categories: Cocktail Hour
Last summer, Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour began serializing Crash Barry’s gritty memoir Tough Island. Then, in August, Crash took a break from Bill and Dave’s in order to turn his novel Sex, Drugs and Blueberries into a feature film. Now, he’s back and ready to finish telling the rest of his true stories from his time living and working on Maine’s most remote island. Click here for episodes 1 to 18.
I returned to Matinicus on March 10th. Captain Edwin met me at his shop and gave me a work list. I was to paint buoys and splice rope. He showed me my room upstairs. Then he headed to the mainland, to continue his vacation. He planned to be back by the end of the month to start setting gear.
This was my easiest time on the island. The work was undemanding and I set my own schedule. I was boozing a lot, because the bootlegger had kindly decided to extend me credit on whiskey and cigs until I started making money with Edwin. My first couple nights back on the island were spent drinking alone, listening to the radio. I needed space, because I was in shock, but I occasionally headed over to my old neighborhood to party with Benny, Paul and Ray.
Ray was the bootlegger’s husband’s sternman. He lived in a shack next door to Donald’s building. Because of our status as outsiders, we’d become fast friends the summer before. We were the same age: Young, strong and tough. We played lots of cards and listened to rock ‘n’ roll. Both of us had escaped strict religious upbringings. Me, the cult of the Irish Roman Catholic. For Ray, it was a born-again sect populated by speakers in tongues and rife with fervent, non-sexual dancing.
We also became buddies pretty quick because of a shared affection for various mind-altering substances. LSD. Psychedelic mushrooms. A little blow here, maybe a couple pills there. Occasional huffing, perhaps. No heroin, thank goodness. Some sweet hash, fortunately. And lots and lots and lots of weed.
The car wreck took place on the mainland, the second Sunday after I returned to the island. Ray was in a car headed to his old church. For reasons he was never able to explain, he had decided to return to God. The car hit a slick patch on the road and flipped over. And Ray was paralyzed. From the waist down. Instantly. Three nights before, we had been partying with herb and drink on our remote Maine island. Now he was in Maine Medical Center and never gonna walk again.
A week after the accident, I flew ashore and hitchhiked to Portland to visit. His girlfriend was there, too. They’d always been a couple of horndogs. Minutes before my arrival, she’d sat on his face, Ray pleasuring her with his fingers and mouth. They were proud of their achievement and told me so.
We got him out of bed and into a wheelchair. Ray rolled himself outside, where a steady breeze blew trash across Maine Med’s front parking lot. Under the noonday sun, we each smoked a huge joint (so it wouldn’t look like we were sharing), plus many cigs, and drank rum disguised as Coke. After an hour, we were chilled, so we returned to his room and laughed at the TV for a bit. Then I took off.
A couple weeks later, on a gloomy, rainy day, I visited him again. When I got to his room, a hospital employee with a clipboard was sitting beside his bed. I gave him a wave and he nodded.
“Well, I see you have a visitor,” the woman said. “I’ll come back later. I don’t want to overwhelm you. I know there’s lots to think about.” She stood and smiled at me, then walked away.
“Hey dude,” I said. “What up?”
“You alright? You need anything?”
He closed his eyes, sighed and shook his head no. The expression on his face was stony and hard. He needed to figure out the rest of his life. A life he hadn’t planned. A life he didn’t understand. Our next 20 minutes were nearly silent. I didn’t know what to say or do. I was woefully unprepared to help him deal with the situation.
“Well, I gotta go. Alice is picking me up.” I stood to leave. “Let me know when you get settled at your new place.” He would be moving to an assisted living facility, to be taught how to function in a world without the use of his lower body.
“I’ll come and see you,” I lied. “I’ll bring lobsters.”
I walked away and never visited him again.
A half dozen years later, long after I’d moved off the island, I was strolling Freeport with my parents on a beautiful summer day. I spotted Ray on the crowded sidewalk, rolling in our direction. I quickly fabricated an excuse and led my folks across the street to examine some banal storefront’s window display. I didn’t want to have to introduce, then explain, Ray to my mother and father.
But the real reason I crossed the street was to avoid an uncomfortable reunion with someone I abandoned. Even now, so many years later, I cringe thinking about him. I wince at the memory. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Guilty. Haunted.
I’ve replayed the scene in my brain so many times, it’s an old movie to me. I see him, in the chair. Wearing an orange t-shirt. His muscular upper body is well-toned. Black leather gloves pushing his wheels. A determined, tenacious look on his face.
For years afterwards, I feared he had spotted me. I even believed he’d seen me. But Ray, concentrating on his rolling path, couldn’t possibly look at the face of each person potentially blocking his way. Not a chance he saw me.
At least I hope not.
Crash Barry tapped his first maple trees yesterday and is now preparing the sap house. This Friday, April 4, he’ll be celebrating the publication of his new book Marijuana Valley at Longfellow Books in Portland. More info and inscribed books available via marijuanavalley.com.