This story is like all stories; it is true, except for the parts that aren't. (Only this time, it is all true. I wish it were not.)
"Was there aught that [we] did not share,
In vigil or toil or ease -
One joy or woe that [we] did not know,
Dear Hearts across the seas?
I have written the tale of our life
For a sheltered people's mirth,
In jesting guise - but ye are wise,
And ye know what the jest is worth."
- R. Kipling
Once upon a time, there were two friends; they were friends even though they had never met, even though they lived thousands of miles, a whole continent of miles, apart. One of the friends was a middle-aged white lady; the other was a young black man. They had become acquainted through words alone, not even words on anything as tangible as paper, but ephemeral words that appeared on their computer screens. This may seem unlikely - yet they were friends. I know, because I am the middle-aged lady. The young man was Cronan Thompson. This is about him.
Cronan was one of the most brilliant, interesting people I have ever known. He had a remarkable, elegant talent with the written word. By the time he was 18, he could write more wittily, more beautifully, more wickedly than most people can even after decades of practice. It was not always so; when he first pounced upon UseNet, some years ago, his construction was awkward, his thoughts often jumbled, his spelling disgraceful. But the sheer raw talent beneath was evident, even then. It was obvious that he was someone to watch.
As he gained experience and skill, Cronan showed more and more the astonishingly fine mind and basically good character that were linked with that talent. He was amusing, illuminating, irritating - but he was never boring. His writing improved rapidly, and he began to trollerize like a master. He'd mock, cajole, argue - just for the heck of it. You could see the fun he was having, his joy in learning to weave words into something wonderful. When Cronan let it slip that he was still in high school, more than a few of us were amazed at how *good* a writer he was already.
He got even better.
We began corresponding occasionally; in personal email, Cronan was polite and thoughtful, often witty, though he seemed a bit shy, at first. Somewhere in there, we became friends, almost without knowing it.
The "public" side of Cronan was only a small part of him. In personal correspondence and on the telephone he showed himself to be a gentle, loyal, and affectionate young person. He loved, and was very proud of his family and friends. He was kind - and *very* funny. He could describe making a sandwich, and his description would be interesting - and hilarious. He often insisted that I had to come visit him, so he could make for me one of his "Holy Sandwiches." Cronan could write - or say - one short sentence, and make me laugh so hard it hurt. Despite his sometimes scathing "public" articles, in "private," he seemed to bear no real grudges (though he often had pithy observations about almost everything), and I never saw any sign of personal cruelty or directed maliciousness.
He became a good friend, one I wanted to keep for a very long time. There were others who felt the same way about him. When Cronan found someone he liked, or admired, he "passed along" that person to his other friends. He seemed to have the gift of knowing who should know each other. I thank him for that; it is only one of the ways he enriched my life. He made me laugh, and he made me think; he helped me to become what I hope is a better person.
Half a year ago, Cronan was diagnosed with Lymphoma; his prospects of recovery seemed good, at first. His courage and strength of spirit were evident in his struggle against this terrible disease. His family and friends held close to him; he and his friend Brendan formed a particularly close bond.
And he wrote. He wrote and wrote. Whenever he felt strong enough to sit at his keyboard, he wrote. He wrote emails, and articles for UseNet, and he wrote stories. He had so many stories in his head. He told me once that he never liked any of them, because as soon as he would finish one, he could see how to do it better. They were never "good enough." Even then, he could see his skills improving every day, and he was never satisfied. How I wish I had just one of those stories that wasn't "good enough."
A series of misfortunes and damn bad luck afflicted Cronan and his family over the next few months, but there seemed to be one good thing; his doctors seemed to think that the cancer was being overcome. Then, about the time the big hurricane hit North Carolina, Cronan began to feel worse.
On October 8th, Cronan was readmitted to the hospital. They put him in an isolation room, in an attempt at avoiding infection; he began more chemotherapy, and massive antibiotic treatments. He could not leave that room to access a "patient use" computer, so his Net presence went missing.
But he could still read. His friends and family sent and brought him books, which Cronan said "kept [him] sane." And he had the telephone. I called him several times. It was so good to be able to talk with him, to hear his laughter, to listen to his wonderful jokes, and stories of his family and of The Oligarchy. Even when he felt very weak, he still kept that amazing wit and sense of humor.
Sometimes I'd sign on to UseNet, and read him a few articles from his favorite groups. We never got through very many of them, because Cronan always had pertinent comments, and entertaining digressions to explore.
"This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
to love that well which thou must leave ere long."
- W. Shakespeare
I last spoke with Cronan on October 20th. He'd had another round of the chemotherapy that day, and wanted to chat for a while, before the side-effects began. I read him some of Podkayne's and Bryan's articles about Buffy, Angel, and the ring, and some others which interested him. He had lots of comments to make, was quite appreciative of his friends' observations ... and he laughed. Cronan had such a *good* laugh.
Then, out of nowhere, he said the only thing ever to me that even slightly approached being hurtful. He said, "Hey, lady, you tell me now; why are you talking with me? Are you talking with me out of pity? Just 'cause you're sorry for me? Please don't ever do that, Green Lady. I couldn't stand that."
How do you answer that? How could I say that of course I felt sorry - felt terrible about what he was going through? How could I tell him that I was indeed feeling pity - for *myself*, because I hated his not being well, not being the way *I* wanted him to be?
I told him the simplest, plainest truth of all, the one true truth. That every time I talked with him, every minute of it, I did it because it was what *I* wanted to do. That I am a very selfish person, and that there was nothing - absolutely nothing - that I wanted to be doing more than what I WAS doing, right then. I wanted to please myself, and what was most pleasing to me was to be talking with Cronan Thompson, and I intended to keep right on doing it, as long as he was agreeable.
I guess that was the only right answer.
It was the only true one.
I treasure every hour that we spent chatting. I wish there could have been hundreds more of them.
All too soon, the medicos came to his room to do things to my friend, and we said goodby, 'til the next time. The next time never came.
Some time that night, Cronan lost most of his hearing; two days later, they moved him to the Critical Care Unit. His friends and
family wrote messages to him. He tried so hard. He was so very brave. But his condition worsened. We still hoped, hoped for some miracle. His blood-pressure began gradually dropping. Some of the people he loved best came and stayed with him, on October 31st.
At Wake Medical Center, in the early morning hours of November 1st, 1999, Cronan Thompson died.
He was nineteen years old. He is survived by his mother, two brothers and a sister, and many friends across the world. I extend my most heartfelt sympathy to his family, and my thanks to his mother, for bringing this marvellous person into the worid, and for the way she raised him. I was never fortunate enough to have had a child of my own; I would have been proud and delighted to have had one as wonderful as Cronan.
I am angry that I will never get to read those stories he should have had a chance to write. But much more than that, I mourn the loss of a very dear, brave, brilliant, and good young man.
I miss him terribly.
"There were three friends that spoke of the dead [ ... ]
'And would he were here with us now,' they said,
'The sun in our faces and the wind in our eyes.'"
- R. Kipling; "The Light that Failed"
~ Cronan Thompson ~
Dec. 10, 1979 - Nov. 1, 1999
Goodby, my dear friend.
- Mary Q. Smith; sometimes known as The Lady in Green
... when I have to take that last journey, I figure Cronan will be there waiting for me, with that Holy Sandwich he promised. In fact, I'm counting on it.
Return to Online Tribute to Cronan Thompson.