Thursday, April 28, 2005

In Search of...

A few weeks ago in an earlier entry, I mentioned a childhood friend, Gary Steele; I've known Gary since the fourth grade, and we became particularly good friends beginning our seventh grade year, when we both began attending West Rome Junior School; we remained steadfast friends as we both went on to West Rome High School (alma mater: "Destined to be a Walmart Parking Lot"). Gary and I discovered fandom together at more or less the same time; I think I was the one who first ordered a copy of Rocket's Blast•ComiCollector back in 1965 or so, and I shared it with Gary. We each ordered fanzines from various listings in those pages, passing copies back and forth so that each of us could enjoy twice as many zines for our mutual investment. We both joined our first apa, Myriad, at the same time, and we remained active in those apas as well as in SFPA and Galaxy through the early 1980s. When I made that first nervous phone call to Susan Hendrix, a comics reader whose name and address I found in a Batman letters column, I remember telling Gary about it. Gary remained a good friend to both Susan and me as we dated and ultimately got married; he spent many a night at our tiny house in Cedartown, he helped in our move to Marietta in 1977, and he joined us in Marietta three months later. We made hundreds of bookstore runs together, we debated comics and music together, we shared an interest in television shows and movies (Gary was also the first person I knew who successfully ran his television sound through a home stereo system--sure, it's something we all take for granted now, but in 1969 it was A Big Thing).

Something happened in 1979 or so, though, and I never really knew what it was. I remember that, for the first time in years, we went for more than a week without hearing from Gary at all. That was disturbing, since I heard from Gary pretty much once a day, minimum; we had grown up thinking of one another's place as a second home, and we kept each other updated on everything. When we did finally hear from Gary again, both Susan and I could tell that something was different; Gary was aloof, distant, and less communicative than he had been. Within a few months, Gary had cut off his contact with his former fan friends in Southern SF fandom; he had quit attending Atlanta SF Club meetings; he had dropped out of the apas that we had so enjoyed. I'd see him every now and then at bookstores; when I bought Dr. No's in 1982, he'd drop by periodically, but there was still a perceptible distance between us... the distance that was so hard for formerly best friends to transcend.

By the 1990's, I had only the most minimal contact with Gary. We saw each other maybe once a year at best; we rarely contacted each other beyond that. I often wanted to find out what had gone wrong between us, but I couldn't bring myself to ask the question.

Since 2000, when I had my heart attack and subsequent surgery, I talked with Gary only once, to let him know I was still alive and that his friendship had meant a lot to me and I'd like to see him again... perhaps at dinner. He was noncommittal, and while he gave me his email address, he never responded to the emails that I sent him.

Last year, when I tried to call Gary, I discovered that his longtime phone number--the number that had been his since 1977--was disconnected. Gary had moved after spending almost twenty-five years in the same apartment... and I had no idea where he had gone or how to get in touch with him. I've tried to contact his father in Rome at least two dozen times, but Mr. Steele's health has been problematic in recent years, and I suspect he spends most of his time with family rather than staying at home.

Reading my entry referring to Gary Steele made me realize that I still miss him. I wish I knew where he was; I'd love to find out what he was doing now, where he's living, how life has been treating him... And someday, I'd like to learn how that chasm opened up between best friends...

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