Creativity Magazine

To John

Posted on the 28 January 2013 by Abstractartbylt @artbylt

John died on Monday, January 21, 2013 at the age of 72.

I had always thought that I would see him one more time again.


John was a gentle soul, but had the nickname Big Bad John because he could not navigate modern civilization.  He was good with plants, animals, and children.  He could thrive in the wilderness.  He was a successful loner who was also well liked by the communities he lived in. 

What were the demons haunting John?  Why did he disappear from his birth family, his next family, and then a third?  Why did he leave five children wondering what had happened to him and why he was no longer a part of their lives?


John has haunted my dreams since I left him in LA in 1967.  In my dreams he is always 28, the age he was when, in desperation, I took our nine-month-old daughter home to my parents in New Jersey. 


When you met John, you either loved him or hated him.  One of my college dorm-mates from USC came to visit me in New Jersey when I was dating John, and warned my mother that he was a dangerous influence. 

Yes, he introduced me to heroin and had recently gotten out of prison.  But he also introduced me to jazz and Freud and Vonnegut.  He taught me to love cats and to respect their advantages over dogs, even though my dog had been my best friend since fourth grade. 

After my dorm-mate left, my mother told me what she had said.  But my mother liked John.  Even after he left burn marks on the furniture because he occasionally nodded off with a burning cigarette, she still liked him. 

My youngest sister, Mary, had a crush on John at one time, I think. Or perhaps she was just very close to him in a sisterly way.  I was a little jealous until Mary found a guy for herself. 

My sister Laura was different, more suspicious.  Laura was the conservative one with an organized life and money in the bank.  Mary and I were the experimental artists, beatniks, hippies—whatever group was non-conforming at the time. 

John was a breath of fresh air to Mary and me.  We clung to him—literally in one photo I have that we took in LA when we all lived together.  We were panning for the camera, but there was a truth in it, too. 


What do I know about John?

He was either loyal to a fault or stuck in entropy.  He would never leave a woman he was with.  She would have to kick him out or leave herself, or someone else would have to make it happen.

When I met John, he was with a younger, sullen, stupid girl—the sister of a girl John knew in high school.  I was dating John’s best friend at the time, but I soon learned that John was the prize, and I prized him away from her in spite of threats from the older sister.

When we were struggling financially in LA after our daughter was born, I was the one who made the decision to leave.  John wouldn’t come with me, but he never would have left us on his own.

Then he found a new woman, and though he disappeared from my knowledge for years, I was happy when I learned that he was living in Canada with her, father to a child she had had before she met him, and to three daughters they had together. 

I learned about him from his parents, who were thrilled to finally get a letter from him.  Over the years they made two or three trips to Canada to see him and his new family.  John was still struggling financially, but it was easier to do that in Canada than in the US. 

I thought this was going to be the happy ending for John, but the Canadian woman kicked him out for another man.  I don’t know why, and I don’t want to guess.

John once again disappeared from our knowledge—from mine, from his parents, and from his four daughters in Canada. 


Is John alive or dead, we wondered.

And then one Christmas his mother got a letter from him.  Maybe his daughters did, too, because Oona, the daughter who missed him the most, kept writing to him from then on, even when she got no response. 

He was living in Hyder, Alaska, not far from the Canadian border.


The next thing I heard about John some years later was that he had fallen off the roof of his house and broken his back.  A woman called Oona to tell her:  “John is in the hospital and has no one to look after him.”  The woman’s son was helping him because “John had been like a father to him.”


He had been a father to so many children.

When I met Oona at John’s mother’s funeral, Oona said that she and her sisters had had a happy childhood, that John had been a good father to them.


He would never leave those children.  He loved them all.  But he couldn’t keep the mothers from leaving him


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