He and his son had an easy rapport. If Gary Wayne ever swore at him he can’t remember, and his son’s life came to resemble his own in many respects. When Gary Wayne became a coal miner, he moved into the trailer next door. He got a truck, got married, had two kids, got divorced and built a life around the rhythms of fatherhood, hunting seasons and dinnertime, when he would pull up after work, his mom or dad would yell, “Gary, there’s food, come eat,” and they would talk.
These were the pleasures exchanged for a job that left him so covered in coal dust that he could scrape it off his arms, that had become so precarious with safety violations in the weeks before the explosion one miner said he began studying the sky as he went underground in case it was his last look.
Gary Quarles leaned back in his front porch swing. The sun was out.
“I always wondered what it’d be like not having to work,” he said. “I love to hunt. I used to think, ‘When I’m retired, when the seasons come in, I can hunt every day.’ But see, me and Gary Wayne hunted. It ain’t good. It ain’t what I hoped it’ve been. Now when I make the trip I cry going in, I cry in the tree stand, I cry coming home. I never know when I might start crying. I don’t really understand it.”
His wife said she only ever saw him cry one time before this. Now he cried remembering crying, and cried looking out on the green grass and orange lilies and thinking about the night of the explosion, when families gathered in a building and a woman from Massey holding a clipboard opened the door, keeping it ajar with her foot, a detail that still disturbs him.
“‘If I call your name,’” he recalled her saying, “‘you are to report to the fire department to identify bodies.’ What kind of person says that? People was passing out, falling out.”
He cried recalling his hope when Gary Wayne’s name was not called, and the frozen face of Don Blankenship as he stood with another Massey official who announced that, in fact, all 29 miners had died, and people began throwing soda cans at them.
He cried last year when he and Patty finally got their son’s autopsy report and read it in the parking lot of their lawyer’s office. She wanted to know every single detail, to imagine it, to somehow be with her son in his last moment. He was reluctant to see Gary Wayne described so crudely.