Gary was a good man. He grew up in a small town called Frost, Minnesota and left home (read: ran away from home) when he was 17 years old to join the US Marine Corps. He went to Vietnam, where he served as a combat medic gunner aboard a helicopter that flew in to gather and abscond with wounded soldiers. Like many veterans of war, and many Vietnam veterans in particular, he was ill used and came back even more fucked up than he was when he left.
I don't know all of Gary's life story. I missed being there for most of it and all I really witnessed was the final twelve years of his life.
I do know that he served time in prison for arson. It seems that his ex-wife let him build a house for them then abruptly told him that he wasn't welcome in it. He burned the place to the ground with a zippo and some gasoline and away he went.
He was in prison for 12 years and was released to parole with time off for good behavior. Some time after that he met my mother and, eventually, married her and had a child. My sister is 13 years old now and is as obnoxious as ever. Even from 2500 miles away.
Gary did a lot for my brothers and I while he was with my mother. He bought and remodeled our home back in Connecticut. He supported us in every way he knew how through some truly screwed up shit that went on in all of our lives. And he was shit on by the universe because he trusted people.
Now, I am not saying Gary was blameless in all things. Far from it... He was stupid about some things and chose to trust the wrong people altogether more often than is good for any man. Unfortunately, I suspect his reasons not to trust were every bit as valid as the reasons he should.
Toward the end, a lot of things went on that I wasn't witness to. That being the case, I am not going to air my dirty laundry here for you all to read. Suffice it to say that I don't think that the last little bit of his life was all it should have been.
I find I have a great deal of anger and bitterness inside of me over the way things played out. I suspect that, had I been physically in attendance for the last two or three years, things would have played out differently.
I'm not saying they would have been better. Just different.
Anyway, I said before that Gary had his faults. He did. Many of them and some more forgivable than others. I just really wish he could have been happier in the end.
I know that he got to go home and say goodbye to his mother before he passed on. I wasn't privy to any of their conversations but, I hope, some things were laid to rest that had been festering for a number of years. I also have no idea whether or not he was able to say his goodbyes to those he loved most in the ways I think he would have liked to.
I sincerely hope that my sister knows how much he loved her. He called her his miracle and his angel more times than I can remember and I have some fear that she doesn't really know the depth of his love for her. I know there were times when a parent seems the meanest person in the world to a child. I hope that she realizes that what she perceived as her father being mean and unreasonable, was in fact his struggle to show a deep and abiding love. He wanted the absolute best for her and would stand for nothing less. His frustrations, more often than not, were with his inability to adequately articulate his emotions.
I hope that my brothers understand that he loved them as truly and deeply as if they were his own children. He cared for and struggled to provide for them, and myself, in the best ways he knew how. Gary was not a man who was ever given an easy road to travel and he put himself on an even harder path by choosing to love and care for us. He sacrificed a good bit of his health in doing so and, whether the decisions were correct or not, he made his choices based on what was best for his family and we were a part of that.
I hope my mother knows he loved her as well. Things were not always good between them and neither one of them did much to make it any easier on one another... But he loved her as truly and deeply as any man has ever loved his wife.
I just needed to get some of this out there. I saw this picture the other day and it hurt a lot. This is not the man I remember. This is a man who was destroyed by his pain and sickness. The tears I see behind those eyes were not always there. Gary did have a great deal of joy in his life. I just wish his end could have been less riddled riddled with hurt. I wish that the last picture I had of him showed me his old smile.
I hope he knew, in the end, that we all loved him just as much as he did us.
Good bye Gary. May you be forty years in heaven before the devil knows you're dead.