In Memoriam

I’ve debated with myself for the last 12 hours about whether or not I should post anything about this. Part of me feels it isn’t my place. Part of me feels like I shouldn’t put it out to the world. Part of me feels like people don’t want to see it. But, if I gave much of a damn about what other people thought, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’m gonna ramble some, I’m gonna be melodramatic, I’m gonna be hokey, I’m gonna say a bunch of shit that may or may not even be intelligible. So, here it goes.

As a writer, I always want to find the perfect words to convey something. After this last weekend, I’m at a complete loss. First came the loss of my high school theater director, whose impact in my life almost can’t be measured.

J. Gary Wyatt was a storm of a man, a force to be reckoned with, even if his hands shook and threatened to spill the Diet Coke he always carried. With memorable phrases like “Don’t let stupid out of the box!”, “Don’t expect it to work, inspect it, so you know it will work! Just because it worked yesterday does not mean it will work today.”, and “You are auditioning all the time!” he instilled a sense of self-sufficiency, responsibility, and self-worth into every one of his actors, techies, and crew. It didn’t take long to realize that J Gary yelled because he cared. If he was yelling at you, it meant you were worth him spending time to get you on the right track. If he wasn’t yelling, you weren’t one of his kids.

Every night before a show, we would all gather in a circle around the stage, behind the curtain and clasp hands. Mr. Wyatt would bow his head and give a little pep talk. It always ended the same way. “Your talents are a gift from God. What you do with those talents is, in turn, your gift to God. The power of the circle is the strongest power of all. You take strength from one another and give strength to each other. Take the power and pass it on.” Then he would squeeze the hand of the person to his right. The power would traverse the circle and end back at him.

“Whatever you do, wherever you do it, always do it with Class and Style.”

Then on Sunday, we learned of my father-in-law’s passing. Not everyone thinks of their in-laws as real family, heck, not everyone think of their in-laws as real people, but since the first time I met Tom and Sally, I’ve felt like I belonged among them. I have been so lucky to have a mother- and father-in-law that love and accept me in the way they have. It’s like getting an extra set of parents, even when the first set is pretty damn amazing.

I first met Tom one week after I met his daughter. He and Sally and Amanda and I sat in lawn chairs in the river, drank beers from a floating styrofoam cooler, and talked about all the things you’re not supposed to discuss with people you just met: religion, politics, sex, the meaning of life… oh yeah, and the fact that I was still married, working on getting a divorce, and fighting desperately for custody of my son. In honesty, it could have been pretty bad, but they were very accepting of me and I was grateful for that. Probably more than they will ever really understand.

Ever since that day in the Blanco river, for as long as I have known him, no matter what else he was doing, Tom always had extra hands for two things: a baby and a beer–often at the same time. I’ve never seen him happier than sitting on the porch with a baby on one arm and a beer in his other hand while watching the grandkids ride bikes and play in the yard. No matter what cancer did to him, what toll it took on his body, when my wife walked into his room with grandbabies, Tom would light up like everything in the world was right. And I like to think that, if even for a brief moment, my children helped him forget the pain and hardship of leaving this world. It makes me feel like I’ve helped pay him back a little.

When we would go visit them, right as we were leaving, Tom would stand up, shake my hand and say “Glad you got to see me,” and now, all I can think is “Me too, Tom. Glad I got to see you.” Glad I was lucky enough to get to know you.

People in your life are like stars. They send forth their light for all to see, even if some aren’t observant enough to look for it. Every once in a while there’s a star so intense, so undeniable, that all who see it are changed. Long after the star burns out, as all stars must eventually do, its light carries on, bounding endlessly through time and space, leaving everything it touches a little brighter than it was before. I have seen more such stars than any one person has the right to keep to himself. It is my duty to these people, these beautiful people whose very nature shaped me as a man, to carry on their legacies. I have been made brighter by their light, and I only hope that the meager glow I send forth is enough to make them proud.