I first knew of Allan, like many others in online nontheist and religious communities, as WinAce the “Fundies Say the Darndest Things” guy, of which I was an occasional reader. FStDT, which began as a way to collect some of the more asinine statements by religious fundamentalists from one of his favorite religious message boards for his personal use in signatures and quickly took on a life of its own. I also knew of him through his posts on the old IIDB (now FRDB), which were consistently well-written, and even in serious discussions he almost invariably inserted a bit of his characteristic humor. Noticeably absent in those early posts were any facts about his life, or really any personal information at all. He shared those details with only his closest online friends, and in May 2004 I was about to become one of them.
That May, our paths crossed in the old IRC channel #infidelchat, and I was surprised to learn that all those brilliant posts were written by a 19-year-old. Given his impressive writing skills and knowledge in a broad range of subjects, I had assumed he was quite a bit older, and probably a college graduate. I would be even more shocked when I later learned that he could read, but not speak, English until around the age of twelve, when he taught himself by watching television with the closed-captioning on. As the first-generation American son of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, his first language was Russian. Being just 20 years old myself, my curiosity was piqued. After he made a particularly bad joke in chat, I threatened him with one of the insidious creatures from his Organisms That Look Designed page. We became fast friends.
What began as innocent flirtation quickly became much more. He often kept me literally doubled-over in laughter, but was quite capable of discussing serious matters at length and seemed to exude genuine kindness, a remarkable trait for text on a screen. He was determined to steal my heart, so steal it he did. Though he lived in Queens, NY and I was 3,000 miles away in a rural Oregon town, distance turned out to be a surmountable obstacle.
In the first few conversations, he remained hesitant to discuss anything about his personal life, but about a week and a half later, he revealed what he had always been reluctant to tell anyone: he had cystic fibrosis (CF). Although he did not tell me the severity of his illness, all the apparent inconsistencies in previous conversations suddenly made sense, and I knew that he must be quite ill. I knew that moment one of my closest friends had just told me he was dying.
Allan said he suspected he would be hospitalized again soon, and I gave him my phone number so that we could keep in touch when that happened. From that day forward, we spoke nearly every day. In that first conversation, he told me that he might soon need a lung transplant, confirming my worst fears, but that he might have a germ that would disqualify him, which surpassed them. But, I was already quickly falling for him, and the knowledge of his illness did nothing but make me far more concerned about his well-being.
Allan’s life in many ways was not a happy one. He was the last of four children, all of whom had cystic fibrosis, and all had died very young: two in infancy, and one older brother, Sergei, who passed at the age of six when Allan was four. It is not an understatement to say that his parents were driven mad with grief, even to the point of blaming their remaining son for the death of his older brother. His illness was treated with a great deal of secrecy and even shame. His grandparents back in Russia were not even told that his brother had died, and other close relatives within the United States from whom his breathing difficulties could not be disguised were led to believe that he had something like asthma, rather than CF. It has been three years since Allan died, and his aunt and cousins still haven’t been told about it.
Through his sad family life and the realities of coping with a debilitating and ultimately fatal illness, Allan seemed to be more sensitized to the sufferings of others, not less. One time he started to tell me of a documentary he had watched about sex trafficking in a third-world country, but stopped. He couldn’t discuss it; it was just too awful. He became strangely quiet for days afterward whenever something reminded him of it. I think a lot of us are so used to hearing about the worst atrocities that mankind commits that there is little that can surprise us, and most would not be as clearly affected. At the same time, he was not stirred by the things that people tend to get upset about that ultimately do not matter. It seemed to me that he had a firm grasp on what is really important in life, something which most people do not achieve in a lifetime.
His sense of humor also came through intact, and probably enhanced by the hardships he encountered in life. Allan was quite the prankster from early in life, when at around eight years old and having just been asked for a urine sample, he booby-trapped the top edge of a door with a cup of warm apple juice for the next unsuspecting nurse to come along. His humor eventually became more sophisticated, and he delighted whenever somebody took one of his parodies seriously. He eyed his own situation with a lot of humor as well, and encouraged his friends to ask questions and even invited them to occasionally poke fun at his predicament. We took the adage that you sometimes have to laugh to keep from crying to heart, which buoyed us through a number of setbacks.
I met Allan in person for the first time in September, 2004. If possible, he was even more wonderful in person than online. I spotted him near the baggage claim in LaGuardia airport, holding a sign with my name on it and looking endearingly shy. I had told him I was sure the day I met him in person would be the best day of my life, and it was. I spent ten days with him in New York, and when I saw him again in January 2005, we were moving in together.
It turned out that he did have the germ that disqualified him for a lung transplant in all the centers in New York State, so we followed the hope of a transplant down to North Carolina. There, he found that UNC-Hospitals at Chapel Hill was willing to transplant him, but Medicaid refused to cover it, citing the dangerous bacteria he cultured, low weight, and osteoporosis as making him too high of a risk. He was told that he’d have to shoulder the nearly $400,000 burden himself. His friends online started a campaign to fundraise the money needed for the surgery, setting up the website Save-Allan.org, writing letters on his behalf to media outlets and politicians, and raising thousands of dollars toward the cost of his surgery. We were both humbled at the tremendous outpouring of support. Allan remained upbeat throughout most of it, and indescribably brave. Unfortunately, he ran out of time, and died from complications arising from a gastric feeding tube surgery which was a last-ditch effort to raise his weight and get Medicaid to accept him.
Allan passed away the morning of November 4th, 2005. We had lived and loved a lifetime in less than two years, and he approached the last of his 20 years of life with grace and humor in the face of extreme hardships. His legacy of kindheartedness and wit is embodied in his self-penned eulogy, and in the hearts of his many friends. As heartbroken as I am, I am profoundly grateful for every moment I was able to spend with him, right up until his last.
The last words I remember him speaking were, “It was nice knowing you, my dear.”
Oh, my sweetheart, it was ever so nice knowing you, too.