I think about my own death too much.
Like most smokers I know, I convince myself that I’ve got every possible lung and throat disease at the slightest tickle in my neck. It doesn’t help that I write for a living and have trained my brain to plan for every worst-case scenario.
I used to not be bothered by death. Then I had kids. Those jerks made me more sensitive to my temporal nature.
Why am I telling you this? Ever since leaving C2E2 I’ve been choking back sporadic spurts of tears. I met someone who threw a wrench in my perspective and I’m thankful for it. I’d like to take a moment to tell you about her.
I was at the Storm King booth with Sandy King Carpenter and Ross Sauriol. We were chatting up passersby and pitching our various wares to any and all that would listen. A pair of women came by while Sandy and Ross were busy. The first, shorter than the other, was black, wore short-cropped hair, and did not make eye contact with me. I do not remember what the second woman looked like. What took place so moved me that only the first woman is branded on my mind.
Like all conversations that day, I opened with a greeting, “Hey, there!”
They responded in kind and seemed to notice our books, so I continued, “How’s the show going?”
The smile on the first woman was enormous. “We’re having a great time. And you?”
“Oh,” I wound up the same canned response I always use, “I’m living the dream.”
She laughed, as do most. But it was here, during the laugh, that I noticed she did not make eye contact. She looked in my voice’s direction, but not at me.
Like a good salesman, I led her to the work. “Are you a big fan of science fiction? Horror?”
“Did you ever see Alien? Event Horizon? Maybe Danny Boyle’s Sunshine?” At this point the second woman began trickling down the outside of the booth, flipping through the comics we had stacked there, leaving the first woman and me to chat.
“Of course!” Her smile got bigger. It was remarkable. She was delighted to talk about this stuff. “Event Horizon is my jam. It’s messed up, but I love it.”
And so we chatted. We chatted for several minutes. I pitched her on my new book, Vault. She told me how much she loved the premise and I thanked her. She told me how she got into science fiction at a young age when she escaped a terrible situation with her family through the genre. We spoke about our different upbringings; things that we had in common and things that we did not.
After more than a 10-15 minutes (which is longer than the average booth chat), her friend came back over and patiently waited for us to finish. We spoke a few minutes longer. Her telling me why Aliens is better than Alien, and me suggesting she catch Krull as soon as possible.
As though sensing her friend’s readiness to move on, this marvelous young woman closed the conversation asking me about the release of Vault #1: Where could she get it? When would it be available? Did I have anything to give her so she could get her friends to bring it to her?
That last one struck me: bring it to her?
We had flyers so I grabbed one and reached out to give it to her. I extended my hand and she made no move to grab it. Her friend did, taking it from me and pushing it into the first woman’s palm. The first woman put the flyer a centimeter or two from her face and began dragging her nose across each line of text. She continued talking the entire time, explaining her situation to me as though she could see my confusion (for which, of course, I immediately checked myself to ensure that neither my face nor posture would do anything to indicate such confusion as I had no interest in embarrassing her nor being embarrassed myself).
Her situation was this: She had four brain tumors. She was almost entirely blind. She was born with perfect vision but her sight began worsening at an early age. She tried to ask for help but her parents and teachers thought she was faking to get out of exams and tests. By the time they realized that there was something wrong the tumors in her head had grown too large and were, for reasons I do not pretend to understand, inoperable. It was likely that soon she would be entirely blind, or worse.
When all I muttered was a dumbfounded, “I’m so sorry,” she continued.
She told me that near the end of June she was scheduled for an experimental brain surgery to remove the tumors. “The doctors are hopeful,” she said, “that they can help my vision and save my life.”
I swallowed my pity — she was not telling me her story for pity.
“Yes,” she replied, her smile as big as ever.
“I’ll tell you what then,” I snatched back the flyer I handed her and wrote my personal email and phone number on it. “When you’re out and recovered you let me know. I will make sure that we get Vault to you.”
She giggled and promised she would. “Thank you so much for talking to me.”
“Are you kidding me? Thank you. If you nice folk like you don’t chat with me I sit here bored all day.”
She laughed again. “Vault sounds awesome. Hopefully, I’ll be reading it without any help in a few months.”
“I have no doubt about it,” I replied.
And she was gone down the aisle with her friend.
I do not know her name, but that young woman’s smile, courage, and fortitude have brought me to almost-tears several days since we met. I don’t cry because I feel sorry for the young woman, but because I envy her. Her strength could fill ten of me.
With any luck, she’ll reach out to me in a few months and I’ll be able to share Vault with her. I promise to keep y’all in the loop when it happens. Until then, do me a favor? Pray for the girl with the big smile that I met at C2E2? And if, by chance, you were at the show and know of whom I am speaking, please send me a message (don’t make it public to respect her privacy).
I’ve never wanted someone to read something I’ve written this badly before.