Occasionally on the blog here I’ve mentioned Jody, a friend of mine I knew only over the internet. That’s hard for me to believe now, but it’s true. Despite the fact that we never once sat in the same room, I can see him vividly. Flashes of movement I never saw based on photos of him at home, in classes, at work. I remember his voice over the phone, quiet and shy. Mostly I remember him as someone at the other end of ICQ, like a friend a couple of cubicles over at work, all the time.
Jody died of cancer, after a two-year battle with one sweet, brief remission, on June 7, 2004. Ten years ago this Saturday. While it was abundantly clear he was very unwell and probably had well under a year to live, his actual death still came like a thunderbolt. That day was a Monday. I came back from a meeting that morning to a flurry of ICQ messages from his dad, who had himself become a close friend of mine in his own right (and would remain so until his own death, also from cancer, two years later). The first message said that Jody had collapsed and that his death was close. The next from a few minutes later said that Jody was actually gone. It was all over before I even read the first message.
Jody was keeping a Live Journal about his experiences, and that was what prompted me to start blogging not too long after his death. I started on LJ myself but moved most of those posts over here several years ago for continuity’s sake. Jody’s journal was about the process of trying to overcome his cancer. It’s hard to read because he was honest about the results, and even though I don’t remember him ever surrendering to despair, he couldn’t and wouldn’t hide his disappointment. I remember him having to deal with my unrealistic expectations, at least once on ICQ gently telling me that he probably wasn’t going to get better. Smiley-face. I think that was when I knew, too. But we buttressed each other’s hope, always, right till the end. I’d like to think Jody needed that in his life at that moment… people who weren’t going to stop hoping. Some kind of oxygen when you’re drowning.
Jody was only 26 when he died. He was shy and didn’t really value of his own worth, in spite of the fact that everyone around him did. When he died, his company put up three 10-foot abstract statues of him in steel out in front of their building. That's the kind of guy he was. I know he was a programmer, and a particularly good one, but exactly what he did is kind of obscure to someone like me. If he’d lived, I imagined he’d be married by now, a great father, and probably in the six-figure range. He was a gamer, too, and just turning his talents to that when he got sick. I wonder what he might have come up with if he’d had more time. It makes me angry that he was robbed of all that, and we were all robbed of him. But it’s pointless to be angry. There’s nothing to be angry with. Some genes in one of his cells took a wrong turn one day, and we don’t yet know enough to have saved him. At least he lived. At least I knew him. All that’s left to do is to fund research, find answers, learn about stem cells and gene switches and targeted treatments so that future Jodys will get the chance he was born too soon to have.
One of the worst things about it all was that the first brush with cancer had completely turned Jody around. When I first met him online, he was a teenager afraid of life, full of fantasies about creatures he could never be, and deeply dissatisfied with reality. He was often depressed and at one point during college, a mutual friend became so concerned that he called across the country to Jody’s college administration in fear for Jody’s life, got him some counselling, and arguably saved him. But it was fighting cancer to remission in 2003 that really changed Jody. He learned the value of his own life, and finally acknowledged its value to the people around him, and he was ready to really make something of it that summer. He was happy, grateful, and empowered. And then it was autumn, and it was back. Pointless and cruel.
It’s strange for me to reflect that while I was never in the same place with him in life, in a way he’s been with me every day ever since. Jody was cremated and one of the things his roommates did, at his request, was to portion out a certain amount of his ashes to the people in his life. So I came home from Texas with a tiny vial of Jody’s ashes, in a cheetah-print pouch I have never opened; and I’ve kept that little bit of him in a cedar chest with a bronze plaque with his name and dates on it ever since. For a long time I’ve thought about taking the vial out on the tenth anniversary of his death and finally laying eyes on Jody himself for the first time. I’ve thought about it, but I probably won’t do it. Odds are I’ll never actually do it. But I think it matters a lot to me to know I could. That in a way, he’s still there, still with me, even if he’s long beyond “being”. Ten years later, he is dead ashes, but he is also still-living memories. I guess the two shouldn’t mix.