Stephen is remembered warmly in Bernal Heights, but over the holiday break Bernalwood received an email from Stephen’s daughter, which sheds some light on the complexities of his biography.
This is what Kara Messinese is thinking about, one year after her father passed away:
Some of you may remember, some of you may not. Some may have known him, may have spoken to him. Others may think he was just a bum. It’s easier to think he didn’t have a history, but that is not the case.
A year ago, a man died. He lost a battle, a very long battle. He was a homeless man, an alcoholic, a disabled man. His days were spent in a park from what I can gather. He spoke to people, was friendly to kids and animals, and to some, made the park a safer place. To others, he was just another homeless guy sitting on a bench. To me, he was my father. His name was Stephen Stymiest.
Many days it crosses my mind, as it has for the past 15 years, wondering where he is, what he’s doing, and why he never came back for us, his children. And now for the past year, when I have those thoughts, it slowly dawns on me I know where he is. And I know that I will never have the answers to the questions I always wanted to ask.
Following his death, a reporter contacted my mom and informed her of his passing. Then there were posts on a blog with pictures of people holding a memorial in his honor. An artist had created artwork in his memory. We asked for stories people had of him and people responded. But, my brothers and I had questions. And no one was there with answers.
Did he ever think of us? Did he ever talk about us? Why did other people get to see him for the past 15 years and we were just left wondering? Is it wrong to be jealous of those people? Why, when everything was getting worse, did he not contact us? He knew our names, someone could have googled us. If the reporter found us pretty easily, I’m sure someone else could have.
I continued to hope that at some point I could reconnect with Stephen. I’m not sure what I wanted out of it. I wanted truth. I wanted the answer to the question ‘why’. I wanted an apology. I wanted him to care.
It’s not as if I’ve been without a dad for 15 years. My mom got remarried to a wonderful guy who raised my brothers and I as his own. He adopted us a couple years after Stephen left us and my brothers and I have all graduated from high school. I graduated from college, married, and have a wonderful family with a beautiful one year old daughter (she was born just a couple weeks before Stephen passed away). Brent and Jerad are both in college working on their degrees. We have grown up to be intelligent, independent adults. But, there will always be a part missing. Something that was part of us that is no longer around. Knowing we can never access it again. We only have the material items, things Stephen had with him, things my mother had that were his. We have divided these evenly so we all have a little bit of him.
Someday I hope to make it to San Francisco, to Precita Park. I want to see what Stephen saw everyday. While I will never see it the way he saw it, I can still see it and maybe meet some of these people who cared about him.
From the daughter who did not get to know him as well as one should, who saw the bad sides of him, and was old enough to be hurt by his abandonment, but from someone who knew he was capable of so much more. I thank those of you who talked to him, who sat with him, listened to what he had to say. No matter how many nights I was upset or cried over his disappearance I hope that he got some enjoyment out of talking to people and meeting people in the park. I hope he was able to get some peace in the end. I’m still working on finding that peace.
PHOTO: Steven Stymiest memorial service in Precita Park, January 2012. By Telstar Logistics