“She eased closer to him, studying his face. As if he might be someone she knew but didn’t fully recognize. She shifted to one side and checked his profile, reached out like she might ruffle his hair. He was hoping, but she didn’t. She was a girl of many half-completed movements.”
–Tom Piccirilli, November Mourns
November Mourns was the first thing of Tom Picirilli’s I ever read. The publisher had given me an advance reading copy, which I’d had him sign when we met at Hypericon in Nashville in the summer of 2005. “Met” in the sense of “bonded like relatives from a past life.” I read the book as soon as I got back that weekend, deep in the throes of missing all my new friends…friends that, ten years down the line, have changed my life in so many ways that I’m not sure who I’d be without them.
I rolled my eyes several times while reading, but that last line from the above quote is when I had to shut the book and walk away for a while. My newest bestest friend, whom I’d begun to refer to as “Unca Pic” in all our emails, was a goddamned poet. I had to put the book down because I was actually pissed that he was such a good writer. All poets—even we lapsed ones—have the ability to recognize brilliance in a single line of text.
Unca Pic was fucking brilliant.
After November Mourns, I read my first novel written by the other Guest of Honor at Hypericon that year. I had to put that one down too, because I couldn’t see from crying. The author was Brian Keene. The book was Terminal. And I had just been diagnosed with a tumor.
My tumor turned out to be a congenital birth defect. When Pic was diagnosed with a tumor, it was a tennis ball-sized gob of brain cancer. Pic never did anything small.
Hypericon 2005, well before anyone referred to me as “Princess,” was also the first convention where I got to sit on panels. Sherrilyn Kenyon and I were roommates. When she was struck down with a migraine halfway through the con, I took care of her before stealing her magic platform corset boots and stomping about the place like the confident superstar I was pretending to be.
I was under strict orders not to become friends with Brian Keene—the sworn enemy of my boyfriend at the time. (Pic was okay, though.) Unfortunately for everyone involved, we all fell in love with each other that weekend. “In love” in the sense of “friendships that would span more than a decade.” The boyfriend—who was already cheating on me at the time—didn’t last half that long.
When the boyfriend discovered my new association—a friendship I boldly defended—he punished me with silence. I shattered. Pic was there, on the other end of every email, to pick up the pieces. And when the depression got bad enough, Pic hunted down my phone number and called my house.
I never answered my phone back in those days (things haven’t changed much—I barely answer it now) and no caller ID meant that I screened every call. So imagine my surprise when the machine beeped and a thick New York accent said, “Are you off bein’ stoopid? You don’t return the emails, you don’t answer the phone…who da hell knows what kind of crisis of faith—” At which point, laughing, I picked up the phone.
I never erased that message. I listened to it for years, because it always seemed to apply. I was always having one crisis of faith or another, and Pic was always there for me. When I finally ran away from home in 2009 (in the sense of “quit my abusive job with no notice and skipped town”), the answering machine was packed up with everything else. I became caught up in the drama of moving my life and settling for another dream I thought I wanted, and the emails to Pic stopped. I mean, we kept in touch on Facebook and whatnot, but the therapy sessions had ended.
That dream burst like a firework, and then took almost four years to sizzle and fade. I sent Pic another email last November (hello, irony, my old friend), catching him up on my latest bit of craziness. He emailed me back as if it had been five days instead of five years—even remembering to call me “Mimou” (my Dad’s nickname for me as a kid—it’s Greek for “monkey”).
He’d been in remission for two years at that point—he was about to go on vacation to San Diego with Michelle, and he was looking forward to being Guest of Honor at World Horror in 2015. I, too, had been invited to be on panels at World Horror, and I had said yes because I’d seen Pic’s name on the postcards. I couldn’t wait to see him again.
Pic didn’t make it to World Horror. By then, his health was back in a steady decline. Michelle was posting for him on Facebook all the time now, updating us on his progress. I sent him another email, but he didn’t respond. I think I knew then that he never would.
Which sort of sucks because I could really use Pic right now. I’ve been in a horrible slump all summer—ever since I got back from the Atlanta/Nashville trip. I’m in my new place here in Florida, and I know it’s where I’m supposed to be because I feel at home here. But I still have a living room and garage full of boxes. I’m still trying to get myself untangled from this most recent ex. I pared everything down so that I could work on two projects this summer and I suddenly find myself in the middle of five. One of those projects is recording and editing the audiobook for Beauty & Dynamite. The only voice I have 100% down—other than my own, of course—is Pic’s.
My house stalled in the midst of renovation. I feel like there’s a missing piece in the puzzle of my career but I can’t put my finger on it. I realized this morning, when I slid to the floor and cried for two hours after hearing the news, that I had become the girl of many half-completed movements. And as much as I wanted to send an email that said, “Help me, Unca Pic, you’re my only hope,” I knew it would be a futile gesture.
He’s still with me, though, out there in a box in the garage, a faded recording on the twenty-first century equivalent of an outdated R2 unit. I don’t need to play it to hear his voice, loud and clear, asking me if I’m being stoopid. Asking me if I’m having another crisis of faith. The answer is yes. The answer is always yes.
But my Obi-Wan has left the building and now I have to face the dark forces of this universe all on my own. Fortunately, his faith in me is the one thing I don’t have doubts about.
Thanks, Unca Pic.
Dear gods, I miss you.