A year ago, someone you never knew died. I’m not talking about a comic book writer or artist. Not some unsung inker or letterer. This article isn’t about a beloved staff member of a comic company in New York City. It’s not about a retailer beloved by customers all around the world. No, this article is about my friend Travis.
I can’t tell you how many times I have sat down to write this tribute. To be honest, I never could get my story straight on it. It would either turn out too sappy or it would just stall somewhere around the middle. Other times, I would make a mental note to get on it, but the memorandum would get stuffed away like an old issue in the long box of my mind.
I have recently had some serious issues with insomnia, and the medicine I take makes me have vivid, and at times, intense, dreams. Travis has populated those now for a few weeks. It was like he wasn’t letting me go; probably more like I wasn’t willing to let him go. The other night in my dream, I asked him why he did it, why he committed suicide. He just smiled, and the article you are reading now hit me. I didn’t need to eulogize the guy; I just needed to talk about him. Not to tell his story completely, but a story. Something that would encapsulate the Travis I knew and loved. A small glimpse into who he was.
Sappy wouldn’t suit Travis. He would want to make you laugh. He was good at that. I hope this small story of a single moment in our friendship does.
My friends and I in high school were like the fanboy version of the Culture Club, a diverse assembly of geeks who could easily rival the United Nations in pop multiculturalism. We had vampire book enthusiasts, Trekkies, Wookies (my idiomatic term for Star Wars fans), R.O.T.C. CADETS, robotics team members, and music and movie buffs. The one thing that most of us had in common, though, was our love for Marvel Comics. Though we had a diverse pool of obsessions, we could have a powwow over Marvel Comics. It wasn’t like we hated DC, but we kind of saw them as the old guard, the lame comics. Marvel was our HBO to DC’s Disney Channel.
By the summer of 1997, we had split into two semiautonomous groups of friends divided along the lines of D&D players and non-D&D players. Travis was in the former, while I was in the latter, though not too firmly. I went as far as creating a character with Travis before the scrutiny of my twin brother and his friend Pitts shamed me into not playing. The group as a whole would get together, usually on Saturdays, to do something together. Travis and his crew knew they had to be finished getting their D&D on before we got to his house because of the aforementioned anti-D&D duo and their relentless attacks.
School had just let out, so we were free from another year of bondage to the man. I called Travis that Saturday afternoon to give him a heads up that we were on the way and to stow the D&D posthaste. He said it was cool because they'd finished an hour or so beforehand and were just talking about comics.
By the time my crew got there, Travis and our friend Chris were already knee-deep in a geek-tastic argument: what was Marvel’s worst move - the Clone Saga or Onslaught? Travis, being the diehard X-fan of the crowd, of course went with Clone Saga. Chris, being the vampire-loving contrarian that he was (and still is, by the way) of course said it was the Onslaught event. The twelve assembled fanboys gathered around the living room and took in the exchange of comic book knowledge blows. The arguments “for” were fast and intense, the arguments “against” summarily ignored by the other. It was a sight to be seen. No one could interject their own opinion due to the heated nature of the exchange between the two parties involved. Mediation was inevitable.
I believe it was my friend J.P. who offered the solution; why not have a sword fight to settle this? Granted, this sounded like rock-solid logic to my nearly-seventeen year old ears. It seemed like a fair way to deal with nerdy differences in opinion that did not involve them having to break out a d20 in my brother’s presence. I’m not sure I would vote against the option today, but the safety of the whole issue is a concern for me.
Travis was a Trekkie who had a bat’leth handy in his bedroom - a Klingon sword. Chris always had some samurai sword in his car because, you know, he had to protect himself from vampires somehow. Being cheered on by the assembled Security Council of Nerds, the two took their differences outside. About twenty feet separated the two combatants, the length of the distance between my car and the other parked car next to the house. I should stop to add that these guys really weren’t mad at each other. Not yet, at least. That would come soon enough. We were young and did many unintelligent things, sword fighting being one of them.
Travis and Chris made exaggerated wails and sword posturing from their respected corners. Travis raised his bat’leth and was presumably speaking Klingon, though it was a dialect I was unfamiliar with. Chris did some high flying ninja twirls in between puffs on a cigarette. I’m unclear to this day as to who actually gave the signal to go, but I remember that they sort of spontaneously charged each other. The moment plays gradually through my mind every time I think about it, the humorous exaggerations of slow motion toying with the space-time continuum of real events. The warriors raced at one another, our eyes getting bigger as they inched for the first blow. Each fighter raised his respective weapon into the air, and with one dramatic swing, they met perfectly between them.
And both weapons shattered to pieces.
I guess Klingon and Japanese weapon making weren't what they used to be. Travis and Chris looked at each other, stunned, for what seemed like an hour. The rest of us? Naturally, we laughed our asses off at the pitiable display of machismo we had conned these two into. After their frozen moment, the two tackled each other. Now, they were mad. Somehow, we tore the two off of each other, and like any good United Nations peace makers, we had the two laughing about it within a couple of hours.
It is asinine times like those that bring a smile to my face when I think about Travis. Those moments were a dime a dozen with him, and I will never forget them. There was much, much more to him than I could possibly tell you here. He was a unique guy who hid his sadness by spending 95% of his time trying to make other people laugh. He turned me on to so many good books, like Preacher and Sin City. He would always try the things I recommended to him. He was just a good guy and I miss him.
The Klingon-Samurai War of June 1997 will go down in the history books as a minor battle between two geeky foes, but I will always enjoy replaying it in my mind. These are the moments I cherish, and the times I will forever miss every year as summer begins.