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.



Dan in our second grade class photo"There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone, and some remain."

           "In My Life" by John Lennon



Dan and Karen at the junior prom, F-M High school, 1974.
1974 Photo credit: S. C. Parker, 604 Forbes Ave., Chittenango, NY 13037

Update
: I've written about Dan a few times in Musings from MÔvarin, originally on the old AOL Journals platform.  Here are the links:


An Other Significant Other (a roundup of other entries)

Sleep, Glorious Sleep! (in which Dan haunts my dreams)

Watchcry! #1 (in which I regret berating Dan over a literalist interpretation of the Bible)

A Remarkable Facility (in which Dan and I sit together in various classes)

Two Pipes and Two Sunsets (in which I get an organ pipe dedicated to Dan)

The Lost Railroad and the Land of Salamanders (in which monsters invade Cherry Manor)

Hubble: Whirlpool, Cat's Eye, Celestial Geode and More (in which I reveal Dan's favorite Star Trek episode)

Living the Fictional Life (in which Dan portrays Bobby Fischer on stage)

I've also heard in recent years from a few friends of Dan's, including Bill Weibel from Manlius. Dan's best friend in Texas, Shane Johnson, wrote a religious fantasy thriller, The Last Guardian, based on a manuscript Dan was working on in 1974.  By the time of Dan's death, Dan and Shane were collaborating on the story. Kudos to Shane for finishing it! Shane's account of the book's origins used to be online, but he appears to have let his domain lapse. However, the Author's Note about this can be read in the book preview on barnesandnoble.com.


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Updated 5/21/2015