One year ago today, our dear friend Vaunda passed away after a long fight with sarcoma. Soon afterwards, writer Gloria Oliver posted this on her blog, and old-school anime god Dave Merrill recorded a few of his own memories. I was thinking of Vaunda when I started this blog a few months ago, and today seems like a good point to say a little more about her, rather than just about my feelings. Memorials are the markers we lay down in time to point towards eternity. Eternity may be only a theory, but Vaunda is worth remembering.
America’s first anime fan club, the Cartoon/Fantasy Organisation, started up in California in 1977. Battle of the Planets and Star Blazers – the American titles for Kagaku Ninjatai Gatchaman and Uchu Senkan Yamato – hit American TV in 1978 and 1979. Vaunda was active in those early days of anime fandom, and in 1983 she became a founder member of the C/FO’s new chapter in Orlando, Florida. She loved Gatchaman and was a member of still-running Gatchaman APAzine Bird Scramble! from its foundation in 1986.
She was an artist, always willing to contribute to zines and shared stories as well as making pictures of her favourite characters. (She created the mascot for her CFO chapter in Florida, in turn inspiring other small-press artists like David C. Matthews and Charles Treadwell.) She was part of Wyvern Web Graphics, a small venture importing goods from Japan for American fans. She was a sharer and a doer, and in those pre-Internet days when zines, clubs and tables at conventions were the only links between fans, she was one of the people who enabled anime fandom to survive and spread.
In 1988, she followed her growing interest and moved to Japan, where she immediately felt at home. Like many foreigners she started out teaching English there, and the apartment she shared with two other teachers became known as the ‘House of Three Gaijin’. Later she went to work for a small Japanese company in Sakura, a dormitory town near Narita Airport, helped to found a new subsidiary, and became a vice-president – despite being foreign and female, two considerable handicaps in corporate Japan at the time. She was active in her community. I spent several early mornings during our visits helping her with leaf-sweeping and litter-picking on her quiet street, and saw first-hand how she was liked and respected by her Japanese neighbours.
As I said at the beginning, Vaunda was in my mind the day I started this blog. I’ve found that over time I think of my beloved dead less often. I miss my grandmother and my parents still, I miss dead friends, but not with the constant pain of the first months of loss. Sometimes I forget they’ve gone. It’s the same with Vaunda. Every now and then I see a book or a CD and think, Vaunda will like that, I should pick it up. Then I think, no.
She was taken from us very suddenly. She’d been fighting her cancer for two years. From the day she knew her enemy, she fought it like they taught her in the military, with a realistic assessment of the situation, an awareness of the enemy’s strength and a determination never to give in. She knew none of us beats death, but she wasn’t going to let the enemy dictate the terms of engagement. In the midst of death, she was in life, around and through the radiotherapy and chemotherapy and spells of hospitalisation and treatment. She did as much work as she could on the company she had helped to found and steer towards success, spent time with her partner and her beloved dogs, stayed in touch with friends. She lived every minute she was given.
We kept in touch by email and phone, but when we went to Japan in January 2008, things were not going so well and she asked us not to visit. In July, I got a call from her to say that the doctors thought the tumour was almost beaten. She was allowed home for weekends, she could play with the dogs, she was easing back into work with sessions on the computer at home and in hospital. Then a routine check revealed that the tumour was growing again, so fast and aggressively that there was no realistic option but palliative care. She expected to have a few months, perhaps a year, time to see friends and say goodbye. In the event, she had less than two weeks. On 27 August she died from total organ failure.
Now she’s part of history, not time. Our present-day obsession with celebrity is an acknowledgement that all but a few of us are only a tiny part of history, that the marks we make on consciousness are restricted to those in our own small circle. Sometimes I think we’re in danger, as a species, of forgetting that those brief points of contact are still important. During one lifetime, we meet only a few thousand people at most, and become intimate with far fewer: but the impact we make on those few can be just as transformative as the mass-marketed impact of celebrity. Vaunda made her impact in a small circle, but she made it in a big way.
Rest in peace.