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Chapter Two

Driven by unrelenting nightmares, Ray’s alcoholism began as a teenager and continued throughout his adult years.  Tragically, we will never know if a more effective medical intervention would have saved him.

---- Wild Seed – A Biography of Raymond Brown, Dr. Elizabeth Rollins, 2026

 

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Peering through the darkness, Ray could see his solitary car parked at the edge of the lot. He quickened his pace, eager to reach the leather upholstered sanctuary. Guilt plagued him, driving out the heated pleasure of the evening.

He searched through his pockets, pressed the remote, and the driver’s door slid open.  Folding his burly, six-foot-three body into the seat, he stretched to open the glove compartment. His hand shook slightly as he pulled out the bottle and unscrewed the cap.

In a moment, the bottle was at his lips, and Ray hungrily sucked down the precious, honey brown liquid. His throat burned with the familiar pleasure, so soothing and full of promise. Suddenly coughing, he held the bottle with both hands so not a drop would spill.  Then another swig – a long one this time – followed by another. Alone in the darkness, he tried to wash away responsibility for his actions.  Time flowed by, but it didn’t matter. Most of the liquid was gone when he put the bottle away. Now he would have to drive home.

Ray started the engine and pulled out of the lot onto a familiar route. Powerful headlights pierced the darkness as he sped along the winding highway.  Pressing hard on the gas, he quickly caught and passed car after car.  He’d done it a thousand times over the years; first two red dots in the distance, then close enough to see the driver nervously glance in the rear view mirror, then another surge and he was by.

Ray cursed under his breath when he thought about the encounter earlier tonight. The liquor was not working this time. How could I have sunk so low? Cheating on Nancy for more than a year … it’s just not right … not fair to anyone.

The sex had been in his office – on the couch again. He couldn’t stop thinking about her soft breasts, her sweet mouth, her searching hands. The excitement came back, and Ray knew he would do it again. Whatever the cost, he would have her again.

He was in love with Dianne.  It wasn’t fair.  Nancy was a good wife, but his feelings for her weren’t anything like his passion for Dianne. 

Ray wondered if Dianne really loved him.  She had never said so.  Maybe all she wanted was the sex, but he knew it was more than that.  It couldn’t be just sex …

God, my head hurts.  Gotta cut back on the drinking.  Feel like shit most of the time.

But what about his sons?  He couldn’t lose his sons.  Leaving Nancy would mean leaving his sons … weekend visits and all that bullshit.

Barely realizing he was home, Ray pulled the car into his driveway, parked in the garage, and tried to get his thoughts together. He didn’t remember most of the drive; he had to be more careful next time.  Looking into the mirror, he pushed his unruly salt and pepper hair into place.  He didn’t like the red contours of the eyes squinting back.  As he stepped out, he readied another excuse – big design problem, late meeting, the usual. 

Ray tried to sneak in and hide in his office, but he stumbled noisily at the doorstep. Nancy must have heard him, because she came to the front hall and folded her arms. She didn’t say anything, but a harsh stare from her normally warm brown eyes warned him that he was in for a bad time. 

“Hi, honey. Sorry I disturbed you. Big meeting tomorrow, and I have to work on some specs.”

She glanced at her watch, but still didn’t say anything.  He felt Nancy ’s eyes follow him as he walked to his office and closed the door.  He gently turned the lock, cursing under his breath when the click gave him away.

Ray sat down hard at his desk and greedily pulled open the drawer.  The bottle was gone.  Damn her!  He lurched to his feet and pulled a box of computer paper out of the closet.  A flask appeared as he dug underneath the stack of paper. She didn’t find this one, he thought as he pulled the flask to his lips.

His drink was interrupted when he heard Nancy try the door handle. She pounded on the door, forcing him to hide the flask back in the box.

“Ray, you promised me you would not drink and drive.” 

“I had a couple of drinks with some of the guys. It’s not a big deal,” he shouted through the door, hoping she’d go away.

A year earlier, Nancy would have greeted him at the front door with a smile and a kiss.  Dinner with her and the boys … they had seemed like the perfect family … just what he’d always wanted. 

“Damn you, stop lying.”  The door vibrated from another blow.  “Open this door.”

Ray shoved the box into the closet, wiped his lips with the back of his hand and opened the door. He tried to focus on Nancy ’s face as he steadied himself in the doorway.

“You’re blowing this out of proportion. I work hard.  There’s lots of pressure. You like the money I earn, but you don’t understand the pressure. Sometimes I just need to unwind a little.”

“Sometimes? You think I don’t know you drink every day?”  Nancy walked past him into the office, glancing left and right.  “I wouldn’t care if you had an occasional drink with your friends from work, but you’re way beyond that. Working and drinking are all you’ve got. That’s your whole life.”  She turned to face him, shaking her head. “You have nothing left for me and the kids.”

“Well, maybe if you weren’t on my ass all the time I’d spend more time with you. And don’t tell me I’m a lousy father. I take good care of David and Brian. I went to Back to School Night, didn’t I?”

“Look at you.  You’re a mess.”  She was staring at his chest; he followed her eyes and realized that he’d missed a shirt button.  Without warning, she grabbed his collar and stuck her nose against his neck, then pushed him away. “You bastard!  You’ve been with someone.”

“Listen, I don’t have to put up with this.” Ray pushed past her into the hall, feeling his guilt boil into anger.

“Who is she?” Nancy shouted, following him.

He didn’t answer, just grabbed his jacket and walked toward the front door, but she was right behind him.

 “So that’s it.  Just run out on me. Where are you going? Back to her?”

Ray waved her off as he lurched out the front door.  Just leave me the fuck alone.  He staggered  down the front steps, opened the garage door and got into his car. Despite her anger, Nancy followed him into the garage, pleading with him not to drive, but he wouldn’t listen. He backed out of the garage, shoved the gear into first, peeled out the driveway and headed west toward the Pacific. 

*

Six-year-old David Brown curled up in his bed, frightened by the angry voices pouring through the door.  He didn’t understand what his mother and father were saying, but the tone was scary.  The voices rose and fell, sometimes real loud, always angry.  David pulled the covers tight against his chest.

Daddy was being bad again.  He missed dinner, and he wasn’t home to put me to bed.  He never tucks me in anymore.  He doesn’t like me. 

The front door slammed. It was quiet for a second, then the voices came back.  Outside now.  David pushed the covers away and sneaked to the window.  The lights in his room were off, so he knew they wouldn’t see him when he peeked through the window blinds.

Daddy was getting in the car, and Mommy was yelling at him.  It was dark outside, but he could see them clearly in the glare of the overhead garage lights. Why was Daddy running away?  Mommy was sad, but Daddy didn’t care – his face was all mean and angry.  He wasn’t coming back, ever again.

The engine started, and  the tires squealed as his father backed the car out of the garage.  The headlights swept across his window blinds as Daddy turned the car around and raced out the driveway.  David strained to listen to the sound of the engine, but it drifted away, leaving the lonely murmur of the waves rolling onto the beach.

Mommy stood for a little while in the driveway, even though it was cold, but Daddy didn’t come back.  The garage doors rumbled to a close, leaving her standing alone in the dim light of the moon.  She shivered and walked back toward the house.  When she stepped into the light shining from above the front door, he could see Mommy was crying.

David kept a watch through his window, listening for the sound of the car.  He’d tell Mommy if he heard Daddy’s car.  He wouldn’t cry.  He wouldn’t let Daddy see him cry. 

But his father never came back.

*

Several miles down the old ocean highway, Ray pulled off onto a sandy shoulder overlooking the beach. He rubbed the throbbing pain in his forehead, but it didn’t help.  Everything had gone wrong. Reaching across the seat, he pulled out the bottle. The sweet liquid warmed his throat. Another long drink. He lost track of time.  Images of happier days with his family fluttered past.  Gradually, the alcohol dulled his mind, but the guilt remained.

I’m not so bad … never hit her, although she could be a pain … went to “Back to School Night” … was that this year or last?… only cheated with Dianne, even though I had lots of opportunities … she doesn’t understand the pressure … nothing I do is ever right … fucking woman … doesn’t appreciate all I do ... all I sacrifice  … I should leave her … everything’s so fucked up … so confused.

Ray drained the last of the bottle and threw it out the window.  He watched it land on the side of the hill below him and tumble down into the dunes.  If only he could throw away his drinking problem so easily. 

Sapped of all emotion, Ray turned the car around and began to drive home. Be honest for once – it’s all my fault.  He was fucking everything up.  He would tell Nancy the truth and maybe go into rehab.  Get control of his life.  Make it right with his sons. 

As he wove back and forth across the highway, his eyelids became heavy, too heavy. Ray tried to keep the dividing line centered on the hood of the car, but liquor-dulled eyes blurred.

Suddenly, his head smashed into the roof, shocking him to full alert.  His car was careening from one side to the other, like a giant pinball machine gone mad.  The view through the front window showed sand and ocean far below.  The car slipped over the shoulder of the road and began to roll down a steep slope, gaining speed, bouncing crazily.  Ray pushed hard on the brake, but the car spun wildly to the side and flipped over.  His arm crashed into a side window, smashing through the glass. He was on his back as the car tumbled over.  He screamed and saw a flash of a thick tree with gnarled branches that seemed to reach for the car.  The rear end smashed through the branches and crashed into the tree trunk.  His head was driven into the ceiling again as the car flipped into the air, landed on its side and slid down the hill. His existence  became a screaming, dark hole.

Gradually, the world came back. As the Oregon night seeped in, Ray heard the soft moan of the surf in the distance. At first, he was numb, confused. Pain surged through his body, pushing away the chaos. Ray touched his face with fingers that felt thick and awkward. Blood. His tried to move his left arm, but it dangled helplessly at his side, bleeding badly, radiating pain.

He struggled out from underneath the steering wheel and climbed through the misshapen opening that had once held a windshield. Panting with exertion, he stood up shakily and looked around. His car was a wreck, the hood buried in the thick sand at the foot of the hill.  No lights anywhere. Looking up toward the highway, he realized there was little chance another car speeding by would notice the wreck in the dark shadows far below. He glanced around, but his netphone was nowhere to be found. He would have to climb.

The hill was at least fifty yards high, nearly vertical in spots and studded with prickly bushes.  Ray dragged himself up with his good arm, dizziness forcing him to rest frequently. His knees scraped along the rocky hill, aggravating wounds already throbbing. Forcing the pain from his mind, he climbed to the top and collapsed on the side of the road. He lay on his back, watching his breath turn white as it rose through the cold night air.

After resting for several minutes, Ray looked each way but saw no lights of any kind. There were no homes along this stretch of the highway, nothing but a winding road carved out of the side of the hill. The cold night air chilled his body, turning exhaustion into fear. The throbbing pain in his left bicep was worsening.  He knew if he didn’t soon find a way to stop the bleeding from his arm, he’d never survive the night.

Ray staggered to his feet and walked along the road, but his strength quickly dissipated. He collapsed to his hands and knees, sweating through his shirt. His only chance was a passing car; he had to survive until one came by. Struggling out of his jacket, Ray wrapped it tightly over the large gash in his arm and applied pressure. The bleeding slowed down, but the jacket became damp and sticky.

Slumping to the road, Ray pulled his knees into his chest to preserve his warmth. It was a cold night but at least the wind was quiet. He waited and hoped. He couldn’t die on this lonely highway. Not Ray Brown, the genius of the Atlas operating system. His software changed the world. It wouldn’t let him die like this.

For the first time in more than a year, he was stone cold sober. Ray was afraid he would die, and if he did, who would care? His mother wrote him off years ago. One or two friends would miss him, but they would get on with their lives. Nancy and the boys would care, but they had learned not to expect much from him. 

What about Dianne?  She cares about me.  If I live through this, I’m going to be honest with Dianne, tell her how I feel, what I want.

Time slipped by and still no cars passed. At first, he shivered in the cold, but then he began to feel more comfortable. A bad sign. The road began to blur before him, and he had to keep shaking himself to stay awake. Finally, dual pinpricks of light sparkled at the far end of the road, cutting through his confusion. He tried to stand, but his legs crumpled.

The headlights grew brighter. Ray struggled to his knees, shook his good arm and shouted. His voice cracked, lost in the crash of the surf. The lights were almost on top of him, and Ray thought the car would hit him. The driver wouldn’t be looking for anyone on this lonely road.

Ray rolled out of the way as the car sped past him. The effort was too much, and he passed out.