Too Many Deaths

Last weekend, I was prepared to write about Multiverse Con. It was my first time arriving at this event, and I had a great time. And there will be a blog coming out about that in the future once I get my bearings together and decide what to write.

When I returned home, Facebook dropped a bomb: my orchestra conductor from university had died. He had been diagnosed with ALS in 2019. Tuesday brought more bad news: an art teacher I adored in high school died the year before. I found out from an email notice that was buried from my alumni group. There wasn’t a notice about a memorial service, and I couldn’t find information online about any surviving family. I don’t know who is inheriting his house or the art that he has collected over the years.

Dr. Sleeper I called doctor because he commanded respect, including that which comes with a PhD. Others called him Mr. Sleeper but I felt it was more respectful. One rule that most people abided by was no cellphone ringers on during rehearsal. He threatened that if he heard any ringing, he would hold onto the phone until the end of the semester.

I admit that I felt intimidated, since I asked to audit orchestra for one semester and then join fully for the next. Then one day he saw a fantasy book I was reading, the Nebula Awards. I braced myself for any remonstrance of reading something that was wasteful. A short story about a woman’s breasts running away without her, which I was reading at the moment, didn’t seem academically friendly. I was sure I’d receive a chiding about wasting my time.

That didn’t happen. He mentioned that he was a fan of Ted Sturgeon and loved fantasy. I started lending and gifting him books, for him and his children, as well as vice-versa. Beneath the stern exterior, I saw someone who loved the fantastic in fiction as much as I did.

Mr. Rodriguez collected more than art. His office was a museum of DVDS, action figures, and vintage comics. I was able to read Cadillacs and Dinosaurs with some gorgeous art, and a desire to add more to the established world of art. He told me that his house was very much the same. When he opened it once for trick-or-treating on Halloween.

I watched the Nightmare Before Christmas and the original stop motion King Kong from the 1930s because he lent me the DVDs. Part of the reason I did a weekly presentation about romance comics becoming pop art was because of the vintage art he was able to show me. He lamented that there were no more original ideas in comics, and I promised him that what I made would be different. Freshman art classes showed the liberation of watercolor, and that is why I paint most of the comics that I put up online in college.

After I graduated, I tried to stay in contact. It didn’t happen, because text messages and emails received no response, and I could never catch him during the times that I visited campus. I was hoping I’d have a chance to see him before he retired. That’s why the news announcement was a shock.

You both changed my lives for the better, and I never properly thanked you for them. I’m saying it now: thank you, for being there at the right time.