Robert D. Raines, Remembered

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.

Life After Death?

Saturday will mark two years since my husband died. Two years since I went singing into our guest room, where he’d slept because he was sick and didn’t want to wake me or risk my health. He thought it was the flu, but in 37 years, he had never been sick for more than 24 hours, so after day two, I’d made an appointment for him to see his doctor, on what turned out to be the day he died.

I was laughing at us both, thinking we’d overslept, and saying “wake up, sleepyhead-somebody’s got to let the chickens out!

And I danced into the room singing “Wake Up Little Susie,” amazed that we’d both slept late, and expecting to see his grumpy, pre-caffeinated morning face, with that begrudging smile he’d first muster for my benefit, but which became real when I kissed him and made him laugh.

I won’t go into the horrid details of that discovery and morning- the shock that’s lasted nearly two years and the PTSD I still struggle with. What I do want to say is that although I can as yet see no future for myself, it has been my personal Beloved Community who have consistently done that for me. They have held me, and listened to me- crying, wailing, confused, furious, hopeless, “bereft, bothered, and bewildered.” They sat with me and helped sort through his things. They worked hard and helped me pack up thirty seven years of our lives together, even the things they knew were ridiculous and I’d dispose of later. They’ve walked me through basic things I could no longer figure out, and they’ve been always kind and given me the shoves I’ve needed at just the right times. They’ve kept me alive and held the space I might someday walk into, where Life resides and maybe flourishes.

Some wise person once said to me that when you can’t see your future or how you’ll make it, that’s when you’re creating something new, not just moving the pieces around.
I know that is true, but honestly? Right now I don’t care, I don’t wanna! And I know I’m sort of holding myself in an emotional hostage situation, but I want to just do enough to feel less pain. I kinda hate the thought of “life going on,” y’know?
I have a lovely next door neighbor, who’s happily married to his second wife. His first wife died, and he recently told me that she was diagnosed only a few months after they married: can you imagine?!?
Anyhow, he shared his story of grief and “nothingness” before he met his current, beautiful wife. And he also shared that every once in a while, something will trigger that sense of loss and pain, despite his happiness and general contentment.
I was both touched and relieved when he told me that. To know that it’s possible to regain joy and still grieve the beloved lost. That love grows around the grief.

My loved ones-kin and kith- are like the gold used in Kintsugi, helping me to find my scattered, broken pieces, and believing that I will again be a whole, yet different and beautiful self. In unexpected ways and levels, community is Life.