I went to see Gary today. I went to tell him I loved him and.. to tell him goodbye. Gary has been my neighbor for 47 years. We have known each other from birth. Our parents moved next to each other before we were born, our houses shared a backyard fence. When Gary's parents were coming out of the hospital from giving birth to him, my parents were going into the same hospital to have me, they met on the elevator.
I have no childhood memories that do not include Gary. We were almost always together. Our own little Rat Pack. We played almost everyday and then began kindergarten when we were old enough. We got in our share of arguments and fights, but always made up. We got in trouble together on many occasions. We did some really stupid things which I won't get into because I'm still not sure the statute of limitations are over. We had some mischievous times too. Like throwing water balloons at cars from the cemetery at night. It had many trees that blocked the moons rays, purposing it to be the perfect hideout when the owners of those cars stopped, the goal of ripping our sweet little innocent heads off foremost on their minds.
His parents almost sold their house once. I saw the "for sale" sign in the front yard and I panicked. I went home and prayed it would not sell so Gary would not move away. He was my only friend at the time. It didn't sell and he stayed. Things that could have torn other young friendships apart, didn't. Gary's German Shepherd, Sam, jumped our fence and bit a huge hunk of skin out of our Dachshund, Fritzi, and at my 6th birthday party, one of our fellow classmates decided to pretend he was a kamikaze pilot but didn't release the battle plans to Gary until after he had flown a rather large plastic jetliner into Gary's eye. Sam was very protective of Gary and looked after him like any good dog should. Gary would sometimes climb.. or should I say TRY to climb the fence into my yard. Sam, intuitively knowing that Gary was doing something terribly, horribly wrong, would run up and hook his teeth into the back of Gary's pants and start pulling, naturally to save Gary from impending doom. Gary would scream "MAMAAAAAA" knowing one of our mothers would eventually come to the rescue when there was a commercial break during their soap operas.
As what happens with a lot of childhood friends, we grew older and grew apart. Gary was into sports, I wasn't. That alone was enough to create a cavern between us. The things we had in common seemed to slip away, things that teenagers for some reason, don't realize they should hold onto. Instead, they battle the much bigger questions of wondering who they are and where they fit in, superseding everything else.
Life went on of course and years quickly flew by. Gary's mother passed away after high school as did mine later on. We felt the loss of both since they co-opted in raising us. Gary inherited his mothers house and I eventually moved back to take care of my Dad after a stroke. We were neighbors once again. We did not talk much but were always friendly towards one another when we did. Surprisingly to me, there was still a twinge of regret in my heart for the friend I lost so long ago.
In November of last year, Gary had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. During his bypass, something went wrong and he was put on a respirator to help him breathe. I drove to the hospital to see him and was slightly taken aback by all the tubes encircling his body and bed. There were tubes in his throat, allowing him to breathe, but not talk. When he saw me, he grabbed me and pulled me close, there were tears flowing from both of us. He released my body only to grab my hand as hard as he could. He looked straight at me as if to say, "I remember".
Gary left the hospital only to go into a nursing home for rehab. Complications almost involved the installation of a revolving door as he traveled back and forth between the two. At this point he had not been home for 8 months. We talked several times over the phone. His voice, gravely and sometimes weak, made it hard to understand what he was saying at times but I chalked it up to the tiny speakers of a cell phone. Visiting him in person taught me that the cell phone was indeed working quite well and it was his consistent coughing that was the larger culprit. His thirst for a sympathetic ear was underscored by his need to be noticed, to know he had not been forgotten. I tried to make sure he wasn't.
Not only was Gary suffering from his heart procedure, He was on Dialysis for his kidneys and battled diabetes that wasn't discovered until his hospitalization. His toes had turned black from the complications. He contacted me Tuesday night. He was going to find out if he would be losing his toes or perhaps even more of his foot. He wanted prayer, he said he didn't understand why this was happening. we talked a bit longer then he told me he had to get off the phone because he was having one of his "spells". I assumed he was going to have one of the many coughing fits that filled his days. I said goodbye, not knowing it would be the last time we would ever speak.
He was found unresponsive on Wednesday morning. He never woke up. They turned off his life support at 3pm today. He passed away shortly after. I am supposing I was the last person to talk to him.
He is with Jesus now. He is resting from a difficult life and a particularly rough 8 months. I'm happy he is out of pain. Free from all the tubes and equipment that had taken over his life. I'm thankful I had the chance to be there at the end since I was there in the beginning.
Goodbye Gary. I'll see you again someday.
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