The Worst Month

July 7, 2021

Dear Jessica —

Yesterday marked thirty days. 

Thirty days since we last looked on your beautiful face.

Thirty days since we watched you draw your last breath. 

Thirty days since we were able to hold out a shred of hope that life might go back to being what we expected it to be.  

I can’t speak for everyone, but I still just can’t believe you’re gone. Your stuff is still everywhere. Your name is still on mail and packages that come to the house. Your account pops up when we watch TV. Your reading room—“the shecava”—still smells like a gentle herbal tea. Goodreads still shows the books you’re working on finishing. Your pens and coloring book are still waiting to be used. Your study guide for working at the Aquarium is still on the shelf, waiting for you to make more notes. 

Milo’s meow has gotten louder, as he checks each room to see if, maybe, you were there all the time and he just didn’t notice. 

We’re in no hurry to change any of that. Except maybe the volume on the meows. If you can’t be with us, it helps to be reminded that you were. As the old woman says at the end of “Ever After,” if you and Ethan did or did not live happily ever after, the most important thing is that you lived. 

Still, for thirty days, we’ve missed you and wished that time would just reset, or that we’d go to sleep and wake to learn it was an actual nightmare, not a nightmarish reality. This nightmare started twenty days before you died, when we were told the cancer was in your lungs. Until that moment, we truly believed you were beating it, and had nowhere to go but up. From that day, things just cascaded downward.

I’ve been posting pictures of you, or things related to you, every day since you left us. I want people to know who you are, why you were perfect as a member of our family, and why the world is better off because you spent 25 years and just under six months as one of its inhabitants. I hope you don’t mind. Although you blogged and didn’t flinch at telling a room full of authors it was time to stand up, shut up, and let someone else have the room, you could be shy. I hope you wouldn’t think I’m drawing too much attention your way. It’s just that I think there’s not enough admiration in all the world to give you your due. I’m known as a pretty cynical, pessimistic person (by those who think they know me and really don’t), but, dammit, when I’m proud of someone, when I love someone, I want everyone to know it. 

I wish I could tell you everyone here was okay. Truth is none of us really are. But we keep going in the knowledge that you would keep going, if you could. And I imagine you would want us to keep going until it’s well and truly time for us to journey to wherever you are, and see you again. 

Ethan firmly believes you’re still with him, watching over him. I’m glad. I believe that too. If you have any power to reach out and help him, I know you will. And you know we’ll do our part too. Thank you for loving our son so well. From the moment the two of you met, I could see in your eyes how you both felt. That’s one of the most precious things a parent can ask, to see that love in someone else’s eyes for the person they love so much. I always saw it in yours for him, and his for you. 

Other than that, all I can saw is that this sucks. We miss you. I hope you know that, and can somehow see us. And I hope you’re not hurt or scared anymore.



PS: I’ll follow this up in the coming days with a collection of the photos I’ve been posting. Some of your friends, young and old, just don’t do the social media. 

The Colonel’s Plan – Where Are We?

June 15, 2021

Dear Daddy –

Jessica died nine days ago, just after 11 in the morning. Ethan was with her, holding her hand. Renee and I were there. Ethan’s best friends, Tim and Jill were there. Her death itself was peaceful to all appearances. I hope it was easy for her. The last words I spoke to her were, “Don’t be afraid, Jess. You’re going to a better place, and you don’t need to be afraid. You’re just going to get there ahead of us. And I hope you’ll be able to keep an eye on us from there.”

Is Jessica there with you? I don’t pretend to know anything about the afterlife, but I am convinced it exists. You taught me that energy is not destroyed, it merely changes its form. And our thoughts, our very identities, are energy. Just as it’s practically impossible to destroy electronic data, I believe it’s impossible to destroy our souls. Others may disagree, and, of course, if they’re right, none of us will ever know it. I hope Jessica’s where you are, watching over us, and waiting to be there to receive us when it’s our turn.

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Revisiting Fan Fiction

2021 is here, and, so far, I’m not impressed. But, as the year laughs at my meager expectations for it, throws them down in the mud, stomps on them, urinates all over them, and then flips me the bird for good measure, I press on. 2021 is a petulant child, and perhaps a lot of encouragement and a few timeouts will train it up into an acceptable adult.

And let’s not rule out spanking. I will put this year over my knee if it pushes me too far, no matter what Psychology Today says about the damage to Baby New Year’s tender self-esteem.

I believe I’ve mentioned that I haven’t been writing. Or have I? In case I haven’t mentioned it, I haven’t been writing. But then you know that, don’t you? If I had been writing, you’d be reading about it here.

In an effort to get myself back in touch with the writer within, who has taken to living in a shack with no central heat or running water somewhere in the uncharted wilds of my cerebral cortex, living off Squirrel meat and hoarded cases of Key Lime LaCroix, I have been revisiting opuses past. (Opii?)

To wit, I’ve been reading and gently correcting (which involves neither timeouts nor spanking) my fan fiction, written between 1982 and 1996. I’ve also been sharing it on AO3, as I’ve been sharing some of the works of my late mother-in-law, Bev Volker, and her sister, Nancy Kippax.

Writing characters not your own in universes you didn’t create can, if approached with care, but a stimulating mental exercise for the writer. Going back and reading those exercises can be pleasantly nostalgic. It can also be cringe-worthy. If you’re honest, it can give you a glimpse into who you used to be and how you got where you are.

And, at the end of the exercise, maybe—just maybe—you’ll feel up to doing original writing again.

We’ll see.

In the meantime, if such appeals to you, my Fan Fic page has been updated with more links to the works that jump-started what we laughingly call my career. (And if you look closely, you’ll see that one more fan fic slipped out of me recently.)


Over at the seaQuest Vault

I got the notion to watch an old favorite a week or so ago. Back when it aired in 1993, I was a huge fan of seaQuest DSV. I liked its dynamic of an older Captain leading a young, energetic crew. It was the unfulfilled promise of The Wrath of Khan, and, you might have noted, the format I picked for my own SF series, The Arbiter Chronicles. As I do when I touch on something I haven’t seen in a while, I poured over the Internet to see if there were new articles, any new merchandise, or even still a fandom that appreciates the property in question. There were all of the above, in this case. I joined a very active fan group on Facebook, and met the fine people who put together The seaQuest Vault. When I introduced myself, they asked me to contribute a piece for their site on the day Renee and I spent many years past with one of seaQuest’s most renowned cast members, the late Jonathan Brandis. So here’s my account of that, and check out their site while you’re there. If you’re a fan of the show, it’s worth your time.

On Change

If you’ve found this piece because you want information on The Forsyte Saga, you can skip my personal ramblings by clicking here.

Those of you who have kept up with me recently (that’s enough of you to count on two hands and allow for some digital amputations) know that I’ve pretty much gafiated from science fiction fandom.

For the unenlightened:

GAFIA (“getting away from it all”) + -ate

To drop out of fandom community activities, with the implication of “getting a life”.

I don’t know about the “getting a life” bit, because being part of SF fandom has been quite a life for most of the last 40 years. But my relationship to the community has, as Robert A. Heinlein once noted about dying relationships, begun to stink like rotten fish. I won’t go far into the details. I’ll just say that I feel like a misfit in fandom, the place one used to go to be a misfit and still be accepted. Alas, now it’s just a community of like-minded and judgmental cool kids, like any other clique.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Water, Water… From Where?

July 30, 2019

Dear Daddy—

I have spent the last 82 days writing and editing a single letter to you. By the time this sees print, it will have appeared, chopped up into six pieces. It was all about the history of your time as a victim of scams.

So, while I feel that I’ve spent the past six months—maybe even the past year—getting very little done, especially at your house, I guess it’s time to catch you up on a few things. To start with, Howard County has had two tornadoes—and more tornado warnings—since May.

The second one did not touch the Clarksville area at all, although my co-workers and I spent about half an hour sheltering in the basement of our office building in Marriottsville while it passed us.

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The Colonel’s Plan – It’s a SCAM – Part 6 of 6

It wasn’t long after that that I convinced the rest of the family that it was time to take you in for evaluation for dementia. You had left plenty of evidence lying around to support my case—empty express mail envelopes that probably had contained cash, withdrawal slips for large amounts of cash that had vanished, mysterious notes about conversations with people we didn’t know, laced with terms like “handling fee,” “tax payments,” and the names of various luxury cars, canceled checks to random strangers… In the span of five days, you had written checks totaling over $4,500 to people we did not know, and neither did you.

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The Colonel’s Plan – It’s a SCAM – Part 5 of 6

And, of course, after all of this, you filled out one of those damned sweepstakes forms that arrived by the dozens every day. You faithfully put your new phone number on it, even though we had told you never to do that. In fact, I hadn’t wanted to give you the number, but Mother insisted. She said you had to have it. I assume that was so, if ever you were out running “errands” and needed help, you could call us on your missing cell phone with the dead battery.

“Jeff Williams” was back soon enough. By July, 2013, he was telling you to deal with his attorney, Arlene Friske. He renewed his claim that he was actually an FBI agent, investigating money-laundering. He asked for the routing and account numbers for your checking account, which he needed for “the investigation.” I don’t know if you turned those over, but you did write a large check to Arlene Friske, which the police investigated. You may have believed that this was part of getting a cash prize. Or you may have believed you were paying a cash settlement in order to avoid legal action. In any event, you wrote it against your own credit union account, which didn’t contain nearly enough money to cover it.

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The Colonel’s Plan – It’s a SCAM – Part 4 of 6

I began to work with our local Office on Aging, trying to identify mental health services that might reach out to you. I had been told by a social worker that they had an elder mental health officer who might be able to evaluate you. But I knew age was only part of your mental state. You were also traumatized by the threats and harassment.

You still refused to have the phone number changed, even after all this; but after one of the shouting matches with the Jamacian, you asked Mother to please turn off the phone and leave it off.

This was a refreshing change from the night I came in and found you on the couch, in a lather, with about six cell phones in front of you. “Which one of these damn things works?” you demanded to know. I asked where they had come from. You said you had bought them. Most were un-activated pay-as-you-go phones. I wasn’t about to tell you how to activate them! “I have a working cell phone!” you insisted. It was true, you did. You kept it in your truck, the battery never charged, in case of emergencies. It was gone from your truck. We never found out what happened to it, but my reading had told me that the sudden concern over having a cell phone was because the Jamaican had convinced you that he needed a more private way to contact you, without your family knowing. Case histories said that these scammers often convinced their victims that the reason families were so alarmed by the scam activity was that wives and children wanted the money for themselves. So they gas-lighted the victim into setting up secret methods of contact. You reinforced this belief by growling, “None of your damned business!” when I asked why you suddenly needed a cell phone.

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The Colonel’s Plan – It’s a SCAM – Part 3 of 6

After the go-round with the phone number, things were quiet again for about six months. You stopped answering calls coming from 876 area codes. Mother and I thought things were done, now that you told them you wanted to be left alone. Without a willing participant, they can’t get money. We thought that, eventually, they would give up.

We thought wrong. One day in May, 2013, you answered one of the half-dozen calls you were getting daily; and it all resumed. Once they’d heard your voice again, they became like sharks tasting blood in the water. They swarmed. They called ten times a minute. You couldn’t resist answering. One of them told you he was a Federal agent investigating you for money laundering. You stopped sleeping, we couldn’t stop you from answering the phone, and you started sending them money again. You were still driving, at this point, and you would leave the house unannounced on your quests to purchase VHS tapes at Wal-Mart (the only place retro enough to still sell 10-packs of VHS tapes in 2013) and to send money to Jamaica via Western Union. You just wanted them to leave you alone, and you thought that one day they would have enough of your money that they’d grant you that wish. You didn’t know what I was reading in the papers, that people your age had paid as much as a half million dollars to these scammers, in that same hope of ending the harassment, and still achieved no peace.

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