Goodbye, Dear Sweet Raymond

Raymond Taavel

Normally, my workday doesn’t allow me to take much of a break, but today was different: a call took less time than expected, so I could have a late lunch before my next call while reading the CBC News and CBC Nova Scotia websites. The story that greeted me at the latter was this one:

Gay activist’s beating death prompts murder charge

Of course I clicked on the link and my heart stopped as I read the caption for the photo at the top of this news story: “A memorial is being set up on Gottingen Street in Halifax to honour Raymond Taavel.” I stared at the name: Raymond Taavel. My brain refused to believe it. There must have been some mistake. My eyes wanted to see that it was Raymond kneeling in that picture, but it didn’t compute: it definitely wasn’t Raymond, showing respect for a fallen comrade; it was a woman I did not know, setting up a memorial for Raymond.

Raymond is dead?

Raymond is dead.

Worse, Raymond was murdered.

Image upon image flashed before my eyes in an instant, as did thought after thought, memory after memory. One distinct memory: that of getting hugged by Raymond. Tall and very slim, Raymond somehow still managed to give bear hugs. In that instant I remembered and felt his skinniness and his warmth. And then I thought about how I would never feel that again.

I tried to remember the last time I saw him, the last time I spoke to him, the last time we e-mailed each other, the last time we commented on each other’s Facebook status.

I think the last time I saw him was in Halifax, on Grafton Street, with NowEx just a few days before we wed. It was cold outside that night so we didn’t stand there long to chat.

The last time we spoke was when he called me in Montreal so we could talk about transferring control of the Halifax Pride site to people back in Halifax.

The last time we e-mailed? That one makes me sad right now. He was on some pan-Canadian vacation tour last year and mentioned he might be in Montreal in mid-June. He asked me how I would feel about having “a blue nose couch surfer” at my place. But last year, as those who could endure reading this blog know, was not a good year for me and I didn’t have it in me to entertain. So, after delaying a few days, I wrote back to tell him that I couldn’t entertain but would love to see him when he’d be in town. I think his plans changed and he didn’t make it to Montreal after all, so that “bite to eat” never happened.

In addition to being a GLBT activist, Raymond was a political junky for as long as I can remember. I recall a conversation we had once in the late ’90s or early ’00s at the original Menz Bar — not the one in front of which he was murdered — about the NDP which had dwindled to a dozen MPs in the House of Commons. “The NDP has become irrelevant,” he declared, “it has to change.” But as many have said in various tributes over the past 24 hours, Raymond was persistent and optimistic. He stuck it out with the NDP and lived to see it form the government in Nova Scotia and the official opposition in Ottawa.

I also remember being a little pissed off at Raymond when I thought I might have a chance to get something on with a guy whom I’ll call Mr. Sailor, only to find a few days later the Raymond had snagged him first. Now, as I think back to that, I smile. I have to say, Raymond: I always thought you had good taste in men.

I look at your picture, Raymond, and I still can’t believe you’re gone. It hurts to look at your Facebook page. Yet, as I think of you right now, I have an image of you with a martini glass in your hand. I don’t know if I ever actually saw you with a martini glass in your hand, but that’s still the image that comes to my mind.