There’s no such thing as a fake nerd, or geek, or even just a fan. You know why? Because you can’t fake love.
There are few photos in my archive I love more than this one. It’s not because I think I look great or because it was taken by one of my favorite photographers; it’s because these kids were so excited to merely be in my presence. And instead of instantly seeing the 20 extra pounds and adult acne of days past, I see the joy in their eyes and remember how enthusiastic they were to meet a complete stranger who simply wanted to dress like someone both she and they admired.
I was Lara Croft that day. The costume wasn’t anything special, just a simple riff off Angie’s movie stills. I knew some of the hardcore VG fans would glare a hole right through me, but I didn’t care. I was there to have fun with my friend for her birthday and to get a chance to wander around as a pretend badass all day.
As I suspected, there was a group of “real nerds” who scoffed at my get-up, but there were always many more accommodating folks to jump into a group photo with or give a knowing glance toward. These welcoming people are the ones I call my own, the geeks and nerds and oddballs who just want to have fun doing what they do and loving what they love. I was mostly content, enjoying the frenzy of energy around me.
So as I passed by a delightful version of VG Lara and smiled at her, I was pretty caught off guard when she made what I imagine is her “vomiting violently into a dirty toilet” face before turning her eyes elsewhere. I was about 10 seconds away from getting angry, cursing this small but pointed group of people for ruining my day! For ruining a fun time, for ruining so many others’ day, for RUINING EVERYTHING! ...
… When the cutest little boys (they’re probably 30 – I have no age-o-meter) I’ve ever seen came barreling towards me, their eyes filled with a fire I can still recall three years later. The first to reach me squealed a little and sputtered out “CAN I HUG YOU?!”
He gingerly put his arms around me before going full nerd-hug and squeezing ‘til his con sweat had thoroughly drenched me. His friends all asked the same question before also asking if they could have photos taken with me. I tried to pose in character, but it was impossible to wipe the smile from my face. They were so undeniably happy, and I had brought them that joy in way no one else could. That feeling is one I haven’t had often since, but one I’ve never forgotten.
What I felt that day is what I’ve come to realize is what I want my life to be all the time. I want to be among my people, whoever they are, and give them that feeling again. I want to make a living making other people happy, arriving in a room, and just hugging them until they feel like they’re okay to let go again. And I don’t want those precious people or myself or anyone I’ve yet to meet feel alienation ever again from a group they thought they were safe with.
I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I do know I’m gonna… and I’m gonna soon.
(All photos by the fabulous Dawen Huang)