Today is my friend Norman’s 68th birthday, which is always something I celebrate. I’ve written many times about how Norman was an important influence on me, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be the person I am if he hadn’t encouraged my interests in science fiction, fantasy, role-playing games, computer programming, Star Trek, Twin Peaks, and much more.

Usually, I’d stay positive and go on about that, but today…maybe I’m just in a mood, thinking about why he isn’t here celebrating this birthday with us.

Here’s why:

  • Norman died in 2014 at the age of 58 from complications of undiagnosed diabetes.
  • Why? Because he was afraid he couldn’t afford to go to a doctor.
  • Why couldn’t he afford it? Because he didn’t have health insurance through a regular job.
  • Why didn’t he have a regular job? Because he didn’t think he could make it in college despite being brilliant.
  • Why didn’t he think he could make it in college? Because all during his young life in Alabama and Florida, he was bullied and brutalized.
  • Why was he bullied? Because he was neurodivergent and Asian among rednecks in the 1970s and 80s.
  • Why couldn’t he thrive while being neurodivergent? Because people assumed he was deliberately or culturally “other” and shunned him.
  • …which is why he couldn’t afford to keep up the appearances expected of an acceptable middle or lower-class job seeker…
  • …which made him too “weird” to hire for jobs that did or didn’t require a college education…
  • …and also why he couldn’t strike out with his own “by-the-bootstraps” business that would require selling the services to people who wouldn’t give him a chance…
  • …which is why he didn’t have money to take care of his health…
  • …which is why he died way before he should have.

He died that way in a country that brags about its wealth and largesse and freedom and compassion and technological prowess.

Was a system to blame or just a long line of terrible, callous people who never really saw him?

I’m not sure there’s a difference.