Tonight as I sat in Sparky’s picking over my fries and grilled cheese after class, I thought this: Tonight, there is a sprinkling of people throughout this great city, thinking sadly about Dr. Gong, about his end, and feeling small and lonely. I know there are a lot of us even just in the city, because Dr. Gong, just by virtue of his profession, must have known many people, and from knowing him in one small capacity, I know that a person such as that must have touched on many other lives in other ways.
Dr. Gong was just my dentist. I can’t say he was a friend, or that we bonded exceptionally. He was an affable guy, always chatting about his hobbies and work. I could say he was my favorite dentist, but I’ve only had a few dentists. In my life, I saw him two or three times a year, and through his friendly conversations, I’d picked up quite a bit about him. Maybe some of it isn’t even true, just the gaps I’d filled in.
He loved to take pictures, loved to fish, was very interested in bicycle races when they came to town. He’d tell me about flying to New Zealand or someplace to get on a fishing boat for certain types of fish I’d never heard of. I listened to stories that told me about a guy who’d set up a pretty good life for himself. A practice he’d grown, a schedule he’d designed to keep his sanity (worked Saturdays as a way to keep his schedule less chaotic, more calm.) He’d expanded his office and wanted to hire someone to help. But, he wondered how to acclimate his patients, who’d grown attached to him. He had model trains on display in the last room of his office; it always reminded fondly me of my dad.
And of his family, I didn’t know a lot. I knew he had kids, college age, and he was proud of them, as I assumed they were of him (he was a guy I thought you would be proud to have for a dad). I mentally compared him to my own dad, a guy who had the satisfaction and peace that comes from having done the one important thing he could: raising kids that he loved and was proud of, and now just living the life he’d created to be comfortable and meaningful for himself. Yes, he was known to take on projects to help at the school, or some dental work for those in need. I imagined him satisfied, and looking out into the distance, seeing a future of working in his practice, watching his kids do great things, and plodding into old age enjoying his hobbies with his wife.
Which is why it is with such sadness that we have to wonder why. It seems stupid to mention that it was senseless. I live in a city where I hear about senseless things all the time. But never do they touch down in my life, in a way that seems so wrongly placed. It just does not seem right. I first assumed it was a mistake, but as the story developed, the details were a little too close. For the record, a man came up to Dr. Gong at 7:50 this morning, shot him to death, and then went to his car and shot himself. It doesn’t seem like there is any chance of a real motive-- just a truly fucked up nonsensical act. A very *permanent* act.
For some reason, I really liked my dentist. Oddly, I’d recommended him to several people, and it seems I’d mentioned more than a few times to Paul that I liked my dentist, that he was a nice guy. How many of your friends have told you that they like their dentist? Dr. Gong seemed to actually care about his patients. He’d chat with me honestly about my concerns, and check with me on stupid insurance crap. I mean, what do you want from a dentist? He made an impression though.
He was just really fucking nice.
Some knew him only as the dentist, as i did. I can’t claim to imagine the pain of those whose lives have been taken or irrevocably derailed. I feel horribly for his family at this time, and for all those who knew him better than I did. My thoughts are with them at this time as they embark on this unwelcome journey toward healing and learning to live without, and, hopefully, eventually, forgiveness. Some knew him closely, some tangentially, some of us big and some of us small, all tonight, feeling a little smaller and sadder.
Goodbye, Dr. Gong. Thanks for the great work and conversations, the interesting fishes in the waiting room, the stories about fishing and Lance Armstrong, the incredibly beautiful views from your office windows, and the model trains on the wall.
I write this tonight to mark the date and record in my mind the memories of a guy whose life seemed quiet and rich, who is gone now for no reason, and whom I don’t want to forget.