In 2020 thus far, I’ve had to deal with death three times already.
I tried to make sense of it all in an article entitled “Grief, Loss, and Chocolate Chip Cookies.”
In that piece, I reference the ten pages I wrote, longhand in a composition book, on the night I found out he’d died.
These are those ten pages.
Recalling Gerry Walker, 1956–2020
My dear dear friend Gerry Walker passed away the tenth of December last year. It was two days after his birthday. Now it is the 18th of January 2020, and he’s been gone over a month.
I didn’t even know. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. I missed the funeral, the service, the funeral service, and the wake. Any event his somewhat-large Texas family might have had to commemorate his life, I missed it completely.
Lest you think me a poor friend, dear reader, let me say I had so much stuff going on then. I saw him in September, just before I left for a week in Bellingham, Washington. When I got back, I found a new fire under my ass: I needed to work, I needed to take responsibility for the Ten Thousand Things in my life, and I felt I had to do it right then.
I feared losing my momentum and forgetting about the fire.
Thanksgiving rolled around, and suddenly it was the 2019 holiday season. Now, Gerry wasn’t in the best of health. He had something going on with his hand, and maybe his foot as well. He spent a month or so in a nursing home with an intractable blood infection. He might have had any number of other conditions, none of which I recall at this writing.
Apparently he contracted a blood poisoning right after Thanksgiving 2019, and went steadily and quickly downhill from there. His roommate Josh sent out information as if he was Gerry — but I wasn’t paying much attention to Facebook at the time. Even if I had been, would I have noticed the posts from one of Gerry’s six Facebook accounts?
Unlikely, I suppose. After all, I was still in full-court-press mode with my work, nevermind that Facebook is a great way to keep in contact with those important to you.
The news hit me pretty hard. I had reached out to him in mid-December, yet never got a reply. I wondered what was going on, but didn’t think about it too much.
I reached out to him again, a month later, in mid-January. Again, no reply. A day or two later I got one of my intuitive hits: I needed to check on him, and I needed to do it now.
Sometimes my intuition offers me timely advice. Other times, not so much.
So I called him, to find his mobile phone disconnected. I called his house phone, and it rang 20 times before going to a fast busy signal.
I needed to check on him, and I needed to check on him right now.
It’s a bummer when your texts are not returned. I did wonder what was going on. But I guess I can overlook him not getting back to me.
It’s hard to return texts when you’re dead, after all.
I just hope he didn’t pass thinking I didn’t love him anymore — since he had been absent for some time before I reached out. About a month or so, I’d say.
Now that I think about it, it actually probably never crossed his mind. Getting sick quick as he did likely didn’t leave any room to pursue such thoughts.
Because I do love Gerry. Although he was never one of my “best” friends, he was always super sweet to me. He inspired me to be kind right back; he inspired me to make kindness a way of life.
Gerry was my lighthouse.
Adventures in Queerness
Did you know I once tried to be gay?
I pretended for a long time, until Gerry set me straight. No pun intended. Or maybe it was intended; I’m a Dad, after all. But I’ll never tell.
In the latter half of my four-and-a-half year college experience, I somehow met and hit it off with some gay guys. At the time, my social life was of paramount importance. I had never been well-liked. I never had more than a stray friend or two, so to be accepted and loved in a community — any community — was a Very Important Thing to me.
Hard as I tried, though, being gay never came easily to me. It always felt “wrong,” which I then assumed was brought on my strict Roman Catholic upbringing. I was still firmly embedded in the lore at the time; the shame and guilt endemic to the religion had yet to loosen their grip on me.
One day, I was over at Gerry’s house. He shared one quarter of a four-plex with Paul Miller, a mutual friend. I was likely whining about never feeling like I fit in, poor pitiful me, for that was how I was at the time.
Gerry looked me dead in the eye and asked “John, are you attracted to guys? Like sexually attracted?” When I stared at him, a wayward deer caught in the headlights of his inquiry, he continued, “Do you feel a twitch when you see a hot guy?”
We had seen many hot guys. A veritable plethora of hot guys. But I had felt that twitch exactly zero times.
His question took me aback. By then I was quite used to strange men asking me such questions before trying to get in my pants. I might have been gullible and impressionable at the time, but I was still starting to grow some street smarts.
Rather than try to get in my pants, though, Gerry was asking me out of genuine concern. And after a certain period of stunned silence, I had to answer him honestly: No, I was actually not that attracted to guys.
He didn’t tell me I just hadn’t met the right one.
He didn’t tell me I’d grow to like it.
He didn’t tell me to just keep trying.
It was Gerry Walker that set me on a more authentic path. Not the “right” path, but one which was more true for me.
The Next Act
And time went on.
I fell out of contact with Gerry. I graduated college, got married, bought a house in Georgetown, Texas, and moved in alone. My then-wife came to live with me after some time, after she graduated herself.
It didn’t last, though. We were married in 1992, yet she was out of my life around 1994. I spent a little while longer in Georgetown, or “Jorge Pueblo,” as we sometimes called the podunk suburb of Austin. Around 1995, I bought another house, this one in South-East Austin.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I landed not too far from Gerry! His house, the one he lived in as his own mother died, was less than 5 miles from my place.
But I had left that world already, so he might as well have been on the moon.
A few years ago, Paul Miller found me on Facebook, and we caught up a little. Back when I was “trying to be gay,” he was a more involved friend than Gerry. Paul and I shared a love of music and audio equipment; we both loved movies; we shopped at the same independent music store (ABCDs, or Austin’s Best Compact Discs), and we lived in the same small apartment complex (The Fountainhead).
Paul had moved back to the Rio Grande valley to start a new life there. Maybe he restarted his old one, but by then it didn’t matter. Overall he seemed to have no more room for me in his life. Which was fine — Paul and I had drifted apart in the last year of our association. He slipped further into ambiguity, into gayness, and into kinks which never appealed to me, even at the height of my own gayness.
A short while after Paul and I reconnected, who else found me but Gerry? He was overjoyed to have found me again. He confessed to holding a torch for me, for the longest time. He thought of me often, he said, and he hoped I was well.
I was, I said. Indeed, I was quite pleased to reconnect with Gerry as well.
And thus began the second act of our relationship.
A Positive Effect
Gerry still loved me, he said. There was the torch thing, which had never gone away. He also said I had been instrumental in his own journey — I had loved and accepted him at a time when he was unsure of himself and questioning everything.
It was positively shocking to hear I’d had that positive of an effect on a person. For at that time in my life, I was so close to the metaphorical bottom of the barrel. This realization set me on my own Path of Authenticity even stronger.
After Gerry and I reconnected, we started getting together face-to-face again. He had no compunctions about picking me up, buying me food, or taking me back to his quaint house, just one Zip Code over from mine.
Examples of Greatness
The times Gerry and I spent together are all muddled together in my mind. I can access a few memories of him but they are isolated and not connected to each other. I remember him taking me to restaurants — Bill Miller BBQ and Posse East on the UT Campus were favorites. And El Mercado Mexican was another favorite place.
I have a whole other story about that particular restaurant, which I will tell another time.
After one of these trips — or maybe all of them, it’s so hard to tell — he showed me pictures. At first I thought it a one-time thing, but it turned out to be a frequent occurrence. Like every single time we got together. He’d show them to me on his phone, on his iPad, even in the photo albums and books his house was well-stocked with. He was proud of his family, both living and dead. He showed me pictures from Bumfuck, Texas, some little two-horse town I’d never heard of prior, and don’t recall the name of now.
His family, he said, had a lot of history there.
Although I wasn’t directly getting anything out of these shares, I could see with absolute clarity he adored sharing with me. We never talked about it, but it’s my sense he felt validated and loved as a result of these interactions.
He showed me pictures of some religious field trip he went on, perhaps to the St Louis cathedral in New Orleans. He showed me pictures from and of the office building he used to work in, before they tore it down. He showed me pictures of the house his brother had custom-built in Blanco or Burnet or Plano or Llano or one of those towns with Texas names.
He also had pictures of houses in his neighborhood. Lest he be thought a creep, he told me these pictures were taken at Open House events, local realty shenanigans he took an interest in.
Brother From Another Mother
Which leads me to another interesting bit I remember about Gerry — when he wasn’t looking at pictures, or showing them to me, he was building houses.
On his iPad.
Gerry had some architectural program on his iPad, which he used to recreate places he’d been and taken pictures of. His house. His brother’s house. The neighborhood house. Whatever. I can’t tell you how many times I looked over at him, only to see him intently fiddling with window placement, or finding “just the right swatch” to put on the floor as a rug.
Gerry’s room at home was stuffed full of stereo and video equipment. Buried somewhere in there was a Nintendo Wii. We played together one day, and what a blast it was! Even playing shitty first-party games — Golf, Tennis, Bowling and whatever else was on the Wii Sports disc he had.
My god, we laughed so hard that day. I felt so close to him. For one day, for just a few hours, he was the older brother I never had, and it was glorious. Never before had pixelated balls been hit with such aplomb, such panache, such finesse!
Uh-Oh, not That Movie
Another time, Gerry again took me back to his place after we ate. There were people there — he had warned me, but there were more than I was expecting. I was feeling pretty good, though, so I just rolled with it.
After a while, they wanted to put in a movie. Was that all right with me? I knew precisely nothing about their proposed choices, so I simply assented. I should have thought twice, though, because they put in Sausage Party.
Now, if you don’t know, and I didn’t at the time, Sausage Party is an animated movie about what might happen if all the items in a grocery store were all to have bad mushroom trips.
At the same time.
If you haven’t seen it, you really should. It’s an absolute scream. But if you do, take my advice: Don’t watch it sober like I did. It was indeed a blast, but it might have made a lot more sense had I watched it while blazed out of my mind. Which, in retrospect, was clearly what the creators of the movie were going through.
Gerry sure did love his dog. He’d always loved dogs, and he especially loved his dog TJ, a Pekingese. Though not a big tipper, Gerry always had kind words for people. I never saw him depressed or upset. He had plenty of issues with his body, but he never let them get him down too far.
Gerry was always going out of his way to help others. I can’t tell you how many times he told me he was working to defuse drama for his seemingly endless parade of roommates, or of some friend he had to go pick up.
Gerry had a wonderful heart, kind and loving. I aspire to be like him. And someday, it will happen.
God Willing, as Gerry might say.
Transcribed from longhand