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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

I didn’t know Thomas Joyner. I adore his mother but only know her because my children took Latin in middle school. They’re both rising seniors now, one in high school, one in college, so we haven’t exchanged more than a passing nod in years. My kids also took Latin in high school from Pat Bradley, who lives three doors down from the Joyners. Pat wrote a letter to Laura the day after Thomas died, and she asked him to read it at Thomas’ memorial on Saturday. It is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve ever heard. I was standing along the back wall of the church balcony with my  son and wife, unable to see Pat at the microphone below, but feeling my throat thicken and shake with his.

I have no right to the surges of emotion I’ve been choking back all week. My wife says I literally run from the room when the topic of Thomas comes up. It feels like a selfish pain, because it’s less about Thomas than imagining myself as Laura, imagining the impossible loss of my own children and what would follow it.

When my mother died in January, I found myself creating images instead of writing. When I got up the Saturday morning of the memorial, I started drawing trees.  Lesley and I have begun a collaborative project of image-texts, or poetry comics: her words, my Word Paint. I ask for assignments, images, ideas that she then responds to, and so she had texted me a photo of a blooming tree she’d taken on her phone. I wasn’t thinking about Thomas. I was just drawing lines. One black mark at a time, then doubling them, layering them deeper, before finally inventing April buds:

Really I should have stopped there. That was my image for Lesley, my lob back to her in our game of image-text badminton. But the pre-bud version of the tree stuck with me, and I found myself hunched at my laptop again, clicking in layers and layers of black branches, before framing them, doubling them into a dark woods:


 

 

When I emailed that image to Lesley’s computer upstairs, she wrote back a poem about loss, about fear, about the inability to protect. Somehow I didn’t realize this was all about Thomas until changing for the memorial. The invitation said Hawaiian shirts were especially welcome, but I had to settle for a purple polo. Apparently those woods needed some purple too. I kept clicking until it was time to leave, and then kept clicking when we got back.

I’m the first to acknowledge that I’m no artist, and my PC is a paltry canvas. I don’t have words for Thomas either. We were strangers, but our lives interwove, every branch touching a dozen others, every sympathetic twitch quivering through the canopy. 

 

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