The Short, Strange Life of Dan Cheney
My first memory of Daniel Cheney was of a birthday party when he turned seven
years old, possibly six. I gave him a cube-shaped marble maze I'd rather have kept
for myself, and during the party Dan announced to the other children that
his mother was going to die. She did, too. It was cancer.
Dan must have been in my first grade class, and I know he was in second
grade with me. He was into dinosaurs, and so naturally his favorite
book was Danny and the Dinosaur. When we were in third grade,
he showed me some gouged rocks on a stone wall behind his home in Cherry
Manor in Manlius, NY, and told me they were made by glaciers. I didn't
know what glaciers were, so I told my family that there had been monsters
called glaciers in Cherry Manor, and that they'd scratched the rocks.
Somewhere around fourth or fifth grade, Dan's father moved the family (Dan, his older brother and his
sister Karen) to another part of Manlius. This put Dan in a different school from mine. I lost track of him until 10th grade,
when were were in Biology and English classes together. Dan introduced
me to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of
Narnia and the Who album Tommy. When the movie Tommy came
out, it was instantly his favorite movie of all time. We were
both crazy about Star Trek, and Dan used to toss his head and say,
"Illogical!" at least once a day. "The Doomsday Machine" was his favorite
Star Trek episode. Dan knew how to write in Quenya, and had some knowledge
of a South American dialect that I would name here if I knew how it was spelled.
[Update: it was Quechua.] He was an exchange student in Peru one summer, and wanted to own a black
panther as a pet. But the oddest thing about Dan at the time was that
because of The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay, Dan truly believed
that the world would end in 1986.
Dan and I went to our Junior Prom together; I remember that the only song
there I remotely liked was "Roundabout" by Yes. We were both officers
in the local Star Trek club, and the two of us performed a sketch
together in the school revue, with Dan as Bobby Fischer. We went to the movies
together a few times: Tommy of course, and Jonathan Livingston
Seagull. In the middle of the latter movie, Dan excused himself,
saying that he thought his brother was in the back of the theater, trying
to get his attention.
He came back a moment later. "Karen, I'm really sorry, but I have to leave.
You can stay if you want to, but I have to go."
"No, that's all right, of course I'll leave. What's the matter?"
"My father 's been hit by a truck."
It had happened at a corner in Manlius that I knew well, right by the
police station and the public library. Dan apologized all the way home
for interrupting the movie, and promised--insisted--he would take me to see
the rest of the movie later, a promise that he eventually kept. But for two
or three days I didn't hear a word from him. I finally called him, and asked
about his father. "Oh, didn't you know? He died." He could have been
saying, "Oh, didn't you know? We always have rice on Wednesdays," for all
the emotion I heard in his voice. I never saw any overt mourning for his
father, but Dan's writing after that got more mystical, and his parents became
characters in a novel he was working on.
After 11th grade, Dan went to live with his uncle in Austin, Texas, and
started another Star Trek club there. I got a letter from him a year
or two later in which he talked about having been to Bible camp, where he'd
learned that there were no contradictions in the Bible, and it could all
be readily explained, including how many times the cock crowed while Peter
was denying Jesus. I was horrified. I wrote to him saying, "Your
mind is trapped, friend," words for which I later apologized. I saw him once
or twice after that, as he visited his sister Karen, now married and still
living in the Syracuse area.
It was in 1977 that I met John Blocher, who later became my husband, and
it was in March 1978 that I first visited John in Columbus Ohio. While I
was there a friend of mine called from Syracuse. "Dan's dead."
He'd been in a car full of college students coming back from spring
break. They hadn't been drinking as far as I know, but the driver of
the car that hit theirs was drunk. All four students died. I learned
many years later that Dan had been on his way to collaborate with his
friend, Shane Johnson, on his first novel.
Here I am updating this page in 2015, talking to whoever may happen
to find this page. I have been pleasantly surprised over the past decade
to hear from a number of his friends, and know that he is still fondly
remembered. Our world is nearly 20 years past Dan's
old deadline. But his world ended in 1978.