In early 1984, I was working in a comic store on the south side of Oklahoma City. A couple of guys came in the shop, talking to each other, and I realized they were discussing a Dungeons and Dragons game. I had been reading some of the gaming books we sold, and asked them about it; and before long, they invitied me to come along to a game that night. Thus began my lifetime of corruption; as did the longest-standing friendship of my life, with one of those two guys: Paul Cherry.
Aside from gaming, we also spent Friday nights watching Doctor Who (Doctor number Four, Tom Baker) and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and making fun of “Jack Horkheimer, Star Hustler!” before OETA went off the air for the night. Paul and his friends were also involved in the Oklahoma City and Norman fan communities, centering around STAR-OKC and NOSFA, the Norman Oklahoma Science Fiction Alliance. We went to OKON in Tulsa, the big regional convention at the time. Later, after OKON died out in a blaze of drama, Paul and the rest of the OKC fan community built SoonerCon into its spiritual successor.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that I gamed with Paul and his friends for only a year and a half or so, until I moved down to Houston in July 1985. In my mind it seems much longer, at least a decade. But the friendship with Paul, as well as Leonard Bishop and other friends that would come and go, lasted longer still. I made it up to Oklahoma City to visit my parents three times a year, and more often than not, spent the evenings on each trip hanging out with Paul (and Leonard or Ted or Gary), eating Chinese take-out, watching MST3K and monster movies, and playing grandmaster-level Trivial Pursuit.
Paul started to have health problems more recently: first type 2 diabetes, then a melanoma that required surgery and chemotherapy. Earlier this year, it became evident to people who knew him that something more was wrong: he seemed to be sliding into depression, losing the desire or even the ability to care for himself. He was admitted to the hospital with foot-sores aggravated by diabetic damage, and started physical therapy, but instead of improving, his mobility diminished further. An examination discovered nodules in his lungs; a subsequent MRI found the root of the problem: a one-inch diameter tumor in his brain.
He declined quickly — and rallied, and then declined again. His mobility diminished further, to the point it was painful for him even to sit upright. He moved from one medical facility to another, each move draining his energy a little more, as his brother battled heroically against the medical bureaucracy to arrange for his care. Eventually, last week, Paul was moved to Hillcrest Living Center, a nursing home in Moore, attended by hospice professionals from Valir. Organizing, arranging shifts, and passing on news through Facebook, his friends gathered, to stay by his side, to comfort him and each other as they waited for the end. Paul’s bother Tom, and Tom’s wife Charlotte, stayed by his side constantly for the last two days.
Earlier today — the day after his 53rd birthday — Paul left us; taking part of us with him, leaving part of himself with each of us.
Back in the ’80s, in addition to introducing me to D&D, and a lot of good SF and bad movies, Paul turned me on to The Alan Parsons Project — still one of my favorite bands. And that’s why, when driving back to Houston, listening to an old mix CD for a distraction, I almost drove off the road when this song came up in the mix.
Goodbye, my friend.