Ray was eighteen and determined to begin his descent into self-destruction. He came home that winter with a tattoo of the devil on his shoulder, fire shooting from the face and running down the length of Ray’s arm. Mom cried; Dad asked if it was real and then simply shook his head and went back to the newspaper when Ray answered yes. I asked if it hurt, for lack of knowing what else to say.
“Not enough,” Ray had said.
Lola ran her hand across it like she was touching something beautiful and delicate. She kissed the devil on his fire breathing mouth. Ray looked at her, his face hard and jaw clenched, but for one moment something pained and yet relieved flickered in his eyes. Later, Lola sketched a replica of the tattoo and hung it in her room.
By the time Lola attended the same college Ray had gone too, his arms were covered and his eyes were empty. He dropped out before he finished, got arrested a number of times and spent more nights in jail that he had spent days in class.
He came to visit Lola at school a few times. She had insisted on going as they had a great art program. It was difficult for her to get through the first two years of basic classes and she didn’t get terrific grade, but just like high school before that, she muddled through. She takes a lot of notes and pays perfect attention so that she can recall as much as possible. I think level of focus and detail is part of what makes her such a wonderful painter. She see everything. Nothing escapes her notice. When she calls it back up, it may be a bit skewed but that just lends itself to her unique perspective.
When Ray would visit her, she would call me, two states over where I was in school. I wanted to see Ray, but I used the distance as an excuse not to. I was afraid to see what he had become.
I remember one of the first times Ray stormed out of the house leaving the rest of us to wonder if he’d be back. I remember Dad sitting on the floor outside Ray’s room. I was watching Dad through a compact mirror held out around the corner. I could see him in the little circle of silver, he was whispering. He made the sign of the cross. We hadn’t been in church in years. I looked at my Hello Kitty clock. It was three in the morning. I heard Ray’s car in the driveway and Dad jumped to his feet. Now there were just legs in the mirror, they started back down the hall to my parent’s room, and then they returned.
The car door shut. The front door opened. I saw legs turn in a circle of indecision. I tilted the mirror up, and could see hands ball into a fist, then relax. I heard the whispering again and tilted the mirror back to his legs so that I wouldn’t see his hands cross over his chest in desperation and prayer again because it scared me.
I heard Ray walking down the hall. His footsteps were loud and heavy like he could break the house down one step at a time. I saw his legs stop beside Dad’s and I tilted the mirror up, up, trying to find their faces. Dad reached out to Ray, tried to put his hand on Ray’s arm. Ray jerked away.
“You’re drunk,” Dad had said.
“I’m back,” Ray had said, spitting the words out. “So don’t give me a hard time.”
“Give me the keys,” Dad said, making his voice as angry as his fear would let him.
“They’re on the kitchen table,” Ray said and his hand reached for the doorknob.
“Apologize to your mother in the morning,” Dad said.
“Why,” Ray asked, “she doesn’t even know I was gone.”
Ray opened the door and disappeared. I tilted the mirror up again and could see the side of Dad’s face. There was no sound but his lips were moving, then he slid out of view. I moved the mirror around looking for him. Down, to the left, down and over. He was sitting on the floor beside the door to Ray’s room with his hands over his face, his shoulders shaking.