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A Few Words About My Friend Stepto

Yesterday, I found out my friend Stephen Toulouse—better known in so many communities as Stepto—passed away. Stepto was a friend, perhaps one of the more surreal friendships I’ve been honored with. I didn’t know him as well as I wish I had, but for some reason I struck a chord with him enough for him to count me as a friend too.

I met Stepto at in 2012. A few of us that PAX were playing games in a suite, and if Stepto wasn’t the actual host of it, he was its de facto host. Our meeting seemed passive, as there were a lot of us at this gathering, and if I recall right he was playing on another end of the room playing Fiasco with Andrew Hackard, Will Hindmarch, and Wil Wheaton.

Oh, hey: Permit me errors in this wandering story. Grief and time are not my allies, certainly not today.

A bunch of us at that PAX gathering lamented only seeing each other at cons, but never really getting together much because we were all busy. We were, to varying degrees, talent or working pros at cons. A four-hour game was a hell of a time expense we couldn’t always afford. Thanks to the efforts of Dammit Liz Smith and Logan Bonner, a bunch of us gathered at a house con in Seattle that December.

That’s when I’d finally get to run the infamous Santa Claus Mythender session for Wil and company, and when I’d get to enjoy a little more conversation with Stepto. I gotta tell you friends, I was in awe of this human. There was something about him that was… radiant is the best word I have right now, for he shined light unto others.

But I can say I didn’t really think of our interactions as worth much to him. To my mind, I was some rando to him, albeit one vetted as okay by his friends. Yet I had made an impression, as he mentioned me and my silly game about apotheosis and deicide in a guest post on Wil’s blog.

We’d see each other at cons, and he always lit up. He did that with friends. He was a hugger. I never did the “hey, you might not remember me…” greeting, because he called me by name. As I would come to learn, he wouldn’t just remember a vague name and face, he’d remember something about you and be happy to see you.

In retrospect, that’s part of why I was in awe of Stepto. Stepto has this way of telling stories that I absolutely admired, and a way of remembering people with genuine joy. He loved and was beloved in return by a genuinely uncountable number of people—something I feel like Twitter proves tonight. Tonight, the legion of friends Stepto had pour their grief out, and it’s a tide.

Bear witness to this fellowship of touched souls, of so many people who know not each other yet are connected by a shared bond with our friend.

Now, you might think that with someone with so many friends, that Stepto might be easily distracted and perhaps forget about you if you weren’t present. I thought so. But one day he called me up and asked me if I’d be interested in working on a potential Game of Thrones tie-in thing. I recall saying that it’d be cool, except I knew fuck-all about GoT. I don’t regret not pursuing it further, and am still flattered that he phoned me up about it. Then we talked on the phone a bit longer. I left that phone call glowing; he did that to people.

We ran into each other at Seattle cons, and would talk about getting together for a cigar on the roof of the HBO building. Then he left that gig, and we talked about maybe him coming over to my house for that cigar. Unfortunately, this becomes the theme for our interactions: wanting to do something, but letting life keep getting in the way.

Then 2015 hit—Stepto fell into a coma. We hoped for him, and some pre-mourned when it looked grim. We rejoiced when he came to, and pulled together to help with his family’s expenses. You know what Stepto did with that experience? Turn it into a performance he used to uplift and inspire others. That man was an orator and storyteller par excellence, with a magnificent heart and soul.

We doubled down on that cigar, just like I’m sure a hundred other folks doubled down on visiting Stepto. Time is a fucker, and I’ve learned urgency fades when the world feels normal again. So we still didn’t get that cigar.

I stopped going to Seattle cons after my divorce last year, and my routine moments to see Stepto were lost with that. I had forgotten about that promise of a cigar.

Three weeks ago, he hits me up out of the blue on Facebook, and we spent an hour or two shooting the shit about life and games. We talked about playing Destiny on PS4 maybe someday, in that mythical “if I get time” space, so we friended each other on PSN.

Huh. I could be the very last person he friended on PSN.

We decide to get dinner. He has Opinions about a sushi place. I am skeptical, but it’s Stepto, so I’m willing to be a vessel for his gustatory truth. But his work gets in the way, and we canceled. That was three weeks ago today. My last message to him: “Well fuck it, just because tonight is down doesn’t mean we lose momentum.”

A part of me wants to throw this laptop against the wall in rage-grief. Fuck you, me. Three weeks went by. “I should hit up Stepto again” isn’t the same as actually messaging someone. Maybe dinner wouldn’t have been able to happen before his passing, but I’ll always be at least a little angry at myself for not trying better.

I suspect many of his friends feel similar. Life slips away from us, and we make plans for “later.” We make plans for “soon.” Urgency in the moment slips away as life becomes normal.

I’m a thousand words into this, and feel like I need to stop before I type endlessly. So let me share with you three of the lessons I’ve learned from my friendship with Stepto:

  • Stepto found something to cherish about the people he met. I have for years endeavored to do the same.
  • You don’t have the time you think you do. I mean, fuck, he taught us that lesson twice.
  • You can turn your pain into beauty, and be a light for others.

But Stepto wouldn’t want me—want us—to wallow. He’d respect our grief, and hope we’d continue forward to bring joy and brightness to others. To tell stories and share moments. To keep that essence of what we love about him alive.

I miss you, Stepto. I’m going to have that cigar we promised now.

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