Fuck cancer

(A note, before I begin: there is going to be a nonzero number of you who know me in Real Life and also knew Becky. Her parents, who I know, and sister, who I really don’t, are on Facebook and have been monitoring her page. She followed Luther, but was not friends with his account. If her family sees this, they see it, but I would appreciate it if no one goes out of their way to bring it to their attention. I am, as will probably become clear pretty quickly, writing it for me, not for them, if that makes any sense. Thank you.)

Becky Arney died yesterday. She used to pull my hair in fifth grade, and now she’s gone.

She was two months younger than me, and had been fighting cancer for nine Goddamned years. She spent most of the last month of her life in the hospital until her family finally decided she’d had enough and brought her home.

Nine damn years. The cancer started off as a small-cell cervical cancer that, as far as I ever understood, had a five-year life expectancy just north of “you’re kidding, right?” and she managed nine years. I think it was actually liver failure that got her in the end; the cancer was in remission for a while but then popped up in a bunch of other organs and that was the essential body part that gave out first.

The biggest problem I’ve ever had in my life is being able to see my feet past my ample fucking gut and this badass bitch got handed a life where she had to beat the shit out of cancer on a daily basis for nine fucking years in her thirties and forties. And frankly she did not lead the sort of life prior to getting cancer that was going to lead to gold-plated health insurance, either. She worked in the arts. She worked in prop design. I can only imagine the extent of the medical bills.

She was my first real crush, in fifth grade. If you look at my fourth grade yearbook there’s one particular girl whose picture I drew a green box around, but I don’t remember anything about falling for her. My unrequited thing for Becky lasted two or three years, at least. It was a Thing for a While. She knew; I’m sure she did. There was one particular field trip in sixth grade to a museum in Chicago where she spent the whole day letting me take her picture next to dinosaur bones and then sat behind me and intermittently pulled my hair the whole way home. She knew. By high school we were friends; we drifted apart when I left for college and then reconnected via Facebook just after I moved home and got married.

The last time I saw her, I was with my wife and son at Bob Evans, of all the goddamn places, and she just happened to be there with her grandmother. It was the only time she ever met my son; my wife was a couple of years behind us in high school so they already knew each other. When I killed my personal Facebook account, she didn’t send Luther a friend request, but she continued to follow the page, and I got updates from my wife.

She lived with her grandmother after she got sick. Imagine that. Imagine being old enough to be a grandmother to someone in their forties and you eventually have to bury them. I can’t do it.

There is not going to be a funeral, which is good, because I am generally not good at funerals at the best of times and I think there’s a good chance that “absolutely everyone from high school is there!” will not qualify as The Best of Times. She was that person who had every single person from our graduating class she could find and a sizable number of the kids from within a couple of years of us on her friends list. The eventual “celebration of life” that her obituary alludes to will be a de facto high school reunion. I have already skipped three high school reunions. I don’t know that I can make myself go to this one. We’ll see.

I’m not old enough to have to be writing this shit yet. She wasn’t old enough that I should have been writing this about her. She should have been raising the kids she never got to have, or doing whatever else the hell she wanted to do if she didn’t want to have kids. I can only assume that a cancer diagnosis at 33 can tend to alter your plans.

I used to tell people that I wasn’t really scared of anything, other than blindness, which was my greatest fear for most of my life. But for the last few days, which have been spent mostly restraining the urge to ask my wife to check Facebook again to see if her family has posted any updates, I’ve gotten this cold sort of existential horror in my gut every time I’ve looked at my son. Because apparently I’ve reached the age where people my age start dying of fucking cancer and so that’s a thing I need to start worrying about. About leaving him behind, before either of us is ready. About, hell, something happening to him. Because she was young, but it ain’t like cancer is especially discriminating, now, is it? And it’s not like this has been unique to the last few days– she had had cancer for two years before my son was even born, and one thing every parent becomes familiar with very quickly after their first child is born is the notion of their own mortality.

(This is what I meant when I said I was writing this for me, by the way.)

I don’t know. I don’t have a cute or clever way to end this, so I’m just going to stop writing.

Fuck cancer.

Stan Lee, 1922-2018

Stan Lee.jpg

I never met Stan Lee.  I almost certainly could have at some point, if I’d wanted to; half the nerds I know have a picture of themselves with him at some con or another.  He passed away two full days ago and I’m still struggling with tears trying to write this.  That seems an odd thing to say about a man I never met.  Odd, but true.

Also true: I can think of two people, only one still with us, since JRR Tolkien passed away three years before I was born, whose work has had even close to as much of an influence on my life as Stan Lee’s did.  I have been buying comic books for 3/4 of my life, and I probably have 80% of all the Iron Man comics ever printed.  Today is Wednesday.  It’s new comic book day.  I went to the comic shop.

I go to the comic shop every Wednesday.  And I have gone to the comic shop every Wednesday for goddamn near my entire adult life, excepting only a short period of time where I lived in Chicago and didn’t have a comic shop in Chicago yet so I was still getting my comics from my local store in South Bend.  My two favorite superheroes are Iron Man and the Hulk.  Spider-Man is right behind Superman.  Number five probably slides around a bit more than the others, but Captain America is as good a choice as any.

Stan Lee created three of those five characters, and had an enormous influence on the history of the fifth.  Did he come up with everything about them completely on his own?  No, of course not.  Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Jack Kirby; the contributions of these men can’t be denied, and they were towering figures in their own right.  And we just lost Steve Ditko earlier this year, so it’s been a really bad year to be a Spider-Man fan.

(Steve Ditko designed the classic red-and-gold Iron Man armor.  I just found that out.  I don’t think I knew that before.)

This is one hundred percent true:  I have no idea what my life would look like if Stan Lee had not been a part of it.  I have no idea who I would be if I had never encountered Stan’s creations.  You don’t get to spend most of your life marinating your brain in stories about superheroes every single week and not be changed by them.  To say that Stan Lee was one of my heroes feels like it’s minimizing him.

It’s not enough.  He was too big for this.  I don’t have the words.  I’m reading this over and the whole thing just feels stupid, like I’m not trying hard enough.

Stan was Jewish.  Jews typically, or at least traditionally, don’t say “rest in peace.”  A more appropriately Jewish phrase to honor the recently dead is May his memory be a blessing.  And it’s also more appropriate to describe my relationship with Stan, a man who I never met and whose life’s nevertheless influenced me so deeply and thoroughly that I am unable to untangle what my life would be like had he never lived.  His memory– and his creations– will live on, if not forever, but certainly well beyond whatever years may be left to me.  Every day.  But especially, and undeniably, every Wednesday.

Stan Lee’s life was a blessing.  May his memory continue to be.

In which I can’t really cope today

CR-Health-AH-Supplements_ss-Drugs-11-15I mentioned a few days ago that I took a Clonazepam the night of the election because the stress had gotten too thick to operate through, and after not touching the stuff for a couple of years it’s not impossible that I’ll decide to take another tonight.  The event didn’t go well yesterday at all — or, at least, was a crashing financial disaster, although some good things are going to end up coming from it, there were literally more authors present than there were people who wanted to buy books.  I’m not mad about it, necessarily, but it was a long damn weekend.  Today was an immensely stressful day at work, and the majority of that stress was due to various acts of incompetence on my part that I can’t even pretend to lay at anyone else’s feet.  And the rest of it, that isn’t part of that majority … well, it’s bad, and I can’t fucking talk about it right now for a variety of reasons.

The books still haven’t shipped, by the way, so Amazon’s blown past the most recent of their guarantees as of today.  The site now says I’ll get them on Friday, which will be six days shy of a month since these books– which are print-on-demand, remember– were ordered.

And Stan Lee died.  And … I just can’t.  The guy was 95 and he’s been in poor health for a long time but Stan Lee cannot be dead right now.  The last few days have been too fucking exhausting; I can’t process it.

So, yeah.  It may be time for another Clonazepam tonight.  After I finish typing this I plan to spend at least an hour with a kitten sleeping on my chest; we’ll see if that works first.  But if not?  Yeah, bring the brain pills on.

In which post titles are really hard sometimes

My wife and son both had Friday off so I took it off as well, and the three of us have mostly lazed around all weekend, which is not something I’m going to complain about.  We went to the zoo on Friday– and I strongly recommend going to the zoo on a Friday afternoon when a rainy morning and a weekday means that not many other people are out and about.

Which is fine.  Because for the most part the world spent all last week going to hell– even beyond the obvious stuff in Washington, which I just don’t have the fucking energy to even talk about.  Wednesday night, one of my co-workers at the furniture store died.  He was in Indianapolis for his cousin’s funeral, which was enough of a shitshow to begin with, staying at his sister’s.  He went to sleep and didn’t wake up the next morning.  He was thirty-one fucking years old, and I doubt the cousin whose funeral he was in town for was much older.

Nobody is supposed to die in their fucking sleep at 31.

His roommate also works at the store.  He told me the other night that the last thing Griff said to him was that at least his grandmother, who passed away all of a couple of months ago, wasn’t alive to have to attend the funeral of one of her grandkids.  And now she’d have to go to two.

I can’t pretend we were super close.  We were co-workers.  I liked the guy quite a bit.  But his funeral is tomorrow in Evansville and I’m not going, because I already have to be in Indianapolis for a conference from Wednesday through Friday and the con on Saturday and I just can’t squeeze in a ten-hour round trip drive today and tomorrow.  But it’s got me fucked up anyway.

This post wasn’t supposed to be about Griffin.  I meant to talk about video games a bit; I’m still trying to beat Dark Souls 2 (getting closer, especially if I decide it’s okay to ignore the DLC) and I haven’t played Spider-Man in like three weeks because I got abruptly tired of it like a day after my initial impressions post.  The combat consistently annoys me and I’m not convinced it’ll get better.  I’ll probably bring the PS4 with me to Indianapolis, though, so I’ll have time to play when I’m not at the conference.

I dunno.  I got too much fucking serious in the world right now.  For right now gabbling about video games is where my head’s at.  At least I thought it was.

RIP, Mrs. Gates

image-29403_20180310.jpgxI got a text from my mother just now, while I was eating dinner, that my second grade teacher had passed away, at the admirably ripe old age of 92.  Mrs. Gates is one of the several teachers that my book Searching for Malumba is dedicated to, one of only two from my elementary/primary school years.

I had found myself wondering about her many times over the years.  My second-grade recollection of her was that she was one of my older teachers, but that could have meant she was 40; kids are terrible at pegging how old adults are, right?  As it turns out, she was nearly 60 when I had her, so she was probably nearing retirement at the time.  I remember her as being probably the best example I ever had of the “strict but fair” teacher, which was something I always tried to emulate in my own career.

The funny thing is that when I try to unearth specific memories of what she was like as a teacher, I can only come up with one or two of them, and the clearest memory probably counts as educational malpractice, to the point where I almost feel disrespectful for talking about it.   Mrs. Gates was always big on cleanliness– keeping the room clean, and in particular, keeping our desks clean.  She’d actually inspect them from time to time– I have no idea how frequently; this could have been a daily or weekly thing for all I remember, or it could have been more frequently than that.

I am still in touch with literally no one who was in my second grade class, but I can think of perhaps four or five kids who are no more than a quick Facebook search away.  And I guarantee each of them remembers the day Mrs. Gates got tired of Jonathan W. (I remember his full name, but why let him Google this?) having a sloppy desk for like the nine hundredth time in a row and in a fit of frustration dumped it out on the classroom floor in front of everyone.  Objectively, with thirty-some-odd years of hindsight, this was probably a terribly humiliating thing for Jonathan and was not the proper way for her to have handled the situation.  certainly can’t imagine dumping a kid’s desk out on the floor in front of the whole class.  And yet, I think for most of us, it made us more fond of her– and make no mistake, strict as she was, the kids in that class loved Mrs. Gates.  Because this lady wasn’t taking any shit, and chances are most of our moms would have done the same damn thing in similar circumstances.  I stayed friends with Jonathan until he moved away, I think in middle school sometime, and that story was still getting told at slumber parties years later.

For whatever it’s worth, I suspect he’d probably still laugh at the story.  I dunno; maybe I shouldn’t have told it.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Gates.  I hope wherever you are, all the desks are pristine.