This kid stuck with me long after Comic Con was over. So I tracked him down. by Beth Nakamura

Nick Porter at Wizard World Comic Con12050.jpg

There's a lowbrow pageantry that hangs in the air at Wizard World Comic Con. Between the rows of aging celebrities angling for a photo op and the endless parade of characters, it is, depending on your budget, worth the price of admission for the curiosity factor alone.

I was only at Comic Con on Sunday, at the tail end of the three-day event. For my money, that day belonged to Nick Porter, 18, who made the trip in from Kelso, Washington with his parents, Steven and AnnMarie Beltzer. They've come every year to Comic Con. But this was the first year Nick found the courage to dress up in costume.

Nick came to Comic Con in a zombie get-up, complete with bloody, gaping holes carefully molded onto his skin and a blood red stained athletic T-shirt and pants. His dad Steven did the makeup.

By Comic Con standards, Nick's costume was standard issue - a run of the mill zombie in a room full of superheroes. So, yeah, just another zombie, right?

But there's a catch.

A childhood bout with meningococcal meningitis led to the loss of Nick's arms below the elbow and his legs above the knee. He lost much of his nose to the disease. His upper lip is also gone, along with most of his teeth. Nick's had countless surgeries already. His parents are hoping to get his jaw reconstructed and get some teeth implants for him. He'll need more surgery on his nose, too. He was 21/2 when it happened.

AnnMarie says looking different hasn't always been easy on Nick. He has arm and leg prosthetics, but they're uncomfortable, and cause his body to overheat. He usually forgoes them in favor of the wheelchair.

"Little kids will walk up and say 'Oh my God, what's wrong with him?'" she said. "I just try when I'm with him to be the buffer."

"You can almost say you get used to it, but there are those times you wish you could keep him from it."

At Comic Con, "He doesn't stick out," she said. "There's so much craziness going on around him, he's just one other person who wants to take a picture with them."

"He took on the role and he went with it."

Nick didn't have much of a goal in mind with his get-up. It was, he said, "Just to freak everybody out. Just to have fun."

Nick's parents trailed a few feet behind him and watched as Nick swaggered through the venue. They rolled his wheelchair, just in case he needed it. He didn't.

"It was the first time he stayed out of the chair all day," his dad said. "He didn't get so tuckered out, which is a great thing."

"I felt glad about myself," Nick said. "I sort of did it for myself but also for other people. I think they were, like, surprised by what I could do for myself."

Nick's parents said dressing up like a zombie gave Nick the opportunity to connect with people, and gave his social muscle a needed workout. 

"The way his day went for him made my day complete," AnnMarie said.

"I was beaming all the way home. And it was, like, an hour drive."

-- Beth Nakamura


Just found out I was an Emmy finalist. This: by Beth Nakamura

Most people who kill themselves choose ordinary places: garages, bedrooms, bathrooms. But in Portland, some choose to end their lives at the Vista Bridge, a bridge built in 1926 in the West Hills that spans light rail tracks and a busy street. Tourists and TV shows love the bridge, but a suicide there can haunt hundreds of people, beginning with family and friends and radiating out to commuters, drivers, children, nearby businesses and neighbors.

Old enough to be their mother by Beth Nakamura

It looks a little like midnight, aside from the flashing lights randomly illuminating the sea of faces on the dance floor, which is crowded, and sweaty, though no one seems to notice or care. The music is so loud I can feel each beat thumping through my body all the way up to my ears, which are ringing. I take in the music, but it's like overhearing a conversation in a foreign language. I recognize a phrase here or there but, for the most part, the words are a cascade of incomprehensible syllables.

It's midway through prom night, and I'm here making pictures. I'm a 51-year-old woman, old enough, and then some, to be their mother. But here I stand, so close I can smell their sweat, feel their sparks, their hesitations; I witness their whispers, their kisses and yes, their grinding. Up close like this -- and I confess here with some hesitation -- I'm captivated. I photograph like it's my first time, or their first time, or something like that. I didn't have much of a vision for what things would look like for me at midlife, but I'll say this much: I wouldn't have figured this scene in the mix.

The names of these evenings all have a similar ring: "The Great Gatsby," "A Night in Paris," and "A Sweet Affair." The themes evoke epic visions of quasi-adult-like proportion and fantasy, and can all be similarly, loosely translated: Anywhere But Here.

Yet here they are, dipping their feet in a small pool containing the allure of something bigger awaiting. Metal Eiffel Towers the size of Christmas trees are covered in a tangle of miniature lights; champagne flutes half-filled with Hawaiian Punch litter the tables. And young women appear to float through the venue wearing long, diaphanous dresses in colors the range of a rainbow and beyond.

 Kept at bay for a few short hours are their GPAs, their college essays, their public stumbles and private worries. It's as though F. Scott Fitzgerald himself might swoop down at any moment and lift them away to some 1920s Parisian jazz club.

Except that he won't.

And I'm guessing by the looks of it they wouldn't go anyway. Because here, it turns out, is Where It's At.

All proms, I've learned, share a similar rhythm. Give them an hour or so, and things begin to heat up.

Once perfect rose buds nestled in wrist corsages become clumps of petals strewn on the dance floor, caught in the small spaces between their jostling bodies. A pair -- or 10 -- of glistening stilettos are tossed aside like yesterday's news, or a fistful of daisies. Or childhood.

Spend a handful of evenings like this and I can't help feeling something like affection for these young men and women, though our communication is largely unspoken. I silently pick my favorites, the ones I empathize with or recognize somehow in this sparkly, short-lived glimpse into their lives.

I'd never do this, but I sometimes get the urge to whisper to a small handful of them, "Don't sweat this. You're gonna leave it all in the dust and, with any luck, you won't even remember most of it. And you're going to be amazing."