Even though I came to realize Damian and I were on different pages in terms of our fandoms, we remained close friends through high school and my early college days.
We continued to hang out on afternoons and weekends, hitting up the local arcades or roaming Boston’s northwest suburbs in search of some new-to-us venue for geeky shit. We drove out to Waltham to witness the last days of the legendary Mr. Big’s Toyland and lamented all the imported anime toys we couldn’t afford. We hit up the Newbury Comics in the strip mall across from the Burlington Mall, where I’d shop for records while Damian bought stacks of edgelordy indie horror comics from the discount bins, then eat like garbage kings at the Taco Bell next door. When my college gaming crew asked me to continue my Warhammer RPG run through the summer break, I invited Damian and my Lil Bro to join the pizza-fueled festivities, to great success.
These familiar routines couldn’t full mask the growing wedge between us, though. I was spending more and more time in Boston and Damian was content to stick around Woburn and the usual hangouts for kids who didn’t drift outward after graduation. I’d gotten into punk rock in a big way, while he drifted into persona that was equal parts glam metal and Diceman. As cool as Damian tried to be about it, the punk thing didn’t sit well with him. He took a (low-key and embarrassed) part in an ill-conceived “intervention” staged by some of my old North Woburn pals who’d thought I’d gone “evil Skinhead,” and would drop “friendly” quips that my spiky look was scaring away the cute chicks at the mall.
He thought I was turning into a snotty punk rock monster. I found his embrace of knuckledragging fandom irritating. Our sniping at each other grew from an occasional thing into a constant source of tension.
Things came to a head towards the end of 1991.
Damian got word of a game store two towns over in Arlington on Mass Ave. We decided to hit it up in hope that it had an untapped stash of offbeat or out-of-print treasures on the shelves — some old Citadel miniatures or a long-sought issue of White Dwarf or some small press superhero RPG from the early 1980s. Every hobbyist-turned-retailer over-purchased stock in his (and it was always “his”) own delusional way, so you never knew when you might strike the hantavirus-encrusted mother lode.
This particular place was a poorly stocked shithole that served as a storefront for a local live-action role-playing group. Half the floor space was given over to prop storage, and the shelves lacked anything but overpriced copies of crap you could find at a mall bookstore.
It took me all of two minutes to realize there was nothing of interest there for me, which was enough time for Damian to get into a passionate discussion with the dude at the counter (who was dressed like a cartoon wizard, I’d like to point out).
“We make our own costumes and use our own special rules and meet up in the park up the hill every other weekend. Our membership dues are quite reasonable,” he said as he slipped a sheaf of flyers and a membership application across the counter to a starry eyed Damian.
“Are we done here?” I sighed.
I knew what was coming before we stepped back out on the sidewalk.
“Uh, that – that sure was something, huh?”
It was a test, and I had already prepared my answer.
“Yeah, something really stupid.”
To make sure I got my point across, I spent the rest of the ride back to Woburn twisting the psychic knife in my buddy’s gut.
“Buncha fucking losers playing cops and robbers in the woods lobbing tennis balls at each other and swinging pool noodles. What kind of idiot would dig that nonsense?”
(The fact that I was a scrawny geek who’d buried himself in layers of punk regalia to reinvent himself did not come up.)
We hung out a couple more times after that, but the writing was on the wall. Any attempts on my part to keep the friendship going stopped after I began dating Maura a couple of weeks later, and Damian stopped trying as well.
He stayed in touch with Lil Bro through the high school’s AV studio, and it was from my younger sibling that I learned Damian wasted no time going all in on LARPing after we parted ways. He didn’t even bother hiding it during our handful of later encounters — once at a mall where he managed a Funcoland and another time when I was picking up my pre-order copy of Final Fantasy IX.
“You should see the shit we do with papier-mâché, man. I made this goblin king get-up that scared the crap out of everyone.”
I nodded and said “that’s cool” before making an excuse to cut out of there.
I still think LARPing is goofy and wince about Damian’s particular strain of fandom, but I’m glad he found something he enjoyed so damn much.
When I was in grade school, friends were determined by geographic proximity. In middle school and high school, it was a matter of broadly shared (geeky) interests.
Damian and I became friends because we were the two only kids in the school who dug Robotech and the Sega Master System. It was enough to forge a bond even though we differed on the specifics of our fandom (and so many other things). He was a good pal who saw me through some rough times, but we were both kids and on very different trajectories. If it wasn’t LARPing, it would’ve been some other irreconcilable difference that made us part ways.
Some friendships aren’t meant to last, even if they were important while they lasted.