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If you do a Google search on “Ian Halliburton Smith”, all you will find is the location of his tombstone. I wanted to take some time today to remember Ian because he was an amazing person, and he deserves a better memorial online than just a link to a tombstone.
Ian was born exactly one week before me, on February 10, 1981, and he passed away exactly 10 years ago today, on March 6, 2002. I met him in the fifth grade, when his family moved to town. We grew up together, and he was one of my closest friends, one of my best friends, in high school. He stayed in Missouri to go to college while I went up north to Minneapolis. Before every semester break, he would e-mail me to see when I was coming back. The last time I saw him was during winter break. His best friend Ben and I went out with him to dinner, and afterwards we all came back to my house and watched Run Lola Run. When the movie was over and the guys were headed home, I remember that Ian gave me the biggest, most wonderful hug.
Ten years ago today I was sitting in my dorm room, typing at my computer, when the phone rang. I was surprised to hear Ben on the other end of the line. He told me that Ian was dead, and I started to laugh — I thought it was a joke, since both Ben and Ian had outrageous senses of humor. Ben calmly explained that it wasn’t, and told me how Ian had been feeling sick all semester. Ian had asked for his Dad to come and get him from college to take a semester off when he suddenly got worse and was hospitalized. He passed away during the night.
At the time, no one knew what had made him sick or why he had died. It wasn’t until about two years later that I found out that it had been a brain tumor.
My favorite memory of Ian was from sophomore year of high school, when he, Ben, and I were in the same history class. I haven’t really gotten to know the two of them very well at that point; I had seen how smart and funny they were, but it was hard to get up the courage to talk to them. They seemed way too cool to ever want to hang out with a nerd like me.
In this class, the teacher used to like to have the students compete against each other to answer questions about the course material. One time he decided to form two teams by dividing the class into boys versus girls. Ian and Ben immediately began to complain loudly that this wasn’t fair, since generally more of the girls tended to do the assigned reading. They asked for me to be moved over to the boys team to even things out. I could hardly believe what I was hearing: two incredibly awesome guys wanted me to join their team? The teacher gave them a skeptical look but agreed to let me move. In a daze, I stood up from my seat and walked over to sit down next to Ian and Ben. Up on the board, the teacher had written “Girls” and “Boys” as the two team names. As I sat down, Ian walked up to the board, and, next to “Girls,” added “-1 demi-goddess.” When I saw that, I almost started to cry. After years of being teased and picked on for being smart and liking school, no one my age had ever done anything that kind for me. It might have been a small gesture – I’m not sure Ian ever knew how much it meant to me – but it nourished me. I clung to the memory of that day for the rest of high school, letting it warm me whenever I felt sad and alone.
Eventually, I joined Ian and Ben on our school’s debate and forensics team. Ian and Ben did cross-ex debate as a team; I mostly competed in oratory, but a couple of times I filled in for one or the other of them when they needed me. I didn’t know much about cross-ex debate, but they coached me and encouraged me. Some of my best memories of high school were going to debate tournaments together with the two of them, joking and playing cards in between rounds. They would always come and watch me give my oratory if I advanced to the quarterfinals. I didn’t have very many friends during most of high school, so being able to spend time with them meant a lot to me.
Ian and I both read a lot of fantasy novels in high school. I didn’t do as much reading for fun in college or graduate school, but during my postdoc I discovered Tales of MU, a fantasy novel that is sex-positive and introduced me to many concepts around BDSM, polyamory, and transgender issues. In 2009, when the author, Alexandra Erin, offered to name a building on Magisterius University’s campus in exchange for financial sponsorship, I immediately took her up on it. I told her Ian’s story, and she christened Ian H. Smith Hall as the history building. AE already had a major character named Ian, and she kindly connected him to my Ian as well.
I can’t believe that Ian’s been gone for ten years. I think of him often, and I still miss him. Ian was a wonderful friend and amazing person, and his memory continues to inspire me to be a better person