Five Fights That Ray Kowalski Lost.
He'd wanted this bike - had it all picked out, and everything ('75 Harley FX, sitting low to the ground, metallic blue, with leather fringe around the seat) - but his mother had yelled and asked him, over and over, if he wanted to, maybe, shave his head, as well? Get a bunch of tattoos, huh, drive around town, be a hoodlum, like that Stepanovski boy two doors down? "Don't waste my time, Stanley," his father had added, thumping him on the back of his head, "and don't waste your money. Keep your head in your books, and think of college, not motorcycles. You do well this year, there might be something with wheels in your future." Ray kept the picture he'd ripped out of Mike Ruben's magazine in his wallet, unfolding it and laying it out in front of him every time he had a difficult homework assignment to finish. The creases got whiter with time, feathering and finally ripping in corners, and when he pulled off his C+'s and B's at the end of the year, his father had rumbled into the driveway in a '67 GTO, rusting out prematurely, the paint job all gone to shit, and Ray thought his grin would split his face, and his hands itched to get under her hood and see what she could do. He let the bike stay in his wallet until one day it fluttered out along with a five and Stella caught it floating in the wind, and asked him if he still wanted the piece of paper with half a chicken soup recipe in the back.
Technically, he'd won that fight. He was in the Academy, right? But his father hadn't spoken to him since, barely exchanging a civil word with Stella at the wedding. Paulie even tried interfering on Ray's behalf, and Ray's mom did, too, but his father wouldn't budge, and Paulie had always wanted their father's approval more than anything else in life. So, he'd whacked Ray on the head, told him that it was all his fault their parents were suddenly packing it in and moving to Arizona, and didn't even leave a return address when he turned around and did the same. Ray watched them all leave in a matter of a week - first, his parents, leaving the final sale of the house to Stella and her lawyer people, then his brother with his family, kids not even waving out the window as their father's stony face slid away from view, obscured by the spring leaves reflecing in the windshield. Ray became a cop, bought a nice place with Stella, got a life and occasional Christmas cards from Paulie and his mom. What he never really told anyone was that Paulie hadn't wanted their father's approval half as bad as Ray had wanted it for himself.
Johnny's Pub, October 19th, 1983.
So, Ray was living a real good life, you could say. He was twenty-two, learning to be a cop, and married to the girl he loved who loved him back. She wore his ring on her finger, kissed him hard in bed, sometimes cooked him breakfast on weekends. He kept the coffee brewing all night so she could study for her exams, pulled her hair away from her face whenever it fell to her forehead and annoyed her without her noticing it, held her close at night while she slept, sharpened her pencils. And, sometimes, when she needed to be alone to really concentrate, after work, he'd go down with his Academy buddies, and grab a drink at the corner bar, where the bartenders and waitresses knew them all by name and malt type, and had their first rounds ready as soon as they stepped through the door. It was a good life, but sometimes, bad shit happened. Like, when that asshole Fitzgerald got rough with Janey, and Ray had been the only one there to see it. His barstool skittered away from him as he jumped up and was at Fitzgerald's throat within a second, pulling Janey away and telling her to call the police for back-up, now, now, come on, he wasn't kidding. He got in a few good punches - he boxed, after all - before Fitzgerald, a solid forty pounds and seven inches over him, knocked him down flat and ran off before the cops even put down their donuts. It was over just like that, and afterwards, Ray always pictured the fight as a yelping pup going up against an unshakable bull. Janey would give him extra beer and a private smile after that, but why? He lost. He didn't deserve it.
In the end, there was little he could do. He'd begged, pleaded, done all the cliched and humiliating things he could, to get her to stay, to let him stay, to let them both stay exactly where they were, exactly as they were. But it had ended years before the divorce papers were filed, and Ray only saw it when March rain splattered against his car roof, and Stella sat in the passenger seat, watching the wipers work - slosh, slosh, slosh - and fingering the ring Ray had put on her finger fifteen years ago. It was dull against her pale skin, and she didn't look at Ray as she suggested that they maybe take some time apart, learn who they were when they weren't together, because it was important- "important to find those people, Ray, we're just too different right now. Maybe if we're apart, and find that -" But he didn't want to be apart. He didn't want to be apart. Why did she, what was the point? Finally, his hands shaking so hard, he had to grip the wheel till his knuckles turned white, Ray asked her if maybe she didn't love him anymore. "That's cruel, Ray," she answered, her voice going flat and hollow. What was so cruel about it, it was a fair question when your wife was suddenly not wanting to be your wife anymore. She sighed, slid the ring over to him on the dash, and unlocked the car door. "It's raining," he said. "I know," she answered and left the car, anyway.
"Me, I leave the city and come down with a skin condition." Except it didn't matter anymore. In fact, nothing mattered, because Fraser was leaving, and who cared, anyway? Except suddenly, somebody had slipped an invisible fist around Ray's throat and squeezed, and Fraser's leaving became white-out words like an after-image of pain. He could hardly breathe, because his throat was being squeezed so tight, and his eyes, whenever he closed them, announced the same thing over and over and over again. He was leaving - Fraser, his partner, Benton Fraser, that guy he'd been hanging around for a year, who'd been driving him nuts, leading him places he'd never expected to follow - the guy who, when he looked at Ray, suddenly made Ray think crazy thoughts, thoughts like he could save everybody in the world, anybody he wanted to save; it was possible, because Fraser was there, the guy who made Ray want to punch him and kiss him at the same time. And Ray had no time for any personal revelations, had no time to figure out that his world and his heart and his mind did not end and begin with Stella anymore, that they had been all taken over by Fraser - red uniform and dark brown hair and calm blue eyes and stupid crazy hat - because Fraser was leaving. Every time Ray breathed in with the fist around his throat, he inhaled just a little more of Fraser, until finally, all he had to do was open his eyes and breathe in hard enough to dislodge the invisible hand, and realize that he'd lost that one before he even began. So, he left the city and hopped on a wing of a plane and was thrown off the plane into the deepest of the tundra, into an ice crevasse, into a submarine, and down a deep white valley where only Fraser followed.