For Dillon: On the occasion of what would’ve been his 44th Birthday
by Jack A. Urquhart, Copyright 2023
Occasionally, two or three times a year, I tune my heart to the memory of your face to the sound of your voice, to the sly, crooked angle of your grudging smile And sometimes you come in loud and clear your half-assed, fake anger broadcasting some oldie but goodie, egregiously insulting, clear as a fifty-thousand-watt station on a cloudless day: “You’re nothin’ but a big old whore!” I hear you bray again, loud enough for the whole neighborhood to appreciate in splendiferous ROFLOL style. But other times, there is only the painful static, of your complete and utter silence. They say the power of a loved one’s absence fades with time until, like a canyon echo the reminders coming ’round again, diminish with each reverberation But I think it’s only that we’ve become harder of hearing, our attentiveness damaged by the decibels of everyday life. Until we become deaf and numb And finally, in tune with absence, just another voice in the ether– competing for attention. Waiting to be remembered– As I remember you.
Ray, rocking that goofy hat again, the one that hangs over my bed now; it’s just two days before our world will turn upside down in a Ventura ER. I imagine how he might have been nudging me on, resisting the photo op, that afternoon: “Keep up; long way to go!” That would’ve been like him. But, of course, I never could; and there really wasn’t. #glioblastoma #spousalloss #RaymondBoyington
From the beginning, you waited for me;
You waited a lot
staying put long enough
for me to understand
how well suited for each other
we actually were:
both of us backwoods born,
waiting like faithful Quakers
for the simple gift
of finding ourselves
in the place just right.
A born teacher, you were patient,
understanding that with repetition
and so you showed me,
again and again,
that you could be trusted --
an waited for me to know
that it was true.
Worldlywise, you recognized
the necessary boundaries
of personal space,
and remained unobtrusively close
through the best of times,
through the crushing grief.
You knew that silence and space
can work wonders,
And you waited to touch me
until it would mean the most.
And then later, tarrying
on a lighter note,
you took your time again,
permitting only an inscrutable
as under your tutelage,
I matriculated from boxed wine
to the buttered joy of Chardonnay,
aged in French oak,
from the plebeian satiations
of chips and dips and salsa,
to the voltaic charged thrill
of oysters on the half shell.
"Why settlefor table salt
and grease," you said,
"when here is the briny essence
of the eternal sea,
a nougat of slippery bliss
on a mother of pearl bed --
just waiting to luxuriate
at the center of your tongue?"
A truegourmand of the heart
you waited for me to develop
a taste for these finer things;
Waited for me to get
what it means to accumulate
a thousand favorite recipes,
to pour over a list of ingredients
like a born-in-the-bone scientist
determined to crack
the physical and chemical
mysteries that would unlock
It took me a while to understand
that food is more
But you waited for me to get it,
planted a kiss on the top of my head
like a gold star -- when there at table,
spoon in hand -- I finally did;
when the little epiphany
that this is more than a meal;
this is pure love,
deliciously served, artfully plated,
on an everyday dinner service
just for two.
And then, amidst the terrors
of those last months,
you found the will
to wait for me again --
you summoned the strength
that would allow me
the chance to wait on you.
A mere one-hundred days
and change was all I had
of your patient love.
And so, I sang to you at the end.
I was all I could think to do.
Just sing to you
from my bedside pallet
through that final night
so you'd know
you weren't alone.
The words to "Simple Gifts"
turning, turning in my head
for the both of us
to come down right.
And then, at dawn
when I tip-toed
momentarily from your side
to summon more of your favorite tunes
(rendered more pleasingly on key)
you slipped silently away.
Twenty-four years you'd waited,
waited for me to catch up;
And there it was --
the first and only time
(For Raymond, who knew me well — and loved me anyway.)
After a four-month battle with aggressive brain cancer, Raymond Lee Boyington of Ventura, California, passed away on July 16, 2022, while in In-Home Hospice Care. He was 80. Raymond was born in Embden, Maine, the son of Frank Boyington and Alta Quimby Boyington. He was one of seven siblings.
Raymond leaves behind his partner and husband of twenty-four years, Jack Urquhart of Ventura, CA; Daughters, Dr. Sarah Gonda, Thousand Oaks, CA, and Katharine Boyington, Portland, OR; Son-in-law, Dr. John Gonda, Thousand Oaks; Granddaughter Danielle Boyington, San Francisco; Grandsons Dedrick Boyington, Brooklyn, NY, and Nate and Emmett Gonda, Thousand Oaks; and the mother of his daughters, Barbara Boyington, Mountain View, CA. His beloved former partner, Peter Bell, San Francisco, preceded him in death. Other family members include sister Betty LaPoint, Branford, CT; and brothers, Weldon Boyington, Andalusia, AL, Richard Boyington, Sebastian, FL, and Mahlon Boyington, Vero Beach, FL, as well as numerous nieces and nephews whom he loved very much. Not to be forgotten is a long list of dear friends, many of them lifelong, in the U.S, France, Mexico, and Norway.
Raymond received an MS in Physical Chemistry at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, where he was subsequently employed as a lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, as well as the coordinator and liaison for General Chemistry to the statewide university campuses (1969–1980). In addition, Raymond was a Fulbright Exchange Teacher (Kempston, England, 1991) and taught at numerous high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Harker School, San Jose, University High School, and Lick-Wilmerding High School, San Francisco. Raymond was a pioneer in supporting LGBTQ students and colleagues.
A dedicated and exacting educator and scientist for over fifty years, Raymond mentored countless youths, many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers. He was the author of several widely used Chemistry textbooks and study guides, including Chemical Principles: Student Guide (1973, WB Saunders) and Study Guide for Chemical Principles (1981, WB Saunders).
Those privileged to know and love him will remember Ray for his generous spirit, love of beautiful things — music, literature, art — and his ability to work culinary magic. A self-taught gourmet, Raymond appreciated all things delicious; he was an expert at whipping up a feast from scratch. Raymond took a particular delight in a geta of beautifully presented, extra-fresh sushi, and his love of oysters on the half-shell was legendary among family and friends.
But perhaps more than anything, Raymond will be remembered for his always inquiring mind and quick intellect, winning smile, ability to love and empathize deeply, and his unwavering dedication to family and friends. Not to be omitted from this list of Raymond’s greatest hits is the meticulous care he devoted to his much-prized (much envied), marvelously luxurious Hair.
Those who knew and loved Raymond will miss him more than these few words can express.
I admit it, Kiddo.
I'm not as sharp as I used to be,
and neither are my memories of you.
The effect of advancing age, I expect --
and stubborn self-protection.
That said, a few things still cut
close to the bone.
Your birthday, for example,
March eighth, 4:44 p.m.
Those tiny, bloody fists,
trembling, flailing, furious
(at the loss of your cradling salty sea,
at the intrusion of the baying lupine world?)
Equally keen comes the tart memory
of your lemon-puckered adolescent smirk,
your sour disdain sufficient to sap
the last drop of my limited patience.
And how could I forget your appalling
table manners, that cacophonous slur
of sibilant slurps, your "kiss my ass!
These eats are seriously good!" attitude?
Or the deathbed rattle of your
unconscious gasps thirty-four years later,
those "for god's sake, enough already"
final sighs and moans?
These things slice sharp and true.
Others, not so much.
And yes, sometimes there is guilt
in this creeping forgetfulness.
After all, what kind of father
lets his son slip away like that?
What kind of Dad doesn't go the last mile
for the sake of blood?
My kind, I guess. The selfish kind
(as you and your sister must've thought)?
The kind who clings to a well-rehearsed refrain:
"I have a life, too!" and just won't let go?
But just so you know: I sometimes feel the sting of it --
enough for a good wallow in charges brought against me:
Such a shocking lack of fatherly compassion!
Such a breath-taking display of self-indulgence!
(Ah, thank god for self-deprecation --
Surely the penultimate in pre-emptive strikes!)
But, in fairness, Kiddo, what self-pleasuring
has ever been more sating, more ratifying than,
"Oh my god, s/he/it is so much worse than I"?
I mean, isn't judgment the essence of human nature?
And yes, I know that all sounds exculpatory.
Nevertheless, here's the point I'd like to make --
call it a birthday wish if you want,
albeit a self-serving one, I'll admit:
I hope to do your memory the justice you deserve.
And allow myself a modest measure
in that as well.
I'd like to reconcile the limits
of a love that couldn't save you,
or keep you sane and safe
in this broken-hearted world.
I'd like to entertain the notion that perhaps --
just perhaps -- not everyone born in love
was meant to linger in this life,
not everyone suited to the long haul?
And that what transpired between us --
all the despair, the loss, the grief --
was a lesson in the rightful margins of love,
yours as well as mine.
I like to think that I'm on to something here.
But it's a hard sell -- even for me; a bit too inchoate,
too lenient, too wishful thinking? That said, Birthday Boy,
I'll try for any port in this lingering storm.
Sometimes, once or twice a week,
domestic distractions fail me,
the baskets of dirty laundry
waiting to be washed, ironed,
and neatly put away,
the shelves collecting dust,
ashes of long-past conflagrations,
still banked and smoldering.
Sometimes this busy work
cannot keep you out of sight,
keep you out of mind.
So, I open the door
to the room where you reside,
step inside, pull up a chair,
and become occasionally yours. Continue reading →
Yesterday in a coffee shop,
in an incidence of unabashed affection,
I saw a man lean to plant a kiss
atop his preteen son’s head.
The kid was a sturdy chap,
mop topped, sporting baggy shorts.
He made me think of you at twelve,
and how flush-faced in your reaction
to public displays of parental ardor,
you stirred physically away,
moved by simultaneous outbreaks
of adolescent embarrassment,
(lest, God forbid, a peer had witnessed
the parental faux pas)
and a flickering, begrudging gratitude
in your ambivalent smile. Continue reading →
Stainless steel was the medium he favored,
forever hard and utilitarian—
the price my father paid
to make his way in the world.
And sometimes, small in his shadow,
I would watch from a distance,
as he slipped on his helmet,
as he brought fire to bear on metal,
his white-hot will cutting, bending,
shaping till a thing was forged in his image—
made to bear the weight
of heavy things.
“Don’t look at the arc flash!”
my father would admonish
when he noticed me watching.
“It will destroy your vision,” he said,
handing me thick, dark goggles
fashioned after his own.
Perhaps he thought I’d be protected
hidden behind impenetrable glass,
safe from the showering sparks
that burn and blind.
Then, turning once again,
He would take up the task,
hard, flexed, beautiful in the heat,
never noticing when, overcome by the sight,
I would sneak an unprotected glance,
too awed by his brilliance
to resist the light.
Today is your birthday.
You would’ve been forty years old.
Forty! Imagine that.
Sometimes I do.
I imagine what you might’ve become,
And how you could’ve been healed,
the role I should’ve played.
I conjure the special person
whom you might’ve found,
and the life you could’ve shared,
the lives you might’ve sown.
I know there is no good in this.
And yet the mind will run wild.
It will try to imagine
what’s become of you now,
where you might be,
that fabled afterlife
of prophecy and pulpits,
tales told in tongues of men and angels. All become as sounding brass,
now that you’ve gone beyond the noise;
now that you’ve vanished—poof!
into the great unknowable.
Only your ashes kept close bring comfort.
I am not ready to let the least of you go;
not ready to relinquish the unreal conditional You:
all the birthdays that might’ve been,
the “should haves” and “could haves”
that mark the returns of the day.