There are spoilers here. As in life.
In Rita Mae Brown's early-80s novel, which as People put it can be read as a roman à clef for her relationship with Martina Navratilova, the protagonist is a 30-something lesbian college professor whose friend, a fellow intellect, dies in a relatively quick way from a ravaging form of cancer. It happens in the context of the final leg of the protagonist's lover's (Argentinian, rather than Czech) quest to complete the calendar Grand Slam. I began reading this, of course, as Serena Williams was ramping up to complete her calendar Grand Slam.
The book was in the little hospice library seemingly only for me, only for this time. How could I not?
Chris' illness - glioblastoma multiforme - was similarly ravaging. He was diagnosed on a pleasant day near the end of winter, when he and his wife and his four-year-old son and his visiting parents were strolling in a park in downtown Chicago. Seizure. Collapse. Hospital. CAT Scan. Diagnosis. Horrific diagnosis. At 37.
|In healthier times|
Chris was an intellect. He could talk about seemingly any topic, and far more importantly, he could listen about seemingly any topic. Listen intently, even about tennis, which is something of an acquired taste as we tennis fans know. I never felt like I was wasting his time when bending his ear about my fandom.
Chris was self-effacing. He was kind. He was introspective. He was goofy. But yeah, more than anything it was the intelligence that shined brightest. So the irony of cancer going after his brain of all things was not lost on any of us.
But hope remained. The tumor was removed. On June 1, the last day I saw Chris out and about in the world, we passed each other as his wife, my best friend, was driving him home from his final radiation session and I was on my way to work. A quick wave, an exchange of texts. The next day he was back in the hospital, having suffered convulsions that left him unable to speak. Two-and-a-half months later he was moved to hospice. A month of decreasing levels of hope. Then finally acceptance. Grief.
This morning, Chris died.
When I got to the hospice, I took some time to finish Sudden Death. I read about the final leg of the Grand Slam (the Australian Open in this case, on grass), and the final match (which went to a third-set tiebreak, as Australian Open matches back then did), and of Jane's death.
(Jane was the stand-in for Brown's friend Judy Lacy, whom I learned just now was Bud Collins' lady back then. Bud Collins had his well-earned day in the sun this past week as well, when the US Open press center was named in his honor. How do these connections keep happening? I guess we're all just that connected, and you have to leave yourself open to them. Always open.)
There is some nice writing in Brown's book. She gets tennis, and in a few paragraphs can paint a good picture of a great match. The French Open final between the Martina(?) character and the Chris Evert Lloyd character was the best example. In there, she writes, "Sport strips away personality, letting the white bone of character shine through." So can cancer. Chris for the 15 years I knew him was not a particularly emotionally demonstrative fellow. But when faced with his impending death, his conversations took on an immediacy, a straightforwardness, and he showed how sensitive, how compassionate he really was. To everyone.
When it was time to gather up the accumulated toys and books and papers from the hospice and head out, I finally finished Sudden Death. Perhaps not the greatest book, but a very good one, and the right one for me and for now. Rita Mae Brown did Judy Lacy right with the last line:
"Love is never lost, only the people."
Love you, Chris.