Let me set the clock back to 1987, my year from hell. After moving out on my own, I never really had a true girlfriend. By true, I mean someone I had physical relations with. I had a best friend who was female (Kate), but we were platonic. In fact, I knew a LOT of girls and hung out with them as a teen, but it was more because I got along easier with girls than I did with boys. Girls your could talk to. They were introspective. But this "brotherly" relationship had an unwritten rule that forbid me from "crossing the line," as it were, to actually consider dating or having physical relations with them farther than the occasional backrub. I guess I could have broken the line, but I knew this would cause me to become viewed as a predator, not an ally, and since I depended on females to provide me companionship and intelligent conversation, my libido was kept quite in check. So in order to be with girls, I had to be like them, and sadly, never have an intimate relationship with them. Looking back on it, despite the occasional moments of social discomfort, I still think I did the right thing. I never had to worry about getting anyone pregnant, getting an STD, or causing some political rifts between dueling factions.
But high school ends for all of us, doesn't it? :)
When I was out on my own, some of my male friends tried to hook me up with some girls. These sad, but well-meaning attempts at hooking me up were misplaced. The girl I wanted had to be more than just a pretty face, she had to have a mind, a spirit, and a grace and charm that transcended beyond the physical barrier. My friends assumed I wanted to get laid. So they hooked me up with some skinny girls who looked like models. But in each case, there was a reason they were single. Most of these girls and I never clicked in the first place. It was awkward, and we often would try to diplomatically escape each other at the parties we were paired up at. Some girls were just downright… not all there. One lined her bedroom with tin foil to keep out the cosmic rays, and slept with a pyramid under her bed. Another started beating herself up at a Denny's, screaming "Stupid, stupid, STUPID!" when she made a minute social blunder. After a while, these friends who set me up were becoming upset that I "wasn't trying." I became distressed. They said my standards were too high, and that girls for the most part were "mysterious creatures" that "played games." This made their choices even more unappealing, the way they described it was like I was dating out of my species, blecch! I had one fling with another girl named "Mary" (named changed to protect her identity, you will see why later) for a week or two, but she decided that I wasn't what she was looking for, and she wanted to let me down easy before it became too intimate. So even on my own, I was striking out.
At EveCon 5, I was doing a roving security shift, and I overheard my friend Betty discussing a potential security threat to one of her assistants. Betty and her husband Jim (now known in the local pagan community as Elspeth and Nybor) were friends of mine from the convention community. I met them at EveCon 2, when Betty and Jim were selling stuffed dragons that went around your neck, and they were also guest artists. I really got to know them at EveCon 4, when they were on some panels I was on. So I asked Betty if the security team needed to know about this incident, and she said she was handling it. We got to talking, and the topic inevitably fell on my problem with girls, and not finding what I was looking for, and wondering whether I should even try to look. Betty and I talked for a while, and she introduced me to Joanne, one of her assistants. Joanne was a very perky, happy person, and we got along great. She did some tarot readings for me, and we spoke for a long time about relationships, and how she dealt with them. She told me not to worry so much (advice I got a LOT in those days), and answered some of my spiritual questions as well. The tarot reading was right on the mark, as I recall, and showed me that despite this horrible year, I would come out finding what I was looking for in the end. I was suspicious of the reading, and I had someone else do one later that weekend, and was shocked to find the reading the same. Before Betty left, she asked me if I would like to be one of her assistants. I declined, stating that I had a good job already, and that I would be depriving my roommates of some needed income.
I mentioned Betty's offer to a friend of mine one day, and she became very curious why Betty would just up and offer me a position. She was so curious in fact, I became curious, and I decided to ask Betty when we met again, which would probably be BaltiCon (years later, I was to discover, this friend who was curious simply turned out she didn't believe me and was calling my cards on this obvious ruse). For months, planning to go to BaltiCon was a roller coaster of deciding whether to go or not go. First, I didn't have the money, then I did. Then I didn't have the time off, but then I got it. Then I didn't have a place to stay, but my good friend Dave was going there to meet up with his friend, Mark Rogers, author and illustrator of "The Samurai Cat" and other works. He said I could room up with him, and didn't even charge me money. I recall Dave's exact words, "Why should I charge you, are you breathing my air?"
Shortly before the con, some female friends of mine wanted to hook me up with this girl called Marilyn. Marilyn was a few years older than I was, and she lived in New York City, but on the phone we got along great. She was a really fast and wordy person; she spoke probably over a hundred words a minute. She had just got out of a relationship with someone else, and was looking for someone who her friends thought I would be. We agreed to meet at BaltiCon. Another tarot reading confirmed I'd meet a love interest there. I was excited over finding someone, and counted the days until then.
Well, the day came, and Dave and I drove up to Baltimore. On Friday, I got to meet Marilyn in person, and she was not whom I expected her to be. For starters, she looked overly professional, and not fannish at all. She was dressed in a polyester business suit with a dickey and pearls. She looked like she should be part of the hotel's public relations staff, not in fandom. But we got over that fairly quickly, and soon she entertained us with her hilarious stories of working in downtown Manhattan. I think one of the things I remember most about her was that she spoke at about 100 miles per hour. This wasn't a bad thing, it was kind of interesting. She would change subject in mid-sentence, and had a fantastic sense of humor. She had driven straight from work, and we all agreed to go out to dinner together after she got settled in her room and changed into more suitable clothing.
While waiting, I went looking for Betty. Betty was nowhere to be found, and I spoke with some of Betty's assistants. One of them, a new one, tried to sell me a dragon that went around my neck. I already had one that Cindy (a.k.a. Ladyhawke) had special-made for me, so I declined. This new assistant told me Betty was "around somewhere," so I went looking for Betty.
While looking for Betty, I found a friend of mine who told me Marilyn was so tired, she got a headache, and had fallen asleep. I was a bit bummed, so I went to dinner at a Steak House with her friends, which was wholly uneventful until we got the bill. I found that I had left my money and ATM card at home. Doh! One of the girls paid for my bill, which I profusely promised to pay her back. But I think I pissed off someone at the table, because no one would talk to me anymore. We went back to the hotel, and I managed to get into the merchant's room and found another friend of mine, Nancy. Nancy runs a company called, "The Calligraphic Button Company," which is famous on the East Coast for selling fandom-related buttons. She was short-handed on Saturday, and said she could pay me if I was willing to work the table all day. For $6/hr, I was glad to. I would be able to pay for last night's meal plus have money for food for the rest of the weekend.
The next day, I started early. I found Betty, and she properly introduced me to the new assistant I met earlier as Chris, and "this is her first convention." My first thought was, "Oh, boy. Now I am gonna have to explain the people in chain mail." Often, FanTek had me do the press runs for their conventions, and most of these reporters, who were either from small papers or local schools, had little to no idea about the science fiction media. Often, they would take pictures of the nerdliest costume, and make it their opening photo. Then they would misquote things they saw or heard said, and so when I finally saw the article, it would say, "Star Trek fans everywhere flocked to this hotel, where Mr. Craig Lawson joked 'Beam me up Sandy, I ate my phazor,' explaining the Dungeon Dragon gamers who rolled dice Vegas style to the tunes of Depesche Mode." So I was a wee bit non-plussed I would have to explain things to a newbie on my "con off."
Well, I didn't have to.
Chris and I got along great. Really great. From what was the mouth of a high school student from West Virginia came complex philosophies and concepts that were parallel to mine, and without much help, she already deduced basics of some of the weirdoes that often inhabited the con medium. Sorry, I am still impressed when I see someone join fandom, and say, "Oh, that's not sooo weird…" Even thought we had different lifestyles and backgrounds, we shared a common philosophical theme. Nancy's table was right across from Betty's table, so during our breaks (or her breaks, anyway), we chatted and decided halfway through the day that we were going to get together after the room closed.
Working Nancy's table was hard. Nancy was having some work being done on her back, so she left the table to me and another guy who was also working for her this weekend. To give you an idea of what we were working with, Nancy's table is actually several tables long, filled with small, easily shoplifted buttons. Also, the cash at that time was a small metal box with no dividers. This other guy and I memorized the price list, and chanted "They are $1.50 each, 4 for $5, 10 for $12, or 18 for $20" (or something like that). At least once a minute, while we checked the levels of each button, and made more on the fly as one popular kind would run low. Halfway through, this guy's wife showed up. She was a nasty woman; a downright mobile home, trailer-trash poster girl. Down to the house robe, flip-flops, and the un-bathed kid. She started harping on this guy that she was sick of being in the hotel room, taking care of the kid, and the kid did something bad, and what was he going to do about it? The guy tried his best to explain he was earning money for them, but she didn't care, and so with a meek apology, he said he'd be right back. I never saw him again. So from 3pm until close at 7pm, I ran that table by myself. Actually, Nancy came back shortly before close, apologizing that her back work left her in pain, so she took some medicine, and fell asleep. I told her about the other guy leaving, and she looked really upset (in the pity sense), because she knew this guy was really hard up for money. I helped Nancy count the money, and I was stunned to see we made over $2300 that day. A button at a time. Wow. She overpaid me, saying I had earned it, and told me she and some friends were invited to a dinner with Tim Hildebrandt (a VERY famous Fantasy artist) at the local Chinese food place, and would I like to join them?
I declined. I didn't want to stand up Chris. I declined a dinner with Tim Hildebrandt. That still amazes me. I didn't even know if Chris would show up, since she got a headache and left the merchant's room early. Nancy said okay and thanks again, and could I do some hours for her tomorrow. I said I would see tomorrow. Then I went to Betty's table. I asked Betty, "Why did you want me to be your assistant," and although time has erased the real wording of the answer from memory, I recall she said something to the effect of, "Well, you looked like a hard-luck case." Ouch. So much for deep meaning. Well, anyway, she said Chris was up in the room, and to knock on the door. I went through the maze of passages that made the Hunt Valley Inn, and finally got to the room. But no amount of knocking produced an open door. So I went back to Betty, and she sent me up with Jim, who had his arms full of his prints. When we got to the door, he told me to knock loudly. I did, and no one answered. Now, Jim is a big fellow. Built like a shipyard worker, he is a very imposing figure, and he was NOT pleased that he had to put down his stuff, and he proceeded to show me what a loud knock is. I a surprised the door didn't break. He banged on the door with the flat of his forearm, BANG BANG BANG!!! A few second's later, I saw Chris's face open the door. She was wearing nothing but a towel, dripping wet. "Open the door!" yelled Jim.
He invited me in. Chris stayed in the bathroom, getting ready. Jim, Betty, and some of the assistants came in one by one, and discussion started. I saw Cindy (Joanne's best friend), Scott (with long, flowing hair), Dean, a guy named Flower Child, someone named Merlin, and a girl named Carol. Then Betty asked the big question, "Grig, what do you think about Pagans?"
What an odd question. I knew it was also loaded. As a young boy, I recall books I had read about witchcraft and paganism, but I didn't recall the fact from fiction. My answer was as non-committed as possible, stating I was not sure of the definition. Betty and Jim then told me that they were witches, and that most of the people in the room were also practitioners of the ancient arts. I had been in fandom for several years at this point. I had seen or heard of gay biker parties, Rocky Horror productions, orgies, LSD parties, and a large range of odd people and practices. I had learned early on not to judge. So their announcement of this seemed no stranger to me than anything else. I explained that to them, and got a few smiles. There was some discussion about the religion before Chris was ready to go.
I felt strange. No girl had ever PREPARED for me before. We decided to walk around the convention, but we kept talking, and I was getting winded. We stayed in the lobby for a while, where we discussed her family. Then as the costume call let out, it got too loud. Then we were in some sort of outdoor patio, where we discussed Mormonism. Then is got too cold, and we found a secluded spot near a hidden elevator. We gave each other backrubs, and it got friendly without being all kissy-poo. I recall I leaned back in her lap while she played with my hair. But it was getting really cold. So I decided to go back to the hotel room.
Keep in mind, I never played "relationship games." Inviting her back to the hotel room was for purposes of warmth, since we could turn up the heater. Dave was not there, so we went looking for him. To my utter embarrassment, when I found him, I asked for the key to the room so Christine and I could talk. I don't think anyone there believed me for one bit, but I didn't find this out until later. Christine told me that was really embarrassing when we went back to the room, and she had to explain it to me. I told her my intentions were honest, and if she felt uncomfortable, we could go elsewhere. But we went back to the room, and had hot and steamy wild, wild sex like crazed weasels.
Okay, I am joking! All we did was talk. Honest Dave! I don't think Dave believes me to this day. But we talked until maybe 2am. I am sure people assumed we jumped each other like crazed fleas, but the only contact I remember was touching her ankle, and feeling a small scar. She said she had a small operation on her leg, and I recall feeling something deep inside of me that said this was the right girl. Because she had an operation on her leg? I can't recall, but it made sense to me at the time. My life is filled with weird deja-vu's, foreshadowing, and other strange phenomena. When she had to go to bed, we exchanged addresses.
I didn't know it at the time, but she fell for me, and fell hard. I thought I was the only one, I had never had a girl fall for me before, I assumed it was mathematically impossible. After she went back to her room, I roamed for a bit, and sadly, did not know Dave was looking for the key to go to bed. To this day, he swears that Christine and I had wild sex and locked him out of his room. During that night, I met "Mary", who was very drunk, and crying hysterically that the man she was after turned out to be a lech. He had said that she could stay with him only if she would sleep with him, which has always struck me as odd, since I thought that's what she wanted. But Mary was very drunk, and hysterical, and talking about how her life was ruined (she was in a bad car wreck that scarred her face), and that no one loved her, and she was going to kill herself. She just kept hugging me with a strangle hold, sobbing and sobbing. I knew she was in no condition to drive, and she didn't have a place to stay. She was doing that kind of crying where she gritted her teeth, and snot was running down her face; she was really in pain. I didn't want to leave her there, so I spent about two hours talking her out of suicide, until she said she was okay, and now had to throw up. I couldn't follow her into the Lady's room, so I say on a small sofa seat nearby.
That whole incident gave me a lot of time to think about Marilyn, Christine, and my relationships. Just before the con, I was so fed up with trying to find a female companion, and my well-meaning friends setting me up with complete dorks, that I finally told everyone if I don't meet anyone at BaltiCon, I was going to give up, and live my life as a asexual hermit. Now, there were three girls who were "potential" candidates, and I kept trying to mentally balance them.
There was "Mary," who now seemed far less stable mentally than I had supposed. There was no guarantee that she felt about me the way I used to feel about her. She let me down so easy, I didn't even think of her as someone to date. But now it was apparent that her knight in shining armor had more rust spots than she could cope with.
Marilyn was nowhere to be found. She was older, and lived in New York. Her female friends thought I was an idea match for her, and she seemed nice, but I didn't even know her. I think one of the big no-nos was that she was about six years older than I was, and I was unsure as to whether she felt the same way. And now her friends were mad at me, even though I had paid them back for dinner by this point.
And then there was Christine. Also long distance, I just met her, but she was more the ideal girl I was looking for. Beauty, brains, and she actually liked me right off the bat. Also she was one of Betty's assistants, which was kind of a plus. Betty was really strict about who her assistants went out with, and that was well known. Rumors of people treating her assistants poorly were… well, let's just say rumors can be quite fanciful. Even I was fully aware if I tried to do something mean to Christine (not that I would on purpose, but my life has been fraught with people who misunderstand me), I would have been in serious trouble.
"Mary" came out of the bathroom, and said she could drive home. Looking back, I shouldn't have agreed. But I did, and she drove home with no incident. Later, she apologized for what she did, and had little memory of it. She said she wanted to keep it that way, and was relieved that she didn't act as stupid as she remembered. It is for that reason I changed her name in this story and kept out some more embarrassing things.
That Sunday, I worked at Nancy's table again. Dave was still a bit… miffed that he was "locked out," but was okay with it. Christine looked really bad, she looked ill, and the last time I saw her she hugged and hugged me goodbye.
Later she ended up telling me that she checked my address I gave her with an address I signed up for at the TK Graphics booth for a free catalog. Apparently, she got the speech. "The Speech" was something I was warned about when I was a wee fan in high school. My friends Britta, Julie, and Amy told me that they never wanted to give me "the speech," which goes something along these lines:
I know he/she said he/she loved you
They live 500 (or some other large number) miles away
They probably have a boyfriend/girlfriend at home
Flings can hurt, you have to let go
If you see them again, it will hurt unless you forget about them
Crying isn't going to help
No, I wouldn't try and write to them if I were you, it will only make things worse
You will be okay, really
Thankfully, I was ugly enough as a teen where I never had this problem of girls who had crushes on me, nor was I a sexual predator, so this never applied to me, although I have seen and given the speech since then. Apparently, poor Christine got this also the whole way home.
We had agreed to write each other, and I would be the first. I started writing her a letter to be sent out Friday. But on Wednesday, I got one from her. It was really strong. It was this long speech about "If you feel the way I do about you please let me know, I am making a fool of myself, here's a picture of my cat, and if you don't feel the way I do, mail me the picture of my cat back." Something like that. I still have the letter, but it's stored in a box somewhere, and I am sure if I printed it, Christine would kill me. I know now why she wrote the letter the way she did, she got the speech and refused to believe it.
So I called her.
I got her mom. At this point, the gravelly voice at the other end could have been anyone. I didn't know if this person would instantly hate me because of this incident, or be neutral, or even like me. I was lucky when I told her who I was, and she called out "CHRIS!"
"Yeah?" I head way off the phone.
"It's Greg Larson, from BaltiCon!"
I heard the thumping of feet dashing up the stairs, and extension picking up, and the sound of her voice, "GOT IT!" That was our first off-con moment.
There was to be many more. I started visiting her in West Virginia, she started visiting me, and at CastleCon 1, I proposed to her. She accepted without pausing. It was nifty. "Would you marry me-" "YES!"
I have made many mistakes in my life. I trusted people who turned out to be enemies. I have said hurtful things and lost good friends. I have been tricked, fooled, and teased. I have been hurt. But the one decision I didn't regret with the most to lose was marrying Christine. When it happened, most everyone I knew thought it was a mistake, we were too young. But the timing was already set, and my bad streak of fortune had been shattered by the little gypsy girl from the hills. I thank the Gods for her every day.
Forever and always.
The next story I will write is about our wedding. Christine is setting up her web site, so I will link to references on her side, and her point of view about things.