I met Franklin Austin Meza when I was a sophomore in high school, and he attended my school for a single year. We became fast friends, bonding over comic books, Madonna, and roleplaying games right away. That year, when I was 15, we started a campaign of Marvel Superheroes, building an X-Men adjacent team called Chaos, Inc.
Frankie remained a dear friend for the rest of my years in Brownsville. I was one of the early folks he came out to in that time, and he was one of the first few people I came out to as well. We discovered queer culture together, soaking up and sharing talking points about what we were finding with one another – no small task in the pre-internet days.
During that entire time, we kept playing Chaos, Inc. We cycled through characters – the same way comics shifted team members around in a title – and different players came and went. He was there for me during the ugliest days of my forced outing in high school, and I often escaped to the sanctuary we’d built of our friendship.
When we were old enough, we decided to move to San Antonio together, along with our friend John. We all worked in restaurants (I in fast food), bringing in just enough money to tend to our bills, with enough left over to grab the bus every Saturday to hit the mall, with the holy trinity of our visits being the comics shop, the gaming store, and the music store. Chaos Inc. continued during this time, with new players, but the same team, on and on.
Eventually, John moved on, and Frankie decided to move to Austin, so I returned to Brownsville for a few years. He and I remained in contact, and I made a point of still getting out when I could to guest-star in Chaos, Inc. games. The myriad dramas of our lives were the topics of conversation for our phone calls (it took a while for both of us to end up on the internet).
Then I ended up in Oregon, and he cheered me on in my burgeoning career in writing RPGs. I’d come home to Texas for the holidays, and it became a tradition to find a few days of those visits to spend in Austin, hanging out with him, catching up on comics, music, and RPGs. Oh, and our lives, of course. Plus, getting the chance to crash one of his still-ongoing games of Chaos, Inc.
That pretty much became our pattern. Staying in contact – phone calls, then texting, then Facebook – with in-person visits when I came back to Texas to see family. He’d go out of his way to arrange a Chaos, Inc. game during those visits, and we got to be fifteen again for a little while.
I just found out today that last April Frankie passed away. I knew him and loved him for thirty years. I’m horrified and grief-ridden at his passing, with a side order of guilt for not having even known this for six weeks, but I know in the grand scale, that doesn’t matter much.
He’s simply gone, leaving those of us who loved him behind to do our best with that knowledge. I’ll never play in another Chaos, Inc. game or sit and listen to Madonna while reading X-Men comics with him again. I feel like someone has hollowed a chunk right out of the center of my chest.
Hey, Frankie. I am heartsick with grief that you’re not with us any more. I know that you’d want me to knock off the crying and carrying on, but you also know I’m a weepy bitch sometimes. So you’re just going to have to put up with that for a little while.
I’m going to miss you sending me your favorite comics memes. I’m going to miss you sending me some of my old, dumb gaming artwork because you know how appalled I am at it. I’m going to miss getting together with you, to catch up on games and comics and music. I’m going to miss your games, those gathering of friendly nerds all anxious to find out what’s going on in that world that lived and breathed and grew in that creative mind of yours.
I’m going to do my best to take care of Chaos, Inc. I don’t know what that will all look like, ultimately, but it was such a big part of our lives as friends – those shared experiences that shaped so much of our relationship – it feels right to try.
To say nothing of the fact that the possibility of losing all of Chaos, Inc. is too painful to imagine. It makes our loss of you too much to bear. I couldn’t do anything to keep you with us, but I can do this.
I knew you for two-thirds of my entire life. It’s literally impossible to imagine me being who I am today without your presence in that life. I wouldn’t be the me I am today without having known you. So thank you for that gift.
Requiescet in pace, Frankie, and EXCELSIOR.
Lessons on Good Gaming
One of the elements of my “brand” (if you will) is queer gaming. I owe almost the whole of that to Frankie, who was far braver in the queerness of his gaming than I was, certainly.
I’m not just talking about the inclusion of queer characters, either. Frankie loved iconically queer pop culture things, and frequently made space for them in his game in clever ways, often through specific NPCs.
He was a huge Rocky Horror Picture Show fan (I’ll admit I’ve been listening to the soundtrack a lot lately, since finding out about his passing). So of course, none of us were surprised when his favorite character, Columbia, showed up as the sister of one of the player characters. Frankie got to do his dead-on Columbia impersonation at the table, and harass one of the PCs with her, much to our delight.
I remember the first time I realized what a mad genius he was in this respect. Our Chaos, Inc. supers team of course had a base and a support staff. One of them, our PR person, Barbara was awesome. Media-slick and always ready to spin the ridiculous supers shenanigans we got into to the media, always dressed to the nines.
Frankie taught me a lot about gaming, among them what I consider the most vital lesson to enjoying running your game: take the things you love outside of gaming, and make room for them inside your gaming. Your enthusiasm is contagious, and those little quirks make your games memorable and fun.
The Games We Played
This feels weirdly selfish to say but part of my mourning Frankie is also mourning the characters I played in his game.
In the Marvel Superheroes RPG, you could create your own characters or you could play established Marvel characters. Most of Chaos Inc’s PCs were original. Not me, though. I played my favorite Marvel heroes in his games.
Storm, as a vampire, the Queen of NYC and its nightlife.
Magic, as Sorceress Supreme of Limbo, and occasional team leader for CI.
Spiral, who uses her membership on the team to both yoink new tech from defeated villains and to get access to new potential clients for her BodyShoppe.
Cloak, who – along with Dagger and a speedster – founded Chaos Inc.
Legion, who loved the adventure and helping of people that Chaos Inc did, and joined avidly in his cogent episodes.
Rachel Summers/Phoenix, who once swore she’d break the universe before she let a CI villain win – and fucking meant it, by gods.
I’m going to miss them and their world. Not in addition to me missing Frankie, but as part of that grief. We created something absurd and funny and exciting and wonderful when we got together to game. I may even play one or more of those characters again, but it won’t be the same.
I miss you, Frankie