At times, Gary Quarles has not been sure whether to be grateful or disconcerted by some of the ways coal company officials have extended comfort.
During one memorial service, his grandson Trevor was telling about how he killed a turkey.
“And Don Blankenship walks by,” Quarles said. “And Don reaches into his pocket and gives Trevor a business card and says, ‘You’re the only 12-year-old that’ll ever have this.’ ”
He wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“I don’t know,” he said.
The whole time her husband was sitting outside or driving to the cemetery, Patty Quarles, who has an image of her son tattooed on her lower leg, had been sitting on an old leather couch in a living room that has the same furniture it always had. She had watched TV, then taken a nap, then watched TV some more, then gone back to sleep.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but I was a busy person before,” she said the next day, sitting at the kitchen table. “I loved housework. Loved gardening. I’ve lost interest in everything. Now we can do whatever we want to do, but now we don’t want to.”
She had thought about moving, she said, thought about just throwing everything in a bag and heading for Florida, but she realized “wherever I’m at, the same problem will be there.”
Also, “him,” she said, pointing to her husband, who was sitting in the living room with a new pair of white headphones on, staring out the glass front door and listening to bluegrass songs by Ralph Stanley, including one he plays over and over called “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” which he’s known since he was a kid.
He was humming.
“He just listens to that music and cries,” she said. “I don’t know if it gives him peace of mind. Me, I always liked music, but I don’t listen to it now. It makes me sad. Him? It doesn’t matter how sad it is.”
They have been together since she was 14. Patty Quarles does not cry as much as her husband only because she knows that if she does, then he will fall apart, and then she will fall apart, and if that happens, she said, “I’m afraid it won’t ever stop.”
During a memorial service, a time Patty Quarles was crying, a high-ranking Massey official touched her shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over and gave her his handkerchief, which for some reason she kept.
During another memorial service, the wife of a Massey executive whom some families hold responsible for the accident — a woman Patty Quarles has known for years — came up to her, crying.
“She said, ‘Are you mad at me?’ ” she recalled. “And I said, ‘Of course, I’m not mad at you!’ ”
More recently, before the settlement checks started arriving, a corporate lawyer, after explaining some legal details, leaned over to her and said, “I’m so sorry,” and Patty Quarles just nodded.