My cousin passed away almost two years ago. We were writing buddies, even though he lived in a different state. We actually didn’t really know each other all that well, because he lived so far away the only memories I have of him prior to recent years was once in middle school and one other time in elementary school.
Part of the reason was that he had Cystic Fibrosis — a chronic illness he lived with his entire existence. NO one actually expected him to live longer than 13. But treatments improved, and he lived much longer than that.
I remember playing old D&D action games on a monochrome laptop. This was back in the 80s, mind, and the idea of a portable computer was absolutely mind-blowing. It was the first and only time I ever played Space War — but I never forgot how much fun that was.
In middle school he said he never forgot watching me play Rastan on my Sega Master System. In our online chats in his last years he would often refer to me as Iiyan the Barbarian — a reference to the game. Other times he called me a Ninja because of my Japanese heritage.
Starting in 2014 or so, three years before he died, we somehow got in contact again. I don’t really remember the circumstances anymore. Looked back through his writings that I later found, he had been through a lot starting around 2009. His health started failing noticeably. Both his brother and his father passed away. It was just my cousin and my Aunt.
He told me he was working on a trilogy, a Sci-fi Western mashup, set in a fictional alternative reality of the United States. There were Slyphs and Succubus, Elves and Ogres, Vampires and talking were-rats as heroes. Despite my brief involvement with traditional D&D, it was not a genre I was very familiar with.
We started supporting each other over Skype, mostly online chat. Later I discovered he was rather prolific online, a part of many chat rooms and MUX, and frequency online with AOL before it went defunct. He didn’t live to see it go away.
That was when I started hearing about his health more often. More than ever, he knew he was going to die, sooner than he wanted, and he had two major fears: that he would leave his mother all alone, and he might not finish his book.
Because of his lack of lung capacity brought on by years of cyst damage to his lungs, by 2015 he had very little energy. He had developed Type 2 diabetes on top of CF at some point. So if you imagine feeling like you had little time left in the first place, this was only made worse by the fact that he had to sleep a lot, manage his blood sugar, and maybe have 4-5 hours of being awake during a day.
It wasn’t always like that. Before 2014, I think he had a relatively fine life. He was able to get out and tend to horses. He traveled to Japan with his family in high school. But he couldn’t do any of that more.
And yet despite all this, he managed to write, draw relentlessly, and finish an art degree. Without any special treatment (besides perhaps a bit of understanding that things took him several times longer than other students). He finished drawings, paintings, and sculptures. His tenacity humbled me. Yes, I was tired because I had two young children under the age of 5, but I still managed to cave under my own procrastination and fear of failure far more than he did. But at the same time, he inspired me.
In 2015 he lamented he would have to condense his trilogy into a single book, and whatever remaining time he had left he would have to spend doing that. “Then maybe you can finish it for me,” he typed into the skype chat one day. I had never heard anyone else say something like that so plainly. I am going to die, and soon.I don’t think I promised out loud that I would finish it, but I thought it to myself.
I set him up with an editor, a friend of mine. I never really asked, but he never shared any part of the book with me. I knew she would be good for him, because I sensed he was hesitant to get any kind of feedback, that his confidence was already tenuous enough. He didn’t outwardly complain day to day, but I know he felt discouraged, as all writers are. And how could he not? I still ask myself this question. How do you write, day to day, knowing that you will die soon, not really knowing if anyone will ever care for what you wrote? Then I ask, How could you not write knowing your time was finite?
It turned out she was great for him. He submitted the entire manuscript and she helped him tweak some parts. He was open to the feedback. He managed to get through about two-thirds of the whole thing with her input. We didn’t chat that much for a while after I set him up.
And then in July, he signed on.
“Hey Iyan,” he said. It was just before noon.
“Was playing pokemon with Eliot,” I replied.
I didn’t hear anything until after 5pm. That wasn’t anything particularly out of the ordinary.
“I’m here in hospiece (sic). Still haven’t gotten him. Home. She’s giving me good benefit for the money so far, “ he said, in reference to my editor friend. “For my edits.”
I was eating dinner so I didn’t respond until an hour later.
“That’s good! How so, What’s she done do far?”
“…Given me some poitns about contradictions in my writing, which I guess I didn’t think about beforehand. Writing is hard work. I just wish I could write it, through it at someone, and let them finish it. If I weren’t so ill this wouldn’t be such a chore.”
Nod, I responded. “Remember where you started, and where you are now.” I hoped it might give him some perspective — he had written over 100,000 words, and that was culled from a larger trilogy. He didn’t respond.
Nearly a week passed. All throughout our correspondence, that wasn’t entirely unexpected. Sometimes he would go days without signing on.
“Hope you’re doing better today, buddy. Are you home now?”
Three more days, I signed on. “I’ll be up tonight, doing something.” I said. Often we’d let each other know the other was listening. But there was no answer.
Three more days.
“Hope you’re doing okay and finding some time to write,” I told him.
“I got some really good edits in this week… hope you are too,” I said.
That was at 8:59pm on July 22nd, a Saturday. I didn’t know it at the time, but according to the death certificate, he had passed away about an hour prior. I don’t know if he ever signed on in those days before, if he even saw my messages. My dad called me to tell me. We were up north, away from home.
The next day, I signed on again.
“Bye Vince,” I said.
Since then I have signed on to that chat a few times. The history is still there, from the time we switch from AOL to Skype, about two years of chat history. I signed on to tell him that I was working on his book, reassuring him that we would finish it.
It took nearly a year and a half, but I finished his book. My aunt printed 100 copies. It was nearly 400 pages, with an appendix of his artwork. I signed on to Skype to let him know.
“We did it buddy,” I told him.
I still get discouraged with my writing. I somehow get distracted from my personal goals. But then I remember Vince didn’t have time to waste fretting. I know he had his moments, but he kept it together enough to finish what he started. He wrote because it brought him purpose and joy, and because he knew he had no time to waste. Today he sparked that in me again, reminding me that you just gotta stick with it.
I signed onto Skype again today to let him know I heard him.