Tag Archives: death

Spock Feelings

27 Feb

I was wandering around the art gallery during my lunch break when a message buzzed through on my phone. I saw that it was from my friend Audra, and expected it to be a continuation of an earlier discussion about bullying. Instead, it said:

“Oh no Leonard Nimoy died!”

I stared crying. I tried to be secretive about it, breathing deeply and casually wiping the corners of my eyes over and over like not-crying people just casually do. The cry was rebellious, though. It wasn’t going to be a secret cry. It was going to be a cascading-over-my-lower-lashes, messy-eyeliner-splashing, tidal wave of a cry. There wasn’t a washroom in sight, so I sat down on a bench and tried to sob quietly until the worst of it had passed.

A security guard came over and asked me what was wrong. Probably she thought my house had burned down or my dog had been run over.

I told her that Leonard Nimoy had died, hyper-aware of how snotty and disgusting my face was. The security guard looked confused and medium-sad; she offered to get me a kleenex, which is probably the best that I could have expected given the circumstances.

Now I’m sitting in a coffee shop, scrolling through twitter and stewing in my feelings. I’m having a lot of feelings. Some of them are Nimoy-feelings – my love of his Full Body Project, my admiration for the fact that he advocated for equal pay for Nichelle Nichols – but, to be honest, most of them as Spock-feelings.

Spock was a magnificent misfit, even beyond the realm of the human crew of the Enterprise (and the very human-centric Federation). To Vulcans, he seemed wildly emotional; to humans, he seemed cold and rational. He was heartbreakingly too much of both to ever be either; no matter where he went, his features, actions and general manner marked him as alien.

The son of the Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation, Sarek, and a human lady who dressed like she was some kind of artist, Spock grew up on his father’s home planet. He spent a good chunk of his childhood getting the shit bullied out of him by Vulcan kids with Draco Malfoy-eqsue levels of obsession with blood purity. Spock had to work twice as hard as anyone else just to be considered half as good, but eventually he gained entry to the Vulcan Science Academy.

And then.

And then.

And then it turned out that all along Spock had been playing the long game, and when they finally told him he was Vulcan enough to go to their school, he flipped everyone off (including and especially his dad) and was like, “Fuck all of you, I’m going to Starfleet Academy.”

This was, without a hint of hyperbole, literally the most illogically rebellious thing anyone had ever done in all the history of Vulcan.

Spock presumably had a somewhat easier time as a Starfleet cadet, but he still didn’t really have any friends. I mean, he had classmates who respected and feared him, and professors who envied his intellect, but no actual friends. Just a bunch of people whose idea of a good time was to get drunk and try to provoke some kind of emotion in Spock.

Then he joined the crew of the Enterprise and even though he was still totally weird everyone was cool about it.* He just did his thing, and didn’t try to be extra Vulcan or extra human or whatever. He was just himself, and his colleagues were more like his cool space family than anyone else. Especially Kirk. I mean, the entirety of Star Trek is basically the story of those two beautiful bros exploring the universe together and at the same time learning about each other’s adorable eccentricities.

And every time some alien conflict would come up, Kirk would be like, “Hey, let’s fight these guys,” Spock would be all, “No, let’s chill and hug it out. Except don’t hug me. I hate hugging.” The kicker? Every time Spock would be right.

Spock was just like this high-cheeked, slant-eyebrowed space wizard travelling around and teaching people to talk things through.

Also every seven years he had to have ritual sex or else he’d die, but I mean. That’s another kettle of fish.

Here’s the thing: Spock is every weird kid who grew up feeling like they were incompatible with the world around them. He’s every kid who was teased, or bullied, or had the shit kicked out of them for being different. And then he grew up and found people who loved him exactly for who he was.

I know that it’s weird to be sad about Spock right now, because Spock isn’t dead. I mean, for one thing, he’s a fictional character. Second of all, he’s not even going to be born for another 215 years. Thirdly, Zachary Quinto makes an extremely babely Spock, so no complaints in that department. But still.

I can’t help but wonder how much of himself Nimoy infused into the character of Spock. As the child of Jewish immigrant parents growing up in Boston during the second world war, I’m sure that there were times when Nimoy very much felt himself to be between cultural worlds. And I can’t help but wondering if he also experienced some kind of bullying or social isolation as a kid. So maybe mourning Spock is a way of mourning Nimoy. Or maybe I’m mourning them both. I don’t know.

I just know that I have a lot of feelings right now that and I’m not sure what to do with them.

Farewell, you beautiful bro. You’re finally on your way to exploring those strange new worlds. I hope they’re wonderful.

spock_smile

*Except Bones, but Bones was a bag of dicks and doesn’t count

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Rehtaeh Parsons

9 Apr

The story is disturbingly familiar.

A teenage girl goes to some kind of get-together, maybe a party.

She is raped by multiple assailants.

The rape is photographed and distributed via social media.

The girl is subjected to horrifying acts of bullying and shaming. She is branded a slut. Her life becomes a living hell.

This girl is not Steubenville’s Jane Doe, although their stories bear a remarkable resemblance. This girl is Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, who hanged herself on April 4th, a year and a half after being raped. Her family took her off life support this past Sunday.

Reading the account of what happened to Rehtaeh is like watching a deadly accident slowly, methodically unfolding in front of you. And there are bystanders, plenty of bystanders, who had any number of opportunities to step in and do something, but none of them do.

And, in many ways, you are one of these bystanders, too. I am, too. We all are.

Rehtaeh did not have a rape kit done because she was too ashamed to tell anyone about her rape until several days later, at which point it was thought to be too late to retrieve medical evidence.

The boys (there were four of them) accused of raping Retaeh were not interviewed until long after the family tried to press charges.

They were not separated for their interviews; they were interviewed together, meaning that they were easily able to corroborate each others’ stories.

The investigation took over a year. In the end, it was decided that there was insufficient evidence of sexual assault, no charges were laid, and the boys got off scot free.

No legal action was taken with regards to the photographs of the rape that were distributed through social media. Rehtaeh’s mother was told that this was because there was no way of proving who had taken the pictures.

Rehtaeh struggled to survive for seventeen months. She moved to Halifax, unable to cope with the fact that her rapists were also her high school classmates. She checked herself into the hospital when she felt suicidal and stayed there for six weeks. She made new friends. She saw a therapist. She fought to live. She fought hard.

And then one day, she couldn’t fight any longer.

And when I read her story, I can’t help but wonder:

Where the fuck were all the grownups?

Where were the grownups who were supposed to love her and protect her? Where were the grownups who should have kept her safe? Where were the grownups who were supposed to make sure that she received some kind of justice for what she suffered?

And I don’t mean her parents, because it’s clear that they, too, have been struggling for the past seventeen months, doing what they can to try to help and advocate for their daughter. I mean where the fuck were the school officials, the members of the law enforcement, the people who should have made sure that she had adequate follow-up mental health care after her hospitalization? Where were they, and why didn’t they do anything? Or if they did do something, why didn’t they do enough?

Rehtaeh’s rapists are still out there. They are still in high school, they are still going to parties and they are, quite likely, still raping. Why wouldn’t they? They got away with it once, didn’t they? Rehtaeh’s rapists are still living normal, untroubled lives, and she is dead.

She’s dead, but even in the wake of her suicide and the attention her case has gained, government officials are refusing to review why the RCMP declined  to lay charges against Rehtaeh’s rapist.

Instead, Nova Scotia’s justice minister, Ross Landry, released this fucking joke of a statement:

“As a community, we need to have more dialogue with our young people about respect and about support to educate our young boys and our young girls about what’s appropriate behaviour, what’s not appropriate behaviour,” Landry said.

“We have to make sure that we’re cognizant about what gets online and what doesn’t get online and what the impacts are, so it’s having that dialogue.

“That still doesn’t take away the fact that we’ve lost a beautiful young woman … and I’m very upset about the loss.”

Saying that we need to educate boys and girls about appropriate behaviour is victim-blaming. Saying that this wouldn’t have been a problem if the pictures hadn’t ended up online is like saying that rape is fine, but publicly broadcasting it isn’t. Calling Rehtaeh’s death a tragedy because we’ve lost a beautiful young woman is a joke – seriously, what bearing does her appearance have on how sad her death is? And since Landry is refusing to open an official review into how the RCMP handled this, isn’t he basically saying, “I think she was lying about the rape, but gosh, she sure was hot”?

All of this, every single word of this statement, all of the things that Rehtaeh endured, every single detail presented here is rape culture.

This is rape culture. This is our culture.

I never thought in a million years that I’d be saying this, but I wish that Rehtaeh’s case had had the same outcome as Jane Doe’s. Because while Jane Doe had to endure some spectacularly vile, awful shit, at least she made it out alive. At least her rapists suffered consequences. At least her case actually made it to trial.

rehtaeh parsons

This is Rehtaeh Parsons. When she was fifteen, she was raped by four boys. When she was seventeen, she committed suicide.

She is dead because we, as a society, failed her.

There is a petition up demanding an inquiry into the police investigation of Rehtaeh’s rape. I’m not sure if it will do anything to help, but signing it sure as hell won’t hurt. Right now, this petition and bringing awareness to what happened to Rehtaeh seem like the only concrete ways of helping her. Right now, I need to do something, anything to stop myself from feeling like a bystander. I’m not going to just shake my head and sigh over this. I’m going to raise my voice until everyone knows what happened to Rehtaeh.

Edited to add:

Ross Landry now says that he will be moving forward with a review of Rehtaeh’s case. Thank God. An excerpt from the article I linked to:

Justice Minister Ross Landry said today, April 9, he has asked senior government officials to present options, as soon as possible, to review the Rehtaeh Parsons case.

“This situation is tragic, I am deeply saddened – as I think are all Nova Scotians – by the death of this young woman,” said Mr. Landry. “As a parent, I can’t imagine the pain this family is going through at this time. My thoughts are with them.”

Mr. Landry said he hopes to meet with Leah Parsons, Rehtaeh’s mother, to discuss her experience with the justice system.

“I know that law enforcement and the public prosecution service do their best, every day, to administer and enforce the law,” said Mr. Landry. “It’s important that Nova Scotians have faith in the justice system and I am committed to exploring the mechanisms that exist to review the actions of all relevant authorities to ensure the system is always working to the best of its ability, in pursuit of justice.”

Mr. Landry said he has been reviewing details of the case and consulting with officials throughout the day, and expects options within the next few days.

Patti Smith – Camera Solo

6 Feb

When the Art Gallery of Ontario announced that they would be doing a major exhibition of Patti Smith’s photographs, I can’t say that I was overly excited. We’re members there, so I figured that I’d see it eventually, but I wasn’t going to make a special trip for it or anything.

I have to admit that before today, I didn’t know much of Smith beyond her status as the godmother of punk and her seminal 1975 album Horses. Part of my disinterest in her show probably stemmed from the fact that I often don’t trust artists who dabble in other forms of art – actors who put out an album, say, or musicians who try to be novelists. I guess that part of my curmudgeonry is because they don’t have any obligation to be talented in fields other than their own – some label will release David Hasselhoff’s album because he’s David Hasselhoff, not because he’s good. I figured that Patti Smith and her photography had a similar story.

Then today, I scheduled myself two hours of do-something-pleasant time (which is a thing I’m trying to do lately) between 11 and 1. I decided to go down to the AGO, wander through the galleries, and maybe park myself in the members’ lounge (actually several shabby-chic rooms in a Victorian mansion that’s attached to the gallery) and write in my journal. But when I got to the AGO and showed off me membership card and ID to the woman working at the desk, she asked if I’d come to see the members-only preview of Patti Smith’s show. I told her no. She asked me if I wanted to see it. I shrugged and said sure, because I’d already seen just about everything else in the gallery.

Smith’s show was a revelation. After making a tour of the main room, I sat down in one of the comfortable old wooden chairs provided (tastefully arranged on an oriental rug) and started scribbling in my notebook. The first words that I wrote were, “miniature & melancholy & perfect,” which seem like an accurate way of summing up how I felt.

The exhibition is made up of approximately 70 photographs taken with Smith’s vintage Polaroid camera, presented there as gelatin prints, as well as a handful of personal objects, and Equation Daumal, a film Smith directed which was shot on 16mm using Super 8 film.

The room is bare and white, with the rug and chairs occupying the floor space along with a large piece of artwork constructed by Smith. The photographs that line the walls are tiny (as you imagine vintage Polaroids would be) and are displayed in groups of four or five, sometimes with cases full of related objects underneath.

Some of the photographs are self-portraits. Some are of Smith’s children. Most of them, though, can be summed up by this quote by Smith, which is posted on one of the walls:

I have a strong relationship with the dead, even a happy one. I get pleasure out of having their things and sometimes photographing them.

Some of the dead are people she knew – Robert Mapplethorpe, for example, the well-known photographer and her one-time partner who died of AIDS in the late 1980s. Most of the photographs, however, are of people who inspired her and the various objects they owned.

There’s Herman Hesse’s typewriter. The river Ouse where Virginia Woolfe drowned herself, her pockets full of stones. A stuffed bear belonging to Tolstoy that served to hold calling cards in its outstretched hands. A funeral wreath. William Blake’s grave. Nureyev’s ballet slippers. Virginia Woolfe’s bed. Victor Hugo’s bed. Frida Kahlo’s bed. So many photographs of beds belonging to dead, famous people.

Why beds? I wondered, then realized all the various uses we put them to.

Beds are places where we sleep, yes, and also dream. We fuck in beds. We eat, read, maybe write in bed. Beds are places where we fight with the people we love the most; beds are places where we make up those fights, with whispered reconciliations, skin brushing against soft skin. Sick days are spent in bed, sleeping, Facebooking or watching old movies. Nearly all of us are born in a bed; many of us will die in one, too. Beds are equally places of pleasure and pain, but even more than that, they’re places of transition. Beds are where we make our way in and out of this world, making them a sort symbolic doorway or portal.

There are objects in Smith’s collection, too. Her father’s chipped white bone china mug, a cross that belonged to Mapplethorpe, and a sort of totem Smith made for Brian Jones. There’s a pair of slippers belonging to Pope Benedict XV, the man who canonized Joan of Arc. There’s a stone from the river Ouse.

There’s an entire section devoted to Arthur Rimbaud, photographs of his bed, the path near his house, his grave. There are drawings that Smith has done of Rimbaud, black lines with a few dabs of colour. The large object in the middle of the room is a reconstruction she’s done of the litter Rimbaud designed to carry him 100 miles across Ethiopia, to a place where he could seek medical treatment after falling ill in the jungle.

As I walked around the room, I thought, yes. Yes. I live here. Here, in this grainy black and white land between living and death. I know the holiness that surrounds the grave of a painter or poet that you love. I know the happiness of holding an object that someone I love once cupped in their hands. I know this place. I live here.

The whole exhibit was a sort of communion with the dead. It was about the ways we connect with those we’ve loved and lost, through sight, through touch. It was a reminder that love still exists, even after death. And what do you do with all that leftover love, the heart-searing shit that’s left behind when you lose someone you care about? What do you do with the love you have for a poet or painter or musician who has greatly inspired you but died long before you were born?

You channel it into something, even someone else, I suppose. You put it into your own art, or your work, whatever it is, or into your children or your lovers or your friends. Or else maybe you waste it, let it drain out of you, use it to feed your loneliness.

I’ve been thinking all afternoon of the things that I have that once belonged to people who are now dead. My names, for a start – Annie, after my great-grandfather’s sister who died of tuberculosis when she was 16, and Rebecca, from my mother’s beloved Nana Kelley. I have a scarf that belonged to my Grampy, an old wool plaid affair that’s looking rather moth-eaten these days. I have my grandmother’s father’s Latin grammar book. I have a photograph of my Poppa in his RCAF uniform from when he served in WWII. I have a letter that my father’s grandmother sent to my mother when she was pregnant with me, a note that has my great-grandmother’s name, the date and “Halifax City” written neatly in the upper right-hand corner.

I have things that belonged to people I’ve never known, too . A blue vintage dress printed with purple and orange flowers. An American 1st edition of Camus’ The Outsider. My antique engagement ring. I have all the words of the dead that line the walls of my living room, shelf upon shelf of well-loved books. I am surrounded by the dead.

I still feel breathless, almost light-headed, even several hours after seeing the exhibit. I wish that I had sufficient words to explain how it affected me, but every sentence in this post, though carefully and meticulously constructed, somehow seems flat and emotionless.

I can tell you this: it was lovely. You should see it. And then you should sit down, and think of your beloved dead.

Patti+Smith+beautiful+with+camera

Grampy

4 Nov

Today is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Thirteen years ago today, my Grampy died.

I didn’t find out that he was dying until just a few days before it happened; he himself had only known for a few weeks. He’d gone in to the hospital to have his gallbladder removed, but when they opened him up they discovered that he was full of cancer. Riddled with the stuff, was how my father put it. I pictured the surgeons gasping as they peeled back his skin, and instinctively looking away, as if the sight might blind them. I pictured them gingerly sewing him back up, as if they were putting a ticking time bomb back together. There was too much in there, he was already too far gone; there was nothing else they could do.

I’d seen my grandfather that spring, when he and my grandmother had come from Nova Scotia to visit us. When my father told us about the cancer, I wondered if Grampy had already been sick in the spring, without anyone even knowing it. I thought of the secret things your body could do without you ever being aware until it was too late; I thought about how my body, in its darkest recesses, might at that very moment be doing something to betray me, and how there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

I think that my mother and sisters called my grandfather shortly after they found out he was sick; I know that if they did, I didn’t talk to him. It’s not that I didn’t want to talk to him, it was just that I didn’t know what to say. I needed time to think about it, time to work up the courage. In the meantime, I decided that I should send him an email – that would buy me at least a week, I figured.

I didn’t get a week. He never even saw the email.

I flew to Nova Scotia for his funeral. My grandmother’s house was crowded with relatives, and she and I had to share a bed. At least, we would have shared a bed if she’d been able to sleep, but instead she stayed up all night, cleaning and baking. My main memory of the funeral is how crowded it was; the church was standing room only, with people spilling out onto the street. My grandmother had put three roses at the front of the church, to represent my sisters and I. When she told me this, I started to sob uncontrollably; when my grandmother saw me crying, she leaned across me and hissed to my father, for God’s sake, Frank, put your arm around your daughter.

Every evening that I was there, family and friends would crowd my grandparents’ living room, telling drinking and telling stories about my grandfather. I was underage, but a drink always seemed to find its way into my hand; I felt lucky to have it, because I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation. For the first time, I realized how little I knew about my grandfather.

The main memories I had of him were filtered through the lens of a little kid watching her grandfather, but the problem was that I wasn’t a little kid anymore. I was seventeen, and more than old enough to start getting to know my family as individual people, rather than just the peripheral roles that the played in my life. Like most teenagers, though, I was totally self-absorbed, and had a hard time caring about things other than myself. I figured that my family was sort of obliged to love me; it didn’t cross my mind that I was getting to the point where I would have to work for that love, or reciprocate the kindness they showed me. The worst part is that on some level, I knew that I was pretty awful, but I figured that given enough time, I would come out the other side of that awfulness as a shiny, mature, newly-minted adult. What I didn’t realize was that not everyone in my life had enough time left to wait me out.

I started trying to figure out my grandfather after that, started trying to piece his life together like a puzzle. I knew that it was too late, but it seemed important. I asked my father to tell me about my Grampy; I started to write things down, tried to keep a record. When I moved to Halifax a few years after my grandfather’s death, I began to look for the places that I’d heard about in family stories – St. Mary’s Boy’s School (which now houses archdiocesan offices), and South Park Street, where I knew he’d lived for a few years while growing up. I bought a copy of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum because I knew he’d loved it. I looked for his brother’s picture in the Dalhousie law building. At my aunt’s house I stared at old photographs of him, wondering what he would think of me.

My grandfather was a genius, with a photographic memory (traits that I sadly didn’t inherit). He was funny, too – witty, even, in the way that only really brilliant people can be. He was an atheist, but he loved talking about religion. He had a beautiful voice, and had even sung in the opera in Halifax. According to my father, Grampy had rules about drinking, rules which I still try to follow – don’t drink beer until you’re drunk, just until you feel buzzed; if you want to get smashed, drink hard liquor; wine should be consumed with food; always drink beer out of a glass.

I remember that he loved to teach me things, but at the same time loved to spin a good yarn. My grandparents house had giant glass jars of marbles in the dining room, and he told me that my grandmother had won them all off him. I remember that he expected more from me than most of the other adults in my life, but he was also more willing to respect my opinion and listen to what I had to say.

I wish I could say that his death taught me to cherish the people around me, and make more of an effort to show them daily how much I love them, but that’s probably not true. It did push me to make more of an effort to get to know my grandmother, which is something that I’m profoundly grateful for because she is just the best. But even though I would say that I’m pretty close to my grandmother, I’m the first to admit that I still don’t make as much of an effort to stay in touch with her as I should. I mean to email her more regularly; I know she loves to hear from me, especially when I include pictures of Theo. It’s just that I get busy, or else I procrastinate, or else it doesn’t occur to me to email her until it’s the middle of the night, and I’m comfortably in my bed. Let’s be honest – in a lot of ways, I probably haven’t changed much since I was seventeen.

I dreamed last night that I was in my grandparents’ old house in Mahone Bay. It was a beautiful old place, full of dark polished wood and immaculate turn-of-the-century furniture. My grandparents were antique dealers, and every inch of available space in their house was crowded with a wealth of fascinating curiosities. One of my favourite parts of their house was a “secret” staircase that led from the kitchen to a small upstairs room that adjoined the master bedroom. At one time, that would have been the maid’s room, and the staircase existed so that she could get to the kitchen early in the morning without waking anyone else up; as a child, I would spend hours climbing up and down the staircase, or hiding behind the door at the bottom, spying on whoever was in the kitchen.

I think it was my memory of that staircase that inspired my dream. In it, I was trying to find a secret attic room that I was sure existed. I’d played in that attic room as a child, and knew that it was full of wonderful things. I ran through the house, searching for some way, any way to get to this room, but I couldn’t find it. I just wanted to see the room one more time, but it was impossible. The way there had disappeared, and I knew that it was gone for good.

In a way, my grandfather is a lot like that room. I know that he existed, and I know that he was wonderful. I wish that I could find him again, wish that I had some way of telling him how much I love him, but I don’t. Like the secret room, my grandfather is lost to me forever.

I miss you, Grampy ❤

Grampy explaining something to me

For Artem

24 Sep

The last time that I heard your voice was a Friday afternoon, as we were riding the subway home. We were talking about languages; you were telling me that Russian was more difficult than English, but also more forgiving. I asked you to teach me, and you laughed.

We were standing in the doorway, facing each other, and I kept falling against you with every lurch and jerk of the train. I remember worrying that you would think that I was flirting with you, although we were both married. I was self-conscious, and didn’t want you to think that I was falling on purpose. I remember that you were wearing a black wool overcoat.

You’d been complaining of a sore throat for months. At our company Christmas dinner you had tea instead of wine, saying that you weren’t feeling well. I remember you gagging on your food at another company event; I remember being disgusted by the sound, wishing that I wasn’t sitting next to you.

You’d been to the doctor, you’d even had an ultrasound done on your throat, but they’d found nothing. It was allergies, they said, or else the dry, recycled office air.

The day after we rode the subway together, you asked your wife to watch your infant daughter while you went to the emergency room. You were having trouble breathing, you told her, but were sure you would be home soon.

The doctors found a tumour the size of an orange in your throat. They put a tracheotomy in, and told you it was lucky you’d come when you did – if you hadn’t, you would likely have suffocated in your sleep within the week.

The biopsy results came back a few days later – cancer. There were three of us who worked on the same team as you, and they pulled us into a conference room to tell us. I ducked my head, looking down at the tabletop, watching our tears drip and smudge on the dark, glossy wood.

The good news was that it hadn’t spread, and was very treatable.

I remember thinking how unfair it was that you, with your wife and daughter and your fierce appetite for life, should be so sick. Meanwhile, here was me, who only managed to feel tepid about living at the best of times, and I was perfectly healthy. I felt strangely guilty. I thought, it should have been me.

We went to see you in the hospital. I remember stepping off the elevator into the sick, mucus-smelling funk of a hospital ward. I was frightened, anxious – what would you look like? I expected someone ill, someone sad. I didn’t know what I would say.

You were smiling when we went in, so happy to see us. We quickly realized that you were still you, and that made everything easier. You couldn’t talk, so instead you wrote,  passing notes to us like we were in grade school. We joked about the licentious swimsuit magazine a friend had given you; your wife laughingly pretended to scold you. Then your sister came, to drop off your daughter. It was like a party.

They were going to do radiation, you told us, to try to shrink the tumour in preparation for surgery. The surgery would mean that you would never talk again, but it was your best chance. Your mother didn’t want you to go under the knife; she had told you, skyping from her house in Russia, that she wanted you to try herbal remedies and certain prayers instead. She sent you a bracelet with a religious icon on it and insisted that you needed to wear it at all times.

What she really wanted was for you to come home.

Your wife didn’t know what to think. She couldn’t imagine never hearing your voice again, but more than anything she wanted you to live. She asked us to pray that the radiation would shrink the tumour into non-existence so that no further treatment was necessary.

The doctors were shocked by how quickly your tumour shrank; the radiation was working better than expected. It wasn’t enough, though, so you decided to go ahead with the surgery.

We talked about you coming back to work. I teased you, saying that you’d finally found the perfect excuse to avoid answering the office phone. During your radiation treatments, you’d signed all of your emails to me Radioactive Artem. I told you we’d have to come up with a new nickname. We felt so hopeful; we were so sure the worst was behind us.

They did a CAT scan as part of the prep for surgery.

They found tumours in your lungs, and in your chest cavity, near your heart.

They were inoperable, the doctors said.

You’d had the full dose of radiation and couldn’t have any more, they said.

Your new best option was chemotherapy.

Your mother flew here from Russia and moved in to your two bedroom apartment in North York. She didn’t speak any English and your wife, who was from Brazil, didn’t speak any Russian. They communicated by hand gestures, and through you, with your ever-present pad of paper.

You were brave, but diminished. Because of the trach, you couldn’t eat or drink. You told us how much you missed the taste of food. You gave away all of your alcohol, because you couldn’t stand looking at it anymore.

You began to prepare for your daughter’s first birthday, wondering if you’d live to see her second.

All through that spring and summer we visited you, trying to find that tricky balance between being there as often as we could and giving you the space you needed, especially when the treatments made you sick.

In June I found out I was pregnant, although I waited until early August to tell anyone. You were so excited, and so full of advice. Start looking for a daycare now, you told me. Make friends with other couples who have kids so you can trade off on babysitting. You were thrilled that your daughter would have another little playmate.

In September, I called your wife to arrange for a few of us to come visit, but before I had the chance to say anything, she started crying.

I guess you’ve heard, she said.

I hadn’t heard, so she told me: the chemotherapy had done nothing, and the cancer had continued to spread. You had tumours in your brain, now. You had only a few months to live.

A few days later, I spoke to her again. The doctors were now saying that your only chance was to become part of a drug trial. There was one that you qualified for, but it could take weeks, even months to get you in.

I helped your wife write letters to the doctors, advocating on your behalf, begging them to let you start the trial right away. I found those letters the other day, saved on my computer’s hard drive. Letter to Dr. Hogg, one of them is called, and Letter to Dr. O’Sullivan. Letter to MPP. I remember that they let me write them at the office, during work hours, without docking my pay. My boss was so good about things like that; everyone there missed you so much.

The letters apparently worked, and they agreed to enrol you in the trial immediately. When your wife heard the news, she called me, laughing ecstatically. For a little while, we allowed ourselves to hope that you might get some wonder drug that would magically shrink your tumours and cure you.

Things didn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped, though. There was so much paperwork that needed to be shuttled from hospital to hospital, and multiple doctors had to sign off on each form. Then they told you that they’d lost your original biopsy, and they would need to find it before you were able to begin treatment.

Meanwhile, your cancer continued to spread, and you grew weaker.

The last time I saw you was on a Sunday in mid-December. I was the only one who was able to make it up to North York that day, and we spent most of the visit in silence. It was raining, a miserable, cold winter rain, the kind that makes you want to take to your bed with a book and a cup of tea. We watched the rain trail down the windows, each of us trapped in our own experiences.

I was seven months pregnant, exhausted and uncomfortable in my expanding body. You were in pain, and couldn’t focus on the conversation. You were short with your wife, and although I knew it was because you were sick and tired, I felt awkward. I was glad when it was time to leave, and then I felt badly about my gladness. I promised myself that the next visit would be better.

Two weeks later, on December 27th, you died.

We were in Kingston when I found out, visiting family for Christmas. I remember sitting in my mother’s bedroom, unable to stop crying. My friend is dead, I howled into Matt’s chest. My friend is dead, I’ll never see him again.

It wasn’t fair. You were only 27. It was so fucking unfair.

We borrowed my mother’s car a few days later and drove back to Toronto for the funeral. The traditional Eastern Orthodox service was in Russian, and the air in the chapel was smoky and thick with incense. I remember that we had to stand for the entire service, and Theo was kicking like crazy. At the end, we all filed past your coffin. I looked at your face, at the beard you’d begun growing.

My friend is dead, I thought.

It seemed like I would never stop crying.

Three weeks to the day after your death, my son was born. Things got a little hectic after that, and I didn’t think of you as much. A few weeks after Theo’s birth, though, your wife called me. We began by talking about babies, breastfeeding and childbirth, but of course the conversation soon turned to you.

You’d written a letter to your daughter, she told me. A beautiful, funny, self-deprecating letter.

Your second wedding anniversary would have been December 31st, and somehow, she said, you had snuck out of your apartment and bought your wife a necklace. Not just any necklace, but the necklace that matched the earrings you’d bought her for your first anniversary.

She had something for me, she said. A gift that you’d bought for me online.

This is who you were: you were the type of person who thought about everyone around them. The type of person who, while dying, thinks only of those they are leaving behind. The type that writes their daughter a letter, buys their wife a beautiful necklace, picks out a thoughtful gift for a friend.

Artem, you were the best kind of person.

A year and a half later, I’m still trying to make sense of your death. When I drive by your old building, I still don’t fully understand that you aren’t up there in your apartment, playing with your daughter while your wife makes dinner. Sometimes I think I see you on the street, and start to call out to you, only to realize that it can’t possibly be you. Sometimes I’ll read something funny, or see something that makes me think of you, and then suddenly remember that there’s no way to tell you about it. What do I do now with all these thoughts that I have of you, all these stored up memories and bits of information?

I wish that there was some way to tell you that I did my best when you were sick and dying. My poor, inadequate best. I should have done more. I should have been a better friend to you. I wish I’d been a better friend.

I dream about you sometimes. In my dreams we talk, or hug, or just sit silently together. Always, always in these dreams, I am aware that you are dead, and at the end of our time together you have to go back to wherever it is you are now. I wish I knew where you were now.

I miss you.