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Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal response

Big Ray by Michael Kimball Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal response

 

My father is a small man. He is small in stature. He is small in emotions. And he is also small in achievement. My father’s greatest achievement is the PhD he obtained just after I was born. When I turned eighteen, he gave me a copy of his PhD. When I turned twenty-one, he asked when I would be obtaining a PhD of my own. My father is a scientist. He thinks in terms of formulae and processes. I am a writer. I think in terms of people. Sometimes I think that his PhD is a proxy for the love that he is unable to give. It is also a love that I am unable to understand.

*

At over five hundred pounds, Big Ray is a large man. He is so morbidly obese that he can scarcely drive, that the parts of his body below his gut are uncharted territory. He is a man whose stature is matched by a personality so enormously overwhelming that although you want to look away, you can’t. Big Ray does not necessarily enjoy being obese, but he does enjoy being larger than everyone else.

*

My father has never forgiven my mother for leaving him. I don’t think he ever believed that she would. When she tried to suggest marriage counselling, he told her that there was nothing wrong. When she finally took us and moved out, he still did not believe that there was anything wrong. Sometimes his car would drive up our street. Once, the lights were out in his house and the neighbours called the police. There are things here that I want to say, but that I can’t.

*

It is possibly five days since Big Ray has died. No one is sure, because no one was there to see it happen. When he is found, it is not by his family. When his family learn of his death, they are conflicted. Because Big Ray looms just as large and dangerous in death as he ever did in life. Perhaps more so. Because in death he has finally escaped the body that has trapped him for so long. Big Ray’s body is a sort of punishment. It is his family’s fault that he is obese. It is his family’s fault if he is not taken care of. But Big Ray guzzles soft drink, gorges on junk food, lets his diabetes run rampant. He punishes his family by punishing himself.

*

At my sister’s engagement party my father took us aside to tell us that he has high blood sugar and high blood pressure. As everyone else drank and danced he told us about how our great-grandmother had both legs amputated. My father says that he does not have time to exercise or eat properly. He also does not have time for his family. He would rather work. This has always been the case. The only time he would call would be on my birthday. Each time he would call he would tell me about his health woes, his relationship woes. He made me cry three birthdays in a row. I don’t answer the phone on my birthday any more.

*

Big Ray’s story unfolds over five hundred brief entries rather like this one. That’s one entry per pound. Shylock’s demand for a pound of flesh as payment seems trifling in comparison. But Big Ray is a brutal, abusive man, and this payment seems strangely fair.

 

*

My husband tells me that we can never be objective about our relationships. Or our lives. That what we remember is what fits with the narratives that we create. The evidence we use to reconstruct our pasts. I want to believe that this is true. I want to believe that my father loves me, that I am worth being loved. I’m not sure why I care. When I look at photographs of my father I am always struck by the fact that he is not smiling in any of them. I smile too much. I have a lovely smile. Except those times when I remind myself of him.

*

Big Ray’s son cannot escape his father. But it is only in death, when Big Ray is only a spectre, that he has the courage to try to understand him. Big Ray was, once, a handsome man. He was, once, a happy man. The high point of Big Ray’s life was his entry into the army. Everything after that was a disappointment. He never even saw battle.

*

It has been a year since my wedding day. It has also been a year since I last spoke to my father. A year since he gave a speech about how much a wedding that my husband and I paid for cost him. A year since he and his girlfriend refused to speak to any of my relatives, colleagues, friends. A year since he commented that a wedding arising from a five-year relationship was a surprise. A year since a friend mentioned that my father doesn’t really know me at all. He doesn’t.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

*

Big Ray’s son calls Big Ray his father in his reflections. He called him “Dad” in real life.

*

When I was a kid I used to call my father by his given name. I still feel that this is apt.

*

Big Ray’s son is terrified about having children.

*

So am I.

Rating: star Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal responsestar Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal responsestar Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal responsestar Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal responseblankstar Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal response (excellent)

With thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for the review copy

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Other books by Michael Kimball:

Portals by Michael Kimball Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal response How Much of us there Was by Michael Kimball Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal response Dear Everybody by Michael Kimball Big Ray by Michael Kimball: A personal response

12 comments

  1. I love this piece of yourself that you shared, even if they are painful or confusing memories. It was very brave of you.

    • Thanks, Jami. It was a tough one to write–I’d been sitting on it for a week before finally posting it.

  2. Great response, it must of been difficult to write but thanks for sharing. I loved this book but I did wonder if it ever hit too close to home how would the reader respond; now I know

    • Thanks, Michael. This one really did touch a nerve with me. I could completely see where the narrator was coming from with his ambivalence over his father. For some strange reason I crave acceptance from mine while not even liking him as a person. It’s had a massive effect on my personal relationships, and sadly, it’s something that when I look for it, I can see as having had a domino effect all the way through my family. My nanna has a difficult relationship with her parents; her kids have a difficult relationship with her, and so on. I’m terrified that it’s a cycle that’s never going to end.

      So yes, I completely identified with the narrator’s back-and-forth over his father, and his often conflicting response to the man’s life and death.

  3. Oh,heavens, Stephanie. I hope the author reads this. There can be no higher accolade than to hear that you have connected with a reader on such a level. I won’t comment on your bravery or insight – I can’t really, I’m too moved. But with regard to the last statement, I will say this. I know many people who have had less-than-perfect parents. In my experience, those who are aware of the damage that a parent did to them are among the best parents themselves. Not because they do no wrong, but because they are aware that they can do wrong and are willing to apologise, keep communication open and try again. No one truly knows how to be a parent. But love, commitment and being willing to work at it go a very long way.

    • Thanks for your compassionate and thoughtful comment, Imelda. It’s all a huge bundle of “what if”s and “maybe”s right now, but I’m quietly hopeful that things will turn out all right. It’s taken me years to get to the point where I’ve even considered kids as a possibility, though… People are strange things, aren’t we? :)

  4. Such a heartfelt response Stephanie and one you are brave to share. I’m touched and convinced I must read this book

    • Thanks, Shelleyrae. It’s a difficult read, as you can probably imagine, particularly towards the very end, although most of the things that you might find a challenge are implied rather than explicitly stated.

  5. This was very moving. I think being self-aware does help when it comes to changing family dynamics and that we as parents can be very careful not to repeat our parents’ mistakes; when we make our own mistakes, as Imelda said, we can recognize them, apologize, and try to do better.

    • Thanks, Laurie. It is difficult–being aware of those family dynamics can also lead us into the trap of re-embedding them across future generations. For example, my grandmother used to call my mother fat as a child, so my mother was very, very careful never to comment on either my or my sister’s bodies. But because my mother was constantly dieting, conscious of her weight and so on, it ended up influencing both of us regardless.

      I hope that through internalising all of this I’m not going to somehow end up performing it in a way that affects my future kids. I guess I’ll just have to be open with them and see how it goes!

  6. This is beautiful, Stephanie. It feels like there’s a much longer piece or even a book in what you’ve written.

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