Waking up and preparing for the last day of Phoenix Comicon was accompanied by a very strange, very heavy sense of doom. After two days spent on the top of a tower of awesome, where it seemed like everything was going good for me, where I was happy and at peace with myself as a geek, I just suddenly had this feeling that it was only inevitable that the tower of awesome would fall down on top of me, crushing me and undoing all the progress and achievements I had unlocked during the whole trip. We checked out of the Super 8 motel we’d stayed at that night, and I was so tired and so distracted by the sense of doom, that I nearly ran a red light or two on our way back downtown, and Tanya undoubtedly questioned my sanity and my driving capabilities as a result. We parked in the same garage we had been, and made our way to the convention center, where I had one final mission.
I wanted to talk to Wil again. I wanted to walk up to him and let him know just how much I appreciated everything he’d done, thank him for being so awesome, for making this weekend so terrific. I hoped it wasn’t against the rules, the invisible ones I always convince myself that exist, that I take up his time without purchasing anything. Tanya reassured me it would be, that he would enjoy being thanked, but the voice of self-doubt, which had been largely silenced during the length of the convention, was starting to talk again.
I decided first to go to a morning panel on lolita costuming (there are geeky things I like other than Wil Wheaton, I’ll have you know), but the moment that was over, I made a beeline for the exhibit hall.
But when I got to the line of tables that contained his, I found that his chair was missing one vital thing - him. I was crestfallen. Was this the terrible thing my instincts had warned me of? That I wouldn’t get to thank Wil Wheaton, personally?
There was a small line waiting for him, but despite what those comprising it assured me, I was skeptical that he would show up at all. On twitter, he’d announced that he’d sold out of all of his books on Saturday... would he even bother to show up today if he had nothing to sell? (I forgot that he had photos, too). I passed the time by talking to this geek boy who TOTALLY could have been Hank Green’s illegitimate child, I kid you not. (That is, if Hank Green impregnated a girl as a teenager). Impatience and worry clutched me as more minutes swept by, so I went to ask the line patrol people myself if he was coming. They said yes, that he had simply slept in after being up late with his other convention buddies, and should be there shortly. When I walked back to my spot, the nerd boy (who I found out by eavesdropping was named Ashley) grabbed my attention and pointed it towards the booth.
Wil had shown up!!
I couldn’t believe it! My luck hadn’t decided to betray me after all! I clumsily pulled my sketchbook out of my bag and read over the little notes I had made, to be sure I didn’t forget any important points or details. I watched as Ashley had Wil sign a whole bunch of Wesley Crusher stuff, and then as he walked off, I approached.
And because this is a moment I want to remember forever, I feel it’s acceptable to switch the tense of the upcoming section to “present tense,” to create a more active sense of this happening right now, because god I wish it were. I’d been doing this during the whole recollection of the convention, not really consciously. Sorry to the grammar nerds out there, but it felt appropriate.
“Hi again,” I say sheepishly as I reach the table.
“Oh hey!” says Wil’s assistant brightly. She was a heavy-set woman, like me, with long graying hair and an interesting face. “You were so awesome at Rock Band the other night!”
“Yeah you were!” Wil agrees with a girn. My cheeks burn as I accept the compliment, although secretly doubtful he had paid any attention to the drummer while assuming the role of Singing Rock God.
“Sorry for making you sing Bon Jovi... But to be fair you put the idea in my head.”
“I don’t really mind playing Bon Jovi, actually,” he admits. “I’ve done it so many times and everyone always seems to really like it, so I just always end up playing it. I’ve just learned to embrace it and enjoy it.”
I’m relieved by this. My attention turns to my mission, and I shift in place, gripping my sketchbook tightly, glancing down at it. “Um, I just wanted to say a few things...” I murmur with a twinge of shakiness to my voice. I look up from my sketchbook with an apologetic face. “I, uh, had to write them down, so I wouldn’t forget. I’m pretty forgetful.”
I can’t remember exactly what Wil’s reaction was to this, I was too busy staring at my sketchbook. I assume he said “Okay,” and settled back to listen to my words, maybe half-expecting a poem or something stupidly fangirly like that, I dunno.
I take a deep breath, well up my courage, but found myself unable to say the first thing written on the paper. I glance around at the exhibition hall, as though looking for something to help me.
“You know, this is only my second convention,” I say, glancing over at Felicia at the next table, and the gaggle of geeks surrounding her, holding their various convention purchases and taking pictures.
“Yeah, the first was San Diego last year - so you can totally imagine how much of a contrast I’m experiencing here. But I, um...” I swallow back the nervousness in my throat. “I just really wanted to tell you, well.... Thank you. So much. For everything you’ve done for us here at this con. You know, for--” I glance at my list, my mind going blank. What did we do again? Oh, that’s right. “--for playing Rock Band with us, even though we could tell you were really tired. For dancing in with us during geek prom, despite the whole paparazzi stupidness that happened. I mean, I know Felicia didn’t like it...”
“Oh my god tell me about it,” he says, shifting in his chair. “Cameras flashing is one thing, but there were video cameras literally in our faces.”
“I know. That was so dumb. I just wanted to dance with you guys. I can’t believe not everyone else felt that way. After you guys left, I ended up going on twitter and apologized to both of you for what happened...”
“Oh, dude, I totally saw that! I actually was going to respond, but I really couldn’t say what I wanted to in a tweet...
“Oh man I wish you had...” I say in honesty. “That would’ve been so cool. Felicia responded to me. That was insane.” (I realize now, in hindsight, that they were probably in the same place when I sent those., and I kinda wonder what they said to each other about it.)
I turned back to my list, and kinda jump with a grin as my memory is jogged by the next item on the list - good thing I’d written these things down. “Oh my god, and thank you for grabbing that last Rockband t-shirt for me!”
“That was you?? Oh man, I mean, I saw what that chick did! She totally cockblocked you! And I’m pretty sure she had just walked in, whereas you’d been up front enjoying the concert that whole time. I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.”
“It was really awesome of you, seriously. You are so awesome, so totally not a dick! Just, yeah, thank you.” I glance back down at my list, and realize that I am out of things to say. That’s really it? That was all I had to say? It didn’t feel like enough, so I say thank you once more.
But we keep on talking. The order in which things were said is kind of a haze for me, but at some point, I suddenly decide to do something crazy.
“So, you might have noticed me sitting on the floor in front of the stage, drawing, during Rock Band... and I did this really awesome picture of you... I mean, I really like it anyway....” I flip through my sketchbook, following the trail of drawings I’d been following since that night. I find what I’m seeking, and turn the sketchbook around and show him.
Now, his reaction.... I honestly don’t remember. I can’t remember if it was along the level of “Oh, hey, it’s art! I’ve seen that before!” or around the level of “Wow, this is really good art!” or perhaps the level of “This is awesome art! I want it can haz it?!” I do get the sinking suspicion that he, at least the very least, went “Wow, that really looks like me!” and something along the lines of “Nice!”
Whatever the exact reaction, I just know it was positive, and I know as a result, I blushed. “I even got your checkered shoes,” I add sheepishly
“I like the shoes,” he agrees with a nod and a bright grin. He observes it a little closer. “You know, my son’s an artist.”
“Oh yeah?? What does he do? I mean, like pencil or paint or...”
“Nah, he does ink drawings.”
I repress the urge to be really creepy and ask which son it was (he talks about them enough that I was curious). Instead, I ask “Is he going to school for it?” It’s common knowledge, at least, that both of Wil Wheaton’s sons are in college now.
“Nope, he’s mechanical engineering.”
I laugh loudly. “Wow, that’s exactly what my brother is doing! It’s funny, cuz he’s older than me, right? But I kinda just graduated, and I was like ‘Haha, first!’, but then he was like “Let’s see who’s the first to have a career.’”
A wince passes through the faces of Wil and his assistant, like the crowd at a sporting events doing the wave and having it go horrible wrong. “Ouch! Headshot!” Wil proclaims. “That sucks!”
“Yeah, I know... and I don’t even actually have the degree yet. My school wasn’t very good and I didn’t learn very much, so I’m holding out for financial aid reasons and trying to go somewhere else. I’d like to get into Calarts or someplace, for animation.”
“Oh man, Calarts is tough to get into," he comments while looking at my picture a little more closely, "but that is THE school if you want to do animation.”
He would know. He’s in the biz, at least the voice acting side of it.
“Well, this is really good, and good luck getting in,” he tells me, handing the sketchbook back. I take it from him and look at the picture. It really is awesome.
And this is where my memory gets really foggy. I don’t know if he said something to prompt me to do this, or if it was all me, but I glance up from the picture and blurt out, “I could give it to you!”
I do remember his eyes genuinely lighting up in happiness for a moment. But then, his performance side of him jumped into action, concealing his excitement with a veneer of offhanded apathy.
“Oh, you know,” he begins. “It’s no big deal. I mean, it would be awesome if you did. You know, I wouldn’t mind or anything, but you don’t have to. I don’t care.”
As he says this, he sits back in his chair, turning his head away from me, his arms crossed and his nose elevated in a very clear “I’m speaking complete and total bullshit here and if you don’t give that to me I might just walk out and never come back. I’m so serious. Don’t think I’m kidding.”
“Okay, I’ll totally give it to you!” I stammer quickly, my fangirly brain recognizing the possibility of disappointing my geeky idol and taking control in order to prevent his unhappiness. I set the sketchbook down, get ready to rip it out, when suddenly, I pause.
You don't have a good picture of it, that voice in my head, the not-so-nice one, tells me. You only have a cell phone picture. God, you're so dumb....
Look, I tell it silently with a sigh. It's too late now. It'd be a dick move to take back my offer just because I'm selfish and want this all to myself. It’s just a drawing, and Wil Fucking Wheaton wants it. Bite me, and let me do this.
I fumble in my pocket clumsily “Just, uh, give me a sec....” I tell Wil, and I pull out my pencil and erase “Stage left” from the top, and hope the already-erased “Just a Geek? No, so much more!” caption isn’t too obvious. I sheathe my pencil and prepare to tear the page out, and realize that my sketchbook isn’t perforated. I shakily apologize the fact that I can’t rip a clean line or anything.
“Don’t worry about it. I have ways to cut off the fringe when I get home,” Wil says, and I proceed to rip the sketch from its binding, and I quietly and sheepishly hold it out for him, suddenly forgetting how to speak.
“Nuh, uh,” his assistant says with a shake of her head. “You gotta sign it!”
“Yeah, artist has to sign it!” Wil chirps with sparkling eyes.
I freeze, eyes wide, mouth probably agape.
Really? They want me to sign something for him??
So that’s what I do. I pick my pencil back up, and sign something for Wil Wheaton. I'm shaking a little by this point, as I lean over my drawing, struggling to remember what my name even is, let alone how to do my awesome signature.
“I can’t believe this. I’m signing something for you,” I can't help but stammer, my voice squeaking.
“Yeah, it is kind of a bizarre case of role reversal, isn’t it?” he laughs, and leans back in his seat, making himself comfortable. “It’s kinda nice.”
As I finish my signature, he adds that I should write “Phoenix Comicon 2010” on it, so I do. My hand is shaking so badly now that I almost accidentally write Phoeniz. It was my own fault for deciding to use cursive -- worst cursive of my life. I find myself apologizing more than once for being such a clumsy fool, and by now my face is probably full on beet red. Finally, feeling stupid and clumsy, I hand the signed drawing to him, and he looks it over again with a proud, beaming smile.
“Thank you so, so much. This is so awesome,” he says with every bit of sincerity.
“No, thank you,” I tell him.
He passes the drawing to his assistant, telling her to be sure it goes with his stuff he doesn’t want to lose.
“Like the sour cream?” I ask.
“Like the sour cream," he agrees with an even wider grin.
I can tell that our time together is getting close to ending. There are many people behind me now, waiting, and it wouldn't be long before he would have to go to his last panel.
“Thanks again, Wil,” I say.
“No, thank you. You keep going to cons, got it?”
“Don't worry. I wil. And, well, you keep going to cons, too...” I pause a moment, both of us a
little bewildered by my words. I scratch my head and quickly evaluate my reasoning for saying that. “I mean, it’s so awesome that you’ve gone back to having so many acting jobs. You totally deserve it. But I just... I honestly really hope that it doesn’t get to a point where this,” I gesture between us, at the fact that the only thing separating us is a plastic table, “and things like rock band and geek prom just can’t happen anymore.”
Wil looks a little saddened by this. “I hope so, too,” he says, and I know he means it.
I thank him one last time, he thanks me one last time. I wave goodbye, and walk away, feeling on top of the world.
The first thing I remember thinking (besides “Holy crap did that really happen?!”) was that it seemed the feeling of doom I had experienced that morning had nothing to do with this specific thing! My tower of awesome was still awesome, and in fact had a couple more floors added to its height. I called Cory to tell him holy fricken crap I signed something for Wil Fucking Wheaton, and then I met up with Tanya. We took a walk, searching for a specific ATM for her to use (silly credit unions), and we ended up going to the Hard Rock Cafe for drinks and an appetizer, mainly because I’ve never been to one and always have wanted to. While eating an incredibly expensive order of potato skins, I looked at the one clear phone picture I had of my drawing, and realized just how lousy of quality it is, and that nagging self-doubt began tugging on my brain like a hand on a sleeve. I tried my best to ignore it.
The two of us compared notes on the convention over a wallet-busting order of potato skins, Tanya showing me what she'd had Felicia Day sign for her earlier - a print that one of her friends had drawn depicting geek prom. I looked at the print. It’s pretty awesome - stylized, full of energy of the evening, with caricatures of Wil, Felicia, John, and various other geeks in costumes, all dancing to music. It was intricate, it was complete, it was compositionally sound and artfully crafted.... it.... it was really, really good.
Suddenly, my picture didn’t feel so great. Suddenly, I wondered how many drawings and things he gets from people at conventions, especially from people who are actually accomplished artists in their fields, like Tanya’s friend, who had a booth in the exhibit hall.
Voice of Self-Doubt saw its golden opportunity - it lept from under the table and latched onto me like a terrible leech, well-rested from days of relative inactivity and thirsty for my self-esteem.
He’s going to throw it out, you know, it said. He didn’t REALLY like it, he was just being nice. It’s either going to get thrown out, or end up in a box in his garage. An original concept like Radio Free Burrito sour cream is one thing, but he must get a ton of artwork at every convention. And he goes to a LOT of conventions. You’re not special. And now you’re out of a really awesome drawing, all because you were thinking about someone other than yourself. That’s your loss. Dude, you could’ve put that in your Calarts portfolio, for fuck’s sake, if you even have the balls to apply. Not like you’ll get in there! God, you’re such a loser!
Look, brain, I bit back while drinking back a long sip of my Hurricane. Would you shut up before I stab you with my car key?
An idea struck me, and I suggested to Tanya that maybe we should both go back and see Wil. Then, she would be able to get her print signed by him, too, and then I could see if I could get a photo of that picture. That way, if he were to throw it out, I would at least have a good record of its existence. Tanya agreed. After paying and receiving our complimentary (and by complimentary, I mean we paid extra for it) Hard Rock Cafe glasses, she ran off to find the elusive ATM-that-doesn’t-charge-fees and I hurried back to the convention center, a little buzzed from my drink, but excited and hopeful.
This was where my luck finally gave out. Wil’s line had not only made its way out the door, but it’d been capped, since he still had photobooth pictures to do and a panel coming up. I was crestfallen. Here had been a chance to get a photo of that picture, and now it was gone... I turned to leave, trying not to think about it too much, and after calling Tanya to tell her what happened, I headed out to grab a seat for his last panel, Super Happy Funtime with John (Scalzi) and Wil.
The panel before them was Stan Fricken Lee. And here is what’s awesome -- at SDCC, you would’ve had to wait 3 hours - no, probably longer - to go see Stan Lee, and even then, you’d probably be in a terrible seat halfway down a ballroom bigger than the Phoenix Comicon exhibit hall. Yet here, I arrived late, and was still able to stand off to the side and watch. It was really awesome - he was so much cooler than I ever would have expected. (Confession: I’m a DC girl). When he left, I was able to grab a seat in the very front row again. I was astonished, and decided at that moment that PhxCC trumps SDCC in this respect.
I waited an hour or more for the show to start, kinda getting the cold-shoulder by the photographers beside me, who believed I was not a REAL Wil Wheaton fan since I don’t watch Star Trek, whereas they’d been crushing on him since the late 80's. (Their malice was all in good humor, though, if that makes any sense).
The last panel was amazing, and hilarious. I laughed so hard I cried. Both of them were so funny, and what they introduced to the world? Oh my god... I don’t even want to go into it, but let’s just say, it’s a contest, and I’m going to try to win it.
As the panel ended, and the curtains close on Wil and John, my heart is struck by a terrible, horrible realization. It hit like a gong, reverberating cold through my whole body.
This... I think, will be the last time I will see Wil Wheaton for a least a year, if not longer. That means.... the con's ending. ...it's over. It's actually over....
My walk from the ballroon to the sidewalk in front of the convention center was long, my head bowed and my feet dragging the whole way. I stood in the shadow of the building, looking around. I knew I had awhile to wait before we could leave, since Tanya had entered some raffles and I was her ride back home. I grab a seat at an empty table, and just sat there, numb, just thinking about it all. I wanted to feel happy about all the amazing experiences I’d had... I wanted to feel happy about the fact that not only did I get to meet one of my idols, but got to spend so much time near and around him. I wanted to feel happy about how I had finally been able to go to a real small-time convention, had made a couple of friends, and had purchased myself some pretty awesome things. I wanted to be happy about the memories I would have forever.
But any joy I tried to summon was crushed by a rising tide of intense, overpowering sorrow. It grew in waves, rising until one final surge capsized and sunk my heart, bringing a terrible burning feeling to my eyes.
I realized that, for possibly the first time in my life, or at least for the first time in a number of years, I had been truly and completely happy. I’d felt free, I’d felt like myself. The self-consciousness, the self-doubt, the regret and sorrow I’d been dealing with for so long had been perfectly silenced. I didn’t have to actually prove anything to anyone here, not even to Wil. I didn’t have to strive to be normal, didn’t have to check my nerdish impulses for fear of rejection - in fact, quite the opposite, I was encouraged to let them free, and they were accepted. I had laughed so much that I had risked damaging my diaphragm, and had done so many things that I ordinarily would never have done, because for once I had found confidence and courage. Here, I felt like I mattered, that what I enjoy mattered. I felt at home.
I suddenly knew what it meant for me for the con to be over... it meant losing that feeling of peace and liberation. It meant going back to Tucson, to a family who refuses to understand or accept my geeky tendencies, to the crushing reality of unemployment. Back to the depression and the anxiety, the crushing feelings of constant self-doubt and worthlessness that has kept me prisoner for at least 4 years. Back to the bad luck, to never being noticed, to never being appreciated or understood. Back to agonizing over my future and my lack of progress during my time in college. Back to life as I knew it, and life as I hated it.
The whole realization was heartbreaking. I felt like a lost child that had finally found her family, only to lose them again. I sat at that table outside the convention center, watching people walk by, a burbling river speckled with the colors of costumes, everyone heading back to their cars, to their homes, to their real worlds.
I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to leave this place behind. I didn’t want to deal with the pain and depression I knew would be waiting for me when I got home.
And so, I cried. I rested my arms on the table, dropped my head into them, and let the tears fall- silently, so as not to draw attention to them.
I knew I'd had an amazing time. I knew these were all memories I would cherish forever. But all I could think about at that time was what was waiting for me at the end of the freeway, and beyond.
And I didn’t even have my favorite drawing to remember the best part of my weekend by, because Wil had it...
After the long drive back to Tucson, after dropping Tanya off at her house, I parked in front of my house, tears still threatening. I stepped into my house and set down my bags of loot. My little brother greeted me with excitement, wanting to know how it was. My older brother barely nodded at me, absorbed in his food and television. I walked into the kitchen, where my mom immediately asked me how much money I’d thrown away on the stupid Totoro plushy.
Back to the real world....
My mom screamed at us when my little brother Donald and I arrived late to his first day of summer school. She had left work to meet us at his new school, and when we pulled up three minutes after nine, the fury in her face as she ripped the door open would have had Medusa frozen in terror. She screamed at me for letting Donald ride shotgun when he’s not 12 yet, and further lost it when discovering that Donald had forgotten his backpack. She tore him from the car and threw the door closed with such force I was afraid the window would shatter. Tears formed in my eyes as I drove away, my professional clothing making me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious as I drove towards a nearby hotel, where open interviews for a new location of In-N-Out were going on.
Practically a college graduate, and I’m living with my mother and striving to work fast food... and expecting not to get hired... wonderful....
The line of patty-flipping hopefuls snaked out the door, around the corner and halfway down the long-half of the Marriott building. I gaped at the line. There had to have been 250 people there, probably more. Without barely a second thought, I turned around and drove away. I decided it wasn’t worth it at this point -- I was not in the best mindset to face an interview, and I didn’t want to wait in the already bristling Arizona heat for two hours. The opportunity to pull the whole “I got here early can’t you see I’m perfect for your job?” routine had been missed, anyway, and they were holding interviews all day on both Tuesday and Wednesday... I just couldn’t handle it then... and why would they pick me out of the other thousands of people who were applying...?
The drive home was intensely empty. I listened to terrible radio. I kept tearing up thinking about how angry my mother had gotten. I heard my phone make its email notification sound, but I ignored it. I just felt terrible, like I always do.
I pulled into the driveway of my mother’s house and stopped the car, grabbing my phone from its place in the door and stepping out. I fumbled with my keys as I approached my front door, locking my car from a distance with its remote and then fought to identify and isolate the key to the front door. As I did, I absentmindedly checked my phone. Oh yeah, new mail notification, I thought to myself. I unlocked the screen, and asked my phone with a wave and poke of my finger to open up my Google mail inbox.
And saw something I never expected to see.
“Wil, me (2) -- PhxCC Rockband Sketch.”
The number two in parentheses... did that mean...?
Famous people like Felicia Day might respond to one really good tweet.... but famous people never answered emails, did they??
I threw the door open and ran into the house, opening up the email on my phone.
“Wil Wheaton dot me, to me
I’ll scan your picture for you, and email you a copy.
Thanks again for everything, and thanks for listening to RFB!
‘Don’t Be a Dick!’”
After the initial and paralyzing flood of disbelief, the first thing I did was go onto Twitter, and tell the world (well, okay, a small section of the world, which now included 15 new followers thanks to Felicia Day) about how awesome @wilw was.
I dunno when he’ll get around to scanning it, but the reassurance that I would be getting a copy of that picture completed Comicon for me. It was a very well-timed reminder of how amazing the last weekend had been.
Oh, the video of us playing Living on a Prayer together that he embedded on his blog later that day wasn’t bad either... there were even some comments that I, specifically, was pretty awesome, which of course isn't a bad ego boost...
And there’s still the fact that he has to thank me on his next Radio Free Burrito episode for the sour cream.
All-in-all, I have to say Phoenix Comicon was probably one of the best weekends in my life -- ever.
I can't wait for next year.