...nothing here is promised, not one day... Lin-Manuel Miranda

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My friend Anna died on January 9, 2005. She was 53 years old.

Anna Livia Plurabella Vargo. I'd known her for about 25 years; Stu and Anna went back at least 30 years in friendship, in fandom. She was one of the names I associate with my earliest days in fandom, when I was learning just what it was that science fiction fandom was; the intelligence, the humor, the community, the volunteerism. Anna was one of the reasons that I offer to explain why conventions are worth attending, why working on conventions is so gratifying. Competence, friendship, doing what needs doing, doing it well, without griping, without theatrics. Pitching in and caring. Bad puns, good puns (is there such a thing?) esoteric knowledge always being just one person away. Music, food, conventions. Friendship.

We have/had an amazing number of friends here Seattle both past (they've moved or dropped out of fandom) and present, present when we got here in 1990 or who've come into town since. The 20 or so I just counted on my fingers were instrumental, I think, in our deciding to move here. We had a community; we had friends here. We were, in a way, coming home when we moved from the Boston area. Despite having never lived here. That's fandom at its best. Anna was one of the core members of that community.

Anna was not one of my closest friends; she was, it appears a very private person, not just to me to but most of her friends and associates. We had dinner with her early on after moving here, shared at least one Thanksgiving at Jerry and Suzle's but we didn't see her enough. I talked with her about Aileen Schumacher's mystery novels; I was Aileen's publicist and friend and Anna liked that there was another woman engineer out there to relate to. I'm not even sure I knew what Anna did until that day she mentioned Aileen to me. Always good conversation, always someone you were glad to see in the room at a party.

Anna was diagnosed with cancer in September. She was gone less than four months later. In those last few months, people who cared about and for Anna Vargo showed what they were made of. Over on "" there's a page for Anna with a guestbook signed by dozens and dozens and dozens of people. Folks who hadn't seen Anna in 25 years and folks who knew her well. Friends from every part of the country and then some, who knew Anna from the 1978 Iguanacon, from A Woman's APA, from politics, from Seattle parties. Her cousins, nephews and nieces.

After Anna came home from the hospital, when things were iffy, some of her more amazing friends and relatives set up a schedule whereby Anna would be cared for; someone to make lunch, someone else to make dinner. Anna's brother Walter just moved in to stay for the last few months. The Amazing Karen took on huge tasks. Jane and Tami and Marion and Kate and Janice and well I can't do this because I'll leave out someone SO important.. And visitors, restricted to two a day, for 10 minutes. There were some gentle rules provided about what TO do and what NOT to do and how to talk with someone with cancer. Who was sick. Who was dying. Because it became fairly clear early on, despite treatment, that Anna was not going to live.

I didn't do much. I didn't do what I wanted to do, in part because as someone with chronic pain, walking problems and no car, I am more a liability than an asset; there's too much I can't do, I have limited energy and didn't want to be any sort of burden to anyone else. This was about ANNA. So many people were doing so much. Right after I heard the news In late September, I emailed several friends in other cities - Boston, Portland, Minneapolis, Austin - not knowing if they knew Anna but telling them the news of her cancer and asking them to pass the word. Stu and I did visit Anna; expecting to be there for the ten minute limit, we were over the moon that the visit went well over an hour, always waiting for her to say "shoo, go away." Eventually she did, as the Oxycontin was starting not to work. And we walked away with a poster from a performance of The Flying Karamazov Brothers; I'd been looking at it, and it turned out to be in the stack of "Anna's stuff to give away." She wanted to make the decisions while she was able to, to have a say in as much of her life as she could. The FKB are long-time fannish icons, friends and favorites; I have been to countless performances of theirs since the 70s; I now have a framed poster of one of their early Seattle gigs. I'm thrilled and it's really simple; I will never look at it without thinking of Anna.

We had trouble during the "holiday season" trying to figure out what to do, how to behave, knowing a friend was dying and there was little anyone could do. (I fucking HATE being helpless.) One night, Kate and Glenn came to give us a ride to a party. Kate handed me a bag from Anna. In it was a bid tee-shirt for the Glasgow Worldcon: The science fiction annual big deal who-ha will be in Glasgow Scotland in 2005; this was an early "join now, give us money, support the bid" shirt. And the lettering and artwork was patterned after Scotland artist, designer, creator Charles Rennie Macintosh. I was whacked out. Stone, flat out, totally dumfounded. In that visit with Anna, a few weeks before, we'd talked about Macintosh, whose work I discovered a few years ago and I adore it. Anna remembered and wanted to get the shirt to me. I wore it for the first time on January 8; Anna died a few minutes after midnight on the 9th. I wore it all that day, and to the gathering we had at a local brewpub that night.

With Anna when she died were her brother Michael and her friends Sophie and Jane. When things started getting really bad, hospice workers were there but so were members of the community, round the clock, so that when Anna woke, for the few minutes she was awake in those last few days, she'd always see a friendly face.

I've never been so proud to be a member of my "chosen" family, science fiction fandom. I cannot express to you my amazement and love for what my friends did for Anna; friends flew in from California and from Boston, knowing they might see Anna for five minutes, or not at all. Or spend the day with her. They wrote, they visited, they called. They made sure Anna knew she was loved. And they did so repeatedly, over and over; a core of people took shifts; people posted encouragement, love and prayers and the posts were taken from the on-line guestbook and read to Anna. When Anna asked for prayers, I was startled, since religion was one of those things that didn't come up in conversation over the years. You never know, do you? But I took notes on who Anna wanted to intercede for her and emailed my sister Pat and asked her to pray for Anna and I asked our upstairs neighbor Cheryl to do the same. Figured they covered that base way better than I did.

Anna's obituary appeared in the Seattle Times on January 16. It listed her family - her mother and father, her four sisters, her four surviving brothers. It said "She always had the right book to recommend. We will miss her efforts as a civil engineer for Seattle Public Utilities, shop steward for IFPTE Local 17, Democratic precinct officer, block watch captain, library volunteer, gardener, feminist, science fiction fan, sister, and friend." Anna was peeved at having to sit out doing election work, though she voted. She chose a number of charities for memorial donations that show the range of her heart and mind from several places that feed the hungry and homeless, to libraries, from the League of Women Voters to National Public Radio.

We all knew it was coming. I'm sure most of us know how that is; it doesn't make it any less stunning when it happens. For several days before she died, I had songs in my head for Anna. One was "Bread & Roses", which she requested be played for her at her memorial. Another was a song I've heard sung by Garth Brooks. It's called "The Dance" and it's by Tony Arata and contains these lines: "Our lives are better left to chance/I could have missed the pain/But I'd have had to miss the dance "

And then this one, by one of the best writers of music I've ever known, Connie Kaldor. I thought about asking to sing it at Anna's memorial, but I can't get through it.

Down To A River (Alan’s Song)

There are dinners, there’s music
There is laughter there were tears
There are memories that go back
Over the years
There are the marks made in a life
Like only good friends do
Now I must choose to make a mark
For the things I loved in you

I’ll go down to a river
And plant a tree
Something strong, wild and living
Those are my memories
And I’ll go up to a mountain
And sing to the stars
Can you hear me
Where ever you are.

And there’s phone calls and there’s crying
And there’s clutching to the chest
And there’s singing songs and throwing dirt
And laying down to rest
And there’s carving words on stone
And making church bells ring
But the river when it freezes over
Still thaws and runs each spring

Do you hear the ones who loved you
And who were glad they knew you well
Do the hearts you left that miss you
Ring like a bell

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