I had the opportunity to meet Neil once. It was a dream come true really - he has meant so much to me for the people and worlds he has created.
When I met Neil, I was just south of 50 and felt like I was stuck in a rut. I had felt like I needed to be an adult and had gotten stuck. (I stopped drawing and doodling more than 20 years ago - replaced with powerpoint presentations and review meetings). So, Neil was doing a book signing at RJ Julia - one of the last great independent bookstores in CT. I went with my four teenage girls and my dear friend John and his children. I bought five of his books - one for myself and then one for each of my four girls so we could each get a book signed.
A nice lady with a stack of sticky notes walked down the very long line of hundreds of fans, handing out one sticky per book and telling us to write our name on the sticky so Neil could sign faster. We were then to attach the sticky to the inside of the book. The books would be laid out, open to the sticky note page, so Neil could process them like a one-man assembly line. It was clear to me that he would write what we wrote, so instead of being an adult and writing my name, I wrote: “To the Rollins-Carlson Clan; I love you the most.” This made me laugh - we had never met him before and would probably never meet him again but I thought it would be funny if he wrote that he loved us the most.
The line moved forward slowly. We met those around our little group and we shared pens with those that didn’t have any. Neil Gaiman fans are a nice bunch to be sure. We had a good time in line as we waited. Then came the first checkpoint. When I first saw her I got a little anxious. She was checking the sticky notes - and she was making people rewrite them to include just the name. When I looked at her sideways I am pretty sure she had button eyes. Adult me would have just rewritten the note then, but I decided that I was not going to rewrite my sticky note. When we got to her she checked each of the girls books and when she got to mine, I said she had already checked mine and I flashed the front page. She looked at me and moved to the next group. I held my breath and when she passed, my girls started to giggle. They were now part of making this happen.
The line continued to move slowly and there was one more button eye sticky note checker (BESNC) before we entered the store. She got distracted just before she checked my book and she looked away so I moved past her. One more checkpoint closer to Neil.
It had been so hot outside and it was a nice change to be inside, in the cool bookstore. We bought a few more books while we were waiting. It would be another 45 minutes before we got to Neil’s table. Button eye #3 was there inside and I got past her as well. By this time we were all holding our breath.
Then we got to the last checker. You could see her button eyes even when you looked straight at her. She took my book roughly from my hand - saw the inscription and glared at me. “We will have none of that!” she said loudly. She ripped off my sticky note and creased it over - so it only read “To the Rollins-Carlson Clan”. I protested, “Oh please, he is right there” (we were just around the corner and I could see him - singing someone else’s books), “even if he doesn’t write it - at least let him see it - he’ll think it’s funny. Just let him see.” She just looked at me and glared. “No. Of course not.” and she would not give my book back. My heart sank.
We got to the table, the girls arranged themselves around him like peacock feathers (we had 5 teenage girls in the group at this point) and we took pictures as he signed our books. I blathered like a child, said how much I loved his work and how I loved that he read his own books and that I had most recently listened to him reading the Ocean at the End of the Lane. He stopped, looked at me and said “Thank you” and he held my gaze for a moment and I knew he was thankful that I liked his books. Then, as he continued to sign, he told me the story of getting one of the accents right by going to the national archives and listening to recordings of people from a region of England that no longer had a regional identity. He used that accent in the book. I felt like this story was just for me. It was worth the trip and the waiting in line and all of the button eyed ladies we had to pass to get to him so I could hear this story just for me.
We got outside and the girls were looking at their signings - he had drawn pictures in some. They were thrilled. Then I opened my book. The first thing I saw was the sticky note had been turned over and was not longer stuck to the book. Then I moved it and saw the inscription “To the Rollins-Carlson Clan; I love you the most. - Neil Gaiman” I stopped and nearly had a heart attack. Seriously. Almost 50 remember? He had heard me. He had heard me pleading with Ms. Button Eye to let him See my note. He didn’t make a fuss, but he looked and he saw and he thought it was either funny enough or that it meant something to me that he actually gave me this second gift.
So, I now have proof that Neil Gaiman loves me the most. That day he helped me recover just a little bit of my childhood bravery.
Love the story, really!
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