With tuppence for paper and strings
You can have your own set of wings
With your feet on the ground
You’re a bird in a flight…
I can’t remember when Chris told us about his adventures in competitive kite flying in Japan. I’d known he spent time in that country – when I first ‘met’ him in 1998(?) via the online community Halloween-L, his nickname was “Isolated Loony” because he was living overseas at the time – but I had no idea he had a love of kite-making.
He described an incident in which he had been doing some synchronized team kite flying and an unexpected gust of wind had grabbed his kite hard enough to lift him out of his chair. “I just held on because I didn’t want to interrupt what we were doing,” he laughed, “so it dragged me across the beach until someone finally noticed. After that, I started wearing a seat belt so it wouldn’t happen again.”
It’s maybe my favourite example of how Chris was not limited by his wheelchair.
You can dance on the breeze
Over houses and trees…
Chris created beautiful costumes and haunt props. I watched him do demos on creating bleeding portraits and intricate foam tombstones (he was, in fact, the first person I’d ever seen work so much magic on sheets of pink insulation foam), and he inspired me to want to learn how to make props myself. Truth be told, he is the biggest reason I’ve been a pain in the ass about wanting to learn as much as I could about how to make things, and he’s the reason I’ve remained so frustrated at myself for not creating a mechanical prop or learning how to program a controller.
He also built the most amazing costumes that embraced his wheelchair. From being a passenger in a Doombuggy to being a wheelchair-bound werewolf, he not only created fantastic things for himself but for his partners in crime to wear as well. I don’t have photos to share, but rest assured each one was FANTASTIC.
It seems very fitting that, when I started driving, I traveled to Salem the day after I got my license to meet up with a group of haunters that included Chris for an informal haunt gathering*. He inspired one to simultaneously not let yourself be limited even as you dealt with your limitations with grace and dignity.
During that trip, I stood next to him outside a historical building we had traveled to see and, when we realized he couldn’t make it into most of the building, he said, “I understand. And I’m glad I can see some of it.” That response is perhaps the biggest reason I’ve focused so hard on maintaining wheelchair accessibility in my haunts. There are enough limits in the world for such a chair…why add to the count?
With your fist holding tight
To the string of your kite…
As an east coast haunter, my path crossed Chris’ often enough for me to define him as a friend. When the Transworld trade show started making it harder for haunters to score access to the show floor, I offered Chris a press pass if he’d write an article for me. This came as a surprise to my boss, who saw Chris’ badge and commented, “Oh? You work for me..?
“Yes he does,” I replied, and walked Chris over to the show office, where I had a vaguely heated argument with a security guard who wanted to know why Chris couldn’t get out of his chair and walk up the small flight of stairs in front of us. I may have never wanted to punch a security guard more than I did at that moment…but Chris was, as always, calm and rational and sweet, and within a minute we were given use of another access point.
I have a terrible temper. I really do. I’ve never admitted before that it was Chris that taught me to have a slower-burning fuse.
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear…
Something else I’ve never admitted, but I’ll whisper it here: I’ve been a tiny bit in love with Chris for a long time. Just a little. Just enough to follow his adventures via social media after I moved to Pittsburgh, and then to Michigan. Our paths crossed more and more sporadically at conventions and, with my usual awkward shyness, I became less and less willing to go over and talk to him because he always seemed to be busy. And so I’m not sure when I last actually communicated with him. I should, of course, have written to him, checked in with him. He’s never had any idea how much of an impact he had on me as a haunter and as a person. He is such a shining example of how much one person can influence another’s life and have absolutely no idea of the fact.
Chris passed away last night. It seems an impossibility. It was unexpected and as I write this, no details have been shared yet as to what happened. I was going to wait to write this until I had more information. I don’t have a right to be as sad as I am, because I was not a close friend. And yet. And yet.
Thank you, Chris. You were one of the kindest, sweetest, most creative and patient people I’ve ever known. You have been inspirational and amazing and I feel so lucky your life touched mine just a little.
…And I’m still gonna learn how to create a mechanical prop someday, dammit.
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!
* I still have a small pirate flag that he created for that weekend, as we were all running around Salem dressed as pirates for a good deal of the time. With all of my moves, all of my varied pirate things, and all of my jettisoning of stuff, I’ve managed to not lose that flag, and it makes me smile every time it makes an appearance…