June 3, 1951 John’s Birthday

John would have been 69 years old today, only a year younger than I am, a year younger until my August birthday once again makes a two-year difference. He was 40 years old when he died. I was 41. I visited his grave last week and found the gravestone mottled. I’ll figure out a way to renew it. This post is an attempt to renew memories.

After John died, we found a box with his footprints cut out—linings for his work shoes. It felt, somehow, more intimate than photos and I framed it, backed with drawings by Zarko’s friend Miroslav Mandic. I see it every day as I sit at my desk. Above it hangs a drawing of a sunflower done by my daughter Maren. Below it a photo taken by Scott Carrier of hundreds of Taliban packed into a courtyard, prisoners at the end of that portion of the ongoing war. To the left is a photo by Ryan Trimble of Alex Caldiero descending into his basement workroom. Next to that a collaboration by Zarko and Nina Pops, her drawing on a page of his manuscript.

John’s death triggered an impulse in me that continues to guide me almost 30 years later. Who was this gay brother of mine? Who am I? What did it mean to work for BYU, an institution owned by a Church that disrespected and disciplined people like my brother (and that continues to do so)?

So I began to write. I filled notebook after notebook with daily experiences and random thoughts related, in one way or another, to the loss. I designed a gravestone:

“Sense that John was one step from being homeless,” I wrote just days after his death. “Shit, he was homeless, alone, helpless as the pneumonia struck.”

The notes accumulated. I gathered photos. I spoke with people who knew John. I drove again to Boise and drank for an evening in the Cactus Bar where John had spent many of his last evenings. My writing drew me into what felt like incalculable territory. I was tired of calculating. I left BYU. I left my marriage. I left the Mormon Church. I kept writing, sure that I was not sure where this might take me but sure that needed to keep exploring. 25 years after John died, my notes, what I had began calling “fraternal meditations,” appeared as a book.

Today, for some reason, I’m missing my brother more than usual. There is a familiar tug back somewhere in my skull and, as so often before, I find myself continuing my fraternal meditations.

About Scott Abbott

I received my Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University in 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I directed the Program in Integrated Studies for its initial 13 years and was also Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy for three years. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (REPETITIONS and VAMPIRES & A REASONABLE DICTIONARY, published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade and in English with Punctum Books), a book with Sam Rushforth (WILD RIDES AND WILDFLOWERS, Torrey House Press), a "fraternal meditation" called IMMORTAL FOR QUITE SOME TIME (University of Utah Press), and translations of three books by Austrian author Peter Handke, of an exhibition catalogue called "The German Army and Genocide," and, with Dan Fairbanks, of Gregor Mendel's important paper on hybridity in peas. More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and dance/yoga studio manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as an ecologist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a parole officer, as a contractor, as a seasonal worker (Alaska and Park City, Utah), and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett, with whom I have written a cultural history of barbed wire -- THE PERFECT FENCE (Texas A&M University Press). Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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8 Responses to June 3, 1951 John’s Birthday

  1. Oh man I fell for you so much. I’m really sorry to hear this story…


  2. Charles A Hamaker says:

    Thanks for the remembrance.


  3. nemadude says:

    Heart-wrenched, heart-broken. ‘Immortal For Quite Some Time’ struck me deeply and the effect is magnified by your post, with photos that evoke the hurt from the original reading, and amplify it. Happy Birthday, John. You have an incredible brother who is doing his part to make sure that we are all better because of you.


  4. roughghosts says:

    I’m thinking these present conditions heighten memory and emotion. Perhaps that’s part of it. Best wishes to you, Scott.


  5. alex caldiero says:

    ever good for us to remember our beloved dead. they are in the world of the true.


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