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Ch 16: Gary

Summer 1978

Once the term murder is bandied about, people crawl out of the woodwork to talk about all the bad things the accused did as a child. They say they always knew there was something funny about the person. It’s as if they knew somewhere deep inside that the person was capable of the unspeakable. Well, let me dispel some of those childhood myths about me from the beginning.

No one has ever understood me. I don't think they are smart enough. I learned early on that a little fear can go a long way. Really, other people’s fear can be quite funny. People would probably say I am a prankster. Actually, that’s what I would call myself.

When we were young, I would hide downstairs. In the house we grew up in, there were dual light switches in the basement – one at the top of the stairs, and another at the bottom. I would wait in the basement until someone turned on the light at the top of the stairs and headed down. When they were almost all the way down the stairs, I would turn the lights off using the basement switch. It would be pitch black without the light on. Sometimes, I had to wait for a long time for someone to come down the stairs. But, there wasn’t much else to do. I would smile as the person paused at the bottom of the stairs trying to figure out if I was there or not. No one can be as quiet as me. They would fumble around and turn on the light, hoping I wasn’t there. That’s when I knew I had them. I waited and let them think they were safe. Then I would turn off the lights and grab them. Everyone was scared, even Mom. It was so funny. 

It is hard growing up with three sisters.  They were nosey, always wanting to be in my business.  The only way I could get some peace was scaring them.  They didn’t listen any other way.   I promised to tickle them until they peed their pants.  Sometimes I whispered I would stuff their wet underwear in their mouths – that would shut them up, and it did. I still laugh just thinking about it. That is how big brothers deal with pesky little sisters.  It worked. 

I shared a bedroom downstairs in the basement with my brother Larry. He was older than me, but I was the smarter one.  My sisters and Mom and Dad had bedrooms upstairs. It was nice to have some quiet in the basement.  But, Larry was there.  He was always trying to tell me what to do and bullying me.  We were supposed to keep the basement clean. Once, when it was my turn to sweep, I put the dust in Larry’s bed. He got into bed that night and poof, he was a mess.  He leapt out of bed and Mom made him take another shower.  It was hard, being the younger boy, to think of ways to get back at him.  He was much sneakier about how he made my life hard.  Mom and Dad never really saw what he was up to. 

I had to work hard to make sure Larry couldn’t intimidate me.  Once he pushed me for something he thought I did, which I didn’t.  I got up and started to chase him.  He ran up the stairs with me at his feet and locked himself in the bathroom.   He just made it to the door before I got there.  I showed him I could still get him. There was a laundry chute in the bathroom that led to the basement. I lit a fire on top of the washing machine to smoke him out. It worked.  He ran out screaming fire.  I told Dad it was just a prank among brothers.

I meant what I said to Dad.  I do like practical jokes.  I get to see people squirm which is too funny.  When Dad first married Mom, I liked to run and jump on the backs of my new uncles, and there were a lot of them.  Even thought I was five, I was a strong boy. Uncle Bill asked me not to jump as it hurt his back.  I didn’t listen. It was too much fun, and I was five. Who listens at that age?  He pinched my leg to make me stop.  It hurt, so I spit on him – and that jerk spit back.  I remember that.  Dad didn’t scold me because he knew I was usually right.  Uncle Bill shouldn’t have spit on me.  I figured out as a boy that I was smarter than most adults.

I think I understood adults better than most kids.  I often listened to their conversations.  You can learn a lot if you listen.  Once, I heard Dad tell a friend he was annoyed with our Dog Heidi.  She was always jumping on people and didn’t listen.  Larry found me listening and punched me.  I chased him to try and punch him back but tripped and fell.  Rotten tree root.  Larry looked back at me lying in the dirt, laughed, and ran off.  I got up and was so angry.  Why did he always have to do that?  Why are the tree roots always in the way for me?!  That’s when Heidi walked by and tried to jump on me, and I kicked her hard in the stomach.  She whimpered pretty loud.  I noticed Dad had stepped out of workshop and saw me kick the dog.  I ran off before he could say anything to me.  Later, when Heidi died, Dad didn’t mention that he knew I kicked her.  I think in a way he understood I was doing him a favor. 

My stepmom didn’t pay much attention to me.  She had her girls.  Larry didn’t notice that she wasn’t like a real mother to us.  I really didn’t think of her as “Mom.”  Hell, I already had a mom – Phyllis.  I dreamed of the day that my real mom would come back and rescue me from the chaotic home I was living in. 

Phyllis didn’t come around very often, but I understood she was too busy.  She would send great gifts to me, though. Of course, she never sent anything for the girls; they weren’t her family.  I loved the few times she visited.  She cried that she couldn’t spend more time with me.  She really loved me.  I knew that when I was old enough, I would go and live with her.  And so I grew up in a house with a busy Dad and a “Mom” who already had her kids.  I was the fifth wheel.  I couldn’t wait to find a way to leave. 

When I was eighteen, I joined the military just like Dad did.  I was stationed in Tennessee and served as the chauffeur for a general.  I never had to do a tour in Vietnam.  The chauffeur gig was great.  Little work, lots of free time.  While I waited for the general, I smoked a little weed and relaxed.  Shit, half the army was high.

I finally got the chance to live with my real Mom in Tennessee.  But she turned out to be a liar and a fake.  My desire to have a real mom transformed into hatred for Phyllis when I saw her for who she was – what a waste.  I didn’t stay with her too long.  Later, Phyllis asked me to testify for her when she was divorcing her second husband and I refused. Serves her right for the way she treated me when I lived with her.

When I came home on leave from the military I would stay with Dad and Jody.  It was boring.  Just like I remember when I was growing up.  They lived in Juanita in the middle of the suburbs, which meant there was nothing to do.  I went out to the driveway and practiced shooting.  The slugs were a perfect target.  To keep track of how many I killed, I notched my BB gun.  It was a great way to maintain my shooting skills for the army. 

The Army offered me a great signing bonus, so I reenlisted.  I was getting high every day, everyone was. Shit, it was the 1970s. There was too much stress being in the Army.  But, the fucking military singled me out and busted me.  It wasn’t my fault they decided to pick on me out of all the guys who were getting high.   I just left and went home.  Screw them.  The FBI found me a bit later.  They didn’t do anything but take back my signing bonus.

After leaving the military, I found a job selling prefab homes for Boise Cascade.  People would buy these homes to build themselves. It was “prefab,” so it was supposed to be easy.  But, of course they couldn’t do it, so they hired me.  My crew and I would come in and build the homes for them.  We worked hard for little pay.  The company made all of its profit off our backs.  I figured out a way to beat the system, though.  I wouldn’t tell Boise Cascade about every client that decided to use my services.  Once in a while I would collect the entire fee for myself.  It didn’t hurt anyone.

It was about this time that Dad asked me to go to Tahiti with him and Mom.  He said he needed my experience.  I knew he really needed me to help as captain since he didn’t know that much about navigation.  It was also about this time that Boise Cascade figured out that I had my little side gigs and fired me.  I had nothing better to do, so I told him I would come along.

And then because shit happens to me, I got into a car accident.  It was awful.  I was really hurt.  I spent most of the summer recuperating, which meant I couldn’t help too much with the preparations for the trip. I wasn’t feeling up to leaving with everyone in July, so  I told Dad I’d fly down to meet them in San Diego when I felt better, probably in September.  Shit, the asshole who hit me didn’t know how to drive!  His insurance had to settle with me so I wouldn’t sue because it was his fault.  My doctor was great. He knew I was leaving and would be unable to refill my prescriptions, so he gave me quite a bit of pain medicine just in case I needed it. 

I met this great girl while I was working for Boise Cascade – she loved me. We dated for quite a while. I would take her to dinner at nice places. I used the extra cash I was making on the side to do special things for her. We planned this special camping trip in the Olympic Peninsula. I bought a pistol to protect us and figured I might as well bring it on the trip to protect my parents from pirates and smugglers.  It was hard to agree to go on the trip and leave her but Dad really did need my help.   If she really loved me, she would wait.  It was only a couple of years.

The week before I left, she tells me she doesn’t want to date me anymore.  That bitch, she turned on me for no reason.  She said she didn’t think it would work out, with me going away so long. But I suspected something else was going on, so I followed her and watched her place from behind a tree.  A few days later, I saw her get into a car and kiss the driver and then drive to her parent’s house.  What did she see in him? I was the better lover, the better provider, the better man!  When they went inside, I slashed her new boyfriend’s tires – that taught her not to mess with me.  I knew I wouldn’t get in trouble since I was leaving.

I wasn’t in the best mood when I arrived in San Diego.  I was in pain.  My girlfriend was a stupid two-timing bitch.  And then there was Larry.  I let him know I wouldn’t put up with the same shit I had to when we were younger.  I am my own man now and he can’t push me around anymore.  I was glad when he decided not to go to Tahiti.  We both certainly couldn’t have remained on the Spellbound. It wasn’t big enough for the both of us.  

Without me, we would have never made it to Tahiti.  But the girls drove me nuts – they didn’t appreciate what I did for everyone on board. They knew I hurt myself in the accident and needed quiet.  But, no, they went on and on about the guys on the island.  I had forgotten that girls just can’t shut up. Boy, do they like to talk. “Sex with the natives was better than anything back home.”  They practically begged for it with their long legs and their skimpy shorts.  I was disgusted.  They should’ve showed me and Dad a bit more respect.  If I went ashore with them, it was guys and pot with all of the natives touching them.  And Dad never said anything to them.  I couldn’t watch, so I stayed on board a lot.  I read and took my pain medicine.  The pain meds helped mellow me so I wasn’t so angry all the time. 

The girls visited with the Queen Mab practically every day because there were a lot of guys on that boat. At least they were Australian and not native.  And Mom, she went too. We tied the Spellbound up next to them and everyone, including Dad, went aboard.  I stayed behind.  They are all so boring. When Dad was coming back, he injured his shin when he stepped from their boat to ours.  It became infected.  Mom tried to keep it clean. She did take a class, but her knowledge of such things wasn’t very good.  The infection slowly got worse and started to make Dad lose his balance.

Accidents just seem to happen aboard a boat.  That is the nature of boating.  We all knew the risks when we decided to make such a long trip.  At the bottom of the mast there is a winch to crank the sail up and down.  I put the handle in and forgot to lock it.  It slipped and struck my wrist and hurt it badly.  I wrapped it, but it hurt like a son of a bitch. Thank god I had my pain pills.  I really needed them again. 

I was in the boat’s cockpit, steering, when I heard Kerry scream from where she lay sleeping on the couch in the cabin three steps below.  Kerry had a pillow over her head.  Weird, but I didn’t ask why because she had blood all over her.  She said she hurt her head while she was asleep.  She was probably drunk or high and fell when she tried to get up. I assumed she hit her head on the corner of the trunk.  I didn’t know she had fractured her skull. Hell, I didn’t even know that happened until later.  Mom came up from the master cabin to take care of her. Of course, since precious Kerry was hurt, we stopped running our usual two hours shifts.  I tried to tell everyone that this was a bad idea, that she was fine.  No one listened to me and we soon got lost.  Dad went below to be with Kerry and I tried to figure out where we were.

There was no wind and it was a calm sea, so we had the main sail down and were traveling by motor.  I was looking around trying to orient myself and get the Spellbound back on course when I saw an atoll.  I climbed to the bow to see better.  I had my map and knew I could figure out which island it was.  Naturally, I would be the one to fix the mess we were in.  I called Dad up on deck to show him the atoll.  As Dad walked onto the deck, the boat jerked and he was hit when the main boom came flying around.  I tried to run to Dad, everything happened in slow motion.  Dad fell into the steering wheel and hit his head again.  Blood was everywhere.  By the time I got to Dad, he was unconscious.

I called for help.  I had to yell a couple of times until Mom finally heard me and came up on deck to see what was wrong.  She was surprised to see all of the blood.  I told Mom to take Dad’s feet so we could move him below to see if we could revive him.  We carried him down the few steps. There was a lot of blood coming from his injury. It was dripping on the floor.  I was sure I would have to clean it up later, so I grabbed a box next to me to put it under his head to catch the blood.  I went to wake up Lori to get her to take the helm while I helped Mom with Dad.  Lori was slow to wake. Nothing unusual there, she was always a bit slow.  “Christ’s sake, get out of bed and take the helm. There has been an accident!” I yelled.  I saw Lori starting to get up so I ran back up on deck.  I was always the one who had to do everything around the boat. We were unable to revive Dad and he died.  Lori got us more lost, if that was possible. 

Mom was useless. She was distraught.  Dad was dead and all she could do was sit there and talk to herself.  We were hopelessly lost.  Couldn’t anyone do anything right?  I left Dad’s body inside and went outside to try and figure out where we were.  Eventually Mom came up and sat by the helm holding the wheel.   I walked over and told her I thought we should bury Dad at sea but Mom wouldn’t have it.  “Pull it together,” I told her.  “We are in the South Pacific Ocean, it is hot, and we are terribly lost,” I explained to her.  “Think about it,” I implored and then asked Lori to sit with Mom.  “Stay with her,” I told her.

I hadn’t slept in a long time.  I went to my cabin for a nap.  Mom should let me bury Dad at sea, I thought. He was starting to stink from the cabin.  When I got up, Mom was right where I left her, at the outside helm.   Mom just sat there looking at Dad through the window all night.  I was trying to figure out where we were.  I walked to the front of the boat to drop the sails.  Stupid girl!  Lori got up to use the toilet and Mom shot herself in the head with my pistol while she was gone.  Didn’t they know why I asked Lori to sit with her?  Mom must have hid my pistol under one of the cushions in the cockpit.  What a mess!  But, I knew I could I fix everything.  I knew I would get us to safety.

I don’t know why my family won’t believe me.  Those 36 hours on the Spellbound were confusing.  I did what I thought I had to do to help my sister and Lori.  Shit, I am the hero.  They are treating me like I did something wrong.  I don’t really care what they think!  I know what really happened!!! 

Letter to Vivian Parks (Loren’s Sister) in Woodinville, WA from Gary in Papeete, Tahiti (April 25, 1978).