I’m sorry to again be writing because of Death, but I guess I’m of an age where it shows up more regularly. And the fact is, between disease, war, and murders, it’s the unwelcome guest at all our houses. But this isn’t about death, it’s about one of the most unique characters I’ve ever known and who I wish had shared himself with many more people. He was a pure delight and merits this moment.
He was funny, subtle, generally on a quiet high even when he wasn’t actually so. I knew his fears and limits, and I think that I was as good a friend to him as he was to me.
Robert Raines was one of my dearest friends. He was my family’s paperboy for a brief time when we were about 11, and we learned our Catechism together, although only one of us was actually Catholic. But we really became besties in high school, sharing trips to the Village and our love of music. He was always avant garde in his reading and music, and it was he who turned me on to Hendrix, long before he was known in the States. Robert was quietly brilliant- the first person I knew to discuss the importance and underlying problems of belief systems. It was he who introduced me to yoga and changed my life. He hosted what can only be called a salon in his basement while we were in high school, built his own speakers, and later studied engineering at RCA. Our friends would gather to smoke and listen to the early greats, and the night he debuted Jesus Christ Superstar, I think we all felt like participants in something monumental. We went to rock concerts and art shows, and discussed everything from politics to physics. He was an actual boyfriend for a period, an intermittent lover, and always the faithful friend who encouraged me to take risks and go beyond what was the norm for young Black kids in Jersey City at the time. When I hesitated to take a particular journey in life, he did something to give me a sense of security and let me know that I’d always have a safe place to land. That allowed me to leave my first unhappy marriage and later, go to UVA rather than stay at Rutgers
It is deeply painful to have had my inner knowledge confirmed recently. I knew that he had to be dead or completely incapacitated when my last letter was returned and I didn’t hear from him. We were never out of touch for too long and everyone who knows me well was aware of him even if they never met my most reclusive bud. My husband knew that he was family even though they met only once. Occasionally he would ask if I’d heard from him and he shared my concern when the letter came back that year. He helped me do the fruitless online search. As long as his house remained in his name, I had hopes that perhaps he’d met someone special and was somewhere in Hawaii, living his best life. But this past Sunday, another high school friend confirmed for me that he had died the year that the mail was returned, and I am again, bereft. Grateful that I had such a brilliant and abiding friend, sad that I won’t hear his distinctive voice and jokes. Sorry that I never got to introduce him to Dr. Roy Wagner at UVA- they would have understood each other perfectly and “tripped out” in conversations I can only imagine. Sorry that I didn’t get to honor his life and pay my respects. Saddened that I wasn’t there, but buoyed knowing that he would tell me in his sometimes whispery voice to find the next path and follow my light, and to listen for the laughter along with the music. He would simply say, “Well…you know, Anjana…” then laugh and take on a stern and parent-like voice, and repeat, “Anjana! You KNOW what you need to do!! Get to it and fix your soundtrack- the pop is overriding your own sound. Get back to the groove.” He’d end it with one of the childhood names we had for each other and I’d know that despite my numerous doubts and fears, that in fact, all will be well.
My dear friend- presente.