One of my best friends died. I didn’t lose him, he didn’t pass on or away, he didn’t cash in or check out, or depart, he died. He was a man of short stature, large appetites, and indomitable spirit, and life killed him as it will murder us all in due time.
It went like this: he felt ill but he didn’t have time to be sick, so he put off going to a clinic until he could no longer breathe. Within a month he was dead, destroyed by a hyper-aggressive illness that pitted his immune system against his organs and ravaged them faster than his body could fight back. Gone. He loved well, he lived honorably, and he died.
I know the traditional response to loss is to go all carpe diem on shit and art like there’s no tomorrow because damn, there might not be one and there are so many important stories left, but…
I miss him. He was a staunch friend, a better human and a relentless supporter. I couldn’t go back to the monster Marines I wrote for him until I coukd type without leaking saltwater all over my keyboard. And to work on anything else with that story unfinished felt like betrayal.
So I took a few days sitting low and quiet, and gave grief time to sift off life’s main path and settle in the corners where it will stay forever. There was fiction to gorge on, blankets to wrap up in, and good times to remember.
- Closer to the Chest Mercedes Lackey. Valdemar is reliably likable. I needed that.
- Kingfisher Patricia McKillip. Collect a double-handful of Arthurian-related tales from all over the map, put them in a blender and puree. Pour into a contemporary magical-realism setting. Garnish with delightful trope subversions. Kick back and enjoy. Snarky side note: I will wave this book under the noses of everyone who starts reciting “Good authors never <insert style quirk here>” It’s deep, lovely, and dark, but if you’re a stickler for active, stripped down adverb-less prose and have zero tolerance for narrator references, steer clear. It worked for me, and someone must like her stuff, multiple award winner that she is.
Movies & TV:
- Zero Theorem & Time Bandits I needed a Terry Gilliam evening
- Hot Fuzz
- SHERLOCK!!! Episode 2 was everything I could wish.
- Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets & Askaban. My goodness they were all so young…
Oh, the Berli tales I could tell. There was the time when he low-crawled the length of a driveway and up concrete steps to prove a point, that day he spent a two-mile hike rhapsodizing about the first cigarette he would smoke at the end and his lighter wouldn’t work when we got there, the visit when he showed up on day three of a week’s leave and had a full beard already, the nights he would call at 1AM to chat about some book he was reading because he knew I’d be awake…
Some adventures will find their way into books now. It’s the least I can do. Back to the words I go.
“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” -George Eliot
Note on death euphemisms. Berli had little patience for them, even less than I do. But I know he’d be okay with someone saying he was pushing up daisies, or better, resting after a long squawk.
3 responses to “Cruel Winter Blues”
He’d probably be someone put off with us missing him like we do. Or that’s maybe how he would make it known publicly. But secretly, he probably is digging the fact that so many people love him. Very secretly.
VERY secretly, but the beard bristles moving would give away his smile.
I went to high school with Dan (as Karen knows). Actually, I guess went to junior high with him, too, but I didn’t know him at all at that time.
I remember him relating the tale of the epic towel fight that occurred at a summer wrestling camp held at a university (in Iowa, I believe), which resulted in the Northwood Junior High wrestling team being banned from said summer wresting camp. Well, it _began_ as a towel fight, but escalated; fire extinguishers and I forget what else he said were employed as weapons. (Somehow, I’m unable to muster any measurable degree of astonishment that Dan would be involved in something like that.)
His parents gave him money weekly or monthly with which to buy lunches at school, which he, of course, used instead to buy books and games. His standard greeting to me in the lunchroom was “Hast du essen für mir?” (Google gives mich, but I remember mir.) I regret to say that my answer was typically “no.”
We lived in northern Illinois, 20-something minutes (by car) south of Lake Geneva. Once, with no drivers licences yet or anyone to drive us, the two of us decided to ride our bikes up to the Dungeon Hobby Shop, a long trip made longer by Dan’s refusal to pedal up hills; I had to wait at the tops for him to walk his bike up them. On the way home, the weather changed: the wind rose, grey clouds covered the sky and the temperature dropped notably. I forget, but it may have been getting dark by the time we got home. Yeah, we only made that trip by bicycle once.
I was on Facebook for a time, a few years back. I couldn’t help being a little amused by Dan’s warm attitude toward his service in the Marines, rather different from his attitude at the time. Well, he was at first very positive, through boot camp and training at 29 Palms. His enthusiasm began to wane after that. His words – upon getting home after his four years – were, as I remember them, “Everyone’s entitled to one mistake.”
Despite that, he, of course, made the best of it. He had many tales of good times, not infrequently involving (much) alcohol and/or other, um, intoxicants.
He once made a bet with his Marine buddies that he could grow a full beard while home on leave, something he achieved easily. He had someone take a photo of him sitting at his parent’s kitchen table, in his dress blues (unbuttoned), holding a beer, with that beard. He later told me someone tacked that photo on a wall in the barracks, which earned him a lecture from an officer about his “poor attitude.”
He told me that once, when a ship he was on was going through heavy seas, he stole a turkey from a freezer and heaved it overboard as an offering to Thor for fair weather.
And there was the time he was at a pub in England, and decided to buy a round of drinks for some Royal Marines, who reciprocated and…well, Dan said he woke up on his ship the next day. He was told that he had been carried there by Royal Marines.