In case you didn’t notice, this is part 2. If you haven’t read part 1, click here to do so. I imagine reading the part where I win isn’t as satisfying if you don’t know what I went through to get there.
There was a dream that Baby Lulu had that I had never grown out of, and that was to enter a masquerade with a big group with a big skit and big costumes.
As burnt out as I was on competing, it had taken so long for the opportunity to be placed in front of me. I couldn’t turn it down.
Especially not when the person who had called my name to hand me Best in Novice four years ago was asking me to be one of her partners.
So, fine. I’ll kick my own ass for another year and we’ll see how it goes.
But it would probably be my last time entering at Sabo. Probably my last time entering a masquerade for a long time. At some point you have to stop trying to reclaim your former glory, right?
It was really hard not to feel totally fucking inadequate.
Maia (NyuNyu) is a veteran of the community, a shelf full of awards and several masquerades as both a judge and performer under her belt.
Karlyn (LunarLyn) who is so talented it’s unfair, had only been competing for a couple of years but her awards shelf still hung heavy.
Me? I had a short pile of certificates in a box somewhere. Mostly judge’s awards.
I struggled with everything. Money, my personal life, my anxiety, my depression, my confidence in myself, my fear of letting my teammates down.
From June until September I didn’t get one week’s worth of good sleep. It’s October and I’m still recovering.
I would have given up the project in August had it just been me. I didn’t see any way we could pull this off successfully. I was exhausted and losing sleep and drinking my third or fourth cup of coffee at 2 PM every day.
I was the weak link but I refused to break. I couldn’t be the reason this didn’t work.
On the evening of the first day of con, I broke.
For weeks I had pushed aside my fears that we wouldn’t finish. Tears and panic attacks would just get in the way and make the prophecy fulfil itself. I knew it was bad for me, mentally. I could tell I was turning myself into a time bomb that would go off at the worst time possible.
I stood in the hallway by the ice machine, staring out at the empty streets of downtown Phoenix, my mom on the phone as I sobbed uncontrollably while trying to talk my self down. It was easily one of the worst panic attacks I’ve had in my entire life.
I really didn’t think we could do it. I didn’t think it was possible. Not without cutting so many corners that we’d just be pieces unworthy of presenting to the judges.
I finally cried myself silent and dry. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew sitting out in the hallway alone wasn’t the way to do it.
I went back in the room, faced my partners and my friends. I watched the first episode of Voltron and cuddled Conductor Strugglebus until I felt compelled to pick up a needle.
As it always does, The Day arrived. I got myself through that morning by telling myself that for better or for worse, it would all be over tomorrow.
I got my costume on. No pieces missing, no hot glue and only a couple of safety pins.
Okay. First demon defeated.
Next, a photo shoot, then straight to judging.
We talked about our costumes and the judges seemed to love us. I still felt like the weak link but I talked proudly about how I designed the fabrics for our tights and all the work I did on my boyfriend’s costume. I was less proud about my own work, but I hoped that everyone else shined brightly enough that no one would notice me too much.
Second demon defeated.
We waited for our turn to meet with the AV crew and make sure our audio was in order. Another contestant ahead of us asked us what category we were in. We were in Masters. They sighed and laughed with relief.
Okay, secretly? I’ve always wanted to walk into a masquerade and be the one other people were scared of.
I’ve been in enough competitions to know what it’s like to see that one entry that scares the shit out of you and made you question why you were even there. I don’t want to be seen as scary and intimidating. I just wanted to be that fucking good, you know?
And it seemed that I was.
In the green room a few of the younger contestants excitedly asked us about our costumes and if they could follow us on Instagram. That was the moment I started to realize I’d become the kind of cosplayer I’d always wanted to be. Someone who had honed their craft enough that they could inspire others. More than being the Big Scary Cosplayer In the Green Room, that’s what I’ve always wanted.
I was too on edge at the time to fully appreciate this when it was happening, but looking back now, that was monumental.
We were one of the last entries to perform, so we practiced our skit a few more times in the hallway. Finally, finally, we were out of the green room and in line backstage. Between performances, drowned out by the applause, I said some kind of dumb team cheer to make the others laugh in hopes that it would make me laugh too.
Hiding behind our tent backdrop on stage, I couldn’t see the audience, so when the music started, it felt just like every other time we had rehearsed it.
My boyfriend made his entrance and I had the very lucid realization that our performance was halfway over. We worked so fucking hard to get here and it’s already halfway over.
Charlotte bit my head off and I fist-pumped as the audience screamed.
We took our bows, the lights and music faded, the audience exploded.
Still holding my curtsy on shaking legs, I smiled and bit back tears. We’d done it. Whatever the results we did it and we lived through it and the audience fucking loved us.
My boyfriend tripped down the stairs. I rushed to my seat in the audience, ripped off my shoes and leaned against my prop rifle as I did my best to just breathe.
The supportive tweets and text messages poured in.
“Just watched @ lulukohime kill the masquerade!”
“I LOVED THAT MORE THAN I LOVED THE ACTUAL SHOW”
“It’s between you guys and Banzai Pro, for sure.”
I told myself to be proud no matter what happened. I had done something I’d wanted to do for years. I had accomplished so much. I told myself that any award would be the icing on the cake. I didn’t need it to validate the experience I had and how much I’d learned from it.
But god, after everything I’d gone through, I wanted it so. Fucking. Bad.
I unclenched a bit after the judge’s awards were announced. At least I knew I wasn’t leaving with another minor award.
The moment Banzai Pro was granted Best in Masters, Lyn and I locked widened gazes immediately. Did we just fucking beat Banzai Pro?
Then the judges burst out in the most angelic chorus I’ve ever heard in my entire life –
NUMBER 50, MADOKA MAGICA.
I burst into tears immediately. Lyn had to push me out of my seat.
As I walked down the aisle up to the stage, I had to tell myself that this was really happening. I was walking up to receive Best in Show. We had won. Not somebody else. It was us and I was part of that us.
Kara (Electric Lady), one of the judges and a longtime friend, grinned as she took my hands and pulled me up the steps and into a hug. My friends and partners grinned and cheered and I just kept crying in front of God and Reika and everyone.
Best in Show Lulu stepped off the stage and a massive group of her friends crowded around her, congratulating her and hugging her. This time she let them hug her hard enough to destroy her drill curls. She wasn’t proud of them and it was a fitting death.
“I’m so fucking proud of you.”
“That was one of the best skits I’ve seen in years.”
And more “congratulations!” than that one Evangelion episode.
48 hours before I was sobbing my eyes out because I thought it was impossible.
Now I was sobbing because we had done the impossible.
But I wasn’t crying just because I was happy we won.
I was crying for all the times I had to drop out of masquerades or went home empty handed. For all the times I thought I’d never be good enough. For all the times I tried to take home Best in Journeyman and failed. For the years and hours I’d put into improving my craft, my passion, only to constantly struggle to hold my head high and be fucking proud for the hard work I’d put in.
That award wasn’t won with that one skit, that one costume and the weeks of work I put into it, or even the months beforehand we spent planning.
It was won with the fire in my heart that first ignited five years ago, when my name was called and I got that validation that made me realize, yeah,you can do this.
It was won with the years I’d put in to my costumes and into earning the friendship and respect of the cosplayers I admired most.
It was won by the stubborn stupidity of not knowing how to give up.
Set your goals, work your ass off harder than you think you possibly can, step back when you need to,
But don’t ever give up.
If you don’t get what you wanted, it’s probably because you’ll be getting something better.
Thank you so much for reading. This series took a lot out of me but it was really important to me that I share my story.
I did lose my job right after Sabo and I’m currently freelancing to make ends meet. If you like my work and would like to help, a buck on Patreon gets you access to my blogs and cosplay WIP posts a week before anyone else. Thanks for your support.