If you were my friend in the vicinity of my final years of high school then chances are you recognise the name Chris Hawkins. To some of you, he might even conjure a handful of fond memories. To others he’s probably the cause of many an exasperated eye roll. To me he’s a collection of all of the above, and a little more besides.
Chris Hawkins might be the most important name in my entire life as a writer. And, for the record, he isn’t a real person. Chris Hawkins was the name of a character I came up with in 2007, the protagonist of a series of highly angsty and increasingly ridiculous stories I wrote between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. Prior to his invention the stories I wrote tended to be blatant Lord of the Rings/Tarantino rip offs of the sort that fourteen year olds think are cool. Chris’ first story was the first time I wrote something remotely personal, a distorted depiction of my life with heightened versions of my friends, full of the kinds of events that were far more explosive, exciting and traumatic than anything I had actually experienced at that point. But the essence of his character and adventures were very real to a confused, angry teenager who was trying to figure out his place and how to be his own person in the face of a world that seemed to want him to be anything but. Writing something of that sort for the first time was intoxicating and through Chris I learned how to take the things that mattered to me and examine them through fiction. Basically, the beginnings of developing my own unique voice as a writer. So whatever the merits of his stories which I assure you were few and far between, he was integral to figuring out the kind of writer I wanted to be and his legacy can be seen in all the characters I’ve written since who represent parts of myself or aspects of my life I wanted to explore and figure out. So needless to say, while I can comfortably state that those stories will never see the light of day again, I have a lot of fond memories of them.
I have a potentially bad habit of struggling to let go of stories. Boone Shepard and Windmills both started out as fairly awful stories I wrote in high school, but my refusal to let go of them and focus on new things instead has actually paid off pretty decently, and in 2016 they’re still going concerns. Those two plus Chris are probably the three biggest fixtures of my writing life. The difference is that Chris has never returned, while the others have, time and time again and in different shapes until they eventually got within a reasonable distance of what they needed to be.
I still regularly think about bringing Chris back. Whether I rewrite his stories in a better way or pick up his adventures now years later to find out where he ended up, it’s something I wouldn’t mind doing. But I don’t think I ever will, because my attachment to Chris feels more like one of nostalgia than one of still needing to tell the story correctly. Chris was reflective of a very particular time in my life and it’s hard to see him having much relevance to the adult I grew up to be. But that doesn’t mean that the idea of seeing him again doesn’t hold some appeal.
I wrote eight different Chris stories, and in the end I ran out of material. Over the course of those stories he went through just about everything it is feasible for a tormented teenager to go through, and several things besides that were very far from feasible. In fact, part of the fun of Chris even then was that he existed in a heightened world that was a little darker and a little more dangerous than reality. It was a singularly adolescent view of the world and that was a big part of who Chris was. A more grounded version would probably lose the limited charm of what made his stories so appealing to me, and so I’m quite comfortable with the fact that he probably won’t ever be back. Unlike Leo Grey or Rob Ryan or Boone Shepard, he’s not the kind of character who I could see myself continuously returning to for the rest of my life. When I grew up, Chris Hawkins died. Or retired. Or something. Basically, I lost any need for him and I don’t see events aligning to create a scenario where he has to come back in the same way that Boone and Leo had to come back. But I still think about him and still wonder where he is now and how his life turned out.
My friend Finn once told me that I seem to delight in characters who are neither good or bad, characters with grey moralities who aren’t necessarily likable. Chris was the first of those; an angsty teenager written by an angsty teenager who even reading the stories back now is surprisingly complex and morally ambiguous. He was the prototypical Gabriel Bergmoser protagonist and his DNA can be seen in just about every character I’ve come up with since, good or bad. When I talk to friends who read the stories at the time, Chris tends to be the subject of a lot of mockery, and I’m the first to lead the charge of laughing at him. But maybe he deserves better than that. Because I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if it wasn’t for Chris Hawkins and while I may never see him again that doesn’t change the fact that he was someone whose story I needed to tell in order to go on and tell the uniformly better stories I’ve been telling ever since. And for that I’ll always be grateful. So unlike Boone and Leo who will probably always be dragged out for new adventures or extensions and reworkings of old ones, Chris has earned his rest.
Today I once again thought about writing a new Chris story, and in thinking that a title popped into my head; The Death of Chris Hawkins. But I didn’t start writing a new story or even really think about it. Instead I started thinking about what Chris meant to me and consequently wrote this. An overdue eulogy of sorts, a way of acknowledging to myself that he’s gone but also paying tribute to what he was.
R.I.P. Chris Hawkins. 2007-2009. Gone but never forgotten.
Writing words about writing words.