For the last week - last month, really - I've been unwell. I figured it was just another winter-to-spring virus, or possibly the onset of hayfever. But it didn't account for the great frustration, the great sadness, that I felt. I was angry at the world, and I didn't know why.
A timely reminder from a friend told me: it's been a year.
It's been a year since Miguel Martins died. I still miss him greatly, even having only met him for a few days in Texas. But we knew each other about as well as Lovecraft and Howard knew one another: we exchanged emails, debated on matters Howardian, historical and (sometimes) hysterical. The conversation's reached a lull.
I never got around to posting the fifth Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains, and I figure now is as good a time as any to explain why: it's going to be the last time I'm going for the foreseeable future. It has become financially impossible for me to continue jetting off half a world away for a month each year, often with a month or two's preparation and most of the previous year's money going on the plane tickets alone. Every day in Arizona and Texas, I felt tremendous pangs of sadness, as I knew that this might be the last year I go.
I disclosed my feelings to a select few of my friends there. I had thought - as I always did - that this would be the last year. The first year, it was a "once in a lifetime" event. The second, it was just the one encore. The third would be the last time, definitely. Then... well, that's how things went, isn't it?
I could no longer put off the inevitable. Until my financial and professional situation improves, Cross Plains will have to do without me this year. I'm tearing my guts out, of course: Mark Schultz was going to be there, and I would've loved to talk Xenozoic Tales with him. I would've relished talking with Jeff Shanks about the new Conan RPG coming out. I would've been overjoyed seeing all the friends I'd made over the past five years again. I'd made even more friends in Arizona, at the Phoenix Comic-Con, and beyond.
I'll relate one story from the Fifth Invasion. Patrice Louinet was the guest of honour. I was excited: here was someone from closer to home making a similar journey to me and Miguel. The English Channel, so long seeming such a barrier between island and continent, now seemed a mere babbling brook compared to the immensity of the Atlantic; the great expanse of England a patch compared to the grand expanse of North America. So of course I felt a tremendous kinship with him, being fellow Europeans, rekindling the fires of the Auld Alliance. But more importantly, we knew Miguel.
So we talked about our mutual friend. Miguel was naturally a fixture of the French Robert E. Howard community, and Patrice knew him well. He told me a lot about him, his family, and his circumstances. And we shared a moment that I think Miguel would have appreciated. Then, talk wandered to the French Howard community, and of the annual gathering which took place: I was assured I would love it (I don't know, a Robert E. Howard gathering, is that really "me"?) and I seriously considered going. Unfortunately, it was in October, and I was in no mood to be doing anything that month, that year.
This year is very different. I found a spring in my step. The world didn't seem quite so dark. I think on some level, conscious or otherwise, everyone leaves a trace of themselves somewhere, like thread catching on a fence: that thread is always tethered to you through the aether, always connecting you to the places and people you love. There's a thread caught on a cactus in a little garden in Surprize, Arizona; there's another snagged on the door of the Phoenix Convention Centre; one wrapped on the fence of 36 and Avenue J, Cross Plains. Every so often, I feel those threads tugging. Reminding me that there's always a piece of me in Texas.
But it isn't just places, it's people: I have threads stretching to wonderful people in Texas, Arizona, Kansas, California, Florida, New Mexico, Canada... and Japan. England. Germany. France.
I may not be returning to Texas this year. But there's a whole world out there, and many strangers waiting to become friends. I've been to Paris before, as a young boy: a thin, gossamer thread at Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, Disneyland Paris. That thread could do with a reinforcement.
I owe it to a friend.
“But he was a Frenchman. You can’t expect a Frenchman to live hundreds of years. Not in these times. The French are smart people. You can’t fool a Frenchman.”
- Robert E. Howard, "A Glass of Vodka," letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, ca. September 1932