By Jamie Williams
My friends aren’t famous to the public by any means, but they’re definitely more famous than me. After being one of thousands of viewers of their online gaming channels for years, and then being trusted enough to moderate those viewers for them, we met for the first time in person at a convention in Indianapolis. They were featured guests; I was a fan who paid to see them.
Ray and Tina had been my inspirations since high school, so sitting on the convention hall’s floor, minutes away from the time we planned to meet, was surreal. I couldn’t decide whether to sit or stand, and I was worried I somehow wouldn’t recognize them. The carpet outside Hall D was covered in a bright geometric pattern, so I opted to stare at the blank wall opposite me and focused on steadying my breathing. Every few breaths I glanced up and down the hall, searching through the faces of con-goers for someone familiar. I absentmindedly rustled the bag of gifts between my knees.
I decided standing would be better. I leaned against the wall and continued scanning the hallway until I saw them. Tina wore a navy and white striped shirt, long-sleeved even in the heat. She was shorter than I expected. Ray looked ordinary, maybe a bit taller than I pictured, in a white graphic tee and the same checkerboard Vans sneakers he wore every day. I offered a calm wave though I didn’t think my face showed the same composure.
“Do you mind if I have a hug?” I asked Tina when she was within earshot, though she was already pulling me in for one. After she released me, Ray leaned over to do the same.
The halls crowded with people while we tried to navigate our way outside. Ray was approached by two girls, obvious fans, and we stepped to the side for a conversation.
“I love you so much,” one blurted. Her friend giggled and shouldered her gently. It seemed to startle the first girl into realization. “Wait, I mean — I’m sorry, that was weird to say,” she corrected, her face blushing red. Ray didn’t seem to notice. He smiled and asked for the girls’ names, where they were from; he told them to have a good time and began to step away. Another fan approached, and Ray gave them the same treatment. Once stopped, it was hard for him to get away again, as fans kept gathering around.
I saw myself in all of them. I silently thanked anyone who was listening that I hadn’t sounded that silly when we met 15 minutes ago. At least, I hoped I hadn’t. After a bit, Tina started pushing Ray away as I followed behind. (“We’ll be here all day if I don’t,” she whispered.)
Their hotel was two blocks away, the lobby dotted with tables that resembled golden tree stumps and velvety chairs. While waiting for the elevator I got a small cup of cucumber water (“Why not, right?”). It tasted worse than I thought.
In their room, I hovered at the foot of the bed, trying to stay out of the way but too anxious to sit down. As Tina fixed her hair I stared out the window, checked my phone for notifications that weren’t there, inspected my hands, repeat. I finally gathered the courage to slide back onto the edge of the bed where Ray already sat, checking his own phone in silence.
Tina pulled souvenirs out of her bag — including the painting I had given her in the Hall earlier — to leave in the hotel for safekeeping. I apologized for the fifth time about my lack of artistic skills while she took a picture of my art with her phone. She waved away my comments while she posted my painting online for her followers to see.
We stopped in at a Starbucks adjacent to the hotel lobby, and Tina offered to buy me a coffee. I refused, telling her I was glad just to be with them, but she feigned a threatening face that persuaded me to disclose my order. She bought the iced coffee and smiled at me as we waited for our names to be called.
Sitting in the shop across the table from them almost felt normal, if it wasn’t for the voice in the back of my head metaphorically pinching me the entire time. I couldn’t stop thinking about how ridiculous this was. I had a poster of one of Ray’s characters on my wall, and I was currently dressed up as another. (He complimented the outfit when he first saw me. Jokingly, “Always nice to meet a fan.”) When Tina followed me on Twitter I screen shotted it, sure that it was a fleeting mistake. When she complimented me and liked my posts, I figured she mistook me for someone else more interesting and popular.
They sat across from me, looking through their phones in comfortable silence, and I brought out my phone too. It seemed like the thing to do. I mindlessly scrolled through my feed, as if anything would be more interesting than my current real life situation. Over the top of my phone, I tried to nonchalantly study them. I wasn’t trying to remember everything — though I remember the cuts on Ray’s hands and the way Tina leaned into his shoulder — but part of me wanted to catalog more proof that they were real.
Later, I stood on the convention floor, looking up to their stage. I watched them sign autographs and take pictures with fans who were just like me — only I got lucky somehow. Right place at the right time with a particularly funny joke. When they finished, I lingered until Tina waved me onto the stage to exchange goodbyes. I asked them to sign a card; “For my friend,” I specified. Tina produced her own lavender business card and hunched over it with a Sharpie. She handed it back and I laughed. To my #1 fan Tina.
I hugged them both with my eyes squinting shut; I might have just imagined them squeezing me harder than they did the first time.