I simply haven’t been able to get Raymond out of my mind since Tuesday.
So many layers of disconnected thoughts and images keep flashing before my mind’s eye as I continue to live my day-to-day life, as one does. I have probably read every news story, comment, editorial or whatnot I could find online since last Tuesday’s horrific news. However, the extent to which I am grieving Raymond surprises me.
I do — or should I say did — count Raymond among my friends, but I would be greatly overstating things if I claimed that he was one of my best friends. I would also be lying if I said that he was on my “must call” list for my next trip to Halifax this coming August. At best, I may have had this vague notion in my mind that I might bump into him while there, for he was such an ubiquitous figure about town and, as the outpouring of tributes attests, everyone’s friend.
It’s also too easy, given the circumstances of Raymond’s death, to elevate him to a status of quasi-sainthood. Now don’t get me wrong: of all the people I’ve known, Raymond stands out as one of the most sincere, genuine, honest, dedicated, fun, selfless, and loving person I have ever had the chance to meet. In fact, I don’t think I ever met someone so devoid of malice, and even if he found himself on the receiving end of malice, he was likely to step back from it calmly and simply broker a truce, even if that truce was to agree to disagree. But it’s because of all his laudable qualities — and his playful naughtiness I myself witnessed — that he would have been the last one to aspire to the status of sainthood.
Some of the gruesome details of his fatal beating have been downplayed or redacted from the first accounts that hit the news, but they have been haunting me every night as I’ve gone to bed since Tuesday. Having lived in Halifax 22 years, I know the exact location of the crime scene very well. And the initial footage on TV showed that it was a foggy night — pea-soup foggy as I remember so well nights can be in that town he adopted and quite literally embraced. As I try to fall asleep, I keep seeing the assailant bashing Raymond’s head into the sidewalk; it’s a series of images in which I can see Raymond’s face so clearly and that keeps playing in an infinite loop until I literally shake my head to try to focus on other thoughts. I then say to myself — as if some comfort can be found in thinking this — that it probably all happened so fast that he didn’t have time to realize what was happening before the trauma caused his body to shut down. And, in that brief instant, Ray’s ray of life simply slipped away.
Thankfully, when I finally start thinking of “Ray of Life,” I see his tall, lean figure on the dance floor, dressed very much like in the photo above, and his playfully mischievous grin. “Goofy” is an attribute that is anything but pejorative when applied to Raymond.
My biggest struggle — and perhaps that of many others — is not to feel anger — some rational, most not. Why the heck were you out again so late on a Monday night, Raymond? Why didn’t your primal instinct not kick in to assess that you, all of 150 pounds when wet, couldn’t possibly overtake a 260-pound man? Why, in that moment, did you have to be so you? Who in their right mind — pardon the pun — would consider it safe to let the man who turned out to be your undoing out on an unsupervised leave from that mental health facility?
As cliché as it is, though, the reason why I — we — must not be angry is because you wouldn’t have wanted us to be angry. Ironically, Raymond, you would have been the first one to argue in favour of rehabilitation of mental health patients. You were profoundly human/humane that way. You wouldn’t have seen this matter in monochromatic black and white.
In fact, when I think about those who are calling for your murder to be considered a hate crime because your assailant supposedly called you “faggot,” I suspect you would reflect long and hard before getting on that bandwagon, if at all. It pains me to think that “faggot” may have been the last word you heard when you slipped away from this world, especially you who have fought so hard against homophobia. But while I still can’t bring myself to forgive your assailant — not to mention those who let him out — I have a feeling in my gut that the storm in his head brought him to hate anything and everything, indiscriminately. By that definition, your death was unequivocally a crime, but one for which many forces converged. Therefore, it’s a tremendously complex crime that mixes homophobia, race, and caring for the mentally ill into a ridiculously tangled web.
Maybe, just maybe, the way your life ended so brutally will add to the rich legacy you left in life. Destiny can be funny that way. This is very difficult and perhaps politically incorrect to write, but had a lesser known and loved person died last Tuesday, would the outcry be so loud for having allowed a clearly dangerous person a one-hour leave from that hospital? And if, as I fear, your assailant is found not criminally responsible of second-degree murder, could this not mark the beginning of public demands for an overhaul of our judiscial and mental-health systems?
I need to believe that something good, something greater, will come out of your death, Raymond, not just perfunctory “justice.” You were such an agent of change in life that we owe it to ourselves to be agents of change in honour of your life.
And for all those wonderful hugs.