Everyone thought she was part of Dragon Con—this 50 ft tall Gryphon that wandered into the Atlanta Marriott Atrium. Something animatronic. Something amazing. But definitely something there for a photoshoot. I found her surrounded by Jedis and Sith. I was on my way to get my Captain Kirk cosplay. Bumble, dressed as a Mugato, was waiting for me at a panel on the “Art of Charles Vess.” How did she even get into the conference center? She was about to attack people with colored swords aimed at her. So, I did what I do in these situations: I ran up, waving my arms, and yelled louder than anyone else.
She saw me. I told all the Force-Users to back up slowly and exit farther into the connected hotel. I told them not to get security involved. But then I saw five security men stood staring at the Gryphon. I waved and yelled at them too. She snatched my shirt with her beak and lifted me up as I told the security officers not to shoot. And then she sat down and put me in between her front talons, and began to bellow, “I have searched for you!” she cried. “Across the Himalayas, the Caucasus, the Alps, the vast ocean, to find you here— finally— in your castle fortress!” She looked around the conference center at all the Jedis and Siths, “Filled with your monks.” Her eagle eyes came back to me, resting between her paws. “You must help me.”
Her name was Mela. She had lost her mate several years ago, she said, and had relegated herself to a life alone, as was the way of Gryphons. She had resisted searching for another. She was content to fly above her mountains and sing her mourning songs in the hollowed aerie at the top of the craggy reach. Until, that is, she wasn’t content. “I can’t—I can’t stay alone,” she said. It happened to her over the years that she wanted to try again—with someone new. But then she would think about her traditions and about what made her a regal Gryphon and that this was part of her too—that she must live the rest of her life—which could be hundreds of years still–alone. She sobbed. “I don’t know what will become of me if I break the very solemn oaths and vows I gave my mate, my mother, my father, myself. But I also don’t know what will become of me if I don’t.” She had taken up sculpting rock as a way to keep her mind off her loneliness. Now, in her aerie, were twenty three stone gryphons carved into the rock of the mountain, looking at her, watching her, and, she felt, waiting for her to die.
A crowd had gathered around us, a crowd Mela ignored very easily, but which I was very aware of. Hundreds on the main floor of the lobby at the base of the atrium sat on the floor in their costumes. Hundreds more were standing and watching us. I looked around and I saw my beautiful Mugato, with his one rhinoceros horn directly above his eyes. He signed to me, Are you okay? I nodded.
“It’s your decision,” I told her, touching her talon. “But which one can you live with for a hundred years? Can you live with not being a perfect traditional Gryphon?” She shook her head, “I don’t know. I’ve never been anything else. I wouldn’t know how to be anything else?” I shook my head. “I wouldn’t know what to expect from a traditional gryphon—you get to tell me. All I know is that I’m in awe of the first gryphon I’ve ever met, and she wants to be something different—or she wouldn’t be here.” Her eyes widened and watered. She said, “I’m different, yes. I’m a disgrace.”
I assured her she wasn’t. Then, a rebel fighter pilot stood up and told her about starting over at 53, leaving his job which was killing him, and the town his parents lived in, and starting a new life far away in Durango Colorado, in the mountains, working with horses. Two Spider-Women stood up, cradling each other’s hands, and told about meeting each other at Dragon Con years ago, and how it changed their whole lives. They realized they couldn’t be the people their parents wanted them to be anymore, or their churches—and that their relationship revealed to them who they were, and they liked that change. “But it hurt and it was scary,” they said. Others around them agreed. A Groot and an Incredible Hulk talked about moving across the country to be with each other. Princess Leia talked about divorce. Scarlet Witch took up pottery after her husband died, but she also joined a salsa dancing group because she needed both, and this upset her family. A Wonder Woman from the Middle East said that coming to Dragon Con and wearing this costume was violating her traditions, her faith, her family. “I couldn’t live under those restrictions any more,” she said. “But I kept the part of my traditions and my faith that I still believed in.” Voice after voice, witness after witness, this sudden panel on Breaking Traditions had a thousand panelists and an audience of one.
I said to Mela, “Perhaps carving twenty three gryphons into your home walls was you trying to tell yourself to find someone. You were crafting the perfect mate.” She thought about that. “But what if I search the world,” she asked all of us, “and I don’t find another one like me?”
The Mugato I loved now stood next to her talons and took off his rhinoceros horn and his mask. And he was just the Abominable Snowmonster now, and he smiled at her. He pointed to me, in his way asking if he could join me inside the talons. “He’s with me,” I said to her. She opened her talons. I said, “I live with him. We are mates. He makes me happy.” I told her, taking Bumble’s big hand. “It doesn’t take an exact match to help with loneliness.” He sat behind me now his arms completely around my chest, his nearly 8-foot frame and thick body dwarfing my 5’10 ½ size, and I felt warm and safe inside his arms, the first of three nesting circles made up of his arms, her talons, and the circle of the souls of Dragon Con. I winked up at her. “You might expand your search a bit. Find someone who isn’t like you because you …. are becoming something new.” She sighed, but it wasn’t a sad sigh, or a resigned sigh, but a resolved sigh. She looked around the atrium at the thousands of people listening. She looked back at me and Bumble. I said, “Tell me, Mela, have you been to Alexandria, Egypt? There’s a big outdoor night club there now with a DJ about your size.” She said, “My size?” I said, “Have you ever heard of — The Sphinx?”