She was my friend. She was one of the few people in a local group who believed I had talent and encouraged me to write and draw. She wanted me to illustrate one of her stories. But that never happened. Susan Petrey died on December 5, 1980.
I was in Europe at the time, traveling through the British Isles and then on to the Continent. Although I had contact with people back home, I did not know about her death. Later, after I returned to Portland, I was told they took a vote and decided not to tell me Susan had died. They did not want it to ruin my trip.
In Ireland I met the wonderful and gracious writer Anne McCaffrey. I was so pumped with Susan’s writing and our friendship, I chattered about her stories and how Susan was going to write so many more.
Now, news of a writer’s death in the F and SF world travels. I expect Anne knew about Susan’s death, but she did not say a word. Not wanting to ruin my trip? I don’t think so. Perhaps she thought I was in denial, ignorant, or just plain callous.
I continued on my holiday through Britain and across the channel. The head of BBC Scotland gave me a private tour through the studios, a sweet Swiss gentleman bought me a metro ticket and kissed my hand as I boarded the car, and I met my good friend Robin at the Youth Hostel in Den Hague. I was oblivious to the sadness that awaited me on my return.
But I did return, and on being told of Susan’s death, I was stunned into silence. Perhaps my apparent lack of response was taken for agreement that I should not have been told or indifference to Susan’s death. But it is the response I have when I am so overwhelmed by a lack of understanding that I cannot get any words out of my mouth. I was frozen in place. I should have been told.
My friend, Susan, was manic-depressive or what is now called bipolar. She took meds. Often when she was in a depressive mood, she would give me a call and ask to come over to my apartment. The meds flipped a switch and she became manic. She would come with her bottle of Scotch and talk and rock and talk and rock and take a sip of Scotch. There was no getting the bottle away from her and she knew she needed watching.
So I would sit with her and listen as she told her stories, the whole time making sure she never had too much Scotch or too many meds. Susan would rock and rock and rock. We’d talk about our joys and sorrows – regrets and dreams. She was my best friend. She is gone and I still feel the emptiness.