The week before last, on Monday, the Tribe started blowing up my phone. I got the word that Ray Carter, AKA Gay Cynic (of Northwestern Free Thinker), had been sent home from the hospital for hospice care. He was given about two weeks to live. I called Ray, and told him that I was coming on the weekend. He said that he looked forward to it. He seemed in good spirits. We texted and emailed through Wednesday, but I had to work on Wednesday and Thursday, and was so busy, I wasn't even getting by enough to see my father in a rehab hospital, where he was mending from an infection in his ankle. (And still is.)
I flew up to Seattle on Friday, 27 May. I arrived tired and with a headache, and checked into my room as quickly as I could, and sent Ray texts to let me know when he was ready to receive a visitor. After a few hours, I sent some to his mother, but got no response. Finally I called her, left a message, and was called back: "He's not doing well. He took a turn yesterday, and he's not really able to receive visitors just now." I told her that I didn't want to be a burden, but that I would come over in the morning, after calling ahead.
The next morning, I called, and Ray's mother said that he wasn't doing well, but maybe a visitor would help. I arrived at his house on a lovely street, full of flowers, at about 8:30AM. I was let in, and waited in his room to meet Ray. I met his brother Tim, who was very nice. When Ray came into his room where I waited, he was lethargic from the OxyContin and Oxycodone that he was receiving to ease the pains from end-stage liver failure. But he was there. We talked as he lay in his bed. He swung his feet off the bed and said, "Let's go." He wanted to sit in the living room.
Under an afghan on the couch, Ray fielded all kinds of questions that I had about his early life. I've known this guy for over 7 years, and I really didn't know his origins. He had wanted to be a police officer, but felt that a gay cop at that time (the early '80s) would never receive backup. He had worked as a night security guard at a college, and as a dispatcher. He had been an office worker. He had sold electric cars and bikes. He had worked for the Second Amendment Foundation. Throughout the talk, his mother and brother filled in what Ray couldn't say. Ray fell asleep often, and then grew cold and had to go to bed.
I excused myself, and got lunch, and spent a couple of hours at the Pike's Market. I bought fruit from a stand where the vendors used sharp knives to hand slices of peaches to passers-by. Some years ago, Ray had led my family though the market, and an attractive Asian gent handed each of us slices of peach. He was probably about 21. My then-14 1/2-year-old daughter was grinning and blushing as she accepted the peach, obviously quite taken with the looks of this guy. I then realized that behind her, Ray had a very similar expression as he stood back a bit to appraise the bounty of the fruit stand, before accepting his own complimentary slice. I laughed at the memory of this.
I didn't find the coffee shop where I had gone with Ray down on the Market, some years back. He had to use the restroom, and since I was in line, he handed me a $10 and asked me to order for him what in my family has come to be known as the "Ray Carter Special." It's an accomplishment when an order for a drink can make a downtown Seattle barista's eyes widen, but apparently asking for 8 shots of espresso over ice in a to-go cup will do just that. I did find a nice coffee shop in the Moore Hotel, and ordered a latte, which came to me with coffee art on it.
I went back to Ray's house a little bit depressed. It is a lonely thing, to go alone to a place where you had enjoyed yourself with family and friends.
Ray looked better. He was awake and sitting up on the couch. A new crocheted afghan was laying across his lap, sent by our friend Bonnie. He liked the flowers that I had brought from the Market. His sister-in-law and niece were there, too. We talked some more. He sat on his recently-delivered hospital bed.. He fell asleep. I talked into the night with his brother and mother, and then went to the motel. The family wanted to know about Blogorado-- they said that Ray always lit up when he talked about it, and looked forward to it, year 'round. I knew that they weren't of my political bent, but it was important to me that they know that this was a group of people from different walks of life who loved each other as a chosen family.
In the morning, I bought a cup of coffee from a bikini coffee hut, and went back to Ray's house. I was met at the door by his brother Tim, who told me that Ray had passed away in the morning at about 3:30 AM. I was fine, and entered, and said nothing, and then realized that I had owed Ray a lot of hugs sent by friends, which I hadn't really given him. In our group, no one gets away without a hug, but that's for leaving, or maybe initial greeting. I'd sat in bed with Ray, and held his hand, and gripped his arm, but I hadn't wrapped him up. I started to mention this to his family, and for some reason my voice cracked.
My friend Zercool had sent me an email that he had tried to send to Ray, and had asked me to read it to him when I could. I had failed there, too. So I read him what Zercool had sent me to say to him. I didn't do well. In fact, I blubbered a bit. But I got the words out over Ray's remains.
I hugged his family and left to SEATAC, playing Grateful Dead's "Box Of Rain" on the rental car stereo from my iPhone. I'm not a Grateful Dead fan, but this song spoke to me, as it was written by one of their band members, for his father who was on his deathbed. I played it on repeat, and sniveled a bit as I drove through the softly-falling Seattle rain. And then I came back home to north Texas.
Ray Carter was a good man, who cared more about family and friends than anything. He was a man with eternal optimism, who went by the moniker of "Gay Cynic." We are all --even his political adversaries-- diminished by his passing. I'm glad that I got to see him one last time.