Saturday, August 27, 2011

Obituary for an old friend

I got news today that one of my classmates, Dan Pendergrass, passed away. Dan and I grew up in the small town of White Rock, New Mexico, and were very good friends as children. He was one of the first male best friends I ever had; people thought we were totally weird or our cross-gender bond, but throughout the subsequent years I've had a lot of guy friends and have considered life all the richer for it.

My memories of Dan are of a stunningly intelligent person, a gentle soul who struggled with the cruelty the world showed him. He was an eplileptic and one of the few kids in our class who wore a medic alert bracelet, and he was small for his age and uncoordinated. The last kid picked for sports teams (unless it was me). Some of the saddest memories I have are the birthday party at his house that was just me and his family, as he didn't feel like there was anyone else who'd want to come, and when I was hospitalized after a car accident when I was eleven, Dan ended up in the room across from me thanks to one of his many health problems (sad to say, there were enough that I don't remember which one this was.) While my room smelled like a flower shop and looked like an overstocked toy store, Dan's was relatively empty. I had a regular stream of visitors and Dan was usually alone. I brought toys and games over to him and that was one of the first experiences to show me that not all childhoods are created equal. I had a fantastic one with unlimited love and attention, but a lot of children go without.

He and I drifted apart in middle school and high school, but he'd been in touch again recently on Facebook. He was working on becoming a children's author, and would occasionally ask for advice. There I felt like I had to be the bearer of bad news as I let him know how difficult it is to break into that industry, though I hope his family saves his books and continues to work on getting them published.

I don't know the circumstances of his death, but I hope against hope that he wasn't alone and that he found the love and support that everyone deserves in life. Rest in peace, old friend. I'll never forget you.

9 comments:

  1. This is an extremely touching remembrance. I didn't know Dan but now I feel deeply saddened by his passing. Thank you for remembering him for us.

    I'm sorry for your loss, and his family's.

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  2. Thanks, Ian. I'll blog more about him. It turns out there will be no memorial service. Less than ten people posted their goodbyes on his Facebook wall. I'd hate for his life and identity to disappear from memory.

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  3. Dan was a character in Mrs. Roberts class. He used to sing a monty python song, at least I think it was monty python. I think that Dan was one of the few kids in class that got picked on more than me. Unfortunately, for the masses, his cane and his walk set him apart from others. For those of us that knew him, at least enough to call him an acquaintance, the one thing that set him apart from others was his wit. He could craft a cunning comeback to nearly anything that was said to him as an insult, and more often than not, the person who was on the receiving end of his wit had no idea what had just happened. More than once I realized that a recent exchange with him had ended with a zinger in my direction.
    I had only recently discovered that Dan was around, and I regret that I did not take the opportunity to have a conversation with him, and iron out the few wrinkles we had between us. It goes to show that any opportunity that is not acted upon, is an opportunity wasted. I will miss him, even though we didn't see eye to eye, I always respected him.
    I would love to hear more about him and his life through the eyes of someone that was closer to him.

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  4. Trying to figure out who you are, because if you were in Ms. Roberts class and knew Dan all the way through high school, you'd have to come from a tiny, select group of people. Thing is, I never paid much attention to whom was getting picked on - a fault of mine, I know. Remember when Dan's mom brought his wolfhound, Tara to class? All of us could pet her at once, she was so big, and his mom also put together our science experiment where we grew bacteria on congealed tomato soup. We all got blue ribbons for that one.

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  5. Emily: Sorry this is kinda random, but after stumbling across Dan's facebook page this evening I went looking for an obituary for him and found your post. My older brother Alden was also friends with Dan, more in junior high and onward I think, and our family got to know him better in recent years after returning to NM. I actually had a big ol crush on Dan as a little girl, wanting to hang out with him and my brother as they went to Canyon Vista Pool, etc. It makes my heart hurt to think he didn't get much attention either while he was struggling or after he passed away. I remember him as being keen-witted and humorous, and patient. Thanks for writing this remembrance of him.

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    1. Hi Lizzie! Yeah, Alden, Dan, and I were all in GATE together, so we hung out a lot. There wasn't even a funeral for him, so I guess it's not surprising there aren't many obituaries out there.

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  6. http://www.lamonitor.com/content/daniel-david-pendergrass

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  7. Emily, thanks very much for your memoir! It is very sad to hear that Dan passed away. I went searching for him given our recent 20th high school reunion. I posted the above LA monitor article.

    I got to know Dan during one summer when we worked together at LANL in the chemistry division (I think summer 1995.) He was a great co-worker and I was sorry to not have known him prior to that. I lost track of him after my mission but always wondered what happened.

    Dan told me he never only wanted to adopt kids... because he didn't want to pass along his crummy genes... which seemed to cause his so much suffering . Yet, he was resiliant and amazingly always upbeat.

    He told me he hoped to become a rich doctor so he could retire and write books. I even got to read a 100 page draft of a fantasy novel he was working on. Not great, but not bad either.

    I'll miss him. I drove past his house this weekend and wondered how he was doing. Such a resilient person with such tremendous obstacles. At least his mental capacity were always intact!

    Will miss you Dan. Sorry you couldn't make it to the LAHS 20th reunion.

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    1. Hi Quinn! Sorry you didn't know about Dan. It wasn't widely publicized. I got what details I have from Mike Gibson.

      It's too bad I didn't get to see you at the reunion, but I still live in the area, so feel free to get in touch anytime you're visiting your parents (when they're not on a mission!)

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