Disdaining most of society's conventional rules that he was nonetheless sworn to uphold and defend, he disavowed most organized religion in favor of Native American sweat lodges, and counted among his friends many outlaw bikers, federal agents and small-time crooks. He enjoyed watching Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, the latter because one of his hobbies - hobbies! - was quantum physics and he enjoyed the references. He taught me and my brothers how to shoot guns, and had purchased exploding targets that he was planning to let them take out the next time they visited from Europe. (We thought their mother might freak out, but in fact she wanted a lesson also.) His talents extended into areas beyond the battlefield, as he was also expert at concert lighting, and running the Joshua Tree Playhouse Theater, despite being the furthest thing from a drama geek.
John always half-threatened to take me on camping trips where we'd sleep on rocks, if we were lucky, and planned to teach me the manual tasks I'd never learned, like mixing concrete by hand. I always looked forward to showing him some of my DVDs attained by my participation in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association - there are generally one or two war documentaries, and he's usually a fount of useful information the movies don't provide. I was particularly hoping this year to get his take on the new Donald Rumsfeld documentary, knowing that he hates the ex-SecDef almost as much as Jane Fonda. I was hoping to recruit him to make viral videos; his reading aloud of the Iron Sheik's Twitter feed would, I feel sure, have been as hilarious to the casual viewer as it was to us. He even suggested some insults to fire back at Sheikie, most of them involving sex with animals. I wish I could have taken him to more advance press screenings than Ender's Game, which he found "boring and predictable," but later suggested I should be kind to anyway so as not to burn any bridges. He worried about that stuff.
America lost a hero this week; the world lost a man determined to make it better (unlike so many, he liked and understood Muslim culture and worked to bridge the understanding gap); but more directly, my wife and I lost a man who was at the center of our world. Feeling a tingling in his arm , he went to the hospital; his last words were, "Take my damn phone, I feel dizzy." And then he was gone in an instant, like he would have wanted.
Julia worried about never having said goodbye, but John never said goodbye. Every phone conversation I ever had with him, he would sign off with, "Have fun, you guys." I think if he could have chosen his last words knowing they were it, that's exactly how he would have signed off the mortal coil.
I never told him I loved him; I thought that would develop in the next decade or so, as this seemingly indestructible, mid-sixties man (he tended to fudge his age a bit so I 'm not sure what it really was) would be around a while. My own father, who has a degenerative brain disease, was the one we were bracing for.
One of the last things we all did together was see Will Forte give a live comedy performance on the Santa Monica pier; I had met Forte earlier at a Nebraska screening and he offered us the tickets, generously allowing us to bring John too. John hated crowds, and had since Vietnam, but he went, and we left directly afterward; John claimed indigestion, but I now think he was concealing something worse, putting on a brave face as he always had. We had helped produce an elementary school play earlier in the day with actress Ariel Winter, and enjoyed that; he just didn't have the energy to last a whole day any more.
Julia's birthday is this weekend, and Christmas is within two weeks. There has been very little time to emotionally prepare for his not being there. We've canceled the birthday plans, and have to come to terms now with the fact that whatever number our anniversaries are in the future, that will also be the number of years without a dad.
I saw him lying there in the ER, nobody home in that body any longer, and could only think of the numerous corpse dummies I've seen on the sets of horror movies. Like his cinematic hero John Wayne, he died with his boots on...but we kept them afterward.
I don't think they'll ever be filled.
(We should return to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow)