In Memory of Lord Hylan Dronta, the Mad Jester, Part II

Continued from Part I.

My first year of college took me to Montana, while James took classes at NIC in Coeur d’Alene. We stayed in touch through the internet and phone calls until (for reasons detailed elsewhere) I returned to Idaho the next year. There, I went to NIC with him, and I met the wealth of new friends he’d already amassed. The man would come through the door into the student center with his own retinue most days: babyboomers finally getting their degrees after years in dead-end jobs whom he would tutor; young single mothers to whom he gave a friendly ear; fellow geeks who wanted his opinion on what class to play in the MMORPG flavor of the week. James was ever at the head of his own parade, in the real world as well as all the virtual ones he explored; he knew everyone’s name, knew where they were in their lives, knew who they spent time with—even the people he never met face-to-face (and I know there are so many of you out there on the internet, especially in the online gaming community, who knew James and played roles in his life even if you never knew his real name). And he knew because he was genuinely interested, because he made an effort to connect with other people—though as I mentioned before, he could be hilariously (but usually harmlessly) Machiavellian in his purposes.

While away in Montana, I’d started an online group with the goal of creating an amateur JRPG videogame, and James was gung-ho to join up. I’d already recruited some volunteers off a few messageboards, but of course it was James who sweet-talked a dependable programmer and a musician into joining us. The whole ordeal was of course ill-fated—neither of us could program a line outside of HTML, we didn’t have the manpower or resources to develop all the art we needed and the programming tools for pulling that sort of thing off without having to build everything from scratch in C++ just weren’t available to amateurs then—but it took us a couple years to give up. For a while there we both switched our majors to computer science, only to switch back to liberal arts degrees once we agreed it was best we both stuck to word processors instead of compilers for our future storytelling purposes.

By then we were both working at call centers. James started off at Coldwater Creek, a job he complained forced him to frequently lie to customers; for example, “Good choice, ma’am, that’s a lovely sweater.” I recruited him over to Center Partners, for which I can only offer my eternal apologies. CP was the last fulltime job James would hold, but he’d hold it for years, and though it was a horrid place to work, James nonetheless climbed what little ladder there was to climb, always offering a smile to everyone he passed on the call floor (and talking their ears off between calls whenever he had the opportunity, of course). I convinced him to move into an apartment with me at a development I later found out was nicknamed “Felony Flats,” and so in our early twenties we each became the other’s first (non-college-dorm) roommate.

Allow me to say a few words about James as a roommate, and understand I do so with love and fond humor. James had us set up his computer and desk in the living room so he could watch TV while he played Star Wars Galaxies with his brother. That was where he spent most of his time, and to his credit I usually only caught him sitting out there in his underwear on his days off. As far as I could tell, he never unpacked outside of a cursory effort the first week he was there, and he only went to his room when it was time to sleep. He “cooked” once the whole time we lived together, by which I mean he tossed a few cardboard boxes in the microwave. If memory serves, his mom would come grab his laundry. I think that, as much as James liked living with me and liked the idea of independence, he just wasn’t ready to be away from his family for long stretches of time. After a few months he decided he wanted to go back home, so his dad came over and moved him out the next weekend. I adopted a cat so the place wouldn’t feel so empty and rode out the rest of the lease on my own. My next day off, I was back out at the Peterson homestead hanging out with James in his old bedroom again.

(For the record, he did eventually get his own place again with other roommates. I just wasn’t living in Idaho any longer by then, but I did visit and stay the night a few times. We watched the last episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles together at his place in Coeur d’Alene. James went to live with his family again for the last few years of his life, when he went on full disability due to the progression of his ataxia.)

Near the end of my career at Center Partners, James and I got into a series of increasingly heated arguments over my claims that manning the phones at CP was comparable to digging radioactive glass out of lava vents with one’s bare hands while being repeatedly stung in the face by cancer-causing bees. James was newly appointed to the resource team and didn’t see things quite that way. We stopped talking for a number of months, over the course of which I left the company, until I got a call from our mutual friend Keshia, who told me how depressed James was. I gave him a call, and our friendship picked up like it had never left off. We never really talked much about that silent half a year or so. It didn’t seem important; if anything, having James gone from my life during that portion of it taught me how central his friendship was to my identity.

Even after I moved away from Idaho again and our lives took ever-diverging paths, I don’t think we ever went more than a week or two without talking. There was always a game or a book or a show for us to make small talk about, but what’s more, there was a decade and a half of shared experiences that tied us as close as blood, conversations from a decade ago we could reference as shorthand toward mutual understandings, old disagreements we’d learned to accept with smiles and grunts. There are secrets of mine he’s taken to the grave, and you can bet I’ll honor his memory and keep those rare secrets he entrusted me with to mine as well. Recounting his life in short-form like this can’t possibly do the man he was justice, but it’s the best I can do for him for now.

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