If you haven't read "A Prayer for Owen Meany" do it!
|Please write a poem or short story (the genre is up to you) BEGINNING with this first line from John Irving's 1989 masterpiece, A Prayer For Owen Meany: bolded
"I am doomed to remember a boy..."
I am doomed to remember a boy...his name was Raymond.
This is a true story:
I met Raymond beneath the sliding board during the first recess of our first day of school in first grade: a lot of “firsts” for me, a six-year-old just beginning his academic career in September of 1959 in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.
I stood in line at the bottom of the “ladder” to the top of the sliding board for my turn; I noticed this boy beneath the sliding board; he waved me over to him with a “...come here...” sort of hand wave.
I have no idea what possessed me to go to him, but I did. He said, “You’re Jesse, right?” I was amazed he knew my name! (It was only later I realized our teacher, Miss Wentz, had done a “roll call” and called us by our names as we raised our hands (obviously, I wasn’t paying attention, but Raymond HAD paid attention and remembered our names)); in my mind, though, that morning recess, Raymond awed me). I nodded my head. “I’m Raymond; let’s go to the see-saws – they’re more fun than the sliding board.”
So we walked together about the 20 feet between the sliding board and the see-saws, we each hopped on opposite sides (he was bigger than me, so I immediately was jettisoned into the air when he sat on his end). We went up and down and talked.
This memory of meeting Raymond for the first time is over 60 years old. I don’t recall what we talked about, but it lasted about five minutes (recess back then was 15 minutes). Whatever we talked about, though, I thought, for the first time in my young years, “I found a friend!”
From that point on, Raymond and I became almost inseparable. He possessed an absurd view (according to my upbringing) of our world: he found humor where/when it wasn’t expected (I learned sarcasm from Raymond); he taught me what all the curse words I heard from neighbors and had no idea what they meant, meant (I still don’t know where he learned that stuff); through our pre/teenaged years, he taught me about sex (I was clueless – until Raymond); before we could drive, if we wanted to go to the next town for an ice-cream cone, Raymond would make a phone call, and a few minutes later, a car would show up, we hopped in, drove to the ice-cream stand, got our cones, ate them, hopped back in the car, and returned home (I still don’t know who the driver of that evening was/is)…
Once I got my driver’s license, Raymond told me, “If you’re ever in a one-car accident, tell the cop ‘I sneezed and couldn’t see.’” I have never had to heed his advice, but I’ve remembered it all these years later (and hope I don’t have to use it; but, I will if I have to...thanks, Raymond!)
He was a gifted musician (Raymond=piano; me=clarinet) – he, what we used to say, “...played by ear...” - he didn’t need to “read” music to play it...the piano playing came naturally to him. I was jealous of his talent; in fourth grade I wanted to learn to play piano – Dad said our house wasn’t strong enough to support one, so I got a clarinet instead.
I used to visit his house almost every day after school (he lived on the other side of our block). I didn’t have to knock: his father was at work, his mother was passed out in bed (I later learned she was addicted to tranquilizers), and his sister stayed in her room not communicating with anyone. I ascended the stairs to the second floor (Raymond’s domain) – he had a bedroom, study and bathroom (part of the study was his father’s HAM(?) radio set-up (this was the late 60s-early 70s) and SHELVES of “National Georgraphic” magazines (his father subscribed)...Raymond and I used to stare at the naked women and men in those...for hours.
Then, late in high school (1968-1971), Raymond changed.
The first sign I noticed something was amiss was in spring of my sophomore year. Raymond had acquired (not sure where; I didn’t ask) a chameleon that he named Hoppy. He kept it in an aquarium on his dresser, with lots of grass as bedding/food. Five days later (only FIVE!) Raymond invited me and Linda U. (a neighbor/friend) to Hoppy’s funeral.
Linda and I walked around the block to Raymond’s backyard where he had already dug a hole; Hoppy was on a silk bed in a shoe box. Raymond said the obligatory sentences: “…an inspiration...” “...enriched my life...” Hoppy’s coffin/shoe box was interred, Linda and I said our good-byes and left.
Raymond yelled, “Don’t leave...we have to have the blessing of the penny loafers.” Linda and I looked at each other and sighed…and returned to the backyard. Raymond, by that point, had broken off several blooms from his neighbor’s lilac bushes; he gathered them into a bundle and had Linda and I stand side-by-side as he knelt down, BEAT my penny loafers (yes, I was wearing them!) and made sounds that were gibberish. Then he stood up, looked at us, nodded, and we left.
Raymond changed yet again in junior and senior year...I started spending less time with him. He appeared at our bus stop with different colors of hair; sometimes he was wide-eyed, other times he appeared sleepy.
I have many more Raymond/Jesse stories, but I’m limited to 1,000 words for this contest.
The last time I saw Raymond was more than 40 years ago. I’ve searched online and Googled him – no luck, but the other week, I found a link that lead me to:
“Raymond ------ 1953-1994”
”I am doomed to remember a boy...”
Thank you, Raymond!