an online showcase curated by Maya Kóvskaya


by Raul Clement



The phone call came at nine that morning. And again an hour later. I am not an early riser, and my normal inclination would have been to ignore it. But this was David Bowen, my coeditor here at MAYDAY and my friend dating back at least a decade, and I knew he wouldn’t be calling at nine on a Sunday if it wasn’t important.

Immediately my mind leapt to the worst: someone had died. And who was the most important person we shared in common?: Okla Elliott. In many ways, Okla had been a go-between in my friendship with David. It was Okla who brought me on board after he and David founded New American Press and eventually MAYDAY.

I went on Facebook and checked for recent posts by Okla. He was a regular Facebooker and it would be rare, but not unprecedented, for a day to go by without a post (or half a dozen) by him. The last post had been on Friday night, and this was Sunday morning. Worrisome but not impossible. Even a voluminous social media presence such as Okla had to take breaks. We had been roommates off and on for years, and I had recently moved out of his apartment in Pennsylvania to join my girlfriend in Chicago. A mutual friend, Sean Karns, had afterward moved in and taken my room. I imagined that they had simply spent Saturday doing more important things—catching up on the lost time since they’d last been in the same city together. Stuff Okla and I did when we rejoined after some time apart.

I was right, and I was wrong. Okla was indeed alive on Saturday, and indeed he didn’t make a post during that time. But sometime on Sunday morning, he died of an apparent heart attack. He was not yet 40 years old.

Why had I had this intuition? Why had I checked his Facebook? I don’t believe in psychic powers or other extrasensory perception. Okla, in the last year of his life, had become a Catholic after spending most of his life as an ardent atheist. We argued, civilly, about this. I was and am still an atheist, and I could not wrap my mind around his conversion to belief, even while I understood some of the reasons behind it. He'd had a rough year—a brutal mugging, a health scare that put him in the hospital for several days, and a burglary that took place while he'd been hospitalized. I imagined that it was partially these traumas that pushed him toward faith. And perhaps it was these traumas that led me to think something bad was coming. Perhaps that’s why I immediately thought of Okla when I saw David’s name in my phone. Or perhaps it’s just the morbid imagination of a writer. I sometimes imagine what it might feel like to jump in front of a moving train. It's not a suicidal impulse that compels me but a kind of pathological curiosity. In most writers this sort of curiosity is an automatic reflex, akin to the one where the doctor taps your kneecap and you kick out.

I don't know why I imagined that Okla might be dead. Perhaps it was just coincidence, something that Okla had largely stopped believing in. I remain, unusually for me, agnostic on this issue. But I know what I want it to be. I want it to be my friend, reaching out to me from beyond life, telling me he's still out there somewhere.

And the truth? Of course he’s still out there. He's still right here. He’s here in my memories, and in the memories of friends and colleagues, some of whom have contributed to this issue. He’s here in his words—in the thousands of pages of poems, stories, and essays he wrote and published during his too-short lifetime. People don’t die when they die, and that is doubly true of people possessed of the power and fierce generosity of Okla. People such as Okla live on in others. It is only their bodies that are gone.



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