While in New York, I received the tragic news that Bridget Zinn had died. A fellow Portland YA writer, Bridget was thirty-two years old and had bravely endured two years of treatment for cancer -- really, with such grace and humor and beauty that I just thought everything would be okay. You want to believe, your mind pushes away other possibilities.
I still can't believe she's gone.
We hadn't known each other for very long when Bridget was diagnosed. She had just gotten an agent at the time, and I recall that when a group email came to my inbox I opened it with the full expectation it would be news her first novel had sold. Instead it was news that she was in the hospital. Tumors. Had spread to surrounding organs. Such a jumble of awful things I couldn't believe what I was reading. I was still skimming for the good news as my mind belatedly processed the unthinkable.
Right before Bridget went in for surgery, she and her longtime love, Barrett Dowell, were married in the hospital room. It was the first of several weddings -- they were taking their opportunity to bring friends and family together in celebration as often as they could, and they have continued in this spirit ever since. They have been together since high school, and were one of those inseparable couples. You could scarcely imagine seeing one without the other, and both so fun and sweet and generous.
I remember an early conversation I had with Bridget about an experience she'd had at an SCBWI conference, when a group of older women were complaining bitterly about the publishing world, and they kind of attacked Bridget, who was also unpublished at the time, suggesting that because she was young she was somehow charmed. Well, youth is no guarantee of anything, clearly, but what resounds with me about that story is how Bridget abhorred complaining, and true to herself, she never did complain. While the treatments she's gone through for two years must have been terrible at times, you would never have known it to hang out with her. She was so upbeat, so full of laughter. When one treatment required she not laugh for something like 24 hours, she was dismayed, and didn't think she'd be able to pull it off.
And through it all, she has been cared for as everyone would hope to be cared for, by a loving family and most especially Barrett, who helped her make life as normal as possible. They bought their dream house last year, and so she got the chance to nest in her own home. I was there yesterday, and Bridget's absence is an acute thing, but Barrett and his family and Bridget's family were so welcoming, and it really felt like Bridget could come out of the next room at any minute.
Not that it matters, but she was beautiful, with gorgeous red hair, big eyes, an amazing smile. She loved books, was a librarian, and though she had sold her first novel, she did not get to see it published. I will certainly relay any news about its publication when I know.
Statistically, prognosis was not hopeful for the kind and stage of cancer that Bridget had, but she always always conveyed utter belief in her own odds. She was purely lovely and funny and totally engaging at get-togethers. Her story about the bummer that was wig-shopping had us all in outraged laughter on her behalf.
Speaking of wigs, she wore an electric blue one -- her "party wig" -- to Clementine's first birthday party.
Knowing Bridget for the past two years has given me a mindfulness that I hesitate to put into words. Knowing someone young who is seriously sick plants a constant feeling of instability in the back of your mind. There is no safety or logic in life and health, only luck and the lack of luck -- a terrible terrible roulette. We have a small group of YA writers in Portland who get together every month, and this year we have lost two of our small number, Bridget Zinn at 32 and LK Madigan at 47.
Life is so fragile; it's so easy to feel hunted and afraid, to feel this desperate vulnerability like you're trying to fly under cancer's radar, lest it notice you. But there's nothing you can do but enjoy each day and try not to let worry take over. If illness comes, it comes. One can only hope to be as brave as Bridget was, and as beaming and full of life.
Wishing the blessing of health and mindfulness to you and your loved ones.