You Coulda Been a Hero

Patrick liked the writing style in this letter from Gretchen, as did I, though it was painful for him to read. Some references have been edited at my sister’s request.

WARNING: Sensitive readers may be offended by this letter’s foul language or the reality of the tale itself.


You pegged Pedro dead to rights, when I called him a neanderthal. You said “no, cro-magnon, he wouldn’t eat his own children, but he would eat anything else.”

But at least he noticed I was there. Which was more than could said for you … during the important bits.

By the time we got hauled out of the 2nd orphanage, (the BEST SETUP EVER, lemme tell you) I didn’t even know who was doing the hauling. They SAID … but for all I knew, she could have been the Fucking Tooth Fairy, rumored to exist but rarely seen, since you had to believe it first.

Or the rare triangle-spotted ocelot.

But by this time we were fairly well accustomed to being shipped off to strangers for no apparent reason and I, for one, did not protest. Jennifer was delighted (as it was a source of pride at the orphanage that a) our parents were alive somewhere and b) said they would come back for us.)

You, at this point, were some exotic blurry figure in the distance, who was gonna show up in the nick of time. har har har. Personally, I suspected that you were living like Doctor Zhivago somewhere.

If you HAD showed up in the nick of time, I wouldn’t of recognized you either.


Now aunt Phil I woulda recognized. I would have willingly gnawed my own leg off to get away from her, too. She ran her home like an army barracks on her good days, like the CIA with carte blanche in a central american country on her bad ones. And she did not hesitate to fuck up her kids. Not just her kids, but ANY kids unlucky enough to cross her path. She beat ’em, she burned ’em, she made ’em eat outta the garbage (THAT’ll teach him to waste food…) She did worse, but it wouldn’t help anybody to know about it. And wouldn’t make fuck aII’s worth of difference either.

Aunt Phil was where mama dropped us off when she ran off with Rhett. Aunt Phil should have been taken to the vet and fixed, before bearing her first victim.

And she still ranks as the cruelest human I ever saw up close. That stretch woulda been a good time for you to step in. You coulda been a hero.

Mama says let bygones be bygones, … but she wasn’t there.

Neither were you, pal.

Why am I telling you this? Because the past has finally reached out to grab me and it’s dragging me down down down down down. And hell, who else is gonna listen? If not my beloved father.

Patrick’s Ring

Patrick’s Ring, a Gift to Him from Gretchen

Years ago Gretchen gave Patrick a small ring, red and silver, which he wore often. When he passed away she asked me to send it back to her, which I did.

A week or two ago I was surprised to see it in my mailbox. She sent it to me, hoping that I’d wear it.

This I am doing, even here at the race track where a year ago (minus two days) I received the news of his end. Like the other little things of his that I keep close, it provides comfort–a wee bit of comfort–for the sadness.

Another Short Conversation

A short recording (25 Mar ’17)  in which you can tell Patrick’s pain is clearly getting to him, yet he still shows his sense of humor.

John: Any interesting stories or any practical things you want to …?

Patrick: I’ll have to try to… I can’t think. Let’s see.

Continue reading “Another Short Conversation”

Farewell on Sullivan Street 1960 (by Patrick)

we won’t let you go!
tackling me at the knees.

gretchen is laughing
at this new game with daddy.
jennifer is older and cries
her mother’s panicked eyes
telling her it’s no joke

with my books bundled in twenties
i lash myself down the stairs,
toss them into the vw bug and drive mari
to our roach-infested
love nest.

tenth street is a bongo jungle
where we live in sweet rhythmic sin,
joy swirling behind us
as we race toward the tawdry
end so surely up the road.

their arms hobble me yet,
though i now bundle my years
by the quarter century
and still await, with dread,
the accumulating tears.

Deya 2006

I Would Not Like to Grow Old without Knowing My Children

Here’s a two page letter from 17 February 1979 that Patrick sent to Gretchen, myself, and another sister, in which he describes the work that he and Stephanie have been putting into their house, and the music, and the writing. He also adds observations about each of us and how he longs for us to visit.

The letter concludes with a powerful final paragraph, including Continue reading “I Would Not Like to Grow Old without Knowing My Children”