Rodney Lain owes me $20. It is a debt I will never be able to collect. Rodney incurred this debt to me when we finally met in person, at the Author’s Party at MacWorld 2000 in San Francisco. We had corresponded by email for a time before our meeting, and he was easy to pick out in that small crowd. He was the ‘nigga with attitude’.
“Hey, you must be Rodney”, I said as I approached him. His reply was “Have you seen an ATM? I’m broke.” The food at the party was free, but it was a cash bar. I bought him a beer and gave him a $20. In the subsequent two years, that twenty dollars became our running joke. “Hey Rodney, don’t forget you still owe me a twenty” was usually my closing in the lighthearted emails we exchanged. “Not forgotten, catch you at the next MacWorld, and I’ll buy you a beer”, he’d reply. These are things you say to friends when you expect them to be around for a long, long time.
I have to admit I was flattered that Rodney would take time to correspond with me. He was an entertaining, if somewhat erratic, correspondent. We also shared some kind of etheric connection. Somehow, each of us knew if things weren’t right with the other. It was an odd combination between a young, black, ambitious, ‘shameless self-promoter’ and a middle aged, midwestern white woman. Even if we hadn’t exchanged emails for a period of time, there would be other times when it was just the right thing to do. “Checking in”, the subject line would read. Sometimes the email would come back as everything OK, but there were other, darker times in Rodney’s life. I feel privileged that during those times he found some comfort in our exchange.
One of my first thoughts on waking last Saturday morning was that it was time to check in with Rodney again. I’d last heard from him three weeks ago while he was on vacation in San Diego. Time and other things interfered with my writing, but it would have been useless at that point. When I arrived home late Saturday afternoon, the news was waiting in my in-box.
It is a helpless sadness that I feel about Rodney’s death, coupled with anger and compassion. I wonder how much sadness, how much dispair a person must go through before making that ultimate decision. I’m angry with Rodney, that he didn’t call any one of his many friends for help, before he pulled the trigger. Maybe it wouldn’t have helped at this point. Maybe everything would be the same even if he had. We’ll never know.
I don’t pray anymore. I don’t believe in heaven or hell. My definition of god is so far afield of any other theory around that I usually just tell people that I don’t believe in god at all. This was one subject Rodney and I frequently discussed. I’m not sure there is an afterlife of any kind either, but if there is, i’ll expect Rodney Lain on my welcoming committee with a twenty dollar bill and a cold beer.