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Paul was a very gentle and humble person, and he loved, and cared about other people. Every time he saw me he would greet me with his enthusiastic “HI!,how are you today?” And then he would listen, really listen, because he cared. With his gentle and caring nature he even won over a surly roommate!

He was friends with everyone in the apartment complex, and loved the children. He was the first one to introduce himself when we moved here and I still remember meeting him for the first time.

When he was in the hospital he made friends with the nurses and knew them all by name. He would greet them with his usual enthusiastic “HI, how are you today?” They were sad to see him go. I doubt they get many patients as pleasant as he was.

He also made friends with an old man who was a permanent resident there. He never had any visitors and didn’t talk to anyone. Of course Paul got him to open up and they had several conversations.

He appreciated little things, a songbird, a beautiful garden, a drive around the bay, or a hike with his brother.

He had a quick wit and I could always depend on him to cheer up my day by making me laugh.

He will always have a special place in my heart.

I will miss you my dear friend!

                                                                    —Deborah Zwolenkiewicz

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Dear Uncle Paul,

Where have you gone – and what is there? And even as ask I ask you now, I imagine you raising your palms and shrugging, in a funny ‘I dunno’. My memories of you blend into conversations we perhaps never had, like now, when I ask you where you have gone, and you smile raising your shoulders to your ears… And you are tall, your hair is still dark with only sprinkles of grey, your face is ruddy, in the denim shearling coat, you smell like nicotine and light beer and the ocean.. I didn’t know that smell as a kid, but as a tugboater and Alaskan – I know it well now…

Goodness, I haven’t seen you for at least five or six or seven years. After college, I drove through Pacific Grove with my boyfriend Ryan – you know that he is my husband now, and that we are expecting. You know because you comment on my facebook every once in a while, and you liked my Wild Things mural, calling me a “wild thing”- making me smile. I couldn’t drive through town (heading to Big Sur maybe) without stopping to see you- but as always you were hard to find. Maybe a new phone number, or no phone, and unanswered emails, but finally I found you. You were so surprised I would be there, and I had brought you a sandwich, and sort of interrupted your world by coming alone without my Dad, instead bringing some strange other guy – my boyfriend. But you were courteous, and invited us inside, and smiled bashfully. It was a short visit – and we went back to the campground up on the hill where it was like 25 dollars and we weren’t allowed to light a fire, or throw rocks at the raccoons. Really pissed Ryan off.

I guess I don’t mean to rehash memories, I want to talk to you and see if you remember the visit like I do. I want to tell you that Ryan really liked you – because you were kind, and genuine, and quiet, and he is sort of like that too. You are a constant figure in my mind, watching sea otters off Lovers Point in Monterey, looking at the ground and the tree tops for all the little creatures, with crinkles around your eyes. But if you are still that guy, then I am still a messy haired tomboy – trying to figure out why my Dad who loves you so much, gets so mad at you. I think I am still that messy haired tomboy trying to figure it all out. So you are still scanning the sea, watching the otters roll in the kelp.

I want to let you know that I think you were one of the brightest souls in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe you were on the outside of a busy, buzzing, self-helping and over diagnosing society- battling your demons alone, or with art and words.  As a kid, I knew you saw the funny, tired, strange things springing from soil, the hiding stray cats, other lonely people. Things that busy people on the ‘inside of society’ don’t detect. I would never tell you this in person, because, well, you’re my Uncle, and I’m your niece, and there are some things I just wouldn’t ever say. You are my Uncle Paul, always so kind to me – seeing me- shaking your head and laughing. Your grins would make my Dad happy, or your shrugs would piss him off. I think your leaving has really pissed him off now, worse than all the shrugs, the biggest shrug of all – but I would like to think maybe you fell asleep and left all your hurt behind too. Please let us know. Do you need art supplies where you are? Are you lonely? Are you at peace? Are you tending a garden? In my heart you are relieving a new plant of its dead leaves, putting out your cigarette, and kneeling to pet the stray cat that came out of hiding just to rub against your shins.

Love, Ume

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