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Saturday, November 15, 2014

I have friends now and it's all Dan's fault.

On the morning of November 1st, my friend Gecko posted on his Facebook that his roommate, our friend Daniel Taraschke, had passed on in his sleep. I will admit that I was very close to posting angrily that joking about death isn't funny, even the day after Hallowe'en, but the more I read down the page, the truer it seemed to be.

I was in shock, and I'm not sure how I feel about the amount of shock I was in. I feel like I should know better than anyone in my circle of friends that none of us is immortal. Mortality and I were bros for a couple years there. But Dan seemed ... larger than life, I guess? Even when you're fully aware that we only have so much time and the universe is ridiculous and cruel, there are some people who still seem untouchable in that regard. You know what I mean. You've all got people like that among your friends, I'm sure. We'll all die eventually ... except this dude here, seriously, that's just not gonna happen. And then it does, and you can't process it, even if you know full well that this is how life is.

There were two memorials at Nekocon this weekend: one in the hallway open to everyone, and one in Panel Room 2 that was a little more quiet and structured. Both had his family in attendance -- I had no idea he had such a huge family, but even if I hadn't known who they were already and they hadn't been wearing matching Mr. Incredible shirts as he often did, I would have been able to guess. I'd never known of them before now, but it was wonderful to see them all there, his family with his con family, both groups enjoying meeting and learning about the other.

There were a lot of people in attendance that I hadn't seen in months or even years. But what really got me was the number of people I didn't know. There were total strangers of all ages, people who'd known him since before I knew what cons were, people who met him last year and were already close with him. I knew he was gregarious and that people knew who he was, but I had no idea just how far his reach had been.

I didn't get up to talk at the open memorial when they asked for people to because I just can't talk at funerals or memorials. It's not in my skill set, and at the time I felt I had nothing because while we'd known each other since I was in college, our face-to-face interactions were low anymore. But I listened to everyone else, and I heard stories over and over of him meeting people, introducing them to his wider circle of friends, making them feel comfortable, helping them come out of their shell ... and then somewhere in the middle of the second, more personal memorial, I remembered that I was one of them in the most basic and straightforward way.

Back in April 2001, I started drawing a webcomic because I wanted to teach myself to learn to draw. I made jokes about conventions, specifically the sort of subculture I saw emerging at anime cons where some people were just known, and I joked on a few people (affectionately) by name.

I'd been doing this for maybe a month or two, mainly to keep myself amused, when I got my first bit of feedback. It was from 'Big Danny T.' I'd heard of him in passing (as mentioned above). He informed me that he was reading my comic and noted that I was making jokes concerning him and his friends.

I panicked. I'd never meant to be mean, and as far as I knew I wasn't actually saying anything about them, just commenting on the fact that there are 'inexplicable con personalities.' The idea of hurting a stranger's feelings was pretty disgusting to me. I apologised and said I'd take down anything that came across as insulting.

'No no no,' he said, 'I think it's hilarious! I'm gonna show the rest of them!'

And thus, in one fell swoop, Dan built me a readership and introduced me to friends that I still have 13 years later.

I had completely forgotten about that incident until I heard other people talking about how they met other friends through him. When I introduced myself to a couple of his siblings later, I dropped a hugely truncated version of that in.

'Really, it's Dan's fault I've been going to cons as long as I have and have all these friends.'

'Yeah, we've been hearing that a lot.'

The last thing we talked about was that he'd finished Ashes to Ashes and I wanted to pick his brain about what he thought of the ending. I'm trying not to think about how weirdly appropriate that is, or that I'll never get to pester him to get fitted for some crocodile boots because he coulda make a damn good Gene Hunt if the idea ever took his fancy.

I guess I'm just glad he had the time he had, that his sendoffs have been attended loudly and heavily and enthusiastically, and that so many people told their stories. And I imagine I wasn't the only one at the time who couldn't ... so I have no idea how many stories are out there. I hope over time everyone else will tell their own.

In the meantime, there are gonna be tons of awkward con newbies with one less person around to befriend them and make them feel welcome. So if you're a seasoned congoer, do what you can when you see one of those people. I think Dan would want us all to help pick up the slack.