I don’t know who abandoned who. Did I abandon my original godfather or did my godfather abandon me? Mike Frick was a nice enough man. But after I left his employment at an antiques business in Miami one summer he faded away. I am not sure how necessary a godparent is once you become a young adult. He was never terribly religious so I am not sure what sort of spiritual guidance he could have provided me in the event my parents could not. In fact, the last time I attempted to visit him, I was thwarted by his incredibly and needlessly rude wife, Sorne. (There is an accent on “Sor-ne” so it is actually pronounced “shyt-hed”.)
Over time I was essentially adopted by the godfather of my other siblings, Reginald Sermersheim - A big, heavyset, flat-footed, incredibly kindhearted, gay, midwestern former college friend of my parents. He liked country music. He took me to several Miami Heat and Marlins games. He would take me out for lunch. There were a couple of times he babysat me and my siblings. He was always wiping ketchup off my face.
Reg led a very simple frugal life and over the years Reg became very Catholic. The word “very” should sit in your mouth for a moment in order to grasp just how Catholic he was compared to me. He gave me relics and crosses for birthdays and Christmas. I have received several pewter statues of St. Thomas.
As I grew older and became more aware that relatives also functioned as individual people, I could tell he was a lot more depressed than he was when I remembered him as a child. He would have these long bouts of depression and he would sort of cut off contact with people for a few months then reappear on the radar apologizing for having disappeared. My parents could list several of the times he had done this to them and just sort of accepted it wearily.
The last time I saw him was before that was in August 2011 before the wedding. He was living in a small studio apartment in North Miami. He had no car because his car was stolen, replaced by insurance then subsequently stolen again a month later. (I will never forgive you Miami for doing that to him.) He never bothered getting a new car and relied on carpooling to get to and from work. We went out for ribs, we caught up and reminisced. He wiped BBQ sauce off my face. He told me he would see us in November.
Reg RSVP’d then, missed my wedding, and quite literally, vanished.
After the dust settled from the wedding Sam and I started asking what had happened to Reg. We did not have much to go on. I tried calling cellphone numbers and old phone numbers I had on old cell phones. I spoke to people in Miami. Someone drove by his apartment and discovered he was no longer there. Someone contacted an old supervisor at work and we learned he no longer worked at the hospital and it was believed he had moved to Indiana.
Reg had an unusual last name that to this day I still don’t think I can spell correctly even if I have the name in front of me. Sermersheim. If I spelled it correctly, you can be sure as hell I still probably did not pronounce it correctly. I ran searches for his name and found a few. I found an internet yearbook listing a Gary and a Reginald in the same high school together in Ireland, Indiana. My mother told me he had a brother named Gary. Using google maps I virtually stood in the front yard of one of the suspected locations of a Gary Sermersheim in Jasper, Indiana.
I zoomed in on his house. I stalked him from across state lines.
I tried calling. No answer.
|Nearly 2000 miles. 31 hours of driving. Penis shaped.
For about a week, Sam and I debated a drive out to the address I voted as “our best bet”. Plans for a week-long vacation had fallen through a few weeks prior, so Sam and I charted a road trip to Chicago by way of Jasper Indiana. We packed some food, a few days of clothes, Dante, and left for Indiana.
|This must be the place.
The drive was long mostly because we had to stop to walk Dante at regular intervals. We spent the night in a hotel just east of Louisville, KY. We would get some rest then head to Jasper during the day and try to figure things out.
|Left it in my glovebox. I found it while cleaning my car.
We pulled up to the house shortly before noon on a cold blustery Friday. We knocked on all the doors we could find. We detected a flaw to our plans immediately, the house was dark; they were at work. We got back in the car and considered our options. At this point I still felt like Reg was hiding from me and he was using his family to help hide him. Against my better judgement I started writing a note to leave. I did not know what to say and it required multiple attempts. Midsentence someone pulled into the driveway behind me in a pickup truck. A man resembling Reg got out of the car.
It was Gary.
I have no idea whywe looked suspicious.
He said someone had phoned him to let him know that someone was in his driveway. So he drove from work to see who I was and what I was doing. Everyone, stand and bear witness to the power of small-town neighbors. I explained who I was and he remembered me from a wedding I attended in Indiana when I was seven. He said Reg was up the road from his house. He had me follow him to St. Charles Health Campus a mile or two away. Sam waited in the car with Dante because I was still convinced he might not be happy to see me.
|Miss Taylor definitely nailed the hair.
I could not have been more wrong. As Gary walked into his room and said, “Look who I found.” I stepped into the doorway and his pale face lit up. He was speechless. I asked if this was okay if I could come in and he invited me in.
He was in a wheelchair. He was missing his left leg below the knee. We hugged and started talking. He told me it was because of his diabetes his wounds would not heal and he had been losing his leg in piecemeal. He was happy to see me and spent long pauses just sort of staring. Eventually, I went outside and got Sam and Dante. Gary said he had to head back to work but we traded cellphone numbers and he insisted that we spend the night at his house.
Reg apologized for missing the wedding. But I said it did not matter, I understood and I did not need any apologies. I was glad that he was getting better. We hung out there until well into the evening. Gary and Charlene let us spend the night in a spare bedroom back at their place. We had some surprisingly good Mexican food that night and went back to the facility in the morning and stayed until late into the afternoon.
We just talked. Exchanged stories. Told him about the wedding, what we were up to now and what our plans were. He explained that I saying Louisville wrong.
“It’s Lu-heh-ville. Not Luw-wee-ville.”
|Way to ruin the picture Dante...
The nurse took a picture of us before we left that afternoon. We made promises to stay in contact but he was already telling me how he was thinking about canceling his cellphone. He said it was to save money because he was just going to use the landline in his nursing home room. He just wanted to cut himself off further.
Last February, I called him to let him know my grandfather had died. Before that, I called him to wish him a Merry Christmas. There were a few times that I called him and he said he could not speak because he was about to eat or he was receiving physical therapy or he was with a nurse. Whether that was true or not was anyone’s guess.
Last week, someone at work asked me about a road trip I took last year and I retold the story about the novice detective work and the impulsive road trip to find him. The mixed feeling of joy and melancholy of finding him.
“Yesterday” I was at work. My phone rings and flashes that it is Gary Sermersheim calling. I had not even answered and I knew what this phone call represented.
It was Charlene. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news...”
It was such a long involved history that I had to take notes.
Always the nurse.
The nurse came in at 5:30 am to check his blood sugar. He seemed fine. When she came back to bring him breakfast they found him unresponsive in his bed.
“He died very peacefully.”
I tried to think of the last time I told a patient’s family that he or she died peacefully; debated where innocent alterations to the story could have taken place to concoct this serene scene. Did the nurses have to scoop him up off the floor, clean him up, dress him up, and make him look peaceful and cozy in his bed? Did the nurses and EMTs wrench on his chest for a little while and crack a few ribs before accepting he was gone? Perhaps Charlene or the staff accepted this was a detail she could leave out for me? I’ve since accepted that my godfather peacefully passed away in his bed undisturbed by my paranoid delusions.
I was angry, upset, and confused. After I got off the phone I started calling family and disseminating the unhappy news to them. Then, carelessly admitted I had just lost my grandfather to a few coworkers before I realized I was being childish and stupid. This was my grief; why was I telling other people? Soon, I was essentially alone for the remainder of my shift thinking about Reg and what he left behind. Eight hours alone with my thoughts.
While organizing a case cart full of hip replacement trays without warning I started crying. Leaning on the cart, I quickly pulled away from it because I was worried my tears might contaminate a tray.
I did not sleep when I got home. I spent much of the day digesting everything and debating what I was going to do if Charlene sent me funeral information. After about 30 or so hours of contemplation, I have come to the conclusion Reg’s death is:
For such a simple word I don’t think I have ever grasped the true gravity of everything it could offer. “Unhappy” is seems sort of blanket word that can cover all non-positive emotions. “Depressed” always struck me as a very focused word. A single person is depressed. A situation can be depressing but it does not really express depth. A very happy person can encounter something depressing but that does not mean they cease to be happy.
This was just sad. Really fucking sad. Every aspect. Every point of view. Every flavor of this whole event has been sad. I could easily bullet each sentence as a separate thread of sadness making up a sad intricately sad woven tapestry of sad saddy sad sadness.
Charlene had to spend much of the day scrolling through her and Gary’s cellphones making choices on who she was going the bear her news. She undoubtedly been doing “death” things all day. Now, nearly sixteen hours since Reg passed away, she is scrolling through the last few random contacts on her phone deciding if that person should know if Reg died. If I had not made the trip out to see Reg, my cellphone number might never been saved in Gary’s phone. Charlene was Reg’s Sister in law; she did not have to call me and I would have had NO CLUE anything had happened to Reg until I tried to call him again. In fact, if the number just rang as I was used to I would just suspect Reg was seeing my number on the caller ID and choosing not to pick up. I probably would have just thought Reg was just being a jerk again.
If Charlene had not called, I would not have gotten the baton to pass to my mother. Without that, we would not have been able to reach the rest of my family with the sad news. My mother and I divided up who we were going to call and make sad. I called my brother and spoke to him on the phone for the first time in months. I spoke to my godmother (another person who is not REALLY my godmother but adopted me) another person I should keep in closer contact with but don’t. I sobbed in my wife’s arms for the first time in my life.
He was deeply religious and spent his moving between hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, and home all the while missing being able to attend church. Reg loved to eat, so God gave him diabetes. Charlene told me he was a non-compliant diabetic and would hide cookies in his room. God took away one of his legs. He would suffer from non-healing ulcers. He had to wait months to use his prosthesis because his amputation would not heal. When it finally did heal he would get ulcers on the stump so he could not use the prosthesis. He made staying in bed painful and the felt times he did attempt to walk were made painful as well for good measure.
A young nephew died in a car accident early the year before and he spent an undetermined amount of time wishing he could have somehow died in place of him. As though God had a quota of Sermersheim’s he had to achieve by a certain date and simply made a mistake which one he was supposed to have taken. His body nonvoluntarily struggled to live while his mind and heart voluntarily wished it would cease.
Then there are a collection of sad things that I can only define as assumptions. I remember him telling me how much he liked it at the nursing home. It was more expensive to stay at a nursing home than receive home care so I assume he liked the nursing home rather than being at home with family. I assume he was somewhat lonely because I can not recall the last time he had a significant other. As far as I knew or understood the Catholic church has never been the most accepting of homosexuals. So he loved a church that did not unconditionally love him back. He wanted to get healthy to attend church while at the same time praying he would die.
From his perspective, he was praying to a celestial body that did nothing but test him and seemingly torment him. He was asking forgiveness for sins while at the same time questioning the meaning or message in everything God was INFLICTING on him. What was the fucking point of any of it?
To give my sadness another layer of grief I can not help but wonder why his death is having such an effect on me. I did not cry when my grandfathers died. I remember crying when my grandmother died but I feel that was only because I was watching how sad my mother looked. Surely these people whom I loved deserved my tears. I've sobbed over dead family pets. Why did I not cry any for them? I don’t think a death has ever upset me this much.
My kind tenderhearted godfather died physically alone in an uncomfortable plastic-lined hospital bed with cold chrome side rails in a nursing home at sixty-four years old. That is just sad. If it wasn’t so mind-numbingly sad I might be able to think of another event in my life that rivaled how purely sad I feel right now.
I was waiting for an email from Charlene telling me about funeral arrangements when my mother told me they posted his obituary. She mentioned it seemed like they hardly knew him. Of course, they probably knew him well, but it really felt like that. It was like someone was asked to fill out a social media profile. They filled out all the subjective things but when they got to the “About yourself” section they accidentally hit enter and forgot to fill it out.
I suppose everyone deals with their sadness in different ways.
Goodnight Reg. I love you. I will miss you terribly.