shine on you crazy diamond
There’s this joke in one of Woody Allen’s movies, I can’t remember which, that says something like this: Two elderly women are having dinner and one says “The food here is terrible!” And the other says “Yes! And such small portions!” I’m sure I butchered those lines just as much as my punctuation and grammar butcher the English language, but you get the idea. Life is unfair and it fucking sucks. And it is always far too short.
Saturday morning I got a call from one of my best and oldest friends Allison, telling me that her husband Sean had died. Sean had had health issues over the past few years, even so, his death was a shock. He had recently been hospitalized for his asthma, but he had gotten better. The real thing that scared us all was the chronic leukemia he was diagnosed with a few years ago. He had fought with sickness from various chemo pills and was thrilled to announce, just weeks ago, that his latest medication had worked, he was cancer-free. I know personally that there are few words quite as wonderful as “cancer-free.” Fighting cancer only to have your heart fail after another asthma attack seems like an incredibly cruel joke. But that’s not even the punchline.
Sean and Allison are friends that I met in high school. I’m not quite sure how it all happened, but shortly after high school Sean took to calling me to ask about my friend Allison and how he could get her to go out with him. In my memory, I told Sean that she didn’t want to go out with him and he should just leave her alone. He swore that I told him to ask her out and that any gripes she had over the last (almost) 20 years could be taken up with me. Obviously, she did go out with him. I’m pretty sure he pestered her into it, but they became a couple and the three of us would hang out quite a bit. We weren’t old enough to get into any bars and I don’t recall us ever having money. I honestly don’t know what we did most of the time, though I have a distinct memory of sitting in Sean’s room as he showed Allison and I some drawings that he did. I remember some being cartoons with captions- the humor was odd, outlandish, and great. We laughed heartily, but Sean quickly dismissed his work as being stupid. Next week he and Allison were going on their first real trip together (without children) to Los Angeles where they were invited solely because of Sean’s stupid artwork.
When we were still just babies, Allison got pregnant and she and Sean married. They had Griffin almost 19 years ago and Gabriel a couple of years later. Sean continued to do his art and music, but fatherhood was a more pressing issue. He did illustrations for a small newspaper without charge (I think) still thinking that his talent was nothing special. Shortly after they turned 30, the couple decided that they had done enough crappy jobs just to make money and it was time that they concentrated on doing the things that they really wanted to do. Allison went to beauty school and Sean put more time into sharing his art with the rest of the world. Luckily, the internet was there to help.
In the last couple of years Sean finally started to get an audience-a rather large one. The posts about him on Facebook for the last day and a half have been amazing. As I’ve read the posts, the blog entries and memorials on a few websites, all I can think is did he ever really know how talented, how loved he was? It breaks my heart how familiar this feels to my father’s death a few months ago. The fact that neither of them seemed to have any idea of how great people thought they were, how many people were in awe, how many lives they had touched has got to be one of the most tragic things about these deaths that came much too soon. I consider myself lucky not just for surviving two glimpses of the sweet hereafter, but having the unique experience of learning how much and how many people love me. In the days and weeks that followed my father’s death and in just hours of Sean’s I go back to this thought again and again- if only they could see this.
Sean was fortunate to have been a father, a husband, and a friend to so many. He was lucky that his vast talents were finally starting to generate approval that he could see in dollar amounts (though he never charged a fraction of what they were worth, still feeling like it wasn’t all that great.) As short as his life was, the amount of work that Sean left behind was amazing- you can see his website along with a link to the very much needed memorial fund here: http://hartter.blogspot.com/
One of the best Christmas presents I ever gave to my dad was an “alternate universe” poster of Sean’s that I asked him to make with my father playing the role of Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha.” He even managed to turn my father’s dog Zoey into Don Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza. My dad loved it and we displayed it at his wake. Truly a Sean Hartter original. None of us would’ve guessed that they’d both be gone so soon. But I don’t have to tell anyone who was lucky enough to have known either of them that their lives, however cruelly short, made the world a better place for the ones they left behind.