Gone

You’ve been gone a long time
I don’t know how many years
You’re never far from my mind
I hear your voice in my ears

Gone but never forgotten
You’re etched in my DNA
I still think of you often
That will never go away

Things come up I want to tell you
And some I want to talk to you about
But your future fell through
So those words will never come out

Once, it seemed beyond belief
That you wouldn’t be in my life
That your death would be a relief
That you’ll never meet my kids or wife

You were gone far too soon
But that’s what cancer does
Tears us down, brings us doom
And it affects all of us

Norman Normalson: A Biography: Part 1: Pacifica

Norman Normalson is a normal nine-year-old boy. He hates to brush his teeth. He hates to take a bath. He hates school, especially math. He can’t stand his younger half-brother. He’s not a big fan of his step-mother, either. He has a crush on a girl he’s sure doesn’t know he’s alive. He likes sports, especially soccer. He thinks his parents are the weirdest people in the universe.

Even with all this normalcy, Norman never feels like he belongs. He is not accepted among his peers. He’s ridiculed and bullied for being different. He is different. He doesn’t fit in. He doesn’t belong. Norman Normalson is an alien.

Norman Normalson was born to Nedrick “Ned” and Victoria “Victoria” Normalson on a quaint planet in the little galaxy called the Milky Way. The planet’s a pale blue dot called Earth. Earth is divided up into continents, countries, states, counties, boroughs, territories, cities, and towns.

Norman was from the North American city of Pacifica. Pacifica is on the coast of a state called California. Norman grew up, to the age of 8, going practically across the street to Linda Mar Beach. If you think fútbol, or soccer, is fun on grass, try it on the sand. It’s almost an entirely different game.

Norman Normalson and his friends would frequently walk the couple blocks to the beach, cutting through Linda Mar Shopping Center. When he wanted to play on real grass, he would ‘port, or teleport, across town to the schoolyard with Paul and Julio. They could almost always find enough kids to have a game.

Of course, there were plenty of indoor activities. Julio’s family had the top of the line Shliplestein 4242Pac Holodeck. Norman’s family only had the Shliplestein 3117Yot model. The grass in Norman’s felt like Astroturf and smelled more like pine than grass. Fortunately, Julio lived down the block. Norman scarcely even ‘ported there.

The only problem they consistently encountered was Julio’s older brothers, Arnold and Reginald. They were always using the holodeck with their friends and wouldn’t let poor Norman and Julio join in. Arnold was 12 and Reginald was 10.

Sometimes they even had to contend with Julio’s sister, Rosie. Norman didn’t mind deferring to her as much. She was at least nice about it and kind of cute. She would even occasionally agree to allow Julio and his friends to join her and her friends. That way, they could form an alliance that would keep Arnold and Reginald out.

Most days they were content to use their Shliplestein T.A.A.I.T.M. Dreamatorium Glasses. They were similar to virtual reality glasses but vastly superior. They didn’t provide the full-emersion experience of the holodeck. The glasses kept the wearer confined to the dimensions of their real-world surroundings.

In the holodeck, the floors and walls were on a track and could move to simulate traveling great distances or climbing mountains. Wind would blow in the face and around the body of a user who wanted to simulate skydiving.

The Dreamatorium Glasses only allowed one to see what one wanted to see. Traversing the world created for them by the glasses could be dangerous. For example, in the room in which I’m currently writing, I could walk into a bed, a desk, a dresser, a laundry basket full of clothes I have yet to put away, and three dogs, one of whom just farted.

One could buy the Shliplestein Dreamatorium Auto-Track as an add-on. The S.D.A.T. would allow the user to move in any direction one could normally walk and even simulate stairs. It was similar to a treadmill but not restrained to a single path. Julio, of course, had one, but his parents refused to buy additional S.D.A.T.s for his visiting friends.

Rosie was Norman’s first crush on an older woman. She was 8 while Norman and Julio were both 6. Yes, Julio’s parents were very regular in their childbearing. Each of their children was born on June 16th every other year for six years. There was one birthday party. Get it done. Done. As the years went by, Arnold was increasingly disgruntled by the growing number of little kids at his birthday party. To be fair, it was his first.

Norman’s life in Pacifica was a pretty good one. He had friends who lived nearby and a plethora of indoor and outdoor activities. His soccer team was in first place. His virtual soccer team was in third but improving. His crush, Rosie, paid attention to him and was even nice to him. Sometimes, they played together. Life in Pacifica, California was good. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

One evening, Norman’s mother was hovering home from work. She worked as a male model. No, it’s not what you think. She was a role model for men who needed help finding their feminine side. It helped men be more tender with women. Then, all they had to do was find women who wanted more feminine men.

She was driving her hovercar down the twisty Cabrillo Highway. Yes, they still have to use roads. They’re hovercars, not flying cars. She was zooming around a turn, which featured a residence that had a huge holographic display encouraging drivers to root for local sports teams. The holographic displays were a longtime family tradition, which started as signs draped over a fence. This was early November, so the presentation was encouraging support for the Giants of the neighboring city, San Francisco. The team was in the third round of the pre-playoffs. If they won that night, they would be eligible to enter the Wild Card Tournament. When baseball went global, it really extended the schedule.

Victoria Normalson was in a hurry to get home and watch the game with her family. Ned and Norman would already be seated behind home plate in the holodeck breathing in the pine scent of the Astroturf. She glanced over at the holographic display for not more than a second. A jolt of nervous energy ran through her body. Tonight’s game was going to be the biggest game of the year. When she turned back to the road, she had to swerve to avoid hitting a giraffe.

Someone’s pet giraffe had escaped from her yard and wandered onto the highway. In the year 112 N.C., everyone has a pet giraffe or monkey or wildebeest or koala or alligator or cat. 1974 saw a worldwide famine that was so bad people ate their dogs. By 1981, there were no more dogs on Earth. The snoring coming from behind me from one of the three dogs on my bed leads me to believe that might not be true. Maybe people just like exotic pets and owning one became fashionable.

The year 112? Following the global unification inspired by the near usurpation of the planet by alien races, a new world calendar became necessary. After years of bickering about which calendar to use, world leaders decided to start over. That was about 127 years ago. Yes, it took them 15 years to implement the new calendar. Humans are never in a hurry to change their ways. Some countries still use measurements based on a king’s feet. No, it wasn’t Elvis. Of what was Elvis the king? Poor fashion choices? I don’t know who it was or how it came to be, but I do know it makes those of us whose feet aren’t 12 inches feel awkward and somehow deformed. Thanks, King Foot Fetish. Maybe it was Dr. Scholl. I don’t know.

The N.C. stands for New Calendar, Nuwe Caledar, Novi Caledar, Nový Caledar, Nieuwe Caledar, Nouveau Caledar, Neuer Caledar, ΝΕΑ Caledar, Nouvo Caledar, Nuevo Caledar… You get it. It works in multiple languages. No, it’s not creative. It’s not even Latin. It couldn’t be a reference to a deity because not everyone believes in the same deity or any deity. It couldn’t be a reference to a specific event because not everyone gives the same significance to events. It had to be something extremely bland, or it would offend people. I’m actually offended by how bland it is. It was the only thing on which the members of the committee could agree. Given the difficulty they had implementing the new calendar, are you surprised?

All that matters now is that Norman’s mother, Victoria, swerved to miss a giraffe who had wandered onto the highway. She lost control of her hover car as she whipped the steering wheel to the right. The vehicle nearly slammed into the protective wall alongside the road. She spun back into the street. An oncoming car pushed Victoria’s car and turned her back toward the retaining wall.

All hovercars come equipped with deflectors. The same technology that allows them to float also keeps them from crashing into things. It’s a standard safety feature. As soon as Victoria lost control of her car, she was secured by the seat to keep her from thrashing around inside. After bouncing around the road, like a ball on a pool table, but without actually hitting anything, Victoria’s car came to a stop on the side of the road.

Victoria was understandably shaken up a bit. She called Ned to come to get her. Out of concern for his mother, Norman wanted to go too. They found her and were relieved she was all right. She was too shaky to drive, so Ned hooked up her car to his and towed it home. They all rode in Ned’s car. Norman wanted to ride in the car being towed. What 6-year-old wouldn’t? I want to, and I’m not even technically a kid. He was denied.

By the time they got home, the game was already in the ninth inning. Norman and his family missed most of the game. Sure they listened to it on the radio, but that’s not the same. They could watch a recording, but that’s not as exciting as watching it live. Besides, they listened on the radio. They already knew what happened.

To make things worse, the Giants lost to their hated rivals, the Smeshfield Dragons. You thought I was going to say the Dodgers. That rivalry cooled significantly when the Dodgers moved to New Delhi and renamed themselves the Diwalis. They hoped the reference to the Hindu festival of lights, which takes place in autumn, would help them achieve victory in the playoffs, which also take place in autumn. It didn’t work.

A year later, Victoria died from lung cancer. It doesn’t matter how many advancements humans make. They cannot figure out how not to be self-destructive. They also stubbornly refuse to view medical care as anything other than a business, so people still die of otherwise curable or preventable ailments. Good job, humanity.

Norman and his dad were obviously crushed. Cancer is a long, slow, painful process. Remember that if anybody offers you a cigarette. Just say, “No, thank you. I don’t want to die as long, slow, painful death. Nor do I want to be that guy and/or girl who always stinks even though I shower daily and has smoke and tobacco stains on my clothes and teeth and hair and skin.” Yes, it stains your skin. No, vaping is not better. It’s just douchier.

Norman and his dad tended to Victoria constantly as she was dying. It was severely difficult and painful for both of them. First, she lost her hair from the chemotherapy. As Victoria’s cancer metastasized, or spread, tumors started to grow on her spine, which impinged her nerves, and she lost the use of her legs. The heavy regimen of pain medication left her mind cloudy. Some days, she could hardly recognize her family.

Yeah, happy kids’ story. Cancer! Death! Boom! See? Don’t smoke. It ruins things for everybody.

No, humanity has not yet cured cancer. There’s much more money in treating diseases than curing them. There are far too many humans who would rather profit from the suffering of others than help people. If you know someone who helps others, give them a smile and a gold star for the day. Fine, you may give them a blue star but only if you’re entirely out of gold. You don’t get to give out blue stars and keep the gold ones for yourself. That’s selfish. Being selfish is selfish.

Emotions and pain make people do crazy and stupid things. Norman’s dad flirted with the idea of moving to Montana to be a dental floss tycoon. He wanted to get a pygmy pony to ride around his ranch. Fortunately for Norman, that’s not really a thing. It’s just a silly song by Frank Zappa.

With his wife gone and his aspirations of becoming a dental floss tycoon being potentially a severe mental condition, Ned was suffering from severe depression. This story got dark. Who turned the out the lights? Oh yeah, Cancer.

This story needs lightening. Ned needs lightening. Emotional pain is a hard thing with which to deal, and it’s often hard to move on from that. Fortunately for Ned and our story, Ned’s sister, Nickel, or Nickie for short, even though it’s the same amount of letters and syllables, took it upon herself to pull Ned out of his personal pit of despair.

Nickie knew she had to do something before Ned did something crazy, like move to Montana in an attempt to partake in a fictional profession or worse, move to Reno. She logged on to the I.I., or intergalactic interweb, and created a dating profile for Ned on Cosmic Love. The I.I. was relatively new to Earth, and Nickie didn’t realize that the dating site and app Cosmic Love was literally cosmic.

On Earth, a balding accountant widower with a 7-year-old son in his 40s who can’t grow a mustache isn’t considered a prime dating candidate. On Epatrus, being an accountant more than makes up for any deficiencies or baggage a man may have.

Before Ned even knew about the dating profile Nickie set-up for him, he was receiving messages from Epatrus. At first, he began responding out of decorum. Then, he decided he liked the attention. He wasn’t so sure about the green, yellow, or blue women with purple highlights. He was pretty sure he didn’t like the mustaches. That was a prejudice he learned on Earth. Human women don’t usually have mustaches, and when they do, men generally don’t consider it an attractive feature. Yeah, humans are weird. Ned had to admit there was something alluring about a woman with a prehensile tail. He didn’t know what it was, or, at least, he couldn’t express it in a story that’s supposed to be family friendly in spite of all the Cancer and death discussion. Two words: Old Yeller.

Misgivings aside, Ned was always excited to receive greetings from one particular woman. What started as simple messages in text form, soon expanded to live voice chatting and even video chatting. It’s a good thing there was no longer such a thing as phones or long-distance charges. Ned’s phone bill would have been astronomical, literally. That’s a pun. The I.I. made such communication almost instantaneous, like the ansible first imagined by Ursula K. Le Guin way back in Earth’s 1960s.

Uhoria Jhakurus was an Epatrusian from Epatrus. She was born and raised on Epatrus. She lived her whole life on Epatrus, except when she left. She was a mustache model. Yeah, her mustache was that sweet. You wish your mom had a mustache that nice. Unless you’re human, then people would make fun of you for having a mom with a massive, luxurious mustache.

Uhoria was attracted to Ned as soon as she saw the word ‘accountant’ on his profile. It’s that big of a deal on Epatrus. Accountants on Epatrus are like rock stars on Earth. Earth has some very famous rocks. Look at Mount Rushmore. That’s not what rock star means? What else could rock star possibly mean? Asteroid? Meteor? Comet? Technically, no, but they can be mistaken for stars, shooting stars.

Uhoria had never met a human before. She found Ned’s pale, pasty skin shocking and drab. His thinning hair was a conundrum. His eyeglasses made him look like he was wearing a disguise. It was like if he took them off and changed into tights and a cape, he would be completely unrecognizable. She didn’t know humans didn’t have tails. The most appalling and disgusting thing about him was that he didn’t have a mustache. On Epatrus, only infants and those with a genetic disorder didn’t have mustaches.

Even with all those defects, Ned was still an accountant. Count on! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13… That’s counting. He was also a father. He had a paternal instinct. Uhoria wanted to be a mother more than anything. Could humans and Epatrusians mate? Yes. Maybe. He was an accountant. It was worth a try. Don’t ask Carl Sagan. If he were alive, he would tell you no, which would ruin the whole story.

Ned and Uhoria’s conversations became more frequent, more prolonged, and more intimate. It wasn’t long before they both saw past the oddities particular to the other’s species and began to like each other for the people they were. What they started out viewing as physical shortcomings slowly became attractive.

Ned came to find Uhoria’s skin color of yellow and blue with an interspersing of purple to be quite lovely. He always saw her color scheme as beautiful. It just took him a while to accept it as skin color. Likewise, Uhoria came to find Ned’s pale skin to be exotic. Epatrusian males are black with orange markings or red with black markings. She could see that anywhere. More importantly, it was the inner beauty of each that made them beautiful to each other. It’s what made them fall in love from parsecs away.

A parsec is a measurement of distance. One parsec is equal to 3.26 light years. One light year is equivalent to 30 trillion kilometers or 19 trillion miles. I don’t know if love can conquer all, but it sure can travel.

So, what the fart does all this have to do with Norman? Everything.

When Ned first started communicating with women around the universe, Norman had no idea. Nickie thought it would be easier for Ned to start dating if Norman didn’t know. It’s often hard for kids when their parents date someone who is not their parent, regardless of the circumstances. It might have been impossible for Ned to move on from his pain and find someone new if Norman had reservations. Nickie still had no idea Ned was talking to extraterrestrial women.

Norman didn’t pay much attention to what his dad was doing. At first, Norman and Ned experienced a bonding and closeness that came with Victoria’s death. After Ned announced his plan to move to Montana to become a dental floss tycoon, Norman didn’t talk to his father for days. He didn’t know it wasn’t really a thing. Other than the dentist, Norman had no idea from where dental floss came. He had never heard of Frank Zappa or even Tina Turner, who sang background vocals on the song. Norman actually thought he was going to have to move to Montana to farm dental floss. His reality turned out to be much worse.

 

 

 

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