Il Faut Manger

Dearest Rachel –

This letter is running concurrent with the previous one, because there are that many impossible things to do at the moment. All I’m doing at this point is waiting for the marketplace to open, and then I’ll be going to breakfast. ‘One must eat,’ after all…

The contrast between last night and this morning as I’m walking about is striking. All there is outside the conference center is the sound of birdsong. Even the folks who are up and out of their rooms are sleepy.

I’m not gonna lie, using your ninja bandanna as a sleep mask is positively brilliant.
Meanwhile, it seems like the hotel staff is trying to get a jump on tear down. They’re taking the chairs out of the programming rooms, and Sunday hasn’t really even started yet.

I strike up a conversation with one of the security detail. Evidently, this contract with AI is a side job for her, and she describes the weekend thus far as “interesting.” Granted, she wasn’t here last night in the thick of things, but she heard some stories. She tells me about her family, and how her husband’s been idled by the pandemic – evidently, the Mr. Mom routine is wearing thin on him. She can’t stay long, as duty calls, but it’s pleasant to speak with her.

As it’s Sunday, I have Daddy Cat on my shoulders. Some traditions must be abided by, after all. I’m having a hard time deciding whether I’m more comfortable inside where it’s air-conditioned (lugging a furry Daddy Cat around is more warming than I’d like) or outside, where I don’t have to wear a mask. I eventually settle on the latter, in the roofed pavilion overlooking most of the water. There are so many chairs set up here, all of which are empty, that I don’t have to bother with clutching onto our enormous plushie; I just set him down next to me.

Like so.
Here’s the view from where I’m sitting. Hard to believe this place was filled with maybe a hundred or so revelers barely eight hours ago.

You might remember back in 2017, when it was announced that AnimeIowa would be moving to Des Moines; come that Monday morning, we went around the entire Riverwalk, taking pictures as we went, thinking sadly about how it would be our last time to see this beautiful place.

Well, we were half right.

In the midst of my reverie, I nearly forget what time it is, and that I need to stock up on funds in order to visit the Marketplace. Then, I discover that I can’t find either my room card or my face mask; did I drop them somewhere along the way?

I have to all but dump out the entire contents of the sponsor’s swag bag I’m lugging around as a catch-all before I find both buried at the bottom. At least everything is accounted for, but I feel kind of silly for having to do that when everything I needed was with me all along.

After returning from the Marketplace, new shirt in hand, I get myself situated at a table. Due to the current situation, there are only five seats at each table rather than the customary eight. Not nearly as much socializing as there used to be.

But there’s quite enough. Nightelf joins me, and between the two of us and the occasional additional person that sits down in our table, we managed to keep talking until practically noon.

For all the hassle involved in bringing Daddy Cat with on Sundays, there comes this one brief, shining moment. A young woman comes up, almost in tears, asking if she could hug Daddy Cat. She had been hoping that he would be here, as her father had passed away last September. Somehow, she saw a hug from Daddy Cat as perhaps being a hug from him.

I give him to her to embrace, and we both cry together, mourning our separate losses, and finding what comfort we can in our shared love of this giant stuffed cat. I wish you would’ve been there to hug this girl; you would’ve done a much better job than I ever could. But at least Chiyo-no-chichi serves his greatest purpose; a light of love and nostalgia to warm a stranger’s heart.

No, not a stranger. Just a fellow member of Otaku Nation, and by those lights, a friend whose name I simply don’t know.

After breakfast, Nightelf and I peruse the marketplace together. It’s the sort of thing you and I would’ve done at this point, and it seems both comfortingly familiar and depressingly strange.

We encounter, for the last time this weekend, Erin and Micha and Kyle and Alex, who I introduce to Nightelf, but not before spilling some ice out of my tin soda cup while trying to adjust Daddy Cat. It seems that Micha had run out of clothes, after having sweat through everything she brought, and had to stop at Target for a new crop top and rainbow skirt ensemble. We fill each other in on what’s been happening (Erin never did get to mess with that beach ball last night) and bid our farewells.

There is a decided melancholy air to Sunday afternoon at an anime convention. Everything is coming to a close, everybody is leaving, and there’s very little to draw one’s attention. I don’t even have any cosplay photos for this letter.

Admittedly most of that is because Nightelf and I retire to my room to continue our discussions. N.E. holds a chair at the business school of a university in upstate New York, and the drama involved there is… well, involved.

We talk until almost 4:30, when I suggest checking out the closing ceremonies. They’re supposed to start at five, but they’re already in progress by the time we get there. Everyone is being thanked – sponsors, volunteers, hotel staff, all the attendees. They manage to finish before they were scheduled to start.

So much for “con time,” indeed.

As we file out, Nightelf mentions having Zoom meetings tomorrow morning with the faculty, and suggests we meet again for either dinner tonight or breakfast tomorrow. After all, one must eat.

Since I hope to leave reasonably early tomorrow (although not necessarily as early as the first meeting at 7:30), I agree to the former. We part ways, each to our own rooms, so I can finish this letter to you.

As we pass by the lobby, I do notice one more thing; it’s been there since Friday, and it gets harder and harder to ignore.

You know, I don’t think I ever wanted this thing to be functional as I do right now.

I know it would do me no good, because I’d probably set up some sort of Father’s Day type scenario. But I really would like to see you again, if I only could.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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