DARLENE KATHLEEN BENNETT (November 3, 1949 to June 29, 2021
It was 1992 when Cat and I first met.
I had enrolled in a couple of classes at a local community college: a survey class covering select writers of science fiction literature across a decent spread of years; and a science fiction short story writing class. Both classes were taught by the same teacher. It had been five years since, as an adult, I’d fallen in love once again with science fiction. In the preceding decade I’d discovered some recent oldies — Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Gardner Dozois – as well as the newbies: William Gibson, Michael Swanwick, Kage Baker, Lewis Shiner. Writers such as Bradbury, Heinlein and Andre Norton were already part of that world.
It was in the class where we actually tried to write the stuff that Cat and I became friends. She shared a chapter of an SF novel she was working on which took place on an interplanetary cruise ship. The ship’s captain and the second in command, both women, were a romantic couple. It’s been nearly 30 years since then, and I don’t recall the plot of the novel. What I do recall is that the quality of the writing was sufficiently polished that, as a writer, I was able to take her seriously. I’d already sold three stories by this time.
When both classes ended, the teacher offered to lead a science fiction writers group outside of the college, at attendee’s private homes, and we in fact continued this way for a few years. It was still 1992.
It was the year that Cat had been separated from her husband, Wayne. For my part, I was head-over-heels for a young movie producer whom I had met at a Ventura party that year. By the end of 1992 Cat and Wayne would have gotten back together, while my movie producer girlfriend and I became history after an intense five months.
Throughout those months of 1992 I used to drive out to Cat’s house in La Crescenta on Saturdays. We would spend the day working on our writing. I was working on my first novel, titled Scissors, Rock and Paper Doll, which I completed by December. She also completed her novel.
After she and Wayne got back together they decided to move to Squim, Washington. If I recall correctly, this happened sometime during 1993.
We kept in contact, and we continued to share the things we were each writing. Cat was a heartfelt critic, lavish in her praise when she liked something, harsh in her critiques when she didn’t. It was what I valued most about her. Many critics are afraid of hurting your feelings, so they pull their punches, and as a consequence the feedback you get is compromised, uncertain, not as helpful as it might otherwise be. With Cat you always knew where you stood, and this was a gold standard that I loved and relied on and came to demand from others.
The following year I visited Cat and Wayne in Washington. I flew to Washington, and from there crossed Puget Sound in a ferry. Once there, I was hustled onto a smaller passenger plane and flew to a tiny airport closer to where Cat and Wayne lived.
I spent a week with them, and it was relaxing and wondrous. It’s usually overcast and often rainy in Washington, but Squim lies outside of what they call the Olympic Rain Shadow. Most of the summer days are cool but sunny, great for taking walks. I no longer remember with clarity, but I seem to recall that I was tickled by the fact that the sun rose and set on the same horizon. Mornings shone with the light of a dying day, and the evening felt like a call to breakfast. I spent a lot of time eating and drinking Bacardi and Cokes and writing fiction on a computer they made available to me. Before I’d arrived I had lost a file containing a large chunk of a story I was working on. I brought the floppy to Wayne, who had a rep with computers, and he managed to retrieve and save it for me.
On my last night Cat and Wayne took me to a fine restaurant in the port of Dungeness and I was treated to a magnificent meal of the famous Dungeness crabs. It was a memorable way to end my stay with them.
July of 1994 was the last time I actually saw Cat.
Oh, we of course kept in close contact, sharing and critiquing the pieces of fiction we were working in. She spent a number of years working on a science fiction novel titled Speak No Evil. I wrote four more novels during this time.
In 2019, Wayne passed away. It was the start of a difficult time for Cat. They’d had their ups and down, she and Wayne, but marriage is a bonding ceremonial, and his death left an emptiness in her that she was unable to fill.
Then the Coronavirus pandemic hit, and she become further isolated. From about March of 2020 on, we spoke at least twice a month by phone, as well as communicating by email. We began a collaboration on a story, but it didn’t take. Wherever her heart was, into was into writing fiction. I sent her a couple of new stories even though she told me she didn’t like short stories. (When had this happened? I wondered.) She critiqued my stories nonetheless and greatly helped me bring them into focus.
I did not know that Cat was not well. I always opened our telephone conversations with an inquiry into her health, just as a matter of protocol; she was 71 years old and had had a health scares a few years prior — a large benign tumor in her stomach, safely removed — and now there was this Covid pandemic. She started getting a little more impatient and churlish when we spoke. On a day in February I called her. She normally did not answer her phone right away, and I usually went through the ruse of leaving a message, pretending that I was someone such as an IRS agent doing follow-up, or some phony bill collector calling to harass her, and after about 10 or 15 seconds she would answer. On the February call it happened just that way, but when she answered she was curt, seemingly angry, somewhat incoherent. My thought was that she might have been a little tipsy. She then peremptorily hung up on me.
I decided to let her have her space.
On February 19th, 2021 I received a long email from her. She apologized for hanging up on me. She said she was suffering from orthostatic hypotension, a form of low blood pressure. She was scattered in her message, telling me about the few things that had been happening, and promising to email me again after things had settled and she felt a little better.
Then again, on May 19, she wrote an email about how she’d started an April Fool’s email but did not send it, saving it as a draft. She picked up where she’d stopped and again detailed her lack of focus and enthusiasm, and signed off.
On June 2, I sent her a long email letting her know about how I’d had two stories picked up by internet magazines and which were going to appear online. I again asked her if she been to visit her primary care doctor, and if she’d already been vaccinated for the Coronavirus. I closed by telling her that my son, who was to graduate from high school in a couple of weeks, had been accepted to California State University, Northridge. “Take care of yourself, Catmeister. You’ve been vaccinated, right? Good. Get out. Join a reading group or something(s). Eat a good meal. Treat yourself well. You are the most important person in Cat Bennett’s life. At least you should be.”
Twenty-eight days later I received a call from her neighbor Linda, informing me that Cat had passed away.
It was her neighbor, Linda, who found Cat’s quiet, lifeless body, lying in bed. It was on the 29th of June, 2021, a Tuesday. “I swear that she had a smile on her face. She looked so peaceful. I was happy about that.”
So was I.
Rest in peace, Cat.