(Photograph by Zen Sekizawa. November 30, 2009)
It is almost incomprehensible that it has been one year since Ray Bradbury died. I met the man when he was 79. I knew that one day he would die, as all of us most certainly do. Yet I’ve had so much trouble coming to terms with his absence. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve experienced more than my share of death and loss and hospital-room suffering. Tubes and IVs and morphine and tears. I knew the day would come when Ray Bradbury was no longer here. Still, I continue to grapple with it, my eyes struggling to focus through an incorrect lens.
I still don’t believe.
Ray Bradbury published his first story 29 years before I was born. He established himself as an international writer long before I arrived. When my mom was 9 months pregnant with me, my father read Bradbury aloud to her as I listened intently, in utero. And I later became his biographer. He always thought that sounded like one of his own stories.
For me—and so many others—he has always been.
And perhaps this is why it’s so damned hard to say good bye. Impossible, really. I read him every day. I think about him constantly. I teach him. I share his philosophies. I spread the gospel. I travel and speak and inspire new readers everywhere I go. I fight for libraries because he shared that love with me. He imbues my writing in every possible way. He loved my short stories and wanted me to be—no pressure—the next him. But more than all that, I had the privilege of regularly visiting Ray—hugging him, talking to him, reading to him, travelling with him—for 12 mind-boggling years. One day I will write a memoir about it all.
Here is a story I have never shared with anyone. He had a book that he was working on. Nightmares and Daydreams. It was incomplete. Unfinished. Raw. He regularly asked me to finish it for him. Every time I saw him, in fact. He knew I knew him better than anyone. He knew, at that point, I could almost write like him. He insisted I finish the book for him. His health was failing. He couldn’t do it. And he wanted this last book out there. But it wouldn’t have been right. I am not Ray Bradbury. I have never shared this story with anyone. Every time I saw him in the last two years of his life, he asked me to finish his book. I feel conflicted that I never helped him with this request, but his work should be his own, right until the end.
I think letting him go has been more difficult because of Mr. Electrico, the sideshow performer who, on a grey and gauzy Labor Day weekend, in 1932, told a young Ray Bradbury to “Live Forever!”
We all knew he wouldn’t. He knew he wouldn’t. Yet he has always been….
The Mr. Electrico story, told in glorious detail on pages 32-34 in Listen to the Echoes, was a metaphor, of course. Everything in Ray’s amazing life was a metaphor. He would “Live Forever” through his writing.
But I think in the deepest catacombs of my subconscious, against all logic, I wanted to believe that maybe he would Live Forever. Maybe, just maybe, the sideshow man—whoever he was—spoke truth. Ray Bradbury would never die. He would Live Forever. He would always be.
At the end of our regular telephone conversations, the two of us nearly 2,000 miles apart, he always said good bye the same way:
I miss you…and I love you.
I could not say it any better, my friend.