By Kevin Leslie
Preacher was a rare comic book series for me.
Unlike others, I was there at the beginning and I was there at the end. I bought the first issue while in high school in California and issue number 66 when I was living in Texas. When I cracked open that first issue of Gone to Texas I never imagined that I’d end up living there many years later.
What got me to Texas was love, which is really what Preacher is also about, once you get past all the violence, the vampires and weird sex stuff.
I went away to college while most of my friends stayed home. It was the right thing for me, but I left behind some good friends. It wasn’t my intention to reinvent myself in college, but the relationships I developed there sort of dictated transition. I had no car, so I was at the mercy of my dad’s old Huffy, a bus system that essentially went to the mall and back, and anyone who was going somewhere other than the UCSD campus. Getting to a comic book store was pretty much out of the question. None of my new friends were into comics. Instead, I got more into music, going to local shows, and catching rides to L.A. to catch concerts.
It was in Los Angeles, a couple hundred miles from San Diego, at a Blur concert, that I ran into a girl who I just seemed to keep running into. Her name was Alli. I served Alli sandwiches and smoothies at my less than prestigious school cafeteria job. She stood out enough that I would notice her in lecture halls of 300 plus students, and somehow we would always end up in the breakout groups led by the teacher’s aide. It didn’t seem so crazy that she also made the trek up to see a show in L.A., but it did shock me that in the huge mass of concert goers we managed to run into each other yet again.
I don’t remember what I made of all these encounters at the time, but I know that I filed them all away in my head.
In our second year of college Alli and I had less classes together. She moved to the apartments on my side of the campus. We saw each other from time to time. There was a guy in the picture, but I don’t remember giving that much thought. I was too busy chasing any number of relationships myself. My own relationships lasted two to four weeks. I would inevitably determine that these girls were not going to be my wife, and therefore dating was a pointless. I was way too serious for my own good.
Alli went to Spain her junior year. I went about college much the same--not really enjoying it, not so happy, but not so miserable either. I did move off campus. And I got a truck. The truck meant that I could actually go downtown and visit real music stores (not the Tower Records near campus). And I could go to comic book stores, which meant I fell into some old habits. I still was fairly broke, so I didn’t buy much. But I did buy Preacher.
The original premise had fallen away a bit. The characters had become so rich that Garth Ennis could simply have them gabbing in a coffee shop and I was entertained. He didn’t need to solely rely on supernatural elements to keep the story strong, which was fine with me. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but the love story of Jesse and Tulip was what kept me invested. Preacher was a welcome friend that year when the people around me seemed to be going off in different directions and I had no idea where I was or where I was going.
Our last year of college, Alli and I had several classes together. She had become a Spanish literature major and I had latched on to a literature writing minor, since I wasn’t brave enough to enter the job market with a literature major. Our first quarter we were seemingly brought together once again by fate, but I’ll admit that the next two quarters I took classes that I knew she signed up for.
I loved talking to Alli. We had a good time in class, which led to us hanging out after class, usually grabbing a coffee. We started exchanging short stories as a way of getting each other to write more, and probably as an excuse to see each other on days we didn’t have classes. We started to do things in the evening and on weekends, but always with her group of friends. I didn’t mind.
After a lot of soul searching, I realized I had pretty serious feelings about Alli. I questioned whether I would ruin our friendship by telling her. It felt like a sitcom, or an 80’s movie. I decided I had nothing to lose and told her during a walk on the beach. It went well. We kissed. We were together.
The next few months were a strange mix of euphoria and fear. See, I had known when I declared my feelings that Alli would be moving to Texas after graduation. She had been accepted into Teach For America and was assigned to Houston. We broke up once for a few hours when I think a similar fear overtook Alli, but we were back together when we walked across the stage in our gowns.
I drove Alli to Houston for her summer training with TFA. The trip started out rocky and awkward. She seemed unsure of whether or not she wanted me to be there. We got stuck in a downpour outside of Phoenix. The rain was so heavy it was like trying to drive through a carwash. I had to pull over. We could barely hear each other with the rain pounding on the car. It was a strange moment, and only now can I see it as a sign that we just needed to stop thinking about it so much, and just be trapped together
Back in San Diego life was pretty aimless. I got a job and moved to Hillcrest where the only real culture in San Diego existed. I went to work each day. I wore a tie and rode a big elevator to a cubicle. I learned that adults are just as broken as teenagers and college kids.
Preacher was winding down at this point, only about a year’s worth of issues remained. Ennis had announced that the series would be ending with issue 66. I was still picking up the comics as they came out. Around this time the story was focused on Tulip, and her eventual reunion with Jesse. I was trying my best to stay connected to Alli. We talked on the phone just about everyday, which was a mixed thing. Sometimes the calls were good, but they were often hollow. I could almost hear another life going on in the background. I wrote a ton of letters, usually several a week, and yes, email existed at the time, but I wrote letters. When my truck was stolen, I decided to use the money I saved in car payments to buy some plane tickets -- one to visit her in Texas, and another to visit her in Northern California while she was home for the holidays.
Before I ever jumped on a plane, Alli dumped me over the phone. I don’t remember the exact reason she gave because in reality there were probably several phone calls where we discussed things. It really came down to me being in San Diego and her in Houston. First year teaching is hard, even harder when you’re in a struggling school with a struggling population. I was something else to worry about.
I didn’t want to fly to Houston, but for some reason Alli said I should still come. I returned to Texas, the land of my birth. I was two when I left the last time and now I was 22. The sprawl of Houston reminded me of the worst of L.A., but the area called Montrose where Alli and her friends lived in was great. When the heat of the day died away we walked to an outdoor bar called the Alabama Ice House and had beers and free hot dogs. They had music stores and bookstores; it reminded me of Hillcrest.
Alli’s friends were great as well. They were recent college grads, trying to make a difference, trying to become adults, but managing to enjoy each other’s company as well.
During the visit we didn’t speak about our relationship. But we started to hold hands. By the end it seemed like we were back together. I cried on the plane when I flew home to San Diego. I called Alli from a payphone next to the bus stop by the airport. She’d also had a great time, but didn’t want to get back together.
I still had the ticket to visit Alli for Thanksgiving and really didn’t want to use it, but again she convinced me to come. I had no idea whether or not she told her family that we had broken up. I decided to go.
It was only my second time in the Bay Area. We did some touristy things: rode a cable car, climbed Coit Tower, saw the Christmas tree in downtown San Francisco. It was a wonderful time.
Unbeknownst to me, Alli’s brothers had hated all of Alli’s previous boyfriends. I wasn’t trying to butter them up, but we all got along and Alli got the sign she needed. We got back together for good there and then.
Alli came out to San Diego to visit me later that year. While she was visiting I found out my grandfather had passed away in Ohio. I flew out to Columbus the following weekend for the funeral. While I was there, I had a dream. My grandfather was in his ever present blue chair, and he was just staring at me. He never said anything, just stared. I was shaken by the dream and the funeral. I decided that I was going to quit my job and move to Houston. And I did.
I read that final issue of Preacher in my apartment in Houston. For the uninitiated, reading a comic book series that you know is ending is a unique experience. Twenty pages of comics every 30 days. Imagine if the last episode of Lost was broadcast in five minute segments for a year. I read that last issue at a snail’s pace. I stared at the cover. I read each page knowing that after all those years I would never pour through another new issue of Preacher. I read the last page and reflected on how quiet an ending it was.
As I said, Preacher is really about the love story of Jesse and Tulip. I can see now that while my love story lacked the violence, murderous relatives and insane religious militaries; it did have one thing in common: love as a constant can help see you through the confusing world we live in. I was adrift after college, but I chose love and it saw me through. I married Alli and eleven years later we have two amazing children, and a life I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Whenever I do something now that seems to fly in the face of reason, in my head I hear the words, “Gone to Texas.”