You knew her as Maud.
Maud died of complications from uterine cancer, which wasn't diagnosed until it had already reached stage 4. The cancer had metastasized and moved into her lungs, the scans of which she described to me as looking "like the floor of a textile factory," so dotted were they with nodules of cancer. It all happened very fast.
The thing about cancer is that it doesn't give a fuck that I wanted to know Maud for a very long time to come.
I'm not sure when Maud first found Shakesville; she lurked for quite some time before commenting, and commented for quite some time before writing her first guest post, which was, fittingly, about amazing women. She became a prolific guest poster, and was the only person whom I've ever invited to become a contributor who turned me down, only to change her mind after one of her epic comments became so epic, she realized it was time to make the leap to the front page.
In her first post as a contributor, "Hello Out There," she wrote:
I have lived largely apart from other people for a long time, by circumstance rather than by choice, but isolation has nevertheless become my accustomed habitat. I tend to look at the "world of the humans", as I sometimes think of it, as a place very far away. The internet has become my telescope for peering into that world, and has served to draw me back in, in thought if not as an actual, physical presence. I have wandered around the tubes for nearly eight years now, and this is where I have pulled up a chair and made myself comfortable. I have done so because this is the place whose raison d'être makes the most sense to me, and whose company I enjoy keeping, and because Liss has been so welcoming.Maud's participation here was, of course, extraordinary. She was a gifted writer, and a spectacular moderator, who had a way of conveying the principles of the space, and defending its boundaries, with fierceness, eloquence, and wit. Maud's comments routinely made me weep with laughter, or invigorated me with their reverberating insight; long before Maud became a contributor, I told Iain that she was the sort of commenter who inspired me to always do better, to deserve her esteem. Her participation in this space flattered me, because I admired her so much.
I have hesitated somewhat about taking the additional step of becoming an official Shakesville contributor, wondering whether I'm really fit for it. Like many hermits, I'm cranky. Unlike many hermits, I'm also very lethargic. I am not your hardy, wilderness-dwelling hermit, chopping her own firewood and cultivating her own sustenance. I am the less-celebrated mattress-dwelling hermit; on a good day I may manage a little onion-chopping in the pursuit of sustenance before succumbing to fatigue. Both doing and expecting have become foreign to me. I do, however, in my more alert moments, still talk - or type - a good game. The fatigued part of me doesn't want to do more. The cranky part of me doesn't want to expect more. I've done some mild to moderate expecting in my time, and it hasn't gone well.
But doing more and expecting more are contagious, it turns out. Hang around long enough, even virtually, with folks who do that, and you may find yourself doing rather more of whatever it is you can do. Like I said, I intermittently type a good game. So I am doing more of that here at Shakesville, and to save the length of the comment threads, Liss has invited me to start writing my own posts. (Liss didn't actually say, "You know, as long as those comments of yours are, you may as well write your own damn posts." Liss is very polite. But you've seen my comments, right?) So while the idea of being anyone's ally is still strange to me, the idea that neither I nor anyone else has the right to expect better treatment from others than we are willing to extend to them remains the basis for my understanding of all human relationships. I will endeavor to keep that understanding at the fore, and the crankiness aft, in all my participation here.
I looked up to Maud, who taught me some important things about how to live, and about how to die.
Maud and I became friends, exchanging impossibly long emails about all sorts of things. Family. Books. How to best catch a mouse. She had a great sense of humor, the uncompromising wit of a real goddamn broad, and when she started feeling the illness that would eventually kill her, our discussions were peppered with the sort of gallows humor that only two real goddamn broads can have about uterine cancer.
It began with a prolapsed uterus, which she told me about in an email which began: "So I found my cervix at my vaginal opening Saturday morning. That is NOT where I left it, nor where I prefer it to be." I began my reply: "Personally, I blame the Obama administration. Your uterus is obviously so disgusted with their failure to defend reproductive rights that she's trying to emigrate."
Naturally, Maud agreed: "I think maybe she wanted to go to the Oct. 2nd march on Washington, and since I wasn't planning to go, she just decided to head on out without me. I believe I've reconciled her to remaining with me and plotting some less itinerant form of protest. Everybody knows the Obama administration don't listen to no uteri, anyway."
This would become an ongoing joke, even as the worst was confirmed. "The pathology report came back positive on the endometrial biopsy; I have uterine cancer. … This is a stage 4, metastatic cancer and is not going away. (Although, to be fair to my uterus, she did try to take her malignancy and go, just not as soon as would have been helpful.)"
Between all of that were serious discussions about treatment plans devised by gynecological oncologists and sorting out transportation to medical appointments and other minutiae of navigating illness. And we had very frank discussions of how much our friendship meant to one another, because the reality was that Maud was dying, and it was really only a matter of when.
But these are not things Maud would want me to talk about. She would tell me I'm being boring and burdensome.
And then she would tell me: "No, you're a grown woman. Talk about whatever you want to talk about." Because that's how Maud rolled.
She asked me to tell the other contributors a few weeks ago. No—I offered, and she accepted. I knew she didn't want to do it, and I was eminently willing to do it for her. She was relieved. I wrote a draft and sent it to her for approval. It was the most difficult thing I'd written in six years. Our friend is dying.
Once she was in hospice, she wanted to write about the experience of living in a nursing home, and the business of dying. She didn't want to just disappear from Shakesville. And she wanted to leave a record of her experience, this most important and horrible and universal experience, in the space that meant so much to her. They would have been amazing posts. But those posts would never get written.
Last week, her emails, always fastidiously correct in every way, began to arrive with misspellings and odd spacing. Maud was slipping away.
Needing desperately to express my grief at losing her in inches, I wrote "I'll Run at Your Side." I didn't think she was even able to read the blog anymore at that point. But she was still reading. And she knew what I was really writing about. Her last comment is in that thread, and the last thing she ever wrote to me, which I will keep private, was about that post.
The next day, Maud was taken to the hospital, where she died.
Fucking selfish, ruthless cancer. Now there's just a Maud-shaped hole where Maud should be. I'm really angry about that. And I'm so goddamn sad. My heart is aching, and my entire head is dehydrated from crying.
That last line would have made Maud laugh.
During a conversation on a Friday night many years ago, my friend Lance Mannion argued, very persuasively, that calling someone "neat" is so hopelessly antiquated that it defies irony, and is thus one of the most honest compliments one can give.
I thought Mary Quinn was just the neatest person.
I was lucky to know her. I loved her dearly, and I will miss her so much.