Saying Goodbye

Dee Richards
5 min readFeb 26, 2024
Image from The Sandman, World’s End — issue #56. Issue written by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Gary Amaro, Mark Buckingham, Dick Giordano, Tony Harris, Steve Leialoha, and Bryan Talbot; colored by Danny Vozzo; lettered by Todd Klein; edited by Karen Berger and Shelley Roeberg.

I read a story when I was a youth, a story about an inn. It was when I fell in love with stories for the first time. I make it no secret (at all) how much I am inspired by Neil Gaiman. Now, I find that many people — especially those into a darker aesthetic (goth, etc.) — love Neil Gaiman. It feels almost like stating that I am inspired by Neil Gaiman is akin to saying I am inspired by Stephen King. They are such prolific writers that there is little chance that anyone interested in English creative writing would not have read something they wrote. Writing across genres and styles, being inspired by Neil Gaiman feels similar to saying I’m inspired to cook by rice. But, I find myself stressed about this. If I had grown up eating liver and onions with steamed spinach (I did, but that’s another story), discovering rice would have been a revelation. Rice would have flourished in my soul. Better yet, if rice had not reached a wide market yet, it would have felt like my secret ingredient. I read an issue of The Sandman for the first time in 1991; I was nine years old. The final issue of Sandman was released just before my twelfth birthday.

When I was fourteen, after the series had ended, I found a Sandman poster at my local dollar store. It sat over my bed until I was in my twenties. I dressed as Death at Comic-Con more than once. I wasn’t often recognized in this character because people thought I was just some goth chick. In my teen years, my brother gave me his small collection of Sandman comics and graphic novels. As a young adult, I met people who claimed to like Neil Gaiman’s work because the aesthetics of the issues had matched their own. I thought that I could share my long-term love of Sandman with others then, but it turned out that the goth scene in the early 2000’s was much like any other social clique, mildly aimless and pointless. My style from 16 to 27 was HEAVILY influenced by my absolute love of the characters in Sandman. When I started writing more seriously, I found myself wanting to write about gods and demons, eternal beings and temporary insanity. It wasn’t an inspiration that drove my love, it was that I had been reading Sandman for so long in my formative years, that it, in a way, defined me.

In my recent grad school applications, I wrote that I was inspired by Neil Gaiman. It wasn’t the place to write that Sandman was more a family to me growing up than the people I lived with, despite this being true. I always wanted to write because abuse is lonely. As a child in a family submerged in mental and emotional disorders, not to mention actual, horrific physical abuse, I was very insular. It was hard to make friends or feel safe. So, I read. And, when I was old enough, I wrote so that I could make the world I had not yet read. The stories I absorbed raised me — not to sound too much like Ebenezer Scrooge in his boyhood, but it is so either way. So, to claim inspiration is sort of silly. These stories are a part of me, not something I read once and thought “man, I gotta write like this!” H.P. Lovecraft is that. Carmen Maria Machado is that. The Sandman is part of who I am because it was there for me in the worst parts of my life. At the procession of World’s End, I cried for a very long time. I looked at my wall poster and remembered my lost friend. It took a long time for me to realize that the characters in that aren’t real people. But, nevertheless, I hope that Death meets me exactly how she/they is portrayed in those stories. That is not merely inspiration, it is something more.

When Netflix released The Sandman, I was overjoyed to finally see the characters portrayed. It is weird because despite it being a comic series, the characters, like those of any good storyteller, lived (mostly) in my head. To see them on-screen fused with the stylings of the particular actor, was kind of fucked up. Don’t get me wrong, I love the changes made. I am thrilled at Lucien becoming Lucienne. I think the “Death” is brilliant! Patton Oswalt as Matthew? A dream come true to have one of my favorite comedians associated with this project. Still, before the series came out, I had started listening to The Sandman audio play on Audible. It was with me during the summer I began my undergrad career at UCI. The second installment came out just as I started my first quarter, and I listened to it while I sat alone in a school where I knew no one, in a city that was unfamiliar, significantly older than most of my fellow students. It was like having my best friend with me during this huge transition in my life. Act 3 was released during one of the worst years of my life. However, I knew it was the end of the series, and I realized that I didn’t have it in me to say goodbye again.

I began Act 3 again after I graduated. I was home all day instead of rushing to and from classes; I was only worrying about what was on the grocery list, not trying to wrap my head around the great literary minds of our past and future. I have been stagnating. So, I needed these characters once more, and they delivered. I went on a crazy adventure with my favorite friends, and it was so wonderful. But, as I reached the Inn at the End of the Words (sorry, Worlds), I stopped listening. It said I had about 30 minutes left, and I didn’t listen for going on two months. I didn’t want to join the procession for Morpheus again. Every time that I go through it, I know it is the end, that I have to say goodbye again. Yeah, there’s Daniel, but it’s not really the same, is it? I finally listened to that last 30 minutes this morning. Today, I am on the precipice of having to truly find myself as a writer. Those characters aren’t me, they are him. My characters will need to be my new family, perhaps. It is time to move on. It still hurts to say goodbye, and I’d be lying to say that they won’t stay with me. I would be unbelievably inauthentic to say that I will not hope for my remaining 30 or so years that Death will be there to walk with me in the end. They will stay with me, despite how many times I’ve said goodbye. But, honestly, how can we ever read a new book, love new characters, go on new adventures, if we refuse to say goodbye to the old?

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Dee Richards

Dee is a neurodiverse writer from San Diego, with 3 awards in CNF & 9 short-form pubs. Subjects: feminism, identity theory, surrealism, horror, media analysis.