Texas Frightmare: For Coop

And so another Frightmare has come and gone.

Yes, the event ended two weeks ago, and, yes I'm just getting around to writing about it. Attending Texas Frightmare Weekend tends to be a draining experience: It is, after all, nearly seventy-two hours of non-stop glee, a cavalcade of film screenings, autograph signings, meet-and-greets, parties, and general good-old-fashioned mayhem, all dedicated to the horror genre in art and entertainment. This is, perhaps, the mecca of pop conventions for those whose 9-5, Middle American existences don't allow them to openly indulge their love for the strange and macabre; the place where those considered rejects by "straight" society can, for one weekend a year, let the freak flag fly and not feel ostracized for it, but welcome. Combine that with the requisite lines, crowds, and walks across and around the DFW Airport Hilton, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that I've been a bit bushed.

Yet there's another reason this article's coming later, and another reason this year's Frightmare was a bit different. Even before my wife and I (seven year attendees eagerly awaiting our eighth) realized that something had changed, we realized that the atmosphere wasn't quite the same. There was a tension and moroseness in the air from the moment we descended those now familiar steps and entered the vendor room. At first glance, not much was different from last year beside the crowding (perhaps my most recurrent thought of the weekend was whether next year's event will be held at a bigger venue or take up even more space at the Hilton); yet as Friday night wore on, it became apparent that something wasn't quite right. Approaching a small booth set up in the downstairs foyer, we realized what it was. 

Coop was gone.

It'd be disingenuous for me to say that my wife and I knew Michael "Coop" Cooper; but we, like most people who've been to Frightmare over the years, knew OF Michael Cooper. Odds are, you, like me, even talked to him at least once. He was a familiar face amongst the Frightmare staff, a bearded, intense eyed, yet friendly guy whom Kayleigh and I always recognized and, at least the past two years, briefly talked to on our first nights of the event. We didn't know him on any deep or personal level; we never even knew his name. But he was nice, and he was always there, and having him direct us in a line or point us to a booth had become just as much a part of the Frightmare experience as the yearly dance or shopping during the closeout sales on Sunday. 

"Ask me About Coop," stickers worn by most volunteers read. At that little booth in the foyer, we found out why: Tragically, Michael Cooper took his own life in December of 2015, a week before his own birthday, five months before this year's frightmare. Suddenly, the tension and meloncholy of many of the staff made sense, as did the subtle change in the nominally jovial Frightmare atmosphere. Guests who visited the booth were offered a flyer explaining the circumstances of Coop's passing: He'd engaged in a lifelong struggle with depression, and, like many, turned to alcohol to cope. Also like many others, he succeeded in keeping his problems a secret, leading to an even greater shock when he committed suicide, leaving behind a number of family and friends with a lot of grief and a lot of questions. 

"With the passing of Michael Cooper, we all were devastated with the loss of a friend," said Sue Cryer, the wife of Frightmare impressario Loyd Cryer. "No one knew the extent of his battles that he was going through. As I reached out to a local clinic here in Denton TX, I found out how sometimes people fall through the cracks of the system." In an effort to pay tribute to Coop's memory and bring attention to the problems of depression and suicide, Sue helped to set up the booth in Coop's memory at this year's Frightmare, which was manned by employees from Reflections Counselling of Denton, a local clinic specializing in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. "My goal was to bring awareness about depression... [I] rounded up some left over items, to see if I can raise some money for the clinic," said Sue. Attendees were invited to remember Coop and his many contributions to Frightmare, and purchase items or make donations in his name to help others struggling with the problems he battled through his life. As the event wore on, a number of vendors and guests began to donate items to the booth, helping to encourage even more people to donate. "It was to my surprise that we raised over 2000 dollars. This money will be used for people who cannot afford counseling or have family members... Sometimes the family members need to be educated in the subject matter, in order to understand what depression is about, and help their loved ones," Sue told me. Rather than a one-off effort, Sue hopes to tun Coop's passing into an opportunity for Frightmare to reach out to others and prevent further tragedies: "My goal is to get a nonprofit organization started and use Frightmare to help educate people about depression." For an event that's always been a beacon of hope and happiness to those who've felt unwelcome in the world, it's an especially noble cause, and one which I personally, both as a horror fan and a lifelong sufferer of depression and anxiety, stand thoroughly behind. 

Triumph often follows tragedy. While Frightmare-- and the world-- have lost Michael Cooper, there are countless others still suffering from depression whom we don't have to give up, or give up on. Hopefully, that loss can leave behind a legacy-- not just one built of the happy memories of his friends and Frightmare guests, but a legacy of helping others. Hopefully, next year's Frightmare won't be a sad meditation on his loss, but a celebration of his life-- and other lives saved along the way. 

Rest in peace, Coop. I pray you've found whatever peace you sought in this life. You'll be missed; and for the people of Texas Frightmare Weekend, you'll never be forgotten.

Preston Fassel