"Ray struggled daily with trauma, alcoholism, and eventually – with oat cell cancer, which ended up taking his life. Ray did; however, have some wonderful successes along the way."
Raymond, or, 'Ray,' as he preferred, was a person I was there for as a nursing assistant and a friend for many years. He was a former English teacher who served during wartime. As an African-American soldier during the war, Ray found himself facing many different issues. The issue that ended up causing him the most grief was the alcoholism he came home from the war with.
While serving in the military, Ray came out of the closet and accepted that he was gay. His wife was less than enthused and a divorce followed; Ray never saw his wife or daughter again. The fact that at the time the Korean War was going on many people were not too friendly towards members of the service or civilians who were gay only added to the traumas he experienced during his military service.
Ray was in love with David, and quite a couple they were. David had long blond hair and was the picture of young, handsome and friendly. Ray struggled daily with trauma, alcoholism, and eventually – with oat cell cancer, which ended up taking his life. Ray did; however, have some wonderful successes along the way.
Alcohol Free, Despite the Pain
Ray watched as I went from a young man to a soldier myself. I joined the Army National Guard with the intention of first, 'trying out,' the military before going full-time. He watched as I came home from the military with epilepsy from a heat stroke on base, understanding that I could still help him, but that for a while at least, I needed to get the seizures under some kind of control. Ray watched as I became certified as a Nursing Assistant, one who could help him and others in a Seattle Housing Authority building on Capitol Hill in Seattle and did just that.
As Ray watched, he began to understand that despite disabling conditions, life does go on. He understood that even though life had thrown him a crap sandwich in many ways, he could still do something to help himself and others. Ray started working for an organization that worked for the benefit of people with intellectual disabilities, overcoming his alcoholism and becoming the model for the training films used to teach others.
How did a years-long alcoholic find it within himself to overcome his alcoholism? Ray reached inside himself and discovered that he was far from alone and that he did indeed have value to other people. He accepted his sexuality, his desire to help others, as well as the fact that alcohol was stopping him from reaching for his desires. After years of cheap Thunderbird wine and vodka, Ray was a free man. As an aide, I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear. Ray and I had many conversations about subjects such as:
As I went through the seizure control process (gran mal seizures nearly killed me on more than one occasion), Ray watched the struggle I endured. He understood that while I am not gay, friendship and love know no bounds. I was always there for him, and he was certainly always there for me. David loved Ray dearly, and Ray & David were quite the, 'item,' for years. As an aide who understands what disability means personally, I could only be there for the people who needed me to the best extent possible. Ray, on the other hand, learned that being there for others was endlessly rewarding in many ways.
Unfortunately, the relationship Ray and David had was based on the understanding that drinking alcohol was not only perfectly OK, it was expected. When Ray freed himself from alcohol, David did not follow. The two of them drifted apart and it was very hard on both of them. As their friend, I could only be as supportive as possible.
The Road Up
The organization for people who experience intellectual forms of disabilities that Ray worked for simply adored him, to be plain. They had never met a Creole guy from Louisiana before and his accent was certainly different. He worked his way up from phone work to management, suggesting improvements to the system. The leadership at the organization just couldn't get enough of Ray, making him the model for their training films, on-the-floor training, as well as management of the phone solicitation department. Ray was making a physical, emotional, and mental health comeback and it showed.
Ray searched for and found his favorite car, a 1977 Thunderbird. He understood all too clearly the pun behind his purchase of this particular vehicle. He regained his driver's license and was proud of it. He drove to work and back each day, as well as to other places on Capitol Hill and around Seattle he desired to go without fear of being pulled over for drunk driving. He was becoming increasingly pleased with who he had become.
A new love was something Ray very much wanted, and he found a new love. It wasn't the kind of relationship he had with David, but his new love was one that he appreciated. Ray's new boyfriend was very kind and caring and it certainly made life more pleasant for both of them. And then...
The military of the past had an image of, 'Smoke 'em if you got 'em.' Ray certainly did smoke cigarettes – non-filter Pall Mall cigarettes, for decades. He once told me that he used to buy a pack for a nickel in Louisiana, his home state. He also told me he had been smoking since he was around nine years old. The cost finally came due.
Ray was diagnosed with oat cell lung cancer. I had begun an educational process in part due to Ray's new boyfriend, who was very capable of making sure Ray didn't have a need for someone to be there for him. I had moved north of the city to attend a community college. I got a call from Ray; he told me the news.
Not long afterwards, Ray was in the hospital, dying. There was nothing the medical personnel could do for him, he was too far advanced. Ray's friends from work, his boyfriend, as well as me and my girlfriend, all gathered in his hospital room. It was exceptionally difficult to say goodbye to a friend I had for so many years.
The organization Ray worked at held his memorial service. I spoke about Ray to those who had gathered, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Dry eyes were a scarcity, to say the very least. The organization purchased a very nice presentation of red roses for Ray. I spread his ashes in an extremely beautiful natural environment underneath some Cherry trees; Ray had been fond of chocolate covered cherries.
One of Ray's fears had been the AIDS epidemic; little did he know it would be the cigarettes that would end his life. While many LGBT members of society were scared witless over HIV and AIDS, Ray understood that his relationship with one partner helped him to avoid the epidemic. He understood very clearly what safe sex is, he simply chose to pursue a relationship with one partner whom he knew to be safe.
For me, friendship with Ray reminded me once again that where health care is concerned, sexuality is merely a part of the whole person's need for care. While some people in society continue to pursue homophobic perspectives of LGBT members of society, I see human beings; human beings who like everyone else have health care needs. I see human beings who have the same needs for friendship, family, love, care, and much more.
When you meet a person, please do not pick out one aspect of who they are and place final judgement upon them based on that one aspect of who they are if they are not harming anyone. For example; Ray was not only gay, he was a person with disabilities. It is inhumane to judge a person based solely on their sexual preference or a form of disability they experience. Placing such a judgement on another person based on one part of who they are when the person is not harming anyone is basically making a statement about yourself, “I am an intolerant, hateful so-and-so who has no respect for humanity.'
In the world today there is enough hate, violence, intolerance, sexism, anti-gay and anti-disability sentiment to last forever. We don't need any more; it is time for people to swing that pendulum the other way – towards love. If friendship, caring and love can put a white, straight male C.N.A. and a black, gay veteran together as friends for more than two decades – there is no reason whatsoever for people to sneer at another person based on one aspect of their life. Love your fellow human being, they are worth the effort.
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The original rainbow flag, called the Freedom Flag, was devised by Gilbert Baker in 1978. The design has undergone several revisions since its debut with 8 colored stripes, and today the most common variant consists of 6 stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
Picture of Gilbert Baker's original Freedom Flag showing the meaning of the 8 colors.