And now four months have passed since I last held Laura's hand.
This last weekend, I went to Atlanta to attend Dragon*con. I spent much of my time thinking of her; the first time I went as a guest to the con Laura went with me. This was right before the official launch of Nobody Gets the Girl. Laura wasn't a SF geek, but I think she still had a good time looking at all the costumes. We attended a "Church of the Subgenius" meeting together, and got to meet Danger Woman, a comedic superheroine. It was also a chance to hang out with Kieth Olexa and fellow Phobos novelist Adam Connell. Laura was too sick to go to Dragon*con the second time I attended. The whole time I was at the con that second year, I wanted most of all to just go home and be with Laura. I barely have any memories of the con at all, and this was a year when Harlan Ellison was a guest of honor.
This year, I again found myself wishing I could pick up the phone and call Laura and tell her everything that was happening. I had a good time this year thanks to the presence of a whole bevy of Codexians to hang out with. Still, on the night before I left the con, we were sitting on a couch in the hotel that Laura and I had stayed at, and I was looking at the elevators rising and falling and remembering riding that elevator with her, and I'm hard pressed to think of any point in my life where I've ever felt more alone.
Yet, I don't intend for the tone of this article to be a downer, woe-is-me kind of thing. Because, something happened on my trip to Atlanta that gave me new insight into the entire experience of Laura's death, something that answered a lot of the unanswered questions I had about how she had slipped from this world.
The hotel I stayed in this year was located across the street from the Atlanta science center. They were hosting a traveling show called "Bodies: the Exhibition." You may have heard of exhibits like this. The father of them all was BodyWorks in Germany. A scientist figured out how to "plasticize" a human cadaver, and then used human bodies to make works of art. I went to the Bodies show expecting it to be an art show... instead, it was focused almost exclusively on the science of the body, as befitting a show in a science museum.
Some people may find the notion of looking at flayed human corpses a bit gruesome or morbid. Maybe it is. But, I saw some things in this show that provoked a sense of wonder about the marvelous organisms we spend our time on Earth dwelling inside. One display that really made me feel like I was looking at the world in a new way was of a body where the red-dyed plasticizing agent had been injected throughout the veins of the body. Then, the body had been dipped in acid and disolved, leaving the entire circulatory system intact. What remained was a ghost of blood, the outline of the human form and its organs plainly visible as a tree of thin crimson threads all woven together. The lungs were especially prominent in this work. Laura died from bleeding in her lungs. It's easy to understand how this can happen, looking at such a display.
And, of course, there were the lungs. In another room, there was a female head, throat, and lungs. The lungs were tiny. I had this mental picture of lungs being big things that fill up almost all the space beneath the rib cages. Instead, they are actually small enough to fit in my hands, and kind of squashed up and compressed by all the other organs stuffed into the torso. One thing I never understood as Laura's illness progressed was why such small tumors were killing her. The radiology reports were talking about tumors only millimeters long. Tiny things. Yet, this exhibit made me understand, at last, the scale that these tiny things were operating in. Laura had lost about half of her lung capacity to tumors. It's shocking to see how little this left her with.
Finally, there were the cancers. Lungs, breasts, livers, bones... all ridden with cancer, all preserved forever. As Laura was fighting her disease, I often wished for x-ray vision. I wanted so badly to see what was going on inside her body. Now, I feel like I finally have some insight. I'm torn as to whether I'm happy I didn't see it until afterwards, or whether I might have been more useful to Laura if I'd seen it before she passed away. I couldn't have saved her by seeing these cancer ravaged lungs. But, I might have understood what she was up against better.
A lot of people, when they lose a loved one, are left with the haunting question, "Why?" I don't know that science is all that effective in answering, "Why?" But, science is getting better and better at answering, "How?" I think I know something about how Laura passed away that I didn't four months ago. It helps.