I can’t recall exactly how old I was when I saw Raymond for the last time, but I think it was when I was around eleven, possibly twelve years old.
He’d had a terrible start in life, being a pawn between my father and my father’s ex wife, his mother.
He’d been in and out of borstal following numerous crimes such as shoplifting.
What I do remember is that the last time I did see him was the first time that I’d seen him in several years.
When he arrived, instead of Dad embracing him, he sat there and lectured him about the wrongs he’d done, and the fact that it was nothing to be proud of.
I was very young but I remember thinking, knowing, that it was the wrong approach.
It was so wrong in fact, that Raymond would never return.
As I came into my teens and my father started becoming more and more angry towards me, I thought about Raymond a lot. I’d not known him well, but I’d felt a sense of loss, as well as sadness that we hadn’t grown up more together.
I promised myself – and Raymond – that one day I’d find him, and that we’d make up for lost time.
One day at the age of sixteen, I returned home from school. There was the usual atmosphere that I’d come to know. Cold, humourless, and fearful.
My parents and I had our dinner in the habitual silence. I did my homework, showered, and then went to watch TV with them.
After an hour, my father suddenly announced, ‘Raymond is dead.’
Natural instinct kicking in, I looked at Dad. He wasn’t looking at me. He’d told me without taking his eyes away from the TV even for one second. It was like he was telling me that rain was due the following morning.
I then asked how he’d died, and was informed that it didn’t matter because I’d hardly known him. It wouldn’t be until several months later that I’d learn he’d driven somewhere quiet with a bottle and hosepipe for some final companionship.
I sat there and silently cried without tears; my father saw tears as a sign of weakness.
Just a few nights before writing this, Grace and myself had our Friday movie date night. No phones, no email, just us. We watched The Ultimate Gift, starring the late but immortal James Garner. I was fine until she bloody well started, and then I went too. As a man who can cry, chop wood and play music, I can say without equivocation that my father most definitely had that one wrong.
I found it difficult to forgive myself that I hadn’t gone to find Raymond sooner. Maybe if he’d known that someone had cared, he wouldn’t have taken his own life? That was a question I’d ask myself many times.
Three years later, I would win my first professional contract working on a ship as a pianist.
My cabin mate, Will, was the vocalist in the band. I’d told him about Raymond.
Several weeks into the contract at around 04:00 I had a vivid dream that Raymond had come onboard the ship to visit me and to hear me play. I woke up pretty hysterical, which, in turn, woke Will up. He asked me what was wrong, and I told him my brother was on the ship.
Trying to calm me, he reminded me that Raymond was dead. I told Will that we’d shared a beer in the bar after our performance – even telling him which table we’d sat at – and that we’d had a good chat. Will told me to go back to sleep.
I begged Will to get dressed and to follow me. We walked to the bar and it was of course, given the hour, closed and shuttered off.
By this point, Will was getting a little annoyed, but I wasn’t done. I told him to follow me, and we walked to the bar manager’s cabin. I woke him up – something you absolutely do not do – and he was even more pissed at me than Will was by this point. I persuaded him to dress as well, and let us into the bar for a few minutes.
As we arrived again, I asked the manager if the bar had been cleaned down before it was closed up. Yes, was the reply. Every floor surface, table, glass and ashtray must be cleared and cleaned before the bar can be closed down.
The manager inserted his key into the lock, and the shutters went up. We walked in. As expected, every table was clean and empty.
That is, with the exception of the very table that I’d described to Will. Upon it were two empty beer glasses along with an ashtray full of butts. The underneath of the ashtray was ever so slightly warm.
I smiled at Will and he turned as white as a…..well, a ghost.
I’m not religious. I do not believe in God. The Good Book is just that, a book; one penned by someone with good intentions, big hopes, and amazing marketing skills. That’s my view to which I am entitled.
However, since that day, I am without a doubt that where we are now is a mere phase. We have lived before as one entity, and we shall do so again as another.
I believe I’m what they call a spiritualist. Well, maybe, maybe not. I prefer to think and speak in black and white. No Grey Areas.
One thing I do know is that Raymond came to visit me that day, and since then, I never again felt guilty that I didn’t find him before he chose to move on.