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.)


jonathan said...

Thanks again for posting this on TMOB and autism crisis. I still have fond memories of the email correspondence that I had with Marla and related to hearing about her struggles with autism, the political situation with the francophones in Montreal and everything else she used to write to me about. Maybe her book severe autism support denied with sell some more copies posthumously.

Larry Arnold PhD FRSA said...

This is terrible news, I remember Marla and I am crying now.


Anonymous said...

Me too.

kristina said...

I am so sad to hear about Marla passing. I am rereading the comments she left on my blog and grateful for her words.

And just sad.

Unknown said...

I remember Marla from a long long time ago: the mid-1990s, the early days of Martijn Dekker's InLv listservs.

Very sad to hear that she has died.

Cancer really is a horrible disease. She was my age, and that's way too young to die.

Jonathan, I hope her book does get read more widely, so that it can shed more light on the kinds of difficulties she faced, and others continue to face, and on the kinds of accommodations and removal-of-barriers that are needed to mitigate those difficulties.

Kay said...

I am so sorry to hear about Marla's death. Like Phil, I learned to "know" her during the early days of Martin Dekker's InLv list. We corresponded privately via email, and I always looked forward to hearing from her. I still use one of her expressions to describe my disorganization: "I can't organize a pocket." Michelle was right, Marla had a wry sense of humor, whether she knew it or not. I'll remember fondly.

Estee Klar-Wolfond said...

I did not know Marla. Yet, your memory of her is beautifully written. Most certainly full of heart and your respect for her. Thank you for sharing.

Martijn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martijn said...

(Sorry, the previous comment had an annoying typo. Trying again.)

From how I got to know her over a decade ago, it seems to me that the one thing Marla always yearned for most in her life is peace -- with her surroudings, with her life, with herself. May she finally be at peace now.

- Martijn Dekker (HFA/AS; from Groningen, Netherlands)

David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

I never knew Marla, and had only heard a few little bits about her. As you say, though, cancer is a truly horrible disease: my dad died of it; my friend from school died of it; my cousin died of it; and another of my cousins has it too.

My dad was somewhat autistic (at least, autistoid, although my ex-wife had him down as a 'basic Aspie grandad), and it wasn't the autistic stuff he wanted to get rid of, that I know. Even he was, as far as I'm concerned, too young to die of cancer.

I'm saddened that we lost another of our number to something this horrible.
Is there any way she could be commemorated within the autistic community?

Anonymous said...

Oh, that is sad.As another anglo/allomontrealer, I only knew her through American Normal book..She was like a ghost but always present....When I saw her name popped up in the media..oh she really exists....I have no image of her but felt I "knew " her.

Leon Trotsky said...

I think that for your web page No Autistics Allowed that you should include an 'about us' section as well a 'contact us' section'.