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.