We used to call him Little Ray. My father named him after himself–he’s the first child from my father’s first marriage. I’m the third child from my father’s third marriage, and we’re about 14 years apart. We have never been close, but a little over three years ago, he began telling several of my siblings that he was going to bring one of his many guns over to my house and teach me “a lesson.” He thought I thought I was too good. He thought I was turning my teenage niece, his only daughter, into an atheist, a feminist, a liberal. (And maybe I was, though that has never been my intention.)
Ray has been using hard drugs, mostly speed, since he was 13 years old. He dropped out of high school at 15. He’s 46 now, though he looks at least 10 years older. His body has been through a lot. Ray knows a lot about history, particularly Civil War history, and when he is high, he can deliver a lecture that rivals that of any historian. When he is not high, however, he is barely functional. I have seen him spit in my father’s face. I have seen him in withdrawals on my father’s couch, stinking, sweating, raging. I have seen his eyes shine with pride watching his daughter perform a solo at her school assembly. I have seen him rip cabinets away from the walls with just his hands. Ray’s been to rehab before, and he always emerges with hope and plans. He has enrolled in GED programs before, community college classes. Once, when we were on speaking terms, he told me he was taking an astronomy class. “That’s so great,” I told him. And I meant it. There were weeks, months, when things were good again. But that hasn’t happened in a long time.
My father wants us all to get along. I tried to explain to him that it is difficult to get along with someone you barely know, especially when that person threatens to kill you. “He isn’t serious,” my father said, waving it away with his hands. He really wants us to get along, even if it means ignoring reality. I thought it over. Ray had guns. He was angry, irrational, and using methamphetamines. I wasn’t going to take any chances. I refused to attend any family function to which Ray was invited. I started looking over my shoulder when I left the house, and at work. After several weeks of this, with escalating threats communicated to various siblings, I finally just got angry. I decided to write Ray a letter, demanding to know why he was threatening me.
A couple of days later, I received a reply. The handwriting seemed erratic, oversized, pressed hard into the paper. If there were a font called Pain, my brother was writing with it. The note offered no explanation, but pleaded for forgiveness. It was difficult to read, and I instantly felt all of the built up anger dissolve. I just felt sad.
Ray moved back to Ohio last year, and he lives with his mother and his aunt now. His mother was one of the first people who introduced him to drugs, but she says she’s found Jesus and things are different now. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go at this point, and it isn’t going well. Ray’s guns are in storage in a public unit somewhere in Southern California, and my father foots the monthly bill. I am grateful for the distance.
When we moved into a different house, several months ago, I found the letter Ray had sent me. The sadness rose up again, and I crushed the paper in my hands and threw it away. He doesn’t know where I live now, and I don’t know where he lives. I used to call him Little Ray. Now, I rarely call him anything at all.