Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More about Leslie

I spent a lot of last night wide awake, clutching Clara to me and thinking about Leslie, or dreaming about her when I finally did fall asleep.

She was fiercely private, and had one of the most difficult lives of anyone I've ever known. Deaths of people close to her (including her fiancé, who was buried cremated before she knew he was dead), a fire in her apartment in which she lost nearly everything (including her novel), a routine surgery whose post-op care was botched so badly it sent her to a rehab facility for five months and left her partially disabled and in searing pain for the rest of her life (for her account of what happened, start here and read the next few entries), a burglary that robbed her of the diamond earrings that her fiancé had bought for her in Paris, the premature deaths of both of her beloved cats, the loss of an unexpected pregnancy. I never knew how one person stood it all.

In the face of it she showed astonishing self-awareness, optimism, generosity, righteousness, grace, wisdom, and yes, fierceness. Even after all this, she was the one that others went to for advice and comfort. She was fearsome and beloved. She was so beloved that when her apartment burned, a large online community came together for her and did everything they could to get her back on her feet.When she was burgled, she found the guy in her apartment and scared him out of taking some of what he'd planned to steal. She dealt with her chronic pain by focusing on small moments with people she loved, and being grateful for them. Recently she had moved back to Michigan, buying a house there to be near her mother, whom she loved so very much.

On Thursday, the date of her last post to this year's always remarkable Advent calendar, she IM'd a friend that she was dealing with her annual bout of bronchitis by sleeping sitting up. On Friday she was supposed to contact her mother and didn't. On Sunday her mother, concerned, went to her house and found her.

Leslie didn't want a memorial service. On one of her sites she endorsed the charity Modest Needs; I think donations to them would be a fitting way to remember her.

Bless your soul, Leslie Harpold. Life is too damned short. I miss you.

Update: read this.

Update redux: and this, which has links to some of her writing at the bottom. Thanks to prairie for pointing it out.

Update #3, December 13: this is a roundup of links, assembled by Kevin Fanning, to tributes to Leslie. Miguelito's has a great story about her.

Traffic to this blog is up nearly 1,700% in the last two days. I hope she understood the scale of the love for her. She moved so quickly through so many people's lives, and left just about all of them better for having known her. What an incredible life.

Update #4, December 15: Shauna's post about Leslie is beautiful, hilarious, and heartbreaking.

15 comments:

Prairie said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. I'd never met Leslie, but liked her writing and design very much.

Lance Arthur has a collection of links to her writing at the end of this post that other people who liked her stuff might want to read.

Italophile said...

I'm also sorry, Em. Leslie sounds amazing. We should all be so lucky to have (or to have had) someone like her in our lives.

When I read stories about Leslie, I think to myself, "How can I be more like Leslie when I feel as though I am 'wired' so completely differently from her?"

mike essl said...

I miss her already.

d said...

Let's get something straight. Leslie did not die from "bronchitis". People don't just die from it. Something else happened; I don't know what. Like many people out here, I'm angry as hell.

What really bothers me is given her past experience with the health care system, did she wait too long? Did she simply decide that No Way in Hell was she every going back there. And that makes me pissed to no end.

I will tell you one small detail about her that does stick in my mind: Her voice. We all know she was a six-foot blonde and came on like 70's kung fu, but her voice was surprisingly (to me) petite. It was not husky, what would suit her Dorothy Parker cool, but very light and girlish, which always belied an almost manic body of excitement that could steamroll most anything or anyone.

Emily said...

d: I'm angry too, but mostly very, very sad. Whatever it was, she's gone, and the angry doesn't help.

I'm going to print copies of the graphs of my stats for the past couple of days, and when I have an address, I'm going to send them to her mother, and say: this is how much the Internet loved your daughter.

Emily said...

Oh: and you're right about her voice.

raincoaster said...

There are any number of complications of bronchitis that can and do kill people, though bronchitis itself doesn't, and people often mistake other things for bronchitis, which is really just a symptom. I'm sure we'll find out what exactly happened in time.

I find the advent calendar to be a very poignant marker, and am going to look at her other accomplishments. What a remarkable woman.

Miguelito said...

I almost died myself this past summer, from an illness whose symptoms were eerily similar to what apparently took Leslie's life (in my case, something that began as a chest cold and ended as double pneumonia and an weeklong ICU stay). As mentioned above, "bronchitis" is a catch-all term for any number of respiratory inflammations, some of which can and do kill people even with aggressive treatment.

That said, I think we've already learned as much as we ever will learn about what happened to Leslie. She was intensely private about certain aspects of her life, and her health was one of them. Out of respect for that, I'm trying not to speculate any further on what happened.

I'm just very, very sad that she's gone.

Anonymous said...

I never knew who Leslie was. I never knew Shauna. I never knew about this site until today. I never knew a lot of things come to think of it. But I do know and I do clearly see the love that pours out to this soul from numerous online dedications. Especially Shauna's post. Her post made me cry for someone I did not know, but wish I had been blessed to have known. Leslie seemed to have been a very wonderful person. I am very sorry to hear of her passing. But I am most certain her legacy will live on through her friends.

Ling said...

i loved her writings!

Ben Wearn said...

I had one e-mail conversation with Leslie in response to her posting "Only Connect", in 2001. We were discussing the nature of connections in cyberspace and that they were incomplete, but perhaps no more so than those made face-to-face. She appreciated this quote from Madame Bovary as "achingly beautiful":

"Whereas the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact human measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars."

Thank you Leslie for putting yourself out there, exploring passionately in a new medium, attempting to really talk and respond and connect.

Anonymous said...

As the first anniversary of Leslie's passing approaches, it's worth pointing out that having to sleep sitting up is a cardinal symptom of congestive heart failure, which commonly causes a cough and can be misdiagnosed, by physicians and lay people alike, as bronchitis. As the lungs gradually fill with fluid, it becomes harder to breathe lying down. Although there's no cure for heart failure, much progress has been made in treatment in recent years. It's doubly tragic if her previous medical nightmare led her to avoid seeking care. Lesson: if someone you know tells you this, urge them to seek help immediately. For more info, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_failure

A Cardiologist

Anonymous said...

I really miss Leslie also. I never met her but after 9/11 began reading her blogs. I was instantly hooked and appalled when the Hoopla.com web site was stolen from her also! More bad luck. I think her leaving NY had an adverse effect. She was NY all the way and never really seemed to thrive in San Francisco. She was a very gifted writer and could always bring out a point of view that was uniquely interesting and hers. I've never found a blog to replace hers. I think she knew that Michigan was her full circle before moving there. I think she operated on that level of being connected to a sense of awareness that creates it's own entity... like a shadow that radiated out from her soul. I still think of her from time to time and miss her point of view.

Anonymous said...

I met Leslie the day her apartment burnt in New York and I still live in the same building. The neighbors were yelling at her and I pulled her into my apartment away from the mob so she could make some telephone calls - we were friends for a long time after that.

This is the first I have heard of her death and I am very sad to find this out. She was so witty and talented but had some very rough things happen to her such as the surgery - I spent time going back and forth to visit her in the bronx.

After she left New York I only heard from her once we chatted and promised to stay in touch but somehow never did. RIP Leslie we will miss you.

Betty

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