|Photo by Julia Hollman|
When Gary asked to be in the novel, no one could have guessed he'd be gone two months later. It was a horrible shock. I remember Ehren calling me out of the blue, and I was a little surprised to hear from him. He didn't usually call that early in the day. I asked how it was going, and he said, "Been better."
When he told me, I couldn't believe it. I remember screaming "Oh my God!" several times before I gave in to the tears. I was writing at the time, and tried to continue after the phone call, but I couldn't concentrate. I dropped everything and drove to Ehren and Julia's house, where a bunch of us sat around hugging, shaking our heads in disbelief, crying and trading stories about Gary.
I'm not just frustrated because of the dedication I'm writing.
I'm upset with myself, because I know that 'Joey Bekker', Gary's character, evolved beyond his personality, and any of his friends who reads it will recognize him, but will notice...it's not really Gary. I wonder what he would think of the transformation I gave him.
The Gary we knew was a sweet, soft spoken man Danish man who emigrated to Canada with his parents when he was a boy. He had a parakeet he adored, and all animals loved him. He was rarely seen without an energy drink, and he liked to hang outside with the smokers, even though he didn't smoke. He just liked to listen and be part of the conversation. His favorite band was Deep Purple. He had a fart app on his phone. He was a devoted paranormal investigator and enthusiast.
I met him in Meatcutting class at NAIT, January 2000, where we teased him about how such a small guy could eat so much. He was maybe 5'2, but wolfed food like starved quarterback. The day before our class toured the Lilydale chicken plant I dreamed that I entrusted my lunch to Gary, and he ate it. Tried to tell me around a mouthful of Subway sandwich that he didn't know what happened to my Turkey Bacon Sub. When I shared that dream, everyone around us nodded and said, "Yep. That's Gary. Why would anyone trust Gary to guard food?'
And after the tour was over, Lilydale gave us a variety of chicken wings to sample. Apparently Gary was the first NAIT Meatcutter student, in the history of the trade school, to ask if he could bring the leftovers home. He was probably still hungry.
I wanted Gary's character to be special. I wanted Joey Bekker to live longer and louder than Gary could. I wanted Gary's character to be BIG-- Fearless. I wanted Joey Bekker to live where Gary had not. I guess that's why 'Joey Bekker' doesn't seem much like Gary anymore, but I'm still glad I did it.
We gave Gary a memorial. It was all he got. Gary's parents predeceased him, and he had no siblings, so he was cremated with permission from relatives from Denmark. We'd offered to pay for a real funeral, but God only knows what that funeral home did with his ashes. I'm still really pissed over that.
That's why this dedication and this novel are so important. Gary led a subdued life, and got the bum's rush into the afterlife. He was a good man who deserved more. Now I can finally give him something for the world to remember he was here.
People come into your life for a reason. Sometimes I wonder if Gary came into my life specifically because I needed to understand the full impact of losing a friend to death. Maybe he was here to make sure Chasing Monsters got written and published. Because I promised him.
I'm sorry if I rambled. I'm sorry if I bored you, but I understand now why I needed to write this blog. I needed to write it because no matter what those little sentences say in the beginning of 'Chasing Monsters', they'll never tell you enough about how I feel right now--How the tears still burn behind my eyes years later.