I found out today that an old friend died. Barbara Horwitz was a person I never met, and yet we were fairly intimate. I met her, in of all places, an online RPG. She ran a Star Trek sim that I joined on a lark when one of my gaming friends recommended it. It had its ups and downs, and initially, she wanted to kick me out for trying to reinvent the wheel and complaining when no one appreciated my new blueprints.
I left, and joined again a year later when the imagination side of me was drying up. We wrote and wrote and soon my lowly engineering ensign was the Captain's number one, and chief confidente. Soon the two of us were chief confidentes as well. We counseled each other through relationship ups and downs, and tried to keep our perspective during the craziness of the game. Eventually, Barbara and I ran the game together for a year or so before Sophie was born and I needed to step back from some of my extra-curriculars. I promised to keep in touch, and for a while we did. But like a lot of friendships mostly based around a single activity, and lont distance, communicated only through email, it dwindled to the occasional announcements.. the birth of William, the death of her mother. And soon those were fewer and fewer in between.
Barbara was a woman who would likely defy people's image of a gamer, especially a pbem trekkie gamer. She was in her late forties, very pretty, sort of a Jane Seymour type. She was a doctor, and owner of a large clinic in Philadelphia mostly serving the communities poor AIDs patients. She saw death every day. She raised champion dogs "Borzois-Russian Wolf Hounds", and had a menagerie of other pets, snakes, birds, cats and of course lots of other dogs (I guess the menagerie is consisent with the eccletic gamer type). She was the local celebrity doctor called in by the news to explain the latest fad illness, or medical treatment for the Philly area, no doubt because of her good looks and ascerbic personality. She ran in the circles of the elite for some time. She dated Warren Zevon for years and refused several of his marriage proposals. In her capacity as a doctor of contagious diseases, she was brought into a post office to help with the investigation of the Anthrax letters, she contracted Anthrax as a result, but managed to recover from that after several months of hospital and bed rest.
When she contracted liver and lung cancers, I don't know. She didn't tell many people, only those who witnessed her decline in person. Those of us who knew her only through her email had little reason to suspect anything.
Not that I enquired of late. We sort of drifted away, and like many online acquaintances, unless we had something exciting to share, we didn't talk much. I will remember Barbara as a vibrant and canterous woman who vexed with with her lack of editting capabilities (working from WebTV of all things), and always tried to hold things together when they seemed ready to fall apart. She introduced the term "cat wrangling" to me to describe the efforts required of coordinating the PBEM RPG. She was like a mother to a whole host of online misfits who often returned her kindness and efforts with childish tirades and flamewars, but she persisted.
She saw more death in her life than anyone ought to, but she maintained her humanity, and sense of humor throughout her life.
She had a slogan for her ship, the USS Vanguard pride of the fleet:
"We sail together, or we do not sail."