Sunday, July 13, 2008

Remembering Marla Comm

Jonathan Mitchell has posted that Marla Comm has died. He was informed of this by Susan Moreno of MAAP.

According to Mr Mitchell, Marla died of breast cancer. She was not much older than me.

Cancer is a truly horrible disease.

I can't remember which years it was that Marla would often phone me. This happened after Peter Zwack (who also died far too young of cancer) asked me if he could give my phone number to an autistic called Marla so she could phone me. I said sure. Eventually, Marla started phoning me.

The first thing about Marla is that she was brilliant. She had a math degree, from McGill I think. She knew all kinds of stuff (she once started talking about the keys in which klezmer music is played, e.g.). She shared my interest in the weather. She knew a lot about computers, but I couldn't speak with her about this due to my own total ignorance (I didn't have a computer at the time). I remember at some point, someone in her workplace gave her a computer.

Marla's determination was fantastic. She had been very determined in unearthing the records of her own past. She was very determined to have her story told in a book, and succeeded more than once.

In a city that's notoriously dangerous for cyclists, Marla routinely rode her bike from the west end of Montreal all the way to the Olympic stadium way over in the east, and back--amazing. She also rollerbladed. I'm sure I saw her once (we never met--I don't think she wanted to meet me--but I did see a photo of her in a media story), whizzing by through an intersection, with great verve, poised and confident and--happy. She loved biking and rollerblading. Also, she liked walking up big hills--something we had in common.

She hated winter, disliked French, had a poor opinion of francophone Quebecois, and wanted maybe more than anything (at least, during the time she phoned me) to live in an English city where there is no winter. She hated Montreal. But she was an active citizen; she often told me that another of her letters to the editor had been published in the Montreal Gazette. She would sometimes tell me, when she phoned me, that she couldn’t talk much because she had so much email, from friends and supporters, to read.

She didn't need too much in the way of services and assistance, but what she needed, she really needed. During the time she phoned me, she had not succeeded in getting the relatively minor services and assistance she needed and which would have made a major difference in her life. She had tried very hard, and had very bad experiences in trying.

The kind of help she needed, I couldn’t have provided (even if she had asked me, which she didn’t), and I had no more success than she did, in obtaining even minor assistance via autism societies, etc. I tried to share with her ways I dealt with my own limitations, but she was neither interested nor in the least impressed. After all, I was usually in more trouble than she was, throughout the time we spoke. I could hardly recommend anything, as she astutely noticed.

One thing she told me was that she never laughed. She had no sense of humour at all. But once when she phoned me, she launched into an anecdote about her family. I pointed out that it was very funny, and she laughed, right out loud. She had a great laugh. Some other times when she talked, she got very close to laughing too. But she did outright laugh that one time--she saw the absurdity in the story she had done a superb job of telling me, and it made her laugh.

Once when she phoned me, I told her I thought she was totally cool. This was true: I often disagreed with things she said, but I thought she was totally cool. This seemed to bother her, and she never phoned me again. She had never indicated in all the time she phoned me, that she would be okay if I phoned her, much less that she wanted me to phone her. So I did not try to phone her, and that was the last we spoke, many years ago.

Now and then I would hear news about her, and when I got online found her here and there as well, always wanting to get away from Montreal, the city she hated.

It's terrible that she died of cancer at such a young age. I hope she managed to rollerblade as long as she could. That's how I'll remember her, flying by on the street, free and happy in the summer.

(This was originally posted on the TMoB board shortly after I heard about Marla's death.)