.
* * *
     Ray was at a construction site that involved working high above ground. So he was in a lift. Maybe a scissors lift. I don’t know if he had the controls or some other guy had them. Must’ve been some other guy.
     Ray was way up high in the lift and then the lift backed into a hole. That’s all it took. Naturally, a wheel fell straight into the hole, which meant that the whole damn thing flung Ray into space like a jai alai basket flinging a ball. Ray landed on his head and died.

     Clearly, there was negligence. I didn’t want the construction company to get away with it. But, in the end, there wasn’t anything I could do. The company reimbursed us for the casket and stuff, I think. That was about it.
* * *
     YEARS BEFORE RAY'S DEATH, I learned that, once a guy’s been devastated—a near-death experience or a profound disappointment or a crushing defeat will do—he’s like a boat with a hole in it. He didn’t have that hole before, but now he does. And the dust and lint and distractions of everyday living covers that hole with a flimsy patch.
     I’m afloat.
     But I know that I’ve gotta avoid the bad storms.
     Of course, really fixing that hole isn’t an option. (Are you kidding?) There’s just the flimsy patch. That's all you've got.

     All these years—ten now!—I’ve kept the meaning and the emotion of Ray’s death at arm’s length. I can feel the mechanism snapping and clicking and switching to yet another cycle sometimes.
     I know what it keeps from me. I know exactly.  —Roy, 8/3/11

Ray was, among many other things, a talented photographer
1973: Ray in the Sierra Nevada. Ray loved those mountains.

1 comment:

  1. I remember when this happened. *sigh*

    ReplyDelete

Hey, this is a family blog!