This a post I did not want to write.
Some of you have heard about our friend Alan Lickiss, and in fact, he has commented in this blog, now and then, though not (I think) much in the last year.
We first met Alan and his wife Becky when we moved to Colorado Springs. Our older son was a toddler, and we knew no one in town, but one day Dan came home late because he’d been talking to someone who “reads science fiction” and “his wife wants to be a writer.”
To you kids, grown in the age of the internet this might seem like a trivial thing on which to build a friendship, but at the time they were the first couple we ran into where both read science fiction and both were interested in writing. In fact, before that, I’d only met one person who wrote at all, my friend Charles, who mostly writes horror.
A few days later, and I no longer remember the circumstances precisely, we picked Alan up somewhere because he had some sort of car trouble. I don’t remember who else was with us at the time, I just remember the car was very full, I was in the back seat, and Alan squeezed in the back next to me and Robert saying – in reference to the very tight space – “I’m sorry, we’re going to have to be very good friends.”
Over the next few years, we became very good friends. In fact, our kids grew up together like cousins in an extended family.
After the four of us got kicked out the city’s writing group, for chewing gum in church… I mean, for writing science fiction and fantasy, which puzzled the rest of the group, we formed our own writers’ group, which went on to meet over the next ten (?) years.
Alan was the first in our group to achieve professional publication, selling a story to Analog.
The four of us learned about writing conferences and sci fi cons together, and for many years, travel plans were made across the two houses, rides to the airport shared, and everything done more or less in a group.
Alan climbed pikes peak shortly after his son Jake (who is more or less the same age as my younger son) was born. He trained over a very long time, and then scared us all, who were sure he wouldn’t make it, but he did.
Becky and I sold books at the same time (a few months apart) to the same editor, which gave us another bond and source of gossip.
When 9/11 happened, and Dan was stranded in Virginia, Alan was the person who offered to drive with me to pick him up. And by “drive with me” I mean that he, who knew that I am very scared of driving, particularly highways, offered to drive the whole way. He said he liked driving anyway. We planned to rendez vous with Dan halfway across Kansas.
Now, Alan was one of the nicest people you’ll ever want to meet, but he had a temper. Usually you only knew this if you saw him behind the wheel, where he had trouble suffering fools gladly.
Since he was also a devout Mormon and felt really bad when he swore, on that trip to Kansas, after the first eruption, we settled on a division of labor. When someone cut in front of us, instead of swearing, he pointed at me, and I’d let loose with inventive forms of swearing. So, halfway there, I was hard pressed to come up with new swearing to make him laugh.
Other moments of our friendship come to mind, like the day his family and a couple other friends came to our house for thanksgiving. It was one of those days where everything that can go wrong does, plus a few other things you’d never think would go wrong. It started with our pipes bursting under the sink, then the heat went out. There was at least one other thing there, but I can’t remember what. So we packed the kids under a blanket in front of the tv with cartoons playing, and the adults went up to my office (highest room in the house) with a heater, and sat around, and told stories, and it was a good thanksgiving after all.
I think one of the last times we saw Alan before he got ill, we were gardening on the front yard when he and Becky came by and took us out to get ice-cream.
Shortly after that, we tried to start a writers’ group, but it sort of died in the bud, partly because Alan was unemployed and concentrating so hard on getting another job.
Concentrating so hard that he ignored his symptoms for too long. If I had a time machine…
We were in north Carolina, visiting our older son who was there on an internship, when we got word that Alan had collapsed – he was starving to death, due to a stomach cancer. It was already too advanced for a surgical solution.
For a while a new form of chemo helped him get somewhat better, and then stabilized him, with very few side effects. We had hopes that it would eventually, slowly, cure him But after a while it stopped working, and the treatments they tried next had limited effectiveness and sometimes made him worse.
We saw him dwindle into a shadow and age prematurely.
In the last year, when he as hospitalized and Dan and I went to visit, when everyone expected him to die over the next couple of days, he told us the next time he saw us, he’d be taking us out for ice-cream, because in heaven carbohydrates wouldn’t matter.
When we left on our trip to the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop on Saturday morning, we knew he was in the hospital and that the prognosis was grim. But he’d fought death off so often, we thought he could keep doing it.
When we came back from dinner with friends on Saturday, we had a phone call from our son, telling us Alan had died.
I, who am not very sure of anything after death, feel an unshakable certainty that he’s not wholly destroyed, and that we’ll see him again – and perhaps even will hold him to his promise of buying us ice cream.
The thing is, for him, the time will pass very quickly and, as interested as he always was in new experiences, like climbing mountain peaks or meeting all his favorite writers at conventions, and trying all the new electronics, he’ll be having fun.
It is us who are left here who will miss him, and suddenly come up against his absence like someone who takes a step in he dark and doesn’t find ground under his foot. It is us who will catch ourselves looking for him at a con, or thinking “we must call Alan and ask him if he wants to go see this movie” or “I wonder what Alan will think of this” and realize he’s not around anymore, and fall back, and say “oh” and feel the hole left in our lives by his departure.
I realized four years ago when he was diagnosed that I was not ready to have an Alan-shaped hole in my life. Turns out I’m still not ready. I keep looking at the rose over at sff.net and feeling like I fell down the rabbit hole. Alan can’t be dead. A world without him makes no sense.
We can’t all have it our way, and sometimes ready or not we have to face absence and loss. Or at least I do.
For him, as I said, it might be very quick till he’s greeting us again and showing us all the neat stuff he’s figured out since he’s been there.
For us there will be a long time of missing him.
Farewell my friend – may the journey be interesting, may you meet with kindness and love, and may we meet again in a better place.