Monday, July 30, 2018

The Clearing at the End of the Path; or, Why Stephen King?

A single word hangs like a pall over this post; over my entire life, maybe.  The word is "why," a short word with a very long meaning.
  
I've got a middle-aged man's half-lifetime's inventory of "why"s, stacked up like yellowed newspapers in an abandoned house.  In writing this post I am going to try not to stagger drunkenly into those stacks of whys, knocking them over and sending plumes of musty dust billowing into the air.  If I fail in that aim, I'd recommend not breathing that dust in; I'm not sure it's particularly healthy.
  
We're on the porch of that house now.  Hear the floorboards as they creak?  I don't know that you should follow me in.  It's safe enough, but it's honestly kind of gross and upsetting, and part of me wants to just go in all by my lonesome; see, I'd kind of like to just knock all those whys over and do away with the pretense of letting them stand.
  
But that defeats the purpose of this post.  We -- or so I'm claiming -- only want to go inside and grab a couple of the newspapers from those stacks; one of them is lamentably recent, so it'll be no challenge to get at.  The other is older; we've got to further in to get to it, but I know from previous visits that it's right on the top of a stack, easy to reach, easy to grab.
  
The temptation comes from everything around it, the whys at the bottom of stacks which are in the corners of rooms buried behind other stacks.  Only a nutso would even TRY to get to those, because there's no way to do so cleanly.  And yet, I'd like to get to them; yes indeed, I surely would.
  
What I'm saying is this: we're here to answer the question "Why Stephen King?" but I've brought us here on somewhat false pretenses, so we're also going to try to answer the unanswerable question of "Why Trey Sterling?" at the same time.  And what I'm really saying is this: I wonder if I'm strong enough to withstand a trip into this house that lasts long enough to visit two different rooms.  There's a danger of getting lost, and if I can drop my silly metaphor of houses and newspapers, what I'm REALLY saying is this: I hope I won't end up talking about too much bullshit nobody reading this blog would possibly give a damn about.  All those whys, they are not your concern; you've likely got your own house full of 'em, and hardly need a visit to see somebody else's.
  
So I'm going to try to not do that.  But I worry.
  
The worrying has ended for my friend Trey Sterling, who spent a year worrying about the lymphoma that had invaded his body, and then surrendered to it on June 22, just a few weeks shy of his 32nd birthday. 
 
 
Trey took that Logan's Run thing a little bit too seriously, if you ask me.  (And yes, I stole that joke from Trey himself!)

 

He spent his final weeks floating in and out of consciousness, and the extent to which he was able to actually understand and process the things happening around him is a bit of an unknown.  There were moments of lucidity; they were not entirely pleasant, I am led to believe.  I only saw him on a few occasions during this time, and from my perspective, "Trey" (meaning the qualities that made Trey himself) was almost entirely absent.  There were flashes of him there; he was not entirely gone.  But to the extent he was present, he was diminished; not gone, no (the sense of devil-may-care humor shone through at times), but absolutely diminished.
  
Why?
  
Why would a thing like this be possible?  An inane question to ask, and not one that I actually expect to be answered.  This "why" is less a question than it is an accusation; it is a gob of spit hocked onto the ground at the feet of an indifferent universe, a "fuck you" in a question's clothing.  The universe that would do a thing like this to a Trey Sterling is a universe that needs to be told to get bent.
 
 

 
Of course, the joke will be on me for that act of defiance; the universe's response will be to rise out of the ocean someday (perhaps tomorrow!) and run amok, prompting hysterical madness in all who glimpse it.  I mean, fuck that universe in the nose all the same; but it's gonna get me one of these days, and it's gonna get you one of these days, too, and whether our fates are more benign than Trey's or shockingly less benign is utterly beyond our control.
  
We're going to walk on from that, and as we do, allow me to mention that Trey's death put me in mind of The Dark Tower.
  
That might seem like a trifling thing to be reminded of.  It's not.  That series of books is how Trey and I became friends in the first place; it's baked right into the DNA of our friendship, and so while it might seem to some trivial and even crass for me to use that as a way into memorializing him, it doesn't strike me as the least bit odd.  Wouldn't have struck Trey that way, either.
  
But it's worth asking: why?
 
I don't think that question can be answered unless I answer for myself the question of why I myself love those books, and that question can't be answered without answering for myself the question of why I love Stephen King's books in general.
  
I've talked about this here and there at times in my bloggings, so this may be partially old news to some of you folks.  Apologies for the repetition; the question needs reanswering on occasion, if only so I can't forget the answers.
  
This is where it gets dangerous.  How honest is too honest in a forum like this?  Beats me, so let's just charge ahead blindly and see what happens.
  
I've never enjoyed being social.  This goes way back to my childhood, and there's no real answer I can find to the "why" of this issue.  I can kind of remember times in my childhood when I tried to be social; it wasn't all a game of surrender and retreat, there were occasional offensives.  Bryant Company never took that hill, though; it resisted capture then and still does.  I wonder: is it truer to suggest that I was always a loner at heart, but one who made occasional efforts not to be; or is it truer to suggest that I was a social person at heart who retreated into lonerdom as the result of bad experiences? 
 
My money is on the former, but there's a lot to explore in that room, and a determined exploration might well tell me that the true answer is the latter.  We're not here for that, though, so let's whistle our way past that room.
  
I think I was always going to be precisely what I've ended up being: a guy who would essentially prefer not to be around other people.  This is not because I don't like people; I like people just fine, and love the people I love, and yet, I still would mostly prefer to just be by myself.  Or maybe that's not even true; I like being around people, but I've always kind of preferred to not have to engage with them all that much.  Have you ever had a cat who didn't like to be picked up or petted but always seemingly liked to be in the same room with you?  I'm kind of like that.
 
And that's how it was from an early age; as long as I can remember.  Some of my earliest memories involve being in or near a room full of people, hiding under a table or behind a sofa so I could listen to them.  I wasn't there to be among them; I was there to be able to observe them. 
 
Perhaps inevitably, I became an avid consumer of stories.  I was an avid reader as a child, but a love of movies and television manifested right alongside the love of reading.  Most of my earliest memories -- and a great deal of the ones that came after -- involve me having a book or watching something on television, or being someplace (outside, inside, didn't matter) and pretending I was in a story of my own.
  
I was also a very fearful child.  You name it, I'd be scared of it.  As much as I loved movies, if I thought a movie was going to scare me, you'd have to pry my eyes open to get me to watch it.  This lasted for a loooooong time, too; genuinely pussified, was I.  Even in college, there were times I'd struggle to watch things I thought would be scary. 
  
Scaredy-cat though I was, there were occasional times when my desire to see a movie would put up a vicious offensive against the hill that was my fearfulness.  And sometimes, Bryant Company would capture that hill, sort of.  I was incredibly keen on seeing Aliens, for some reason.  Probably because my dad went to see it and raved about it; that's a guess, but an educated one.  So I finally did see it, on HBO or whatever one night; Dad watched with me, and his job was simple: tell me where the gross or scary parts were so I could avoid them.  He did, and I did; I'd just hide my eyes or whatever, and then start watching again when it was safe.
  
Eventually, I was "brave" enough to watch it on my own.  Still hid from the scary stuff, of course; but eventually, I got to where I could even get through some of those scenes.  (Well, eventually I conquered all of it, but that took a while.)
  
On other occasions, I might "watch" a scary movie by reading the novelization.  That's how I "saw" Predator, for example. 
  
 
 

 
 
I also remember reading Aliens, and The Blob (the remake, which I've still never seen), and that's how I ended up "seeing" The Running Man, too.  That, in time, led me to read The Stand (here's the story of how that happened, if you're curious), which set in motion a love of Stephen King's work that persisted from that day in 1990 to this day in 2018, and is likely to persist for as long as I myself persist. 
  
 
 

 
Why?
 
More to the point, why Stephen King
 
See, I read a lot of other things during my high-school and early college years; I'd develop an infatuation with one author or another for brief amounts of time, and then move on from them to some shinier object.  I had a Michael Crichton period, and an Arthur C. Clarke period, and a Ray Bradbury period, and a Harlan Ellison period, and a Clive Barker period, etc.  Great authors all; I didn't move on from them because I stopped enjoying their work (although that would occasionally happen, too -- I had a Dean Koontz period, for example, that eventually petered out because I was only enjoying about one in three of his books), but because something else diverted my attention.  There are so, so many books to be read, after all; the desire to move on to someone new (or someone old -- I had an intense Shakespeare period once, and would love to have one again one of these days) can be overwhelming.
 
But I never stopped reading King.  Not EVER.  I might have started reading someone else for a while, but I never stopped reading King.  Do you get the distinction there?  I'm sure you do; I suspect few who would willingly read a blog like this one would be unfamiliar with that concept.
 
So...
 
WHY?  Why Stephen King?  Is it because King is inherently better than Clarke and Bradbury?  I can't honestly say that I believe that to be true.  It's true for my own personal tastes, but it's not THAT true; both of those guys are well worth reading extensively.  I've long been tempted to build a complete collection of their works and sit down and read them from beginning to end.  Tempted to do it; never have actually done it.  I did it with King, though.  Why was I pulled in that direction and not in the direction of those other authors? 
   

The answer, I think, has to do with the degree to which King addresses my own set of interior dilemmas and concerns.  I see myself reflected in his works more often than not, whereas that may not necessarily be true of Clarke and Bradbury (or Barker, Crichton, etc.).  Because of that, I make personal connections to those works; via those connections, I derive highly useful personal catharsis from them.  (Let's not ignore the extent to which King was useful to me in becoming less fearful.  That was, and is, a big deal for me.) 
 
That young version of me who read The Stand in the summer between tenth and eleventh grades found different aspects of himself reflected in Stu, and Larry, and (I am sorry to say) Harold, and Tom, and Nick, and Mother Abagail, and the Trashcan Man, and Lloyd, and Frannie, and maybe even Randall Flagg himself.  Reading that novel for the first time did not feel like reading a novel; it felt like having a set of truths revealed to me.
 
Same thing happened with It, and with The Gunslinger, and with Carrie, and with ... well, with a LOT of books by King.  Most of them, in fact.  Occasionally, one like The Tommyknockers or Cujo would fail to imprint on me in that way; but even in some of those cases, the imprinting would happen, only years later upon re-read.  And lest it seem as if this was a thing that only happened with the older books, I can tell you with no hesitation that it still happens pretty routinely today.  11/22/63, Joyland, Duma Key, etc.  King's books still hit me in that way more often than not.
 
I think what it's about is connection.  King is saying things about the world and about life that I myself might wish to say, if only I knew how to say them.  I don't know how to say them, generally speaking; I do know how to feel them, though, and I find King's works to be an easy and useful way to access those parts of myself, some of which do not always find outlets for expression here in the real world. 
  
King's books are a key; there are truths inside those lies fictions, and by turning the key that is Stephen King I often find them for myself.
 
And, of course, that's why this blog exists.  I write about King's work (or sometimes about other things tangentially related to it, if only in my own mind) as a prism through which I can then explore certain aspects of my own life.  I hope that that exploration is invisible more often than not; I don't mind pulling the curtain back and letting you guys in on the process on occasion, but I certainly hope that what comes through to people who are not me is primarily focused on King and his work.  If not, it can't possibly be of much use to anyone else, I'd imagine.  Anyways, that's my hope.
 
To sum up, the answer to the question "why Stephen King?" appears, for me, to be this: because through Stephen King's work, I see myself more clearly.
 
 
A few of my mirrors.

 
And I think that is probably why most people develop the fandoms they develop.  I think that's what fandom is all about.  (This might even be extended to non-fandom-related things, like relationships; but we're going to keep our focus narrowed.)
 
Trey and I talked about fandom of that nature on numerous occasions.  It was a primary concern of his; he wanted to explore his own fandoms in a similar way, and felt that he would be able to be able to entertain and enlighten others while doing it.  He was deeply engaged with -- among other things -- video game culture and anime culture, and he saw all sorts of things in those mediums that allowed him to develop a sort of Trey-centric theory of everything.  That was very much a work in progress; he had ambitious (though vague and not-yet-defined) plans for it; he'd share bits of them with me every so often.
 
Trey is gone, and so are those plans.  I wish I could remember more about them; my memory is poor, and so these plans of Trey's seem doubly lost to me, because I can't even conjure a memory of most of what he shared with me.
 
One thing that interested him that I do remember is a theory he had about how the increasing presence of social media had influenced and changed fandom.  Because I was about a decade and a half older than him, he saw me -- not incorrectly -- as a bit more divorced from that aspect of modern fandom than he himself was.  I can remember us talking about that one day, and one of us put forth the notion that many modern-day fans of __________ (fill that in as you see fit) are less fans of __________ than they are fans of being fans of __________.  It's a tricky distinction.  It's also a very, very big topic.
 
Suffice it to say that for Trey and me, what it boiled down to was this: the internet in general and social media specifically seem to make a lot easier to engage in fandom that doesn't necessarily have to be all that grounded in the thing itself of which the fans are ostensibly fans.  Are fans of the television series Hannibal fans of those 39 hours of television, or are they fans primarily of the interactions they've had with other fans?  Were the episodes mainly just useful as a thing which got them to the fandom?  If so, does that make their fandom less pure in some way?  Does it make it deeper in some way?  Is it wrong to even think of such things in a more-or-less / deeper-or-shallower manner?
 
Those answers are unclear.  All we ever figured out was that social media probably HAD had some sort of significant impact of fandoms of all types, ranging from Hannibal to Grand Theft Auto to college football to Ernest Hemingway to Beanie Babies to ... well, you name it.
 
I wonder: if the internet had existed when I was first becoming a Stephen King fan, how would the development of my fandom have been different?  WOULD it have developed?  What if I read The Stand and then encountered some King-centric Facebook group where I enthused about my experience reading it, only to be answered by somebody saying, "yeah but the ending sucks because King doesnt know hwo to write endings, so your wrong about how good this is it isnt really good i think." 
 
Would I then have changed my opinion about that novel?  I had ZERO contact with other King fans for years.  I can't say for sure, but knowing me, I think that any true negativity might have colored my opinions severely.  If that had happened after I read The Stand, would I have picked up whichever King book I picked up next? 
 
Or might I have moved on to some other writer?  What if I instead picked up The Hunt For Red October and read it and loved it (all things that actually did happen) and got on a Tom Clancy Facebook group and had a series of wonderful interactions with other people who loved it?  I think I was at a moment in my life where I needed some sort of catharsis from the books I was reading; I needed them to provide some real-life insights of some sort.  I got them in 1990 from The Stand.  But in this other scenario, what if it happened as a result of Tom Clancy?  Not via the book itself -- enjoyable though it is -- but via the experience of talking about it and having my opinion validated by others?
 
I think something like that would have been very possible if I'd grown up around the internet.  And please understand, I'm not suggesting that that would inherently have been a bad thing.  It might have been; it might equally not have been.  But either way, I think it would have been different.  And that's a haunting thought.  
 
We're straying far afield here, so let me reign myself back in.
 
But yeah, that's the sort of thing Trey and I would talk about, sometimes for hours on end.  There were too few such sessions; we didn't make the time to hang out as often as we probably should have.  That's entirely my fault, too; I'm incredibly selfish with my time, and parcel it out the way a miser dispenses free meals (i.e., rarely).  Trey understood that in my case, it's not because I don't want to be around people, but because I have my own plans and goals, and the pursuit of them necessitates a sacrifice of other activities.  (This is especially true given that I work at nights, thereby eliminating five nights out of seven each week as hangout time goes.)
 
This sacrifice, too, is a thing we talked about on occasion.  In the last year of his life, he began using his own blog to explore one of his favorite topics: the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.  He'd been a Lovecraft junkie for years, but had never read all of Lovecraft's stories; when I did so for this blog a few years ago, it kickstarted his own desire to do the same, and to also write about them extensively as he went. 
 
 
H.P. Lovecraft

 
There's something haunting in Trey's late-innings focus on Lovecraft.  Lovecraft himself might well be said to be a man who shouted "why" into the void (via his fiction) for most of his life, and the answer that mostly came back via that fiction was "no reason."  He found the universe to be cold and indifferent but also actively malevolent; there was no reason, but that absence of reason sure was avid about what it did, which was often quite ugly and painful. 
 
And Lovecraft himself died of cancer at too early an age; he got 47 years, which is a damn sight better than 31.  But even 47 is too short a span, I think most of us would agree.  How much of that time was Lovecraft haunted by some sort of knowledge that something inside of him was wrong?  I'm guessing it was longer than anyone actually knows.  And if that's true of Lovecraft, is it also true of Trey Sterling?  He maintained a positive attitude toward his own cancer right up until it reached the point of no return, but it's impossible not to wonder: did Trey have some sense well prior to letting anyone know he was sick that his time had perhaps grown very short indeed?  Was this a factor in his turning his interests passionately toward Lovecraft (whose biography Trey knew better than I do, meaning the cancer connection would certainly not have been lost upon him)?
 
Was his attempt to chart Lovecraft's work a very knowing "why" of its own?
 
Whatever the case, Trey began that process last year, and immediately found it difficult to manage his time in order to be productive in his blogging.  Not just the reading; not just the writing; but also the side aspects of it, such as answering people's comments.  "How do you find the time for this shit?!?" he asked me one night.
 
"Well," I answered, "sometimes I don't.  But when I do, it's because basically all I do is work, sleep, and blog.  And in order to do that, you have to, like, NOT do other things."  Such as video games, I suggested; a dagger to Trey's heart, but one that he knew was coming -- he needed a guy like me to tell him a thing like that. 
 
Also, in my case, there's no girlfriend to sweetly steal time away from doofus activities like blogging.  If there was, I'd give this shit up in a heartbeat!  Trey himself did have a girlfriend, so there went quite a bit of time; time he was more than happy to give, but still, it did lessen his ability to explore Lovecraft's work in the manner he wanted.  Trey was also a better friend than I am, and actually hung out with his many friends frequently; there goes more Lovecraft time.  Time well spent, without question; but time is time, and once it has gone it ain't never coming back.
 
I'm increasingly less willing to give that time away to anybody for any reason.  If that sounds unhealthy, well, you're probably not wrong.  But it's the only way to make my own goals happen in the way I'd like to make them happen; and even that isn't enough, if you want to know another truth.  Nowhere close.  If I were somehow able to eliminate work from the equation, it still wouldn't be enough.  (This is leaving aside the fact that my memory blows chunks and the fact that I'm an incredibly undisciplined and disorganized blogger to begin with.)  Might not even be enough if I eliminated sleep!  Time runs and runs and runs, and me chasing it while shouting won't slow it down; me ignoring it DAMN sure won't slow it down.
 
Via Trey, I now also have a fresh and ghastly example of how very little of that time there may well be.  His ran out so much more quickly than it ought to have done.  Thirty-one years is simply not sufficient; that's a third of a life, not a life.  He packed a good bit into it; he traveled, he had family and friends and lovers and pets, he spent a lot of time doing the things he enjoyed.  He was comfortable and safe and relatively happy for most of his life, which is more than many people are able to say.  But it was not a sufficient allotment of time, and who among us can say when ours will run out?
 
Not me, that's for sure.  And so all I can do is pursue my own time, however much there may be of it, in the manner that seems most fitting to me.  Looking back on my life, I think I have to admit that most of it has primarily been concerned with coming to some sort of understanding of why such a thing exists at all.  And there IS no answer to that for me.  Some will answer it for themselves, some will answer it for both themselves and for others; some will not answer it at all, and that's me.  But understanding that a search is doomed to failure does not imply that that search should be abandoned.  It makes it all the more important, because that search is all that there actually is.  Why do I exist?  Who am I?  Am I at all?  As long as I'm asking that question, I am; and so asking it becomes my predominant concern.  If asked well enough, perhaps the question persists beyond the questioner.
 
Why?
 
Why not?

I met Trey in 2003 -- is that right? I think it was 2003, but it might have been 2002 -- when he got a job working at a movie theatre where I was an assistant manager.  He was in high school; I was nearly a decade out of college.  At first, we had the typical manager/employee relationship, which is to say no relationship whatsoever.  I'd tell him whether he'd be selling popcorn or sweeping it up that day; that was our relationship. 
  
Eventually, though, we found that our interests in movies and books and whatnot overlapped sufficiently that we could have actual conversations.  He was talking one day about books; probably about fantasy books.  Were we talking Tolkien?  It's a strong possibility; we were both J.R.R. fans, and the movies were a current thing at that time, so I think that's a safe bet.  I wouldn't be surprised if it happened as the result of a set of posters for The Return of the King coming in and giving us something to gawp at.  Might even have been these:
  
  
  


  
  
Whatever the case, the conversation eventually turned to my favorite series of fantasy books: The Dark Tower, by Stephen King.  Trey had never heard of them.  I stared at him and blinked, and probably squinted mercilessly.  He grew uncomfortable.  "Ha-ha, are they good?" he probably asked nervously, pulling at the collar of his shirt.
  
At this point, I told Trey that if he did not use his break time that day to go to a nearby Books-A-Million and buy all four of the Dark Tower novels, I was going to write him up.
  
Trey, gullible young fellow that he was, took me seriously.  So he went to the bookstore on his break, bought the four trade paperback editions that were current at the time, and came back to show them off.  These, I think:
  
  
  




  
  
"You thought I was serious?!?" I probably said, hopefully in a kindly manner.  "I couldn't write somebody up for not buying books!  Even if I wanted to, I couldn't get away with that.  Oh, well, too late; all you can do now is read them, I guess."
  
So he did, and we probably talked about nothing else at work for the next couple of months.  He ate those suckers whole.  And then, just a few months after that, Wolves of the Calla came out, and he got to experience the rest of the series in real time.  He loved the final books; not everyone did, but the both of us -- and also our friend Brian (and, later, our friend Erich, with whom Trey shared the books) -- surely did.
  
Check out this thing he drew for me in 2005:
  
  
  
  
  
Those of you who know the novels, you know how this takes on additional meaning given that Trey has passed away.  It's a haunting -- that word again -- feeling, looking at that.  But that's not entirely a bad thing, is it?  Those are serious books; they have serious themes, many of them related to concerns about mortality.  It means something that both Trey and I got something from them; this is not an accident, nor casual entertainment.  This won't be true of everyone, but for guys like us, we read those novels and use them as preparation of a sort.  When I read the scene from which Trey drew that image, did I consciously find myself thinking about how Trey -- or anyone else I personally knew (my mother, my father, myself) -- might someday also die in the real world?  Of course not.  But it increased my awareness of the possibility a bit; and it echoed forward into the future, to this very moment.  I didn't know it was doing it, but what does that matter?  It impacted me all the same.
  
And it impacted Trey, as well; sufficiently that he felt moved to share this drawing with me.  Did he know he'd reach the clearing at the end of the path before I would?  No.  And yet, it meant something; because the books meant something to both of us, and both of us knew that whatever that was transcended the books themselves.
  
Despite his love of those books, Trey never really turned into a big Stephen King fan.  He had aspirations to that; he enjoyed the books he read (except Under the Dome, which he had a real beef against), and he bulked up his collection quite a bit during his final months.  He developed an interest in King's short stories, and got all the collections.  He read Skeleton Crew in the spring, and loved it.  I think that may have been the last book he ever read.  (Which brings up the thought that it is entirely possible "The Reach" is the final piece of fiction he ever read; if you know that story and don't feel a chill considering that, you're made of stronger stuff than I am.)
  
  

  
But it was The Dark Tower that really called to Trey, not King's work overall.  
  
Why?
  
I can't answer that question.  Well, not fully.  I know we loved those books for most of the same reasons, so I kind of could answer the question.  But that will come in time, whenever I wind my horn and approach a lengthy series of blog posts about this series of books.  And I'm not ready for that quite yet; that's gonna be a while.
  
What I'll say for now is an expansion of something I said above: the series deals very seriously with themes of mortality and resurrection and fate, among other concerns.  All of that landed with Trey; all of it landed with me, too.  So when I recommended those books to him and he found them to his liking, I think we both knew that we had a decent amount of real things in common, too.  Thus, an actual friendship was born.  
  
What caused it?  Any number of factors, obviously.
  
But consider this.  A significant portion of it was obviously due to my love of Stephen King in general and of The Dark Tower specifically.  And that very love was, among other things, the result of the fact that I loved to read; the result of the fact that I loved to sit in a room by myself and search for meaning of some kind within the pages of books.  
  
I've written before about how much of my initial King fandom was sparked by visits to a specific place, a used bookstore called The Book Rack.  That bookstore itself occupies a nearly mythical place in my mind; it may as well be Rivendell for how I feel about it.  And part of what I always think about when I think of it is how there was almost always nobody else there other than the cashier working the place.  I'd go into one of its room and would, more often than not, be essentially all by myself, surrounded by books.  It's my ideal setting!  I'd sometimes go there even if I had no money; just go there and be among the books, not quite alone but almost, taking the books down and reading the back covers, staring at the artwork, wishing and imagining; the happiness that would bring me rings like a bell from 1990 all the way to 2018.  I hear it right this second.
  
Without that setting being a major part of the manner in which my King fandom developed, would it have developed?  My love of the Dark Tower books themselves is tied inextricably to the two trade-paperback editions I found there one day.  Without that happening on that specific day, would I have loved them as much?
  
More to the point, without whatever elements of my personality resulted in that bookstore meaning so much to me, would Trey and I have become friends?  If I were not the kind of person whose happiness in life comes primarily from being in a solitary place surrounded by books, would I have still known Trey in 2018?
  
My guess: no.  Because really, what I'm asking is this: if I were a different person than who I am, would Trey and I have become friends?  It's impossible to say for sure, but I think not, simply because I feel my personality led me to develop the interests I developed, and those interests steered me in the direction I went in life.  I don't think you can change the personality without making major changes to the trajectory and interests of the person.
  
Trey would occasionally try to entice me into loving some story or another than he loved and I was unfamiliar with, and I think he did that in large part because he felt either an obligation or a challenge to provide me with as titanic an interest as he'd been given by me in The Dark Tower.  Unfortunately for him, because I was older, I'd already formed too many opinions; I already knew and loved a lot of the things he'd be most likely to recommend, and many of the rest were things that did not interest me.  
  
The closest he ever got was Cowboy Bebop.
  
  
 
  
Now, Trey loved a lot of things.  But when it came to stories, I'm pretty sure that Cowboy Bebop was the pinnacle for him.  His first car had a vanity plate reading BEBOP, so that's kind of a sign right there.  He tried for years to get me to watch it, and I'd usually give him some sort version of "yeah, yeah, sounds cool, maybe someday."  But it never happened until last year, when we finally sat down and started watching it one night during the summer.  If I'm not mistaken -- and I might be -- this was on the same night when Trey told me at dinner that he'd found a lump of some sort on his thigh that he was going to have checked out.  
  
We finished watching it finally earlier this spring, on one of the last times we ever hung out together.  I won't spoil the ending for those of you who might theoretically watch it someday -- and it's fucking great, so you should ALL watch it someday -- but suffice it to say that there is stuff in the final episode that has resonance today that it didn't have prior to June 22.  For me, at least.
  
The last time I saw Trey alive, I was visiting him in hospice.  I'd been there a few days earlier and had noticed that someone had brought him a stuffed animal; I didn't pay much attention to it, but on my next visit, I was looking around the room and my eyes landed on this little stuffed Corgi, and it clicked.
  
  

Not sure if this is the same plush; I don't remember it having a collar, but I might be misremembering.
  
  
It was Ein, the somewhat-hyper-intelligent (?) dog who is a member of the Bebop's motley crew of mistfits.  I asked Trey's father to be sure, and he verified it.  Trey had had this stuffed animal for years, and loved it like crazy.  And it went into the grave with Trey, like the stuffed animal of a pharaoh.
  
That day in hospice, Ein was sitting on Trey's chest, closer to his stomach than his face.  Trey, by the time he got to the hospice, had very little of his consciousness left to him.  But he wasn't all gone.  I watched Trey's hand reach for Ein.  He wasn't able to use his hands all that well, but he got a grasp on Ein and began sort of pulling him further up his body, so the little animal could be closer to him; he wasn't wearing his glasses anymore, so he probably wanted to be able to see Ein.  He seemed to me to be clutching the stuffed animal as though it were a lifeline; or perhaps it was only a comfort of some sort.  This tiny plush toy; he'd owned it for years, and had poured no telling how much love and affection into it.  In his final hours, was he able to retrieve some of that love and affection from it?  Was Ein able to provide a silent communication between the Trey who was lying in that bed and the circa-2001 Trey who was young and full of life and was watching Cowboy Bebop for the first time with a sense of slack-jawed wonder?
  
I have no doubt that it was.  It seems a strange thing to be sure of, but I feel safe in saying that Trey's relationship to story was similar to my own; he took story as an essential element of life, as a thing that expressed what you could not express for yourself.  You sometimes connected strongly with a story and then spent years figuring out why; in so doing, you figured out some aspect of yourself.
  
I'm repeating things I've said already, of course.  But why not?  I think it says a lot that in those final days, little Ein -- who, thought of differently, might be said to actually be a tiny, plush version of some aspect of Trey himself -- sat with this man, speaking to him in the silent way memories and thoughts do.  We pour ourselves into these things; might we not be poured back out again?
  
I think so.  And this means that when I watch Cowboy Bebop again in the future, I'll be able to do so with an eye toward trying to pull little bits of Trey out of the images flashing before me.  He put himself in there; he did so freely, and then he gave that to me so I'd have it if I ever found myself in need of it again.
  
  
  
  
I think it's safe to say I will.
  
Trey reached the clearing at the end of the path on June 22, and I'll never see him again.  Except when I watch things I know he loved, or read books and stories I know he loved.  On occasions like that, I'll be able to ask "why did Trey love this?"  And when I gets little pieces of answers, I'll be getting little pieces of Trey.
  
In so doing, I'm also putting little pieces of myself into those stories.  On some strange realm where time moves more slowly, might it be true that at that point, those pieces of Trey mingle with those pieces of me and become part of the same pool of memory?
 
Why not?
 
*****
 
We'll start making our way out of this house full of "why"s, and as we go, let's have a look at a few photos of Trey taken from a vacation we went on together in 2007.  Our friend Brian was getting married to our friend Laura at Disney World!  So we all went down there for, like, a week.  It was awesome, and I've got a few photos to prove it. 
  
  
This was taken at the restaurant inside the Cinderella-themed castle in the Magic Kingdom.  It was awesome, but one hiccup came when they brought a basket of rolls that was entirely inadequate to the size of our group.  My response: "This is some bibiddi-bobbidi bullshit!"  Hilarity ensued.  Trey kindly offered to cut the rolls and divide them evenly.  He approached the task with great vigor.  (That's our friend Reuben to Trey's right, looking rightly concerned.)



That's Trey in the white baseball cap.  I can't help but look and this photo now and think, "Trey!  Don't go!  Stay here with us, Trey!"  Which is perhaps an inappropriate thing to think about a photo in which I am wearing embroidered Mickey Mouse ears, but there you have it; the past communicating with the present and vice versa.

This was at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville at Universal Studios Citywalk.  They have tasty buffalo wings, or did circa 2007, at least.  Apparently they also had ballooon hats for both slender AND portly men.
  

That's Brian, the groom, at the end of the table.

Here's Trey, gallivanting into the middle of Laura's toss of the bouquet to our friend Brooke (who did indeed get married the following year, to Reuben).  He'd been tasked with destroying the bouquet, for some reason; possibly to help Laura get out of taking a bunch of photos, I can't remember for sure.  He took his job seriously.

Me, Brian, Laura, and Trey in a photo I have dubbed "worst Reservoir Dogs cosplay ever."
  
  
Good times.  Lots of laughter on that trip, I call tell you that for a fact.
  
There usually was with Trey around.
  
I'm going to leave you with a couple of additional images, neither from that trip.  I'm going to preface them both with a poem I wrote one day not long after Trey died.  It has no title, but needs a wee bit of explanation.  Trey's actual name was Arnold; he was called "Trey" because he was an Arnold III.  Get it?
  

  
  
"Trey" was not Trey's name
but a habit reinforced
sufficiently that "name" flowered around it,
truth ascendant over fact.
The truth: Trey was Trey;
even the sarcastic balked at calling him "Arnold"
(did not fit; the mouth rejected it).

"Trey,"
the third of these alleged Arnolds;
not first yet also
both first
and last,
his very name not his name
except in the important ways:
such as the hint of
trinity it carried within it.
One could not greet him across a crowded room
lest one shout an implication of eternity.
 
 
 

  
  


18 comments:

  1. Hey, wow... wow. What a post, Bryant. Thank you for your honesty and your vulnerability; so much of what you said I relate to. I lost a dear friend in September (funnily enough, I met her back in 2002, too — she and I were both six). Us two had another friend, a guy our age, and we were sort of a “Loser’s Club,” so to speak. He died in 2009, in a vehicular accident. And she’s gone now, too — suicide. So it’s just me.

    Like Trey, my friend (her name was Carrie) was into the works of Stephen King and that was the foundation of much of the latter part of our friendship. Her favorite work was Insomnia. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to read that book again. Despite it being almost a year since her passing, it still feels fresh. It still hurts.

    I said that to say I know what you’re going through — at least, to an extent. Keep on keepin’ on. Your blog posts are a blessing to me, and I’m sure to others.

    Thanks,

    Cody

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    1. Man, Cody, sorry to hear about the sad fate of your own Losers' Club. That's rough stuff; I hope you've been able to get through it reasonably well. I suspect the hurt will always be fairly fresh. How can it not be?

      I wish I had better words than that, but I guess we're all stuck with whatever we're stuck with.

      "Insomnia" is one of my next King rereads, so whenever I get to that (it may be a year or so, at my rate), feel free to hop on and share anything about Carrie you'd like to share. Maybe there'll be something useful in that for you. Or heck, feel free to do so here; no real need to wait, as far as I'm concerned.

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    2. That sounds cool. I might just do that. :-)

      By the way, do you have a Goodreads? I find it’s very convenient for keeping track of books I’ve read. I also enjoy participating in the groups.

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    3. I'm not on Goodreads, no. Seems cool, but it also seems like it'd be a huge time drain; and I drain too much time as it is!

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  2. I may join you for that INSOMNIA reread when you get there.

    This was beautiful and thank you for writing it, thank you for sharing it. Hell, thank you for living it.

    I got a big laugh out of that worst-Reservoir-dogs-cosplay caption. Followed by a lump in my throat. Those kind of pictures take on new meanings once people start catching the last train out.

    I have much to say on the deep "why"s you mention but can't seem to summon the words right now. Thank you for this meditation, though. I hope to share some soon.

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    1. p.s. Have never seen COWBOY BEBOP.

      p.p.s. The thought of dying in slow-motion without my glasses to watch or read anything makes me want to blow my brains out and get it over with. This isn't a cry for help/ threat or anything concerning. Just dear holy Jesus what a fucking nightmare. It seems somewhat appropos to this post to mention it here, too, this not only is THIS going on but then you're removed from one's "mirrors" (and nice job on that/ that picture, by the way; well-placed in the flow of the writing) and comforts. Fuck that. I'd rather die in a goddamn rat-infested trench choking on mustard gas.

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    2. p.p.p.s. I can't recall if Trey and I ever discussed UNDER THE DOME. I've always been effusive of my affection for that one, so given that Trey and I shared our enthusiasms quite freely for King projects, I wonder if he was just politely silent/ non-responsive if I ever want off on a rant about it. It's possible. Shit, now I wish I'd engaged him specifically on it.

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    3. Working backwards:

      (1) Trey liked "Under the Dome" well enough, with one major caveat: he hated the way it ended, specifically the revelation of what was powering the dome. Now, ME, I loved that part of the book; I seem to recall that was your take on it, as well. Trey and I went round and round on that book two or three times, and he basically dug his heels in and said, "Nope, fuck that book." Which was charming. I told him, "Hey, sometimes you just gotta hate a thing in overblown manner. I get it." Which is true on both counts.

      (2) "Fuck that. I'd rather die in a goddamn rat-infested trench choking on mustard gas." "The thought of dying in slow-motion without my glasses to watch or read anything makes me want to blow my brains out and get it over with." -- Being incapacitated is a thing I wish on nobody. Sitting here right now, I agree -- I'd prefer to just go ahead and be done with it. But who knows how I'd feel in that actual situation. I'd probably end up wanting to hang on for as long as possible; even while incapacitated, there might be dreams.

      (3) "Cowboy Bebop" is great. It's -- and I say this meaning IF you (like me) have no real experience with anime; if you do have that experience, it's probably a snap -- a thing that requires some active investment. You've got to kind of be willing to be confused by it. I suspect it's going to play even better whenever I watch it a second time. Which will be for Where No Blog Has Gone Before (but probably not within the next couple of years).

      I also owe Trey a viewing of "Red Dwarf." He gave me the first four seasons on DVD and I have yet to watch a bit of it, because I am an awful person.

      (4) "I have much to say on the deep "why"s you mention but can't seem to summon the words right now. Thank you for this meditation, though. I hope to share some soon." -- A lot of my posts for the next little while are likely to feature cameos by memories of Trey. So whenever those words arrive, feel free to leave here, there, or anywhere you see fit. I'll read them eagerly.

      (5) "I may join you for that INSOMNIA reread when you get there." -- All are welcome! All are welcome!

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  3. "The answer, I think, has to do with the degree to which King addresses my own set of interior dilemmas and concerns. I see myself reflected in his works more often than not, whereas that may not necessarily be true of Clarke and Bradbury (or Barker, Crichton, etc.). Because of that, I make personal connections to those works; via those connections, I derive highly useful personal catharsis from them. (Let's not ignore the extent to which King was useful to me in becoming less fearful. That was, and is, a big deal for me.)"

    It wouldn't surprise me to find out that it's for very similar reasons that even guys like the clinically detached Clarke put pen to paper.

    For me, the irony is that it was more of a simple observer's curiosity more than am dilemma (at least any that I'm consciously aware of, that is). In terms of my own personal "why" I think the best answers I got are twofold. 1. My first basic reactions to art (in my case it was Jim Henson) were considered and labeled as "fun" by my barely seven year old self, and my natural enough response was "Play that again!" 2. Over time, I began to realize the paradox that engaging with art seems to be the main way I engage with reality.

    For me, it's always been more about learning as you go. If there is an ultimate "Why" to all fiction, all I can say is "Whatever gets you through the night".

    One interesting point is that what are now more personal concerns seem to have been more collectively oriented way, say, during the Bronze Age, and the like. The reason for this seems pretty self-explanatory. The inescapable simplicity of living conditions during those eras meant that privacy as it is now practiced was an outright luxury, if not an impossibility for people like Aristotle. This is why ancient myths seem more inclined to tackle the problems of an entire society, rather than that of one single individual.

    Interesting food for thought, anyway.

    ChrisC.

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    1. "It wouldn't surprise me to find out that it's for very similar reasons that even guys like the clinically detached Clarke put pen to paper." -- Oh, almost certainly. Probably King himself, for that matter. Maybe EVERY writer. A lot of readers, as well, one imagines.

      "Over time, I began to realize the paradox that engaging with art seems to be the main way I engage with reality." -- That seems like a paradox, but I don't think it is at all. All art IS reality of a sort, wouldn't you say? Just not a literal one. When you watch a movie, even a bad one, you are peeking into the brains of the various people who made it. You are experiencing versions of their hopes, fears, ambitions, neuroses, etc. It's at a remove, but it's absolutely a form of reality. I think so, at least!

      "The inescapable simplicity of living conditions during those eras meant that privacy as it is now practiced was an outright luxury, if not an impossibility for people like Aristotle. This is why ancient myths seem more inclined to tackle the problems of an entire society, rather than that of one single individual." -- A very interesting point, and obviously true. If you took the me who exists right now and put him in a society where he was never allowed any privacy, I'd be unable to cope with it. I'd go nuts within a week, guaranteed. I consider myself lucky to be able to have that sort of privacy for at least a few hours a day; a lot of people even now are probably not so lucky.

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  4. Sorry for your loss, Bryant. This is a very nice tribute to your friend. I had a friend from high school commit suicide less than a year after we graduated, I'm not sure if he had even turned 19. We had similar tastes with respect to the arts, and I often think about him when a band he liked releases a new album, or when an author he enjoyed releases a new book. Selfishly, I wish I could talk with him about these things, especially because he had advanced as a reader a bit more quickly than I had. I can vividly remember him telling me about the conversation he had with a teacher of ours, apparently this particular teacher was sure that none of his students had ever read a 1,000 page book, and he proudly informed this (quite unpleasant) U.S. History teacher that he had recently finished the book IT by Stephen King.

    I hadn't read IT at that point, or many other King books, and that's what I find myself missing, lost conversations with a friend.

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    1. "Selfishly, I wish I could talk with him about these things" -- I don't think there's anything selfish about that, personally. How could you feel any way BUT that way? Lost conversations with a friend indeed; I know exactly what you mean, now.

      I like that anecdote about your friend telling his teacher about having read "It." Mic drop moment for sure. Good for him!

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  5. Thanks for sharing Bryant, your description of Trey holding his Ein in hospice is heart breaking. I'm sorry you lost a good friend, they are hard to find.
    I always consider IT to be the saddest book of all time because to lose those memories of your favorite people is just so damn sad.
    -mikeC

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    1. It is indeed. I hope they really nail that aspect of the second movie; if they do, a big portion of its fanbase is going to be greatly affected by it in a way they are not prepared for.

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  6. I admit that I'm new to this blog. I'm relatively new to King. (Read a few books as an adolescent, then picked up On Writing about 6 years ago in my early 30s. Hooked.) But in a very short space of time you've moved me to post a comment on this and I don't really do comments online (other than on a Red Dwarf fan site occasionally.)
    Anyway, this was a lovely tribute and I'm sorry for your loss. And, I imagine, the loss of everyone who knew Trey even a little bit.
    You might enjoy watching Red Dwarf and imagining Trey as Rimmer to your Lister.
    Keep reading; keep blogging.

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    1. I hope to do both for a long time to come. Many thanks for the kind words!

      And I have GOT to get to "Red Dwarf" at some point soon. As a sci-fi fan, it's unconscionable for me not to have watched it yet -- as Trey often told me! He wasn't wrong.

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  7. Mr. Burnette:

    Please accept my condolences on the loss of your friend. It’s never easy and it does often raise more questions than answers. Unfortunately, I speak from experience. You were lucky to have those hours of conversation that you shared together. Not all of us have someone like that — not whining, just an observation — and that’s a large part of the reason I come here. I do appreciate all the time you put into this blog and marvel at the quality and depth of it. Thanks very much.

    Ray

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    1. Oh, I don't take that as whining at all: it's a simple fact. There are plenty of folks who aren't lucky enough to have good friends to converse with. Those who do are well-advised to remember it and never take it for granted.

      Thanks for the kind words, Ray!

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