Part 1: Where I Was
Spring time in Denver is a miracle season, the only one of the four whose arrival I’ve always anticipated. It is during this time of year that the sun shines brightest in the cobalt blue sky every single day, tree branches that were naked and trembling in winter are flush with crisp leaves, the grass is lush and green, thriving flowers are aromatic and add color to the landscape, and furry critters scurry out of their winter enclaves to make their presence felt. The habits of the city’s human residents also change with the advent of the warmer weather. As spring settled onto Denver, my hometown, in 2005, seemingly everyone in town was anxious to spend as much time as they could outdoors. Everyone except for me. Why? Because every time I ventured outside the confines of my house, I was certain that I was being shadowed by the minions of a mortal enemy.
These surreptitious and gleeful servants of my familiar nemesis had for months been exulting in making my existence a miserable one. So, when the opportunity finally presented itself — both of my parents were away from the house — I grabbed my suitcase and fled Denver for the city of San Francisco, hoping that while spending some time in the bay area I could recapture an opportunity that I’d let slip six years ago — I said no to a potential job offer from a San Francisco based employer — and facilitate a clean break from a life that was quickly becoming untenable.
The plane ride went off without any major incidents. I stared straight ahead as I sped through the intricate maze of airport corridors — I didn’t want to catch anyone’s furtive glares. Once I was securely ensconced in my motel room, I stepped to the window and opened the drape. It was the middle of the night in downtown San Francisco and I was staring down at the city from the third-floor window. I was unable to accurately judge the motives of the all the city dwellers down below. I would have liked to have been able to scan all of their faces without them knowing, just so I could make sure. That said, I was almost certain that none of my hometown antagonists had followed me to this new and interesting city.
When I awoke from sleep the next morning, I instinctively knew that something was terribly wrong. I attempted to pocket the dread I felt by focusing on the plans that I’d constructed the night before. But while preparing to explore the city, I could not shake that familiar feeling of being watched. There were multiple dozens of eyes scanning me as soon as I stepped a tentative foot beyond the threshold that separated the motel lobby from the city sidewalk. I was wearing a blue short sleeve shirt and gray trousers on a warm day. Those dozens of pairs of eyes that were staring at me, attempting to penetrate me, felt like a horde of red ants crawling along every area of my exposed skin.
I was a younger man of color then, twenty-eight years old, and barely surviving in a conservative America that was being overseen by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. And if you were to ask any black man or woman — young or old — if they felt safe in America then, she or he would have looked at you as if you were stupid before answering with an emphatic “hell no.” But as I retreated deeper into the darkest corner of that Days Inn motel room for two interminable days, I found myself becoming warier and more afraid in a way that went way beyond the normal fears of the typical African American. If my own mother had knocked on that motel door during those two days I’m not sure if I would have responded.
The nemesis that had been tormenting me in my home town had followed me to San Francisco. But it wasn’t anyone or anything that existed outside of my person. The nemesis was a roiling force that resided within my contours of my mind, and when fully manifest and unchecked, it altered my body’s emotional and physical chemistry, leading to a skewed perception of the world and almost everyone in it. When in the midst of a severe episode — this one ran for four months before I was finally forced to receive the help that I’d been eschewing — I could freeze in place for multiple hours at a time without moving because my mind was busy working through so many scenarios and potential consequences. Now, it wasn’t like that all the time. Some days could be better or worse than others. However, the one constant about an emotional breakdowns is that I was never sure of how I was going to have to approach the world the next day. I’d seen multiple doctors and been prescribed multiple medications — I abhorred the medications — in the two years since I’d suffered my first psychotic episode in New York. None of the doctors had been able to settle on one diagnosis, though they all knew that my illness could wreck my life if not treated consistently over time.
The disease cast a pall over all of my waking hours in San Francisco, about eighteen to twenty of the available twenty-four, warping all of my interactions, exacting holes in many of my memories, never allowing me a precious second of relief. The most uninterrupted memories from that time took place in that dark motel room. While entrenched in the darkness my mind was in a constant fever, spinning when grappling with swirling conspiracies, leaving me cordoned off from rationality. It is about all that my mind will allow me to recall from that time. I can remember nothing about traveling to the airport or exiting the city on the plane.
Sandra and I had been out of touch for four years before reconnecting in the spring of 2014. We saw each nearly every weekend after that. After a few months of hanging out together I began to think that we could become more than just good friends. That was until the Thanksgiving holiday had run through its course. It was all my fault. I kept blowing off our planned engagements during the holidays because I was sick again. Desperate and afraid that she would abandon our friendship, I sought her out, apologized, and confessed the reason for why I kept cancelling our plans in a hasty text. She called back and said, “That’s totally okay. I know what it is like to feel unwell.” It turned out that she had been living with her own mental illness since she was fifteen years old. I didn’t know it then, but trusting Sandra with my secret was one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made in my life. It would lead to a reconciliation and a tightening of a bond that had been forged six years before.
Part 2: Where I Am
Four years after divulging my secret to Sandra I drove her to the Aurora Colorado’s Century 16 Movie theatre on a balmy Saturday afternoon in March. This particular movie theatre is special for the right and wrong reasons. It had been nearly five years since an orange-haired Joker wannabe had executed his predetermined massacre, mercilessly killing twelve innocent souls and injuring many dozens more during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Returns, the final movie of the thrilling three-part trilogy. The theatre closed afterward, although not permanently. As soon as it was reopened it became a symbol of community and resiliency.
After slamming my car door, I shut my eyes and braced myself for the usual onslaught of the crippling shivers. In the years following the shooting and the subsequent refurbishing of the shooter’s killing ground, the Century 16 Movie Theater exuded a corporeal sadness. I had imagined that the souls of the dead twelve were swimming amongst the air that circulated inside the theatre’s halls and corridors. And as the cold wrapped its fingers around me I couldn’t help but feel the presence of those souls once I was inside.
When I didn’t experience the rush of feeling at the expected time, I opened my eyes, somewhat surprised. My body temperature was stable and there were no goosepimples on my forearms. It was still very hot outside, and made hotter by the black tar of the theatre’s parking lot, which was conducting the heat upwards beneath our feet. I was also excited since I was about to catch a highly anticipated movie at this theatre with Sandra for the very first time. I took a moment to scan the movie theatre’s parking lot, where nearly every pair of chalked lines were occupied by automobiles. Dozens of people were spilling out of the theatre after a showing of some film while some of the new arrivals were mixing themselves in with those that were departing for their next destination. Sandra and I were very early. So, we agreed that we would keep my car company for a few more minutes. She and I rested our bodies up against the left side of my Hyundai Elantra as we made conversation. We were experienced movie goers — we visited the theatre at least once a month — and we knew how long to wait before it was time for the trailers to start playing.
When the time finally came for us to make our way to the theatre doors, we meandered forward. The closer we got to the doors the harder it was for me to contain my exuberance. I was like the bagged popcorn seeds in the microwave, ready to burst through the bag. And it wasn’t just because I was about to indulge in my favorite leisure activity with a friend. There was a lot for me to be thankful for this summer and I was in the mood to tell someone why this was so. As we approached the theatre doors, I turned to Sandra, who was freckled faced, pale skinned, stable, and had been working at the same job for five years. “You know that my vacation is just around the corner,” I said. This is going to going to be a special one.”
Sandra slowed down her pace a bit before turning to me. “Oh really,” she said, genuinely curious. “Please tell me why.”
I clapped my hands twice before clasping my fingers and inhaled deeply. “Okay. As you probably know, I will soon complete my fifth year at the hospital? I have told you that, right?”
“You’ve told me a couple of times.”
“Yes. But what you don’t know is that five years is the longest amount of time that I have ever worked at any job. Five years!” I unclasped my hands and placed them on each of my hips. “That’s a real nice number when I think about it. A number to be proud of. I think that I’ve finally, officially, graduated from itinerant manchild to stable grown-up.”
“Well congratulations! Is your company going to do something to commemorate this very important and momentous occasion?”
“I will be given a certificate at the beginning of June. And then in January I am going to be feted at a formal celebration. I’ll get to shake the hand of the CEO, maybe take a picture with him. I might even get to say a few words before the glitterati that will be in attendance.”
Sandra laughed. “Glitterati. I really like that word. It flows off the tongue. I wish that I was in the position to use that word more often.”
“I’m going to celebrate twice though. The first celebration is going down in June because I’ll be going to San Francisco for a week.”
Sandra abruptly halted. “That sounds like an epic way to celebrate five years,” she replied. “Who are you going with?”
I felt a sense of anticipation rise within me. “As of right now, nobody.”
“Can I come with you then?” she asked. “I’ve been wanting to go back to San Francisco for a while. There are a lot of places that I want to visit. We can share expenses.”
“Of course, you can come with me Sandra!” I said, incredulous. “And you know that you don’t have to ask to go on a trip with me. Just say “I’m going with you” the next time I bring it up. You make me feel bad when you ask me for these things.”
“I think it’s wise to adhere to certain rules or decorum in these situations. I’m not your girlfriend, or your wife.”
“Well I don’t like it. How long have we known each other? Almost a decade. We’ve known each other long enough to make demands.”
She waved my reprimand away and said, “Al right. Hmm. We can go right after the end of the school year. I’m not going to be taking a road trip with my family this year so I should have the entire summer to travel!”
“It’s settled then. We’re going.” I sighed. “Now let’s go inside. I need to get out of this heat.”
Exactly one month before I was to embark on my San Francisco adventure, I was exhausted and exhilarated. For I’d just spent two full hours shedding thousands of fat inducing calories in a Group X Exercise class. And so had Janice, a licensed therapist, whom I also consider to be a friend. Our custom is to find each other after the class was over, exit the gym together, and then talk for a few minutes before walking to our respective cars. We stopped in the shaded area of the fitness center’s adjoining parking to talk about frivolous things.
With the conversation nearing its end she asked the last question. “What are your plans for the rest of the day?”
“The usual,” I said. “Watch some Netflix. Get ready for the upcoming week. And I do have some news that is a bit out of the ordinary.”
I took a few seconds to inform her of my impending travel plans, and then the end of our conversation reverted back to the beginning. She stood on her tiptoes, extended both of her arms in the direction of my shoulders. I bent down until I felt both of her arms were resting on top of them. I wrapped both of my arms around the small of her back, and then squeezed. Although we were both very moist and tart from profuse perspiration, and expelling bacteria onto each other through our sweat, we continued to embrace each other without judgement. I closed my eyes and inhaled a breath so that I could savor this impromptu expression of her affection — I always savor hugs from whomever wants to give them now since there was a time when I was too unstable to accept a hug from anyone. Every hug is unique, an insight into the personality of an individual. Janice’s embraces are warm, affectionate, and completely unguarded. Every lonely person should receive a hug from Janice just so they could know what it feels like to be embraced by the entirety of a human being. I guarantee that there will be some sort of awakening.
When we disentangled ourselves, she said: “I am so happy for you and how you are progressing. Oh. My. God. You’ve worked so hard and so long for this.”
Janice is one of the few people that knew of my struggles with mental illness. Sometimes I’m tempted to see if I can extract a few nuggets of therapeutic advice from her without having to pay, but I am able to reign myself in at the last second. Still, years of advising patients — some strangers and some familiar — has imbued Janice with the power to accurately judge what is a real significant moment in someone’s life. She knew that the reward that I intended to give myself could be transformative.
“I know,” I said. “People always talk about how great the city is. The last time that I was there I was not in a good enough place to really take the city in. And I kind of regret not having those really great memories to share. I want to be in on what everyone person who’s traveled there seems to know.”
“It’s sort of a reparative experience then,” she said. “You’re going there to make some amends, correct some things.”
“Reparative?” I tilted my head back, nodded, and smiled. “Yeah, I guess you could say that it is a reparative thing. And it is also meant to celebrate where I am in life right now and who I’m becoming.” I extended my arms to their full potential to illustrate my next point. “It’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally arrived at a place in my life where I can do something that extends my boundaries.”
The most privileged of us are prone to take stability for granted. They become bored and restless with it, thinking that a life without copious amounts of drama is a byproduct of an unproductive existence, a life unlived. I, of course, don’t subscribe to that facile and misguided opinion.
Like the hungry mouse who ignores the mouse trap, I eagerly sought out drama when I was a young man, coveted it, aspired towards a life that was surfeit with it. Why? I didn’t want to end up like those poor saps who were married, had kids, and carried a suitcase to the same job every single day. Three days before the September 11th attacks, I was living in Brooklyn, New York when my wish was granted. I traveled across the country for seven months in van, and had affairs with a few women while I was on the road. After coming back to New York City to continue to pursue my acting dream, I lived in three different apartments in three different boroughs over the span of three years, and tore through about a dozen office jobs before I turned twenty-five. Eventually, I would grow tired of the instability of an actor’s life, and was ready to settle into something. Then my latent sickness manifested after I’d turned twenty-six.
I spent the rest of my twenties and the first half of my thirties mired in an on and off existence — I was homeless for three months once — and I fell very far behind my peers as a result. I have lost a few years of my peak productivity to unemployment, exited my prime marrying years without having settled down with a partner, and have shaved a few years from my life expectancy because I was not ready, nor equipped to correctly manage my illness. Prolonged periods of instability would often leave me hopeless, drained of energy and ambition, depressed and suicidal. And when I was an undiagnosed bipolar, instability also became sort of a fallback option as well, a crutch to lean on. It became so easy for me to self-sabotage my existence since I was unable to build a life that was really worth fighting for.
When I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist, provided access to psychotropic medications, and living with my parents once again, I was given time enough to think about what I wanted to finally do. I was in my middle thirties, still young enough to harbor ambitious thoughts and make plans. I decided to enroll at my father’s alma mater and secure a master’s degree. Six months after obtaining the degree, I began working at the local hospital, one that provides esoteric respiratory clinical care for pulmonary patients. I continue to work there steadily, and have been able to build up capital as a member of the hospital community, a citizen of Colorado, a brother of two siblings, and as the son of a widowed mother. These blessings have increased my commitment to the life that I have created. It is now almost infeasible for me to leave this life on a whim.
There have been some setbacks along the way — Sandra helped me navigate through one of them in 2014 — and many of those setbacks carried with them the potential to derail me from the path that I’d chosen to take so many years ago. But I have persevered through these years, and like the recovering alcoholic or drug abuser, I’m able to put together of a list of “unremarkable” accomplishments that are worth commemorating. There is a lot for me to be proud of, and I am loathed to take any one of these accomplishments for granted. So I sat down at my desk one day with a pen and paper and created a list. It’s fairly comprehensive and uplifting, and because I am so proud of what I’ve done, I have decided to share this list with you, the reader. I dare you to read through this list and not come away impressed:
· Sandra and I have been friends since May of 2008, or ten years. Two years ago, we declared ourselves to be besties and we remain committed to creating a legacy as friends.
· The last time the police were called to my place of residence was June of 2005. Although I have had subsequent encounters with the police, none of those encounters have concluded with me having to be admitted to a psychiatric ward or taxied to a police station.
· It’s been seventeen years since I’ve known someone who has been a victim of a homicide.
· I’ve recently been promoted to the lead of my department, a promotion that was more of a response to my diligence and consistency. I don’t really care about the reason though. As long as they pay me every two weeks and my 403b keeps compounding then I’m “straight” as the kids like to say.
· It’s been nearly eight years since I was last involved in a catastrophic car accident and I’ve been driving my Hyundai Elantra ever since then. I’ve logged over 83,000 miles on that car, with a goal of 100,000 on the horizon.
· It’s been eight years since I was fired from a job.
· It’s been three and one-half years since my last psychotic incident. I think that I’ve happened upon the method to manage my inherent madness. Writing and prayer is an integral part of the method.
· I have just completed my first ever reference/recommendation for a former co-worker. He wouldn’t have asked me if he didn’t know I was reliable.
Hard won stability tastes sweeter than the cup of orange juice that I use to guzzle down the Quaker Oatmeal, strawberries, and bananas every morning. And now I’m regular — I visit the bathroom at a certain time during the day — and as close to content as I’ve been since entering the realm of adulthood.
A stable life is something to be grateful for, but it can also present the cultivator of that life with some challenges. When your whole life is focused on maintaining strict routines so that you don’t revert back to becoming unhealthy — I am also afraid of an upbraiding from my doctors — again, boredom can ensue. Oatmeal gets clumpy and begins to taste like sand, the daily commute — I drive the same route to work every day — can be draining, and my work responsibilities can leave me annoyed. I do love the fact that occasional boredom has become the primary “negative” repercussion of the life that I’ve worked for. However, boredom can beget a feeling of being stagnate, and I don’t want to become trapped in stagnation. I need to be sure that my life is moving forward at a pace that suits me, and I know that forward momentum requires some sort of interruption of the routine. As the first week of June 2018 — my vacation window has occupied this space each of the last five years — approached I was increasingly sure that San Francisco, the first city that I was visiting for leisure since I’d left London in 1999, would be the perfect place to create some manageable, forward momentum.
Seven days before Sandra and I were to depart for San Francisco, I was working my shift at the hospital when my cell phone vibrated in my pants pocket, notifying me of a text message. I placed my right hand inside my front pocket to collect my new Samsung, swiped my finger across the face of the phone, and then imprinted my thumb on the message icon. My heart was pounding against my chest all the while, as if it wanted to escape from the inside.
Sandra, a voluminous and prolific texter, had been unusually silent during the last few days, which had been a source of worry for me. But when I saw that Sandra’s contact name was bolded and perched at the top of my screen, I smiled reflexively, pressed my finger on the name, and began reading the multi-paragraphed text message. When I got to the third line of the message, I felt my beating heart sink a few inches.
Sandra wrote. I’m so sorry Eze. I’m not going to be able to go on the trip with you.
I texted a quick reply. What? What happened?
She went on to explain her reasons for cancelling. They proved to be very significant, unforeseen, and wildly expensive.
Multiple years of navigating though the mental illness labyrinth had made me extremely sensitive to the emotions that flow from other conscious beings. Most try to conceal their inner turmoil and strife, but I’m too freaking sensitive to ignore it. Sandra, a world traveler and a former stage actress herself, is usually a fearless and opinionated human being, but she hates having to disappoint people, especially her friends. Her fear of how I’d react to this sudden and unexpected news was spilling out from every word she’d texted to me. Since Sandra was navigating through a particularly difficult period in her life — her beloved great uncle was terminal and her sister was in the midst of a custody battle with a truculent ex-husband — and because I knew how she might absorb the blows from me if I became indignant, I responded to Sandra’s text with a hurried text of my own, explaining to her that I understood that there are circumstances that can interrupt life sometimes and that we could still hang out together in Denver.
As I awaited her reply a thought popped into my head. Could I perhaps travel on my own? I could if necessary, but decided against that strategy since I was still kind of hesitant to travel anywhere outside of Denver, Colorado alone.
Sandra replied back. Thank you so much for understanding.
I could tell that she was relieved that I was able to understand, and I was relieved because she believed that I did.
As soon as I arrived home I was struck by a realization: The remaining embers of whatever anger I’d felt a few hours before were completely doused. For I was really at peace with Sandra’s decision to cancel our plans, which became another reason for me to celebrate. If this had been ten or fifteen years ago, I might not have been able to react to disappointment in a way that was not destructive to me and my relationship.
The following Sunday my therapist friend and I were engaged in our post-workout ritual: shooting the breeze while milling about the 24-Hour Fitness’ parking lot. When I told her of the cancellation of my trip her face dropped.
“Are you upset about it?” she asked. “You have been talking about the trip for a long time and you were so excited for it.”
I shook my head and said: “No. I’m really not. I’ve been thinking about it, you know. Maybe this celebration shouldn’t be about me going to a city. San Francisco will always be there and I can go to the city with my sister next year if I want to. What’s nice is that I have my best friend and I’ll still be able to hang out with her during my vacation. I won’t be hiding in my bedroom, afraid to go out in the world. I’ll be out there, amongst the people, celebrating life and exulting in my friendship. That is what this celebration should be about. I’m good.”
I held my breath as Sandra rounded the corner of the Atomic Cowboy. Her wavy, jet black hair was draped about her freckled shoulders and she was dressed in a strapless bright multicolored dress, allowing the multiple tattoos on her shoulders and arms to reign free. She smiled at me as she approached, and I was once again confused as to how best to express my admiration. I really wanted to tell her that she was beautiful in the way that would probably make her nervous, but I eventually settled on offering her a compliment that was anodyne and recognizable. There were a few feet of distance separating us when I said, “You look very nice today Miss Sandra.”
I was dressed in what I call my utility wardrobe, a blue untucked short-sleeve shirt and beige khakis — these are the clothes that I feel most comfortable wearing. I was leaning back against my gray Elantra, anticipating Sandra’s eventual embrace, hoping that she was impressed by my appearance too. “You look very handsome yourself, Mr. Eze,” she said as she extended her two pale arms forward in my direction.
I know what you must be thinking. Or maybe I am just making a presumption of what you’re thinking right now. But if you, the reader, are thinking that what connects Sandra and I is romantic, then it would be wise for you to stop. Because I am convinced that the chances for a romantic connection are effectively nil for two important reasons. The first is that I’m skeptical that two people who have struggled with mental illness for so long can work as a couple. Secondly, Sandra and I will not risk losing what keeps us in each other’s lives: our friendship. I know that I am fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to appreciate Sandra without it having to lead to anything beyond the boundaries that have been set.
Have you ever been to the Atomic Cowboy? If you are ever in the Denver area, I would recommend that you visit. Though somewhat tucked in between the other buildings that line the street upon which it is located, the Atomic Cowboy is a distinctive enough structure for those with a discerning eye. The outer visage is composed of beige bricks and huge tinted windows that face the south. It is situated along an up-and-coming section of west Colfax, a few blocks west from the hospital where I work. When you’re driving or walking along Colfax, look for the sign with the crisscrossed fluorescent rolling pins located above the equally fluorescent “A” and “C”.
The Atomic Cowboy has become a gathering place for Denver’s upper and professional classes, but it also prides itself on being a welcoming environment for people of all religions, sexual orientations, races, creeds, and colors. The Denver Biscuit Company occupies the same space as the Atomic Cowboy and serves brunch everyday within its walls. On that particular afternoon those walls were fit to burst with dozens of hungry and grinning patrons. Sandra and I were seated in between two young couples at the bar. The two of us, along with everyone else in attendance, had come to partake of the famous biscuits plates.
What’s that dear reader? You want to know why the Denver Biscuit Factory’s biscuits are so well renowned. I am not really in the position to speak to the preferences of total strangers since every human being is allowed to approach their Denver Biscuit Factory experience in a way that befits him/her. So, I am going to give you my reasons for why I love the food. The biscuits are these two humongous fluffy pieces of doughy heaven that are served with meat, sauces, gravy, and cheese sandwiched in between. The tops are then slathered with delicious accoutrements like syrup, butter and whip cream. The concoction is lanced by a long wooden stick that connects the sandwich’s components. Sandra and I chose to satiate our ravenous appetites with the Lola, a huge biscuit with a piece of buttermilk fried chicken and a strip of bacon in between. Hot maple syrup overflows every inch of the biscuit sandwich before the remainders settle onto the dish upon which the biscuit has been served.
Before I ate, I replayed a review that I’d read in my mind. In it the writer describes what it feels like to eat a biscuit sandwich from the Denver Biscuit Factory, saying that it imbues his body with a warmth that could sustain him through a brutal snow storm. My take on the experience is different from his. I know that each bite adds to the debauchment of my taste buds and the the clogging of my arteries, which makes me more gleeful since I’m breaking the rules imposed on me by my physician. I occasionally wash down bites with some fruity delicious alcohol, compounding the number of calories that my body is ingesting and processing.
The bartender, a charming blond man who has been trained to be cognizant of the imperative to seat waiting customers, tries to accelerate our experience with questions that are ostensibly related to our welfare. How are you guys doing? Are you guys doing all right? Sandra and I continued to eat at our own pace, savoring each and every morsel of food. Once we’d finally consumed the entirety of our dish and the bartender whisked our plates away, we turned to each other. I smiled at her while raising my glass into the air. “Can we make a toast?” I asked.
Sandra smiled back at me and hoisted her glass in the air until it was level with mine. “Let’s do.”
“We met at the university ten years ago,” I said. “And in that time, you have become my longest and best friendship.”
Sandra’s bottom lip quivered and her eyes watered. “You’re mine too.”
“I also want to congratulate the both of us for surviving our illnesses. Knock on wood.” I rapped my knuckles on the bar three times with my free hand. “We’ve been able to build stable lives for ourselves in spite of our circumstances. To stability and the enduring friendship of two formerly lost souls.”
“To stability and the enduring friendship of two formerly lost souls!” she exclaimed.
We clinked our glasses after toasting and gulped down the remaining portion of our beverages.
It was an uncomfortably hot afternoon in downtown Denver on June 15. It was also a bitter sweet day for me since Sandra and I were visiting the Denver Comic Con Convention on the last weekday before the end of my very productive staycation. Denver Comic Con is one of the biggest festivals of its kind, a familiar gathering area for the city’s geeks, nerds, and weirdos. Sandra and I were two people drifting amongst several thousand people who had purpose. After a while we were afraid that we may never find each other.
I spun around the room and then texted her. Where are you?
She quickly wrote back. I’m where you told me to be. Where are you?
I replied to her. I’m here too. Are you really at the place that we said to meet?
She replied. Yeah. I’m right here.
I shook my head. I’m so confused right now.
It turned out that we were standing within a few feet of each other, on opposite sides of the Dazbog Coffee Shop that is located just inside the convention center’s east side doors. Shortly after we reassured each other with a traditional embrace, we started walking briskly in the direction of the festival. Sandra and I were two people with a purpose now.
It was Friday, the first and the least popular day of the three-day festival. But you wouldn’t have guessed it because the entire area of the convention center was crawling with attendees, the majority of whom were dressed in regalia that was more than just an approximation of the outfits that are routinely donned by our beloved science fiction and fantasy characters. Spiderman made an appearance there. So did Luke Cage, Superman, Pokémon, and Wonder Woman. Every one of my favorite fictional comic and science fiction characters had been brought to vivid life. Those who dressed up as these fictional characters were called cosplayers, or costume players. And for many of those cosplayers it wasn’t enough to simply dress up as a character. When asked by complete strangers to pose for photos and videos, the cosplayers chose to fully inhabit characters as the cameras flashed. These performance artists left no daylight between the fictionalized characters and themselves. It was a thrilling phenomenon to witness.
Cosplayers were once thought of as strange and mentally unbalanced by the general population, social outcasts who spent all of their time masturbating in front of their computers, misanthropic virgins who were unable to socialize with the opposite sex. On this day they were allowed to blend in with the plain dressed people, secure in their numbers, devoid of fear and shame, validated and celebrated for being performance artists who dare to be weird and abnormal.
After spending a significant amount of time observing this famers’ market of freaks, shopping for novels, comic books, and posters, we walked over to room 404 to attend a series of forums designed for aspiring writers. We sat all the way in the back of the room in two black adjoining chairs, content with our obscurity. The room was about half-full, though bursting with a palpable energy. Professional writers sat behind a table atop the dais and patiently answered all incoming questions from eager audience members. We were hoping to learn more about the craft of writing, perhaps glean some useful ideas on how to become more skilled and prolific creator of stories. The professional writers did divulge some ideas that were worthy of retention. Sandra and I scribbled them down on glossy new notebooks as they were disseminated to the crowd. That said, the useful ideas were too few to satisfy my appetite. Shortly after coming to this disappointing realization, I leaned over in Sandra’s direction and grumbled. “I know that they’re holding back a lot of stuff. Seems like they don’t want to give away their competitive advantage.”
Sandra nodded in agreement. “Yeah. I was hoping that we would get more.”
Time was almost up and I was preparing for departure when a slight young woman in the front of the room raised her hand. She stood up quickly after she was selected and asked her question. “Do you all feel that outlining is a mandatory prerequisite for writing a great story?”
My ears suddenly perked up like those of a hungry wolf who had caught the scent of a very vulnerable deer. This is the one question that I was waiting for but had been too proud to ask. Each one of the authors offered his/her perspective on their approach, and, to my relief, I heard that some of the most successful authors in the country believe that outlining can constrain their creative process. And in that instance my approach to writing, and my existence as a creator of stories had just been validated by actual writing professionals. My impression of this forum immediately changed. I turned to Sandra again and whispered, “This forum was so freaking awesome.”
Our day ended at 6:00 pm. The streets were still replete with Comic Con revelers and cosplayers, but it was time for the two of us to retire for the day. We agreed on plans for our next outing before hugging and saying goodbye. As Sandra and I went on our separate ways I became convinced of two very important facts. Firstly, I didn’t regret not going to San Francisco. I saved a lot of money — San Francisco was a five-day trip — and probably some stress by choosing to celebrate my stability in my hometown. Secondly, having an annual celebration to look forward to will be a good motivator for good behavior. Celebrating stability shall become a part of the elixir that keeps me sane.
I’ve already began to formulate a plan for next summer. Travel alone to a far-off place on a plane and conquer a fear.