Today’s episode is a sad one for me. It’s the last interview with one of my favorite authors and guests – Cai Emmons.
I first met Cai in October 2018 when she came to the KBOO studios for a live, in-person interview on her novel Weather Woman. Due to the pandemic, our subsequent conversations were all conducted remotely, through Zoom, the first for Cai’s story collection Vanishing in June 2020, then for her novel Sinking Islands, the sequel to Weather Woman, in July 2021, and, most recently, for Cai’s last two published books -- the novels Unleashed and Livid – just last September.
Cai was diagnosed with bulbar onset ALS in February 2021. It’s a debilitating disease, which first takes away the power of speech before affecting the rest of the body. While some people with ALS, such as Stephen Hawking, can live for many years, the life expectancy for those with bulbar onset ALS is, on average, two and a half years. And, presently, there is no cure.
Late last year, Cai made the decision to end her life through Oregon’s Death With Dignity program. Initially planned for Cai’s birthday on January 15th, she moved up the date to January 2nd, just 10 days ago. As she wrote on her blog in November: “In the last month or two,… the disease has progressed and impinged on everything I do, slowing down every operation so it takes twice as long, or more. Most of my activities require help (though right now I’m here writing alone). I no longer say yes to everything, and it is no longer possible to compartmentalize and pretend I’m normal (whatever normal means).”
I am forever grateful to Cai for saying yes to my final interview request. We recorded our conversation, again through Zoom, on December 23rd. Cai was in her bedroom in Eugene, Oregon and communicated using a text-to-voice device. Cai types her responses and we hear those through the device’s synthesized voice. But unlike our previous two interviews, Cai was now limited to typing with just one finger on her right hand. It was a slow process for her, and I’m sure a fatiguing one, but she was, as always, generous, direct, and filled with insight, enthusiasm, and brilliance. I will miss her so much.
Author photo courtesy of Livia Fremouw