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A dear friend of mine Ray passed on almost a year ago now. He was many years older than me as several of my buddies are but still young at heart as are most of them as well. Most of us are actors, writers, directors or in some fashion involved in entertainment and have learned a long time ago how not to take ourselves too seriously. After all we are in probably the most uncertain, rejection filled business there is. There are no guarantees in our business that one will ever make it to the “big show” but if you stay and tough it out you will most definitely work and make your living. But my buddy Ray worked more than most and made a pretty good living as an actor as a regular on a major prime time drama for ten years running. He had the job most any actor would give their first born to have. As Ray used to say to me he didn’t do too bad “for a broke street kid from Worcester, Mass whose father died a drunk on a corner and a mother who threw him out on the street to live”. Not bad indeed Ray not bad indeed. Rays ashes were interned in a tiny cemetery in Westwood, CA a few plots Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote and down the way from Dean Martin and a host of other Hollywood royalty. But for all the bright lights, movie sets, parties and celebrity friends who loved Ray and everyone loved Ray in the end he was unhappy and had a lot of that thing he always told me not to have in this life, regrets.
Ray was fond of me and I of him. We had a lot in common with our youth and our adulthood. He liked to remind me not to make the same mistakes he did with his life and to not have any regrets about things I didn’t do or set right with people I love. I would politely listen and then shake it off with a low grumble and a “don’t worry buddy I won’t have any, I promise ya”. Ray also had a lot of faith in me and my talents. He once told me that if I remember only one thing he tried to impart on me it was to be all I could be, use my natural God given talents and abilities and never let my insecurities about how I grew up, walked, talked or what I never had hold me back from who I wanted to be. He wanted me to use him as an example of what not to do in life. When he was alive I never understood what he meant. Ray passed with many regrets. I guess part of him was angry, angry at the world, his disease and himself. His last few days in the hospital he refused to see anyone of his closest friends except one who would be charged with watching him die. We respected his wishes. A curious thing was that as close as we all are and as much as we shared with each other, after all the round table dinners shared, there were things we left out about our lives, families and pasts whether intentional or mistakenly. We just lived for the moment. We knew Ray had been married and had an adult kid somewhere in Los Angeles he rarely spoke with. He was friends with his ex-wife who was the closest he had to family that we knew of. His mother died some years before of heart failure the same day his only sister died of cancer. The way Ray told it was that when she received the phone call from the hospital that her daughter had passed she had a heart attack on the spot. At that point he had not seen his mother in many years. He was always sorry he never got to tell her he loved her. Other than that he had no family we knew of. So like many of us with estranged families or family in other parts of the country we celebrated holidays, birthdays and special occasions together regularly and knew each other as well as any friends would.
We all attended Ray’s memorial service and even those of us closest to him were amazed by the turnout of the three hundred plus who attended, some of television and movies biggest names. Like I said everybody loved Ray. We weren’t surprised we knew he had touched a lot of lives. What we weren’t prepared for were the family members in attendance. Introduced were his adult children a son and daughter from Providence, RI and his half black, half Italian son from Los Angeles. Not in attendance was his oldest son serving time in a New Jersey prison. Except for the brother and sister none seemingly ever met prior to this meeting at his memorial and none knew him very well growing up. We seemed to know him better than they did. Except for the one son in prison they were all successful business people and unmistakably his children. After the service I had opportunity to speak with his Los Angeles son Kevin and get to know him a little. He asked about pictures and I offered to send those I had to him. I realized in our conversation there were many things that Ray had reason to regret. Kevin had no bad things to say about him. He just said he rarely saw him and never really knew him. I realized how compartmentalized Ray made his life and thought about my own. How many things he let pass by with the best of intentions to do them or reach out to someone but just never made the time. Ray was a realist who didn’t bullshit you and told you like it was. I like to think we have that in common too, my approach being just somewhat more subtle than Rays was. Speaking to his kids and looking around the lawn on that sunny Sunday memorial service at all those in attendance I realized Ray was so right in what he kept trying to tell me all those years. “Have no regrets Stevie. Don’t wait until it’s too late”. He used to say if I got tired of listening to him just tell him to go F*** himself. I would just laugh at him then he would laugh at me. His words haunted me right there and still do. Ray made me think a lot, but never more than that day and he knew what he was saying and knew I would know it when that day came that we stood where we did.
There have been several major points of change in my life or moments of clarity if you will both positive and negative but few matched how much I changed about the way I think than that day. I spent the better part of the next few weeks in something of a state of shock. Now for me in my life death is nothing new. As a young boy many people in my life died and my parents never hid us from it instead opting for us to face it head on as a fact of life. I have had some close friend’s die of some very unnatural causes. But for some reason Ray’s death made me think and feel as I never had before. Maybe it was that I am older now and at that point in life I think about certain things or maybe I have matured and am not the totally self serving person I used to be. Whatever the reason the day of his memorial I crossed a bridge and cannot go back nor would I care to.
I have spent the better part of the last decade attempting to become a better person and repair the wreckage of my past and believe me there is a lot of wreckage. As well I have managed to let go of any resentment I might have had toward my parents or anyone else for the way we grew up. I learned they did what they could with what they had and had little to no life skills to impart on me or my siblings. The many years before this past decade were pretty much a wash filled with bad living and a lot of booze, drugs and general mayhem. Let’s be honest, if I am to be honest with myself my life wasn’t an attractive one except for maybe those kids like me who idolized the negative side of life.
So here I sit now almost a year later having tried to make amends to many that are long overdue them and trying to establish relationships that were either long forgotten, lost or taken from me. I am trying to get to know a few people in particular I never was afforded the chance to. It is a particular situation that may or may not work out for me although I pray every day that it does. Still if it does not I know I have done my best to establish contact and keep my side of the street clean so to speak. Unlike some years ago, today I know I have much to offer these potential relationships.
Because of Ray or maybe because of what he taught me I do things differently and look at life differently now. I left the comfort zone of Hollywood to live on the beach a few feet from the sand and on the ocean. I take long walks on the beach, meditate and treat myself better than I had been spiritually and emotionally for a few years. As a result even my art and performance talents are growing. I started learning to surf, skateboard and do all the things I always wanted to and simply enjoy what life has to offer. I prepare myself for the changes that I know will be coming into my life and want to know who I am, knowing as an artist I evolve every day. I want to be the most I can be and offer to others all I can. I take positive chances on life and have healthy fears. I attempt to confront and deal head on with my fears now. I consider the consequences of my actions and try to think before I speak. I have put down my holster so to speak and have mellowed considerably and it only took ten years to get here. I have even opened myself up to having an intimate or better yet a romantic relationship should the opportunity present itself. Intimate not to be confused with sexual. I’ve always managed to have sex without intimacy and disconnect myself from most any women who tried to get close. Old habits die hard but I guess I have to start somewhere. I call my parents more often now and continue to get better at it.
We all change I guess sometimes slower than others but always in Gods time. I think about regrets now and don’t let them creep up on me. I am far from old but still have that old soul I was born with. The difference is now I recognize it and try to benefit from it. I didn’t understand what Ray meant and what he was trying to tell me when he was with us but I do now that he is gone. I think he knew more than I ever imagined and knew I would understand when he was gone. Maybe that was the memory he wanted to leave or at least one of them. I’m grateful for that Ray and where ever you are now I want you to know I get it now. I will work my hardest to have no regrets at the end of a good, long life. I will make those relationships old and new work the best I can. I will never forget you, your laugh, your advice and do my best to have no regrets. I got a funny feeling you’re still looking on me and laughing that famous Ray Latulipe laugh. God bless Ray and thanks for having including me in one compartment of your life. You left us more than you know.