October 6, 2010 § 2 Comments
I met Alston at Yulblog. I had just joined the group, which was celebrating its five-year anniversary with a party at the now defunct Zeke’s Gallery. I sat on a vintage couch that had seen better days and smoked a cigarette, and within moments Alston and I were engaged in a furious argument about smoking bans, which had yet to encroach upon Montreal.
Despite the argument, or perhaps because of it, I liked Alston immediately. He was smart and sociable and Scorpionically intense, and he was one of only a few people I know who doesn’t take disagreement personally. He was also kinda hot, as Uberfrau keenly observed, and wickedly funny. I later realized that Alston brought out the ham in me and was grateful to him for it.
I began reading his blog, intermittently at first and then, as I came to know him, unfailingly. I was taken with his curiosity about the world, which was relentless, and with the anger that fuelled much of his writing. Over time, I noticed a theme: more than anything, Alston wanted the world to be just, and when it wasn’t, his disappointment became rage. His posts on race, particularly, were like this, and these were some of his best.
After his diagnosis, Alston had surgery to remove his esophagus and most of his stomach, and a group of us went to see him in hospital. Being bloggers, we told jokes and snapped pictures of the scar that bisected his torso, for which Alston was an enthusiastic model. It was gallows humour, to be sure, but we were also buoyed by optimism; the cancer hat had surfaced in his body sucked, but of course he would be okay. It was Alston, after all.
Afterwards, as we drove in separate cars to Yulblog, André, who is a cancer researcher as well as a blogger, gave it to me straight: Alston had one of the worst types of cancer, and he would be lucky to live more than two years. As it happens, he lived almost twice that long, although not quite long enough to see his thirty-sixth birthday.
The last time I saw Alston was at Yulblog’s tenth anniversary party earlier this year. I had fallen away from blogging, but I knew there was a chance he’d be there so I went. The bar was crowded and much too loud, and there was this awful Twitter board that people were posting to instead of actually talking to each other, which lit up like a pinball machine when Alston arrived. Watching him slowly navigate the room with the aid of a cane, I was awed by his sheer determination to be there.
When he made it to the spot where I was standing, I smiled and asked him how hard a hug he could take. “Give me all you got,” he replied and I did, putting everything I didn’t know how to say into the arms I wrapped around him. Later, as I walked against the wind on the Van Horne overpass, I understood that that hug was probably goodbye.