April 8th marked two events with devastating impact on my life.
I wasn't even alive for the first one. His name was John Garner. He would have been my grandfather.
On April 8, 1965, John Garner killed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun.
I don't know much about him. I know John was full-blood Cherokee, small in stature. I know he was a blacksmith who made and repaired anything a farmer would need. There's a length of fence still standing, decades after he built it, along a highway north of Castleberry, AL. I've got a knife he made. But I have no memories of him.
I know he wasn't one to start a fight, but he'd end it. I was told about a day when he was working in his shop; a few white guys came up to start some trouble. He gave it back in spades--and two of them went to the hospital. That's the kind of man I only wish I could have been. Someone with a backbone, one who wouldn't just back down. I never learned how to fight.
I've wondered about him for much of my life, wondered what it would have been like to have a grandfather, wondered what hurt him so badly that he would kill himself, wondered what made him so selfish that he would deprive me of a father figure, something I never really had with my stepfather.
I wonder how much different my life would have been if he'd been around and showed me how to make the emotional tools I'd need later in life, but still don't really have.
April 8, 1995 wrecked me. She doesn't have a name here, other than Pocahontas...or Piglet, depending on my mood. She was my first love; I fell hard for her the night we met at a Halloween party. I'd never had a woman flirt with me before, let alone find me interesting, attractive. She wanted to spend time with me. I was always the loner, the lonely, and she was intoxicating. I didn't know anything about relationships, didn't know what to do or say. The only thing that mattered to me was that I finally had someone of my own, the one thing I'd ever wanted.
We lived 200 miles apart; out of just over 5 months, we were actually together, face to face, for less than 2 weeks. There were letters and long-distance phone calls, but they can't compare to curling up in bed and reveling in that other person's breathing while she sleeps, or waking up to feel her tracing the lines of your face and hearing her whispering, "All mine." The first kiss, clumsy and uncertain, growing in confidence and enthusiasm. Still feeling her pressed against me hours after parting the first time. Hearing her call me the "love of my life."
April 8th is the day I got The Letter and The Call. This guy she'd dated in high school was back in town; she'd been out on a couple of dates with him in the past few days and now had a decision to make. I was too stupid to just say "good-bye" and hang up. No, I sat there listening to her babble about Mr. Perfect and how much money he made, and his great car, and how the sun shined out of his ass, and I suddenly understood the meaning of "on the outside looking in." It was a complete surprise to me--but I later learned that she'd been yapping to everyone around her for weeks about Mr. Perfect--even before the last time we were together. Her farking DOG knew shit was coming down. But the one person who really needed to know was the last to know.
When I finally hung up, I just sat there in my room, numb. I hardly ate or slept for three days. For more than three years afterward, I tried being "just friends," just more of that stuff I didn't know not to do (more of those "emotional tools"). Once I'd gotten enough of that, I sent an email telling her to either come back or stay away from me. That was the first smart thing I did, I think. Haven't seen or heard from her since, and I'm good with that.
I wonder how things would have gone if I'd had a grandfather.