Monday, December 31, 2012

A little about Dan, the dedicatee of Nobody's Damsel

To finish out this year, and to set up for the release of Nobody's Damsel, I'm going to share the dedication and afterword of the book.

I wrote this book:

for Daniel Pendergrass 

(29 January, 1976 – July, 2011) 

who once wrote: “Beauty is a single tear, shed for someone dearly missed.” 

Hope you found your happily ever after, old friend. As long as I can hold a pencil, I won’t let the world forget about you. 

And here's the afterword to the book:

Remembering Daniel Pendergrass, the Dedicatee

As you’ll note from the dedication, Daniel Pendergrass passed away last year. I don’t have the precise date because it was never published; only a short obituary came out in the papers that I ever saw. He was thirty-five and I hadn’t seen him in person since high school. Our only recent interaction had been through the wonders of the internet, messages back and forth on Facebook.

Rewind thirty years, though, and Dan was my very best friend. Every year we made a pilgrimage to the school counselor to discuss all the flack we got for being friends of shockingly opposite genders. I still think it’s sick that anyone made an issue of this when we were in first grade. I’m not sure what other people’s six and seven year olds got up to, but Dan and I shared a passion for biology and wildlife and liked to hunt lizards and drink the nectar out of Indian paintbrush flowers. We once spent an entire recess examining a spider of a species we’d never seen before, until our classmate (who may or may not have also been my neighbor, not to point fingers or anything…) stepped on it.

While it’s the norm to sing the praises of those who have left us, I’d rather just tell you about the kind of guy Dan was, because I that’s how I liked him: as he was. He was small for his age, awkward and uncoordinated, and so brilliant that he spent his childhood worrying about big social and environmental problems that we were far too little to solve. He was a voracious reader, toting around the Lord of the Rings books in second grade as he worked his way through, page by painstaking page, until he’d finish each one in a matter of months – remember, he was only seven. Back then I was still reading Beverly Cleary. He was fiercely competitive and hated to lose at anything, which made playing sports with him difficult because most of us were bigger and more agile. Even me, and I’ve always been the kind of person chosen last for teams in gym.

One day after school we hiked down the Red Dot Trail, which residents of White Rock, New Mexico, will know is much too far for two children to hike alone. It goes in switchbacks down one wall of White Rock Canyon all the way to the Rio Grande. You can imagine how tiny we looked, picking our way down the boulder strewn cliff, and to make the image even more ridiculous, you can insert his Irish Wolfhound, Tara, who was almost as tall as we were. She kept us safe and helped us get home again, even after we lost our way. (I’m not sure if I ever told my parents that little detail. Sorry if this is the first you’ve heard of it, Mom and Dad, but hey, I survived childhood, right?)

One day during school something upset me so much that I cried during recess, only Dan kept distracting me by reading sections of James and the Giant Peach in silly voices. To this day, I don’t remember what had me so down, but I still remember his rendition of those pages. People who know me know it’s not easy to get me out of a bad mood once it’s moved me to tears.

As you can probably tell from the tenor of the dedication, though, my friend’s story had a lot of sad chapters. He was a very lonely person much of the time and had several serious health issues, including epilepsy, malformed hip joints, and an underdeveloped nervous system that affected his spatial awareness and balance. He was the first person I ever knew who wore a Medic Alert bracelet and his ungainly, jerky walk made him the target of mockery and abuse.

During middle school and high school he had various surgical procedures that required him to be in a body cast from the waist down, and it was after one of these that I heard about his first suicide attempt. I don’t know how often he tried to take his life, only that he succeeded last July. There was no memorial service to attend, and all I have left from this time are his Facebook messages, congratulating me on my writing sales and asking for advice on how to get an agent for his children’s books. Unfortunately, I don’t even know what became of his manuscripts.

He left an indelible mark on my life, though. Whenever I pick up a fantasy novel, I think of Dan toting around Lord of the Rings. I doubt it’s a coincidence that I began my writing career in speculative fiction. While I grew up without any brothers, many if not most of my close friends over the years have been male. Nowadays this seems to be acceptable, but for a couple of decades I was definitely the oddball, the girl who’d just walk up and talk to boys as if they were people (and a good percentage of them are, I can attest). I’ve endured a lot of dagger stares from jealous girls and fielded a lot of rumors about being in relationships. The flipside to this is that whenever a guy friend wants advice about women, I’m useless. I don’t get them either.

Dan taught me how cruel people can be to those who are different, and what it’s like to step outside of the box society puts each of us in. In short, it’s terrifying, isolating, and even painful, but the views are incredible. He taught me how hard work doesn’t always yield the desired reward. Despite his dreams of becoming a scientist and his many awards in school science fairs, his health precluded him from making this a reality. He taught me that loneliness isn’t all in the mind. Some people really don’t have anyone to turn to.

In one of his last messages to me, he was upbeat, telling me his epilepsy was under control and his medication had been reduced, but sometime between then and last July, things took a turn for the worse. He felt he couldn’t endure any longer and overdosed on his pills. There’s no bright side to this picture, really. It’s pure tragedy through and through. He died alone, after setting out extra food and water for his dog. He was an animal person to the end.

There’s nothing I can do to bring my old friend back, so instead I choose to tell the world that he was here. Nobody, after all, deserves to be forgotten. And if you’ve never gone up to say hello to someone while the whole rest of the room covers their mouths to keep from laughing, you’re missing out. Not because you’d be doing a great act of charity, but because it’s only when we step outside of our comfort zone that we stop skating through life and start living it in all its terrifying glory. Like I said, it can be painful, but the views are simply incredible.

E.M. Tippetts December 4, 2012

Hope everyone has a Happy New Year's, a good time to reflect on endings and new beginnings.

1 comment:

  1. Must have something to do with the name. Used to think I was dropped off by space Aliens to evaluate life on earth. More alone in a crowd than by myself.

    Dan Pendergrass