Monday, January 29, 2018

Rest in Peace, Ronald Reagan Davis

When I was sixteen years old, my world was abruptly upended by a move from El Paso to the outskirts of Houston, Texas.

At the time, it was the most disruptive & distressing thing that had happened during my years in teenage angst.   Of course, the previous most disruptive & distressing thing to happen to me was a move from Dallas to El Paso five years earlier.

I was not a happy sixteen-year-old Jaki Jean.  The thought of leaving my friends, my school, the mountains, the desert, for a place my father once vowed never to live, consumed me.  I began to grieve long before the departure date.

And then I had a dream.

During my childhood & youth & well into the subsequent decades, my dreams were vivid.  Sometimes involving complex plots & narratives & histories.
My dream before leaving El Paso & my familiar world was about my new high school.  I only knew its name:  John Foster Dulles High.

Somehow, I was quite sure John Foster Dulles was a major player in the Vietnam War.

In my dream, I was in an unfamiliar room – tables with seating for four to six.  Sinks, stove tops nearby.  I recognized it as a classroom I could never imagine entering willingly – Home Economics.

And in the dream were two people seated at the table with me.  A guy with a funny name & an amazing voice (I have always been a sucker for a man with an amazing voice) & a cheerleader with really great hair, dressed in red, white & blue.

At the time, I thought it bizarre – what was I doing in Home Economics?  Who was the guy with the funny name & why was he nice, so familiar, to me?  Who was the cheerleader with great hair & an engaging smile & why was she so nice, so familiar?

Why was the cheerleader wearing red, white & blue & not the navy blue & gold of Coronado High School in El Paso?

I left the dream behind with the move from the desert to life too near the Gulf Coast.

Until I found myself in my assigned Home Room, located in a Home Economics lab.

When I was led to a table, occupied by a not very tall guy with a great voice & funny name & a girl with an amazing smile & great hair.  A cheerleader dressed in red, white & blue.

Ronald Reagan Davis, who introduced himself as Dobie, was the not so very tall guy with a great voice.  The cheerleader was Lydia Court.

Both, seen first in a dream, changed the trajectory of my teenage angst-ridden life forty- five years ago.  Both were popular icons in the world of John Foster Dulles High School back in 1971.

Deposited in an unfamiliar high school world, galaxies different from my previous school, I was terrified.  The school had a dress code.  (Nothing I owned was compliant.) There was no modern dance class, no debate class.  Instead, I was assigned to library duty & a speech & drama class. 

I was lost.

But the boy with a great voice & the cheerleader with the engaging smile, took me, one of a number of new students converging on the area, under their wing.

Both of them drew me out of my self-imposed isolation & resistance to change.  Dobie & the cheerleader were not the only classmates to reach out & envelop me.  But they were the first & they were influential.

Ronald Reagan Davis was not named after a former president but after his mother’s favorite actor.  How he came to be Dobie, I have never ascertained.  Over the ensuing decades, he went by Doc, Ron, Reagan, Renigan & finally in my mind, just Davis.

As I have mentioned, Dobie had an amazing voice.  It served him well on stage, in front of an audience, in the classroom, in a quiet discussion between friends.  He loved history & politics & had a fricking unbelievable vocabulary. 

Dobie was witty & kind & more than once wrote me poetry.  He explained the high school hierarchy of John Foster Dulles to me because he had lived with the players all his life:   who was related, why relationships that seemed normal to me were contentious & secret, why the class bully liked to hit.

Our lives crisscrossed over the years after our soiree with John Foster Dulles & friends.  As “Doc,” he took me to a rehearsal for a University of Houston rendition of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors.  Done as a rock opera.

At that rehearsal, I met Steven Michael Epstein, Dennis Quaid & eventually the man I married.

Once again, Dobie Davis changed the trajectory of my life.

After our twentieth high school reunion, I saw Dobie perform on the Miller Theatre Stage in Hermann Park.   It was with the Ensemble Theatre.  About the Buffalo Soldiers.

He was still amazing on stage.  

One day, after several decades since our last crisscross, I listened to a voice mail on my crackberry & heard that Dobie Davis voice.

He had obtained my number from my sister. 

So, we had dinner several times over the years whenever he was in town.  We saw more than one play together.  We talked, we emailed & eventually interacted on social media.

I listened to his narrative.  His hopes, his ambitions, his dreams.  It was not always an easy narrative to listen to, but I let him tell it, let him interpret it.  It was his story, not mine.  And it was complicated.

At a time in my youth, when I was scared & unsure & did not see a way to fit into the culture in which I found myself, Dobie Davis chose to be my friend.

And because of that friendship, I made a decision to embrace the new world in which I found myself & enjoy my senior year of high school. 

Along the way, my existence & understanding expanded because of that world & culture & experience.

I stopped grieving over the loss of the mountains & embraced what was in front of me.  Flat & humid & waiting to implode into the diverse power player known as Houston.

Like many of us, my friend Dobie was his own worst demon.  And that demon held him back, in a place I did not always comprehend or understand. 

But Ronald Reagan Davis never lost hope, never stopped planning to reach an ambition, never abandoned his dreams.

My friend never stopped making me feel valued & welcome.  Much like those first days in that Home Economics classroom.

Rest in peace, sweet knight.

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