I debated what I should write here about this, if anything. What do you do when someone dies now? Do you post it on facebook, write it on a blog? In the past the only option was a notice in the paper, but I don't know where this should go, or who to tell besides my Mom and my brothers and my sister. I didn't know what to do with anyone's condolences, because as much as I loved my father my feelings are complicated by all that has happened over the years. However, I don't know how else to let the world know. I don't want to forget or have my father be forgotten.
Early Monday morning, the medical examiner from Hawaii called me. The police had found my father's body in his tiny, dirty apartment in Honolulu. He was sorry to inform me that my father had passed away. I didn't know what to say. He was sorry for my loss. So today I mourn three men, the father I lost so long ago, the man that left us and I hated, and this man in Hawaii that had my brother's voice.
In many of my memories of my father, he is asleep. Asleep watching TV, falling asleep in church and then getting up for the closing prayer and blessing the food, being quiet playing inside because Dad was sleeping. He worked swing shift at physical plant at Ricks College, cleaned chimneys, was a part time plumber, handyman, store clerk, cook at Big Boy or near the end at a pizza shop. I can remember going with him while he worked on plumbing under someone's house to look for salamanders. I can remember him cleaning chimneys for a chocolate cake, or helping a neighbor with their cows in exchange for some milk. He made things around the house and yard - flagstone fireplace area, a metal shoerack that could poke your eye out, a sheet metal slide that had a sharp edge that could cut your pants if you didn't lift your butt just right.
That man would talk to anyone, anytime. If you went to the store with him, it could take all day. He would run into someone in the store, usually a stranger, and talk for hours. I went back to visit Teton before my mission and met some of his old friends and heard a lot about Gary and the times he went hunting with them or helped them. He was kind, hard-working, and would do anything he could to help other people.
That man disappeared long ago. When he went to open a pizza restaurant in Utah, he was unprepared for the investment it would require. After only a few short weeks, he was forced to close up. But, instead of coming back home to Teton, he went to Nevada to work in the mines. I can remember driving to visit in the middle of a June blizzard in our broken down van. He was staying with my Aunt Sandra and Johnny. We watched Star Trek, and talked awkwardly with this man with my father's face. We went home, sold our house, and moved to Boise where my Mom could finish school. She had been going to Ricks and graduated with her associates and then worked at Me and Stan's in Rexburg. But without help from Dad we had to move and Boise was close to family.
We only saw or heard from him a few times after that. He didn't send money, probably because he didn't have any. One of the last visits I can remember seeing him carrying a six pack of beer. There was pornography in his truck. He talked about living with this old Indian on the reservation in Nevada. After that he totally disappeared. I guess he sent letters that one time, awkwardly written and neurotic. He called once as well. He told my brother he was coming home for Christmas. I told him he was a liar and he hung up and never called again.
I hated that man. The many hours I saw my mom work and study to try and hold our family together stoked that fire. I don't think I saw her sleep during that time. She was up studying when I went to bed. She slept in the living room of our apartment and was awake before 5 when I started my paper route.
Other people filled in the gaps. I went to father and son campouts with men from the ward. We learned the hard way that Deseret hand soap was a foul smelling green bar and that the Deseret orange drink was better than Tang. So many people helped us out. My aunt gave us a car when the van finally died in the middle of an intersection. My grandmother helped with the bills. People from church brought us to activities, looked out for us, and helped pay the rent, brought us food from the Bishop's storehouse. Br. Hall helped me rebuild mailboxes when I forgot to set the parking brake and my car rolled down the hill, destroying mail boxes, someone's garage, and ruining any chances I had with Lisa Meyers. Bro. Field was my friend and confident. He tried to reconcile my brother and I and made us sing "Let us oft speak kind words to each other." Bro. Phillips comforted me after I screwed up in yet another church basketball game and I swore would never play again. Bishop Lyndstrom was there when I needed to talk and I envied his family so much. My orchestra teacher bought me tickets to see "Phantom of the Opera" and bought me a school year book. My English teacher loaned me her typewriter to do my homework. My violin teacher arranged for me to have a practice room. I told my girlfriend that all I wanted to be in life was someone not like my Dad.
Life went on. We graduated from school, went on missions, got married, had kids, got jobs, and moved around the country. We talked to my Mom on the phone and didn't think too much about Dad. Except that I googled him sometimes, often actually. The Salvation Army tracked him down to Georgia for me once, but he was only there for a short time in a shelter. I could see he had moved around the Southwest. Creditors called trying to collect on a hip and knee replacement. At some point he moved to Hawaii, he got a job and for a brief time child support was garnished from his wages. The caseworker told me he would send a message to my Dad. We sent letters, but I don't know that he got them. He changed jobs or lost that job, and the money stopped.
Six or seven years ago, he was in the hospital and a friend of his decided to look us up. She sent my sister Anna his cell number and some of us called him and talked to him. I was amazed to hear his voice. He sounded just like my older brother. He tried to talk to us about the past, but his memories clashed with ours. He was the injured party that had been rejected and told not to come back. It was hard to be so angry with this rambling old man.
I changed jobs and for work went to Hawaii once or twice a year. Each time I met him at a restaurant and bought him lunch or dinner. I never went to his apartment. His friend Bill was there the first time and told me my father was Baha'i now and they went to the same church. He told me bits about his life in Hawaii. He seemed interested in my growing family. One time I helped him set up his computer and showed him my siblings blogs and pictures on facebook. But, he was a stranger. I didn't recognize him the first time. The waitress pointed him out to me. He was a regular. She knew him better than me.
He didn't always pay his cell bills and often changed numbers. Sometimes he would remember to call and give me his new number, but not usually. Sometimes I called his friend Bill and he would give it to me. I didn't call often. Once I found out he had been in the hospital for months after having a stroke. He never told me. Sometimes we had good conversations and I felt like I was getting to know him. Other times he told crazy stories about the places in New Mexico where he saw the UFOs come down and when he did peyote with his Indian friends on the reservation. He was paranoid about people sometimes. His memories about the divorce and all the circumstances were always at odds with what I remember.
Then the medical examiner called. I can't say that I really knew him well. His landlord was surprised he had kids. He had known him for 7 years and he never mentioned us. His parents passed away years ago and he was estranged from the rest of his family. I don't know who else mourns his passing. If you knew him, send us his stories, because of the three men that I remember as my father I don't know which one was really him. I can't trust my own memories tainted with my own tall tales, anger, and regret.
Farewell, Gary Gardunia.