The memory of Remi’s mystical visitation had faded away. Life had gotten pretty much back to normal, the new normal that is. Where normal meant trying to piece my life back together while creating something new at the same time.
I was just about ready to leave work one evening when Dean called me with the news about Remi. Concord’s patron saint of the drunk, the drugged and the dispossessed had driven his Camaro of Many Colors off a cliff and into the rocks and roiling waters of the Pacific Ocean somewhere south of Santa Barbara. A witness reported that just before the car crashed through the guardrail, it had burst into flames. He described as being like a shooting star crashing into the ocean.
“ I was just fishing there, man. I admit I was drinking beer. When all of a sudden I see damn car come flying off that cliff right there. It was on fire, and I know it sound’s crazy, but, I swear, I heard laughter, crazy fucking laughter coming from that car. It landed right over there and sank. Made my boat go up and down a bit. Just like that, it was gone beneath the ocean with only a smoke trail where it had been. The water’s kind of shallow there, you might could still see it.”
Many years ago, while we were partying at his dad’s house, Remi had mentioned a dream of his to get a running start and drive the Camaro out over the Grand Canyon. “When I go,” he grinned, “I want to go out blazing, man, not whimpering like a beaten dog.”
I remembered that I told him that such a plan would be unreasonable because he could probably never get close enough to the edge of the Grand Canyon to pull such a stunt off. One the girls that we were partying with suggested that he could scale it down and just drive off on of the many ocean side cliffs in California.
Remi just laughed and said, “Well, there you go, man.”
I opened my file cabinet and pull out a dusty folder that contained an obituary I had written years ago in event of Remi’s death. When I had written it, none of us were quite sure if Remi was dead or alive. He hadn’t been seen or heard from in years. There was a rumor floating around that he had suffered a massive heart attack and died in Las Vegas. I wasn’t for certain that he was even dead now. It could have been some other crazy fool in another rusty Camaro. It could even be a dream. There was only one way to find out. I had to call Eleanor Roosevelt.
I looked at what I written back then. It begin, “ Some people think life is out to get them, some don’t.” I figured that I could use a lot of what I had written but knew I had to get a quote, and I also knew that the quote had to come from, according to Remi’s own words, the only person who ever truly understood him.
Remi had given me her number in case I wanted to ask for her forgiveness. Before I dialed it, I got out the bottle of Johnny Walker I kept in my lower desk drawer and poured some into Styrofoam coffee cup.
“ Hello?” The person on the other end sounded like they had been crying.
“It’s me, Daniel Lazarus. I’m calling about Remi. I just got the news.”
“What is that you want?”
“ God, with his bizarre sense of humor, has entrusted me to write Remi’s obituary. I need a quote from someone who knew him best. He told me that would be you.”
“ This is so fucked up, Laz. Last time I saw you, your friends were urinating on me. I’m supposed to forget about that and just hand you a quote?”
“You were on fire, Eleanor. They were trying to put you out.”
“Randy set me on fire.”
“ You were screaming, ‘Light My Fire! Light My Fire!”
“It was a fucking song, Laz. Don’t you pretend you don’t know that.”
“ We were on the second day of an acid trip. We were taking things pretty literal. I’m sorry.”
“ I told Remi that I have been asking myself for forgiveness for that weekend all of these years. He suggested that I ask you instead. If it means anything, I’m truly sorry for everything that happened. That week-end changed my life forever.”
“ I’m supposed just forget it all and grant you some kind of absolution? I’m your confessor?”
“I guess not. You can’t grant me absolution anyway. Only I can do that. The way I see it is that I utterly debased myself, so really only I can truly forgive myself.”
“ I don’t know about that. I think getting pissed on is pretty debasing too. Why, you tell me why, you would do something like that?”
“It wasn’t me.”
“No, but you didn’t do a damn thing to stop them!”
I paused for a moment. Suddenly, I was feeling the exact same way that I felt that morning after I left Remi’s house. I sat on a park bench, and I asked myself that very same question. “ All of my life I’ve been a martyr to honor, yet I’ve done such filthy things,” I finally muttered forgetting that Eleanor was listening.
I know that it is absurd to say, but it felt like our eyes locked over the phone line. Running across someone from my past that recognized an utterance stolen from the Russian master was even stranger to my mind than a sixteen-year-old wild boy quoting Dante. I imagined that her response was similar to my own.
Eleanor understood that too, for she answered, “I have a PhD in Russian Literature. Funny, huh?”
“More like amazing, all things considered, but appropriate somehow. I wish I had read him when I was younger.”
“I wish you had too.” Her voice was still bitter but slightly less so. She sighed, “Remi loved the book especially Dmitri. I would read it to him at night.”
“ Remi said that you guys married. What the fuck’s with that? When I left that day, Remi was still urinating on you too. You love him, seems like a double standard to me.”
“ Well, Remi also picked me up and washed me off.”
“I had to learn to clean my own self off before I could help someone else. I’m so sorry, Eleanor. More sorry for what I did to myself even than for letting that happen to you. I wasn’t aware that I could sink so low. It left me hanging in a void. It makes me glad that you and Remi got together and had a child, but I’ve said what I needed to say. This is for Remi. Are you going to give me a quote?”
“ I’ll do better than that. I’ll tell you a story I bet you don’t know. Remi told it to me after you and Randy took off.”
“I’m all ears.”
“ One day, Remi’s mom caught him masturbating in his bedroom. She was ironing clothes and was taking some of his shirts to hang in the closet. He was lying on a bed oblivious to the fact she had entered the room. She screamed, beat him with her fists, and then dragged him into the living room, put his hand on the ironing board and held the hot iron on it for several seconds.”
“Gets better. His dad hears his scream and comes and pulls Mrs. Bowden off of Remi. He chokes her until she almost passes out and then starts kicking her. When he finished, he walked out of the room. Never said a single word to Remi, or even so much as looked at Remi’s hand.”
“ You think this excuses Remi’s behavior?”
“No, but it helps explain it. If that happened, there had to be many other situations with similar impact on his psyche.”
“Well, Remi went way, way beyond the pale. He always did. Besides, back then we all ate our own share of shit sandwiches, Eleanor. You, me, Randy, all them kids that came to his house.”
“You? Your fucking family was so holier than thou. Everybody quieted down when your dad and mom came in a room.”
“My mom tried to baptize me in the bath tub.”
“ I didn’t want to be baptized. My dad came in, saw what she was doing, and said, ‘If I was you, son, I think I’d accept Jesus.”
“Remi ran from life. He never could love himself.”
“Well, there’s your quote.”
I wrote it all out that night. It saddened me more than any other piece I had ever written even more so than my beloved aunt Edie’s which I had written the year before. I closed with the following, “ Remi Bowden was a loyal friend, a soft hearted soul in a hard world, a poet of unusual talent, and a wandering vagabond who traveled life’s highways frantically searching the world for love.”
At the funeral, Eleanor Roosevelt and I actually embraced. She was ugly as ever. But we met on the one common ground we both shared, our love of Remi. When we broke apart, she pulled a battered notebook from her large purse and handed it to me.
“It’s the only one, Laz. He said that if anything ever happened to him, to give it you. The rest of his journals were in the backseat of that car. He poured gasoline on them and set them on fire before he went flying,” she smiled grimly, reached up, patted me on the shoulder and turned and left.
I waited until I got home before I opened it. I recognized Remi’s scrawl and his illustrations. The first story was about a boy who had to kill a dragon. His only guide was an older man who left him behind to go chasing after a cocktail waitress. Armed with only a squirt gun filled with warm beer, the boy had to confront a snake headed woman who spat out words of fire.
The words of the woman burned down the house where the confrontation took place in. The boy hid behind a magic car. The woman was distracted by a television commercial, so the boy closed his eyes and rushed forward furiously pulling the trigger on the squirt gun. When he finally opened his eyes, there was no woman. He was standing in front of a huge mirror covered with beer and ashes, looking at himself.