March, 2016 Archives

hometown Hometown

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……The thing I remember about Ray is his smile. On the day of the funeral, between his mother’s crying and sister’s sobs, the memory of Ray’s smile got me through the day. Closed casket, I looked to a handful of memories to say good-bye to my friend. Ray was thin and tall, his face was long with a sharp protruding nose. Ray’s black eye’s flickered both the good and bad of his character but it was his crooked smile that I remember the most.
……I first met Ray in high school, where his smile melted away the taunts and barbs of his peers. Everyone back then used to pick on Ray, mostly for his choice in women. Ray loved them big, the more rough looking the better. In school he would go out of his way for the ugly ones, beaming with pride on every new conquest. The kids at school would make fun of him for this, but Ray had the character to proudly exclaim, “I don’t give a Fuck!” Ray repeated this mantra many times, saying the phrase from his belly, the words sounding like laughter, a catharsis we all shared in.
……At the park, after school we would all hang out and drink 40s of beer. After one or two Ray would turn into a different person. Where we would all be laughing and on top of the world, the buzz worked differently for Ray. One time seething with rage Ray walked away from the crowd and found a bench to sit on by himself. When I joined him and asked him what was the matter Ray just ignored me, staring angrily into space. Ray went to a dark place. As we grew up together I would come to find that Ray had two sides to him. One side was filled with love, where his smile glowed. The other of anger, where his eyes told a story of hate. This stare would drive away his closest friends. Despite his “not giving a fuck attitude” Ray had a deep longing to be loved and belong. When he drank, Ray’s anger boiled over. This stemmed from problems that he had within his family.
……The one thing about Ray is that he always tried to please everybody. Ray came from a broken home and never knew his real dad. His mom was a drug user, and the effects of her constant tweaking ran deep throughout his family. Ray’s teenage older sister was also an addict; she would sell her body to the neighbor for the next fix. Ray carried this with him. The house that they shared was small and dingy; the walls carried stories of sadness. Ray’s smile masked a deeply troubling home life.
……Everybody moved on after we graduated. Ray moved to Texas with his fiancé, and managed to buy a house out there. He was excited but right before they were married his fiancé got cold feet, taking the house and leaving Ray without a dime. It was at this time that Ray decided to join the army. After boot camp Ray came home and made it a point to come and see me. As I opened the door, I was surprised to see how Ray changed. Crisply dressed in his army uniform, muscular and self confident he was unrecognizable. The one thing that didn’t change was his smile, which was brighter than ever, filled with achievement. Ray was at his best.
……After his homecoming Ray was sent over to Iraq. The war was just getting started and Ray was sent to the front lines where he quickly rose to the ranks of “specialist.” Shortly after 9/11 the war was at its height. The news on television did not reflect the horrors of war. From the comforts or our living room we saw liberation and freedom but in reality Iraq was filled with war and destruction. Ray completed one tour of Iraq followed up by a second.
……Ray came home after his second tour, having gone AWOL and being honorably discharged. I remember picking him up at the airport and seeing a different look in his eye. I realized that I was looking into the eyes of a killer who couldn’t do it anymore. Something inside of him had snapped. Ray was given drugs to manage his PTSD, which he would mix with alcohol against doctor’s orders. Ray was broken and struggled to talk about his experiences in the army. The once bright smile was harder for him to muster but it was still there, buried underneath the demons he carried with him.
……Back home for the first time in years Ray struggled to adjust. His smile was not the same but he made it a point to get back into school. Ray was at a crossroads, one moment he would be up and ready to face the world. While at other times he would be in deep despair, pushing everyone away. The people closest to him were the ones that he lashed out at. One night filled with rage, Ray said he never wanted to see me again. Ruining all of the friendships he once had, Ray didn’t give a fuck.
……On the night of his death Ray was drinking and mixing his pills, this combination brings on a feeling of overpowering wooziness. The floor literally spins underneath your feet. He was alone at the local bar, where even strangers were offering him a ride home. Ray chose to walk, taking in the night air along the train tracks, a path he took a million times before. The train came unexpected, knocking Ray twenty feet off to the side of the rails. His body was twisted and mangled, but he was still alive. Gasping for air his body convulsed, Ray died alone.
……Standing at Ray’s funeral looking at his closed casket all of these thoughts resurfaced. When I remember that fateful night of Rays death I try to piece together the fragments of his personality. What I choose to remember is Ray’s smile.