Malevolent was vocabulary word back in high school. For some reason the fact that it starts in “male” was very much a focal point for me. And then volent is violent minus the i. Violent Males are Malevolent.
But so is cancer. And cancer is malignant which is very close to malevolent when you look at it and sound it out. I’m sure if I looked up the etymology it would all make sense, but that would be giving in to all of those silly professors and English teachers from over the years.
I do have a point, as usual. David Rakoff died recently. In news time, I am horribly late in blogging about him, but in real-time with people mourning deaths, being born, celebrating life, and being human, I’m just on track. David Rakoff was a frequent contributor to This American Life on NPR which I listen to weekly as a podcast either while driving or power walking on the treadmill. This past week was a compilation of pieces David had done over the years. It was bittersweet. I enjoyed it. And then I remembered Jeff.
I met Jeff, or Jeffrey depending on who was talking to him, while a student in college. We were both active in the Hillel. I always found him to be a bit quirky and odd but many people think the same of me so what did that matter? He was also from the Chicago burbs and Jewish, enough at that small school to get us talking. And he was very friendly. I found out much later on that Jeff knew everybody and everybody knew Jeff…and liked Jeff. Jeff was everybody’s friend. He had a certain big brother quality to him.
I forget what year it was, but Jeff had a relapse of cancer. Hodgkin’s Disease, if I remember correctly. It was a slap in the face for me because I never knew he had cancer before. He beat cancer in high school and was then studying to become a pharmacist. But the cancer was back. Over the next several semesters Jeff would be back and forth between Indianapolis and Chicago, getting treatments and coming back to school. It didn’t matter how long it took him, he wasn’t going to quit school.
Eventually Jeff met Carah, one of my best friends at the time and my “little sister” in our sorority. They fell in love. I definitely did not react properly. Jeff being brotherly and Carah being sisterly, it was just too weird for me. Brothers and sisters don’t date. Eww. I eventually saw how much they cared for each other and it became adorable. I still feel guilty about the awkwardness I initially felt. They were so happy, I worried about Carah because it couldn’t be easy dating somebody so sick.
Apparently I didn’t know even a little bit of what was going on in Jeff’s life. You could see him lose weight, hair, and color in his face, but that was normal with chemotherapy, right? The Hillel held a bone marrow donor drive on the “mall” on campus collecting cheek swab samples from potential donors for those who needed one. Because of Jeff, we had a surprisingly large turnout. Like I said, Jeff knew everybody and everybody loved Jeff. He inspired people to come out, whether the swabs would benefit him directly or not. I was immediately crossed off the donor list because I was too much of a risk for a complicated surgery like that. I wanted to see if I was match so badly, but to fund the surgeries privately would have been too much and still too risky for me.
Eventually Jeff’s time at school dwindled even further. I saw less and less of him and then I graduated. He was very behind in his studies and was settling on a pharmaceutical studies degree instead of PharmD. He should have been a pharmacist by the time I graduated if he was on track.
Then, via Facebook, I found out that he died.
I exploded. How did nobody tell me? How could everyone we knew let me find out through Facebook, of all places, that Jeff died? I called Carah wanting to know why she didn’t tell me. That’s when she told me she had been in Chicago because he wanted to see her. He had a terrible infection and couldn’t fight it off. He wasn’t going to let go until he saw her again. I was cruel enough to accuse her of not telling me.
I went to his funeral and bawled my eyes out. There were so many wonderful eulogies but I loved Carah’s best. And I loved that he had done so much and loved so much in such a short time. I couldn’t bring myself to go to the burial, it was too surreal thinking he was in that coffin I could only take so much.
He was a cool kid.