On the first morning of Otakon, I took out my makeup case for the first time in a month.
Before that, there’d been no point to wearing makeup if I was just going to cry it off. The tears could come at any time—most commonly, before I was even fully awake in the morning. But this was Otakon, and I was not going to cry. I applied neon pink to the inner corners of my eyes, and then blue for an unsubtle galaxy look. The next day, I added more purple.
The thing about being sad is that you feel trapped alone with your thoughts. But there’s no being alone at Otakon. Amidst some 20,000 people I found the sensory overload I was looking for. I saw lots of old friends and made new ones and hugged everyone who was willing.
After Jess died I knew I needed to keep surviving. I needed to keep eating and sleeping and working and even having fun. My friends and I didn’t cancel a damned thing—even the vacation we planned together with Jess and then went on without her—but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a movie of somebody else’s life. Everything I did, I did with mortality in mind. I wrote letters to all my friends, trying to tell them the things I never got a chance to tell her one last time. I spent too much time combing through school yearbooks and old diaries, trying to recapture all the feelings I felt when she was alive.
I think Otakon was the first time in awhile I felt like I wasn’t just surviving. I was living.
Anime conventions are liminal spaces. Normalcy gets put on pause while everyone takes a weekend to dedicate themselves to joy. Outside the convention walls, the world was falling apart in more ways than one, but the celebration inside shielded me from it all, even if for just a little.
The convention gave me permission to put my trauma on hold. Not only did I not cry at Otakon, I wholeheartedly embraced every activity: from screaming my lungs out at JAM Project, to focusing all my attention on a friend I rarely get to see, to eating really delicious onion rings. Before Otakon, whenever I caught myself really enjoying something, I felt guilty—both because these were things Jess could no longer do, and because being happy, even for a minute, would mean I didn’t miss her anymore. If the pain went away, it would mean I forgot her. Not this weekend though: in the liminal space of the convention, it was too noisy to hear my inner critic.
Besides, that’s not true. As long as I’m here, I will be a living, breathing monument to her memory. She will always be a part of me and many, many others. (I don’t think you realize how many people your life is touching right now, and how many people would be wrecked if you were gone.) It took going to a place that never fails to make me happy—where I really have no choice except to be happy—that I realized I can be happy and I can memorialize her at the same time.
I can’t say this was a permanent change. Just a few days after Otakon was over, I was back to bad dreams and crying jags. I don’t think my life will ever go back to the way it was. (To be honest, I had been waiting to post again until after I “got better,” but before I knew it a month had gone by and I realized that not only is “getting better” not happening, but that it would be even more awful not to be able to remember these painful memories anymore.) There will always be a hole in my life from now on, but at Otakon I realized that doesn’t mean I’m broken.
The days are still hard but I finally feel like I’m looking forwards instead of backwards. The most exciting parts of the future? More cons. I am looking forward to meeting online friends at Crunchyroll Expo this upcoming weekend, paneling at Katsucon 2018, and more.
I think fandom can be a wonderful escape and, I’d argue, a healthy one. I still have to do the work of grieving, but being part of this community has made my burden a little lighter.
Top photo: letters to my and Jess’s friends.