Raymond removed his suit coat and began reviewing the mail when he suddenly noticed a large brown package with a note from Trent. Hey babe! Hope you had a great day. This package just came for you. I'm at the gym, then off to do some work. See ya. Love, Trent. As Raymond picked up the package he thought he should be at the gym with Trent.
The package was heavy and Raymond could tell from the handwriting that it was from his mother. But it didn't feel like cookies, brownies, or any type of food he had been expecting. Raymond tore open the package and out spilled a black leather photo binder. Taped to the front of it was a note on frilly paper from his mother. My Dearest Son, I hope this helps with the confirmation. I've been looking forward to the day when you might need this. I love you and I'm so proud of you. Your mother.
The house was quiet and the evening sun bathed the den in a golden glow. The room was large, with hardwood floors, a beautiful Persian rug, black leather furniture, forty-six-inch television, and an antique rolltop mahogany desk. This was the room where Raymond and Trent spent many quiet evenings enjoying each other, watching sporting events or reading while snuggled on the couch. Raymond leaned against the desk and opened the binder.
On the first page was a copy of his birth certificate and his footprints. He looked at the date, June 20, the time, 4:56 A.M., and his weight, 8 pounds 6 ounces. He read his father's name and "student" listed as his occupation and his mother's maiden name of Gaines and her occupation of "teacher." Raymond couldn't recall the last time he'd seen his birth certificate and the black-and-white photograph of him as a newborn. Curly hair, eyes closed tight. Only three days old.
As Raymond slowly turned page after page, he realized the treasure he was holding: a memoir of his life from his mother's eyes. A magical binder that included photographs, report cards, teachers' names, school names and addresses from kindergarten to high school.
There were pictures and awards from football, basketball, and tennis camps that Raymond had attended during his youth. Photos taken with Santa and other special activities like the Cubs and Boy Scouts. His first NAACP membership card, certificates from Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and articles that appeared in school and local newspapers. A tattered picture of Raymond in his high school football uniform, holding his younger brother, Kirby. Memories that had slipped from Raymond's mind.
There were letters and cards Raymond had sent his parents and even letters his mother had discovered from his first love, Sela, the young lady he had fallen in love with on sight at a high school basketball game. Numerous pictures of Raymond and Sela at their high school prom, parties, and sporting events, and fraternity and sorority mementos from their days at the University of Alabama. Every important person and event that occurred up until his graduation from law school was lovingly placed in this special book.
During his parents' weekend visit Raymond had mentioned how much he was dreading tracking down all the information required for his confirmation. The financial stuff would be easy. All Raymond had to do was call his accountant and the reports would be ready. But the FBI wanted more. Organizations in which he held memberships, papers he had written, and a random sampling of cases he'd handled as a lawyer, not just in Seattle, but throughout his career.
They also requested information on the schools he attended, including the names of teachers and friends who might vouch for his good character, and evidence that he had always been a good citizen. His mother appeared pleased when she said she might have something that would help him out. When Raymond and his father asked what, she had said, "That's my little secret and I don't know if I'm ready to let go. What did I always tell you? Save some secrets for yourself."
Some of the secrets Raymond had saved for himself didn't make the book. There were no pictures of Kelvin, the handsome University of Alabama football player who had seduced Raymond on a beautiful fall Friday during his senior year. But how would Raymond's mother know about that life-changing experience? He wondered where Kelvin might be at this exact moment, whether he was dead or alive, if he had remarried or was spending his life with a man. There was one picture of Kyle, Raymond's first openly gay friend, in a group photo his mother had taken on a visit to New York, but no pictures of Kyle during his last months on earth, before he succumbed to AIDS. Raymond's smile disappeared as he thought about Kelvin and Kyle, but it returned quickly when he thought of the great times he had shared with each of them. The romantic snowy night when Raymond and Kelvin came oh so close to making love with only a winter sky covering them. Raymond could hear Whitney Houston singing "You Give Good Love," even though no music was playing. He thought of a warm spring night in New York's Greenwich Village, standing outside of Keller's, where he and Kyle would comment on the good-looking men going in and out of the bar, waging bets on who would take home the best-looking guy. Moments like these were missing from the book. Moments in his life he'd never shared with his mother or any member of his immediate family, simply because he thought they just wouldn't understand.
But there were other memories of his New York tenure in the binder. A newspaper article about Nicole Springer, the Broadway actress Raymond had fallen in love with harder than ever before, harder even than with Kelvin. He'd always known in his heart of hearts that Kelvin and he wouldn't last. Nicole was now an official part of his family after she married his best friend and play brother, Jared. There were no photographs of the hospital hallway where Raymond confessed to a stunned Nicole his sexual desires for men. Yet, like hearing the silent music, Raymond could still see Nicole's horrified face.
There was a picture of his mother, himself, and Sela on her wedding day--to someone else. For a moment, it looked like the picture everybody in Birmingham thought possible. Raymond and Sela married. There they were, Raymond's mother looking like the mother of the groom, Sela in a beautiful wedding gown, and Raymond smiling in a handsome black suit. He was not the groom but only a guest, at a wedding that occurred a few weeks after his confession to Nicole. The day he realized there would be no wedding day for him.
Raymond smiled to himself, and his eyes became moist as he reviewed the melancholy milestones of his life. And then a tear escaped from his left eye and rolled down his cheek. He felt overcome with emotion from the gift his mother had given him. He wanted to call her and thank her and share some of the moments she'd left out simply because he hadn't shared them with her before. But Raymond didn't pick up the phone, only inches away. He wanted to share this moment with Trent, and yet a part of him relished being able to review his life in solitude. It was a special feeling, a special moment. And even though the house was still silent, he could hear Trent's voice after the first time they made love in their new home, quiet like now. Trent had whispered in his lover's ear, "Some of the best moments in life are when we don't have a clue of what to say or do."h
Later that evening, Raymond got a call from Trent saying he was working late and asked if he wanted him to stop and pick up something to eat.
"Naw, that's okay. I'm not that hungry," Raymond said softly.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm fine. Just enjoying the evening and life," Raymond said.
"What was in the package?" Trent asked.
"A really special gift from my mother. It's hard to describe it, but I'll show it to you after I've enjoyed it," Raymond said.
"Okay. I'll see you later on."
"Thanks for being such a gift to me," Raymond said.
"What a nice thing to say. Are you sure everything is okay?"
"Never been more certain," Raymond said.
After hanging up, Raymond picked up the phone and called Jared. Nicole answered the phone. He still loved the sound of her voice.
"Nicole, how you doing?"
"Raymond? Of course it's Raymond. I'm doing fine, sweetheart. Is everything okay?" Raymond was thinking people close to him didn't understand the sweet sadness he was enjoying. But how could they?
"I'm doing just great. I know you're happy to be back in the Big Apple," Raymond said.
"I sure am. Matter of fact, I'm on my way out the door. Going to a party one of the members of the cast is giving. Want to speak to your boy?"
"Is he there?"
"Sure, let me get him. It's nice talking to you, Raymond. I hope we'll see you and Trent real soon," Nicole said.
"Same here. It's always nice hearing your voice," Raymond said.
After a few seconds Jared came on the phone.
"Whassup, whassup, my niggah?"
"You, my brother. How is everything?"
"Everything's cool, couldn't be cooler if I was sitting in a tub of ice," Jared joked.
"You sound happy."
"Why wouldn't I be? Life is sweet."
"I'm not keeping you from nuthing, am I?"
"You know I always got time for you. Besides, Nicole's gone to her party and I'm getting ready to look over some work and hit the sack," Jared said.
Raymond and Jared spent the next hour talking like they hadn't talked for months. In reality they spoke briefly at least once a week, sometimes two or three times.
Raymond, knowing Jared was really a small-city type of guy, asked him how he was dealing with New York. When Jared said he was loving it, Raymond teased him about how he used to say he could never see himself living in New York.
Jared asked how things were going with Trent and the confirmation and if he had any dates for the hearings.
"You know, I know people in D.C., so when you go down there for the hearing, I want to be in the front row. In case any of them congressmen wanna act stupid. I got yo' back," Jared said.
"And you know it," Raymond said.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Jared asked as the conversation neared an end. Before answering the question, Raymond told Jared about the gift his mother had sent and how it had got him to thinking about his life and everything.
"Your moms and pops are some special people," Jared said. "What a wonderful gift."
"So you see, my brother, I'm fine. I just wanted you to know what a gift you are to me. And I love ya, man," Raymond said.
"And I love you back," Jared said.
Abide With Me: A Novel
- paperback: 349 pages
- Publisher: Anchor
- ISBN-10: 0385486588
- ISBN-13: 9780385486583