I like to think of life as chapters in a book, often defined by the circles of friends we keep within those chapters. I had a certain group of friends in high school, for example. I had a different set of friends in college, and as college came to a close and my friends began to move away while I stayed behind in Davis, I gained still more new ones. Of course, there’s been some overlap; I can count at least four friends I’ve had since my first year of college, and I’m incredibly happy to have them in my life.
The current chapter of friends includes the ones I’ve met through the WordForge writers’ group. They’re all good people, and I enjoy being around them, even if I don’t get to spend as much time with some of them as I’d like to.
One of the friends I’d made through WordForge was Leonard Pung. Leonard passed away this past weekend after a brief battle with leukemia. He’d posted to Facebook on Saturday explaining his health issues. He seemed to be in good spirits, explaining that the doctors had caught the leukemia early and were treating it aggressively. Just two days later, he was gone.
I admired Leonard. He was a good writer, and his stories — especially “Crossroads” — are among my favorites. He was a kind, generous man, known for his Hawaiian shirts and his inexhaustible supply of awful puns. He was a good friend, willing to listen and talk. He gave excellent critiques to other writers. But the main reason I admired him was that he had the courage of his convictions and the willingness to follow his dreams. He gave up a steady and secure job as a teacher to literally live in a cabin in the woods to pursue his writing, then enter the Masters of Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California. That took some serious guts. He founds his passion for writing late in life, but once he did, he pursued it with courage and dedication.
When I first heard that he’d passed, I thought it was a joke. Seriously. How could someone like Leonard die? Even as the messages piled up on Facebook, I had trouble believing it, until I finally called the hospital he’d been admitted to, and they confirmed it. I still expect to see a Facebook post or an email from him saying something like, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”. It’s the sort of thing he would have done.
And it’s still hard. When I first heard, I burst into tears; and even now, when I think about it, it’s hard to keep myself from weeping. Never again will we hear a horrible pun (“Warning: Incorrigible punster. Do not incorrige”). Never again will he bring wasabi peas from Trader Joes to a First Friday write-in. No more car trips to Petaluma to see Christopher Moore on tour. No more. Last night about a dozen of us gathered at a local restaurant to remember Leonard and raise a toast. It was good to do that: we shared stories and a few laughs, and it was a healing experience.
So long, Leonard. I’ll catch you on the flipside.