A Day Not Wasted

I remember, in hazy detail, the moments when, as a child, I decided I hated school and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

I remember standing in the great open hallway of my elementary school after coming inside out of the rain. It was still pitch dark outside, so it must have been during the time of year when the sun takes it’s time to rise (is that summer or winter? I’ve never quite understood how daylight savings time works). I can imagine a squeak on the floor from the wet shoes of kids all around, and the low humming murmur of talk as people went toward their classrooms.

So much of this is based on a memory of a memory of a memory, that I likely blended several different moments together. But I remember talking to a teacher, and I remember her being much taller than me. It’s funny how you forget what the world looked like as a child, when everyone and everything is taller than you, when you’re slinking around just beneath everyone’s field of vision like a cat. You always look up: look up to talk to people, look up to ask to be picked up by your parents, look up to play video games or see the television. I remember a teacher telling me that school lasts for twelve years, from kindergarten to first grade all the way up to twelfth grade, and I would be eighteen when I graduated from high school.

I remember a feeling of hopelessness in the pit of my stomach. I had always felt uncomfortable coming to school. As a young child I was very close with my mother who raised me alone after I’d been through traumatic early childhood experiences of abuse, and I trusted her completely and felt upset when I was away from her. This isn’t unusual, any child misses his mother. But what bothered me so much about coming to school was that it was mandatory, that I was being forced to come here, and what’s worse, five out of every seven days, for all of my forseeable future. When you’re six years old, you don’t have a concept of what it will be like to be eighteen one day. Eighteen might as well be thirty-two. To be in the first grade and to be eleven years away from any hope of escape from something I never asked for was unbearable. It felt so unfair. Why did I have to come to school? Why did I have to wake up so early, why did I have to leave my mom and my home where I felt safe and where I was happy? I was a smart kid, what use did I have for coming to get an education, especially when so much of that education in the early days was stuff I’d already picked up on my own?

Anyone can relate to this feeling. People cope with it in different ways. I don’t remember when I learned that you have the option of dropping out of school at the age of sixteen, but I remember contemplating if I might one day do it. I also remember my teachers rhapsodizing about the importance of a high school diploma. “With a high school diploma, you can do anything in this world!” Funny, the lies we’re told, but I guess in 1996 it didn’t seem to be a lie to the people saying it, maybe at the time a high school diploma really could get you further than it can now. Now there are people with bachelor’s degree who work menial service jobs.

I always looked forward, from the very beginning, to the final ending of school. I had absolutely no desire to go to college, I wanted school, this thing that I never asked for which was foisted upon me without my consent, to be over. It seemed to me that I’d waited with the patience of a saint for it to finally finish, and as the end of high school finally approached, I felt that maybe I would soon feel some grand sense of release, the relief of the final day of the school year when summer break comes, except stretching on boundlessly for the rest of my life. A world of possibilites where I don’t have to be trapped, locked inside of a building for seven hours a day.

When we’re kids, we don’t really understand the concept of going to work. The monotonous routine of school is designed to emulate the monotonous routine of nine-to-five office job. As I said, people cope with it in different ways. Some people love the structure of a school day, and they take that structure into their adult life, thriving on the steady, unending repetition of Monday through Friday, nine-to-five, and the relief of weekends. There were of course times when I too appreciated the routine, even in it’s monotony, because of the sense of security that comes with a routine, and with knowing what to do without being told. Knowing which hallways to walk and which bathrooms to use and which classes it’s safe to break out a sheet of paper and draw on the back or read a book instead of doing your work.

As an adult, I sometimes long for the structure of a nine-to-five job, but the closest I’ve ever come was a few years ago when I worked for an Amazon seller, in their Quality Assurance department, and worked eight-to-four every Monday through Friday. At first, it felt safe, and I relished the weekends, but eventually it began to feel even more suffocating than school, because now there was no purpose the way their had been with school, I wasn’t going to work to earn my way towards something like a diploma, I was just going to earn a paycheck, which I would use to sustain myself until that paycheck ran out, and then live on the next one, and the next one, without end. I had my high school diploma but it had earned me nothing more than a spot being a cog in a machine which so closely emulated the one I’d been a part for twelve years in school, except now I was no longer a child, the object of everyone’s hopes, being praised for how bright and articulate I was, encouraged that I would some day be a great writer or musician or actor. Now I was just a guy sitting at a desk, listening to podcasts and sending emails to Amazon for eight hour blocks, pausing for an hour in the middle to reheat last night’s dinner and read a comic or play my PSP at lunch.

It was all just leading toward nothing.

And really, it hasn’t changed much.

I turned twenty-nine in May of this year, and now in November, six months later, I am still facing the same existential crisis that began a month or so before my birthday: what have I done with my life?

It’s a question that haunts my every waking moment, and a thought that creeps it’s way into every conversation I have. I’m very bad at keeping things hidden, it hurts me terribly to do it, and I have to talk about my feelings, whether I mean to do it or not, and over and over again I find myself confiding in people that I feel I’ve wasted my time up until this point, and on a deep level I feel that my youth is coming to an end. Of course, people older than thirty will say that thirty is still young, but teenagers and people in their twenties, myself included, see thirty as a milestone, a sign that you’re an adult now, that you have yourself figured out, you have your shit together, you know who you are and where you’re going and what you’re going to become.

But I am just as aimless now as I was ten years ago, just as confused and naive and afraid as I was when I was six, looking up hopelessly at a woman explaining to me that I was serving a twelve year sentence in public school. It seemed to me an injustice had been done toward me, that I’d been imprisoned for a crime when I’d done nothing wrong. Adults tell you, as a child, how important education is, but you don’t understand it or care at the time. Even kids who excel at school don’t really understand the necessity of it, and every school child has either heard the words come from a peers mouth or sometimes out of their own, “What’s the point of this? When am I going to use any of this in real life?”

It’s funny though. Because you use everything in real life. Every piece of information you’ve ever absorbed is woven into the fabric of the way you see the world.

I’ve always seen the world differently from people around me, and I know that that’s a pretty common thing to say nowadays. Everyone fancies themselves an outsider and an underdog and thinks that their perspective is so unique that no one else could possibly understand. It isn’t really true, it’s just that the people who do understand are far away, or you haven’t met them yet. And being a bright little boy in North Carolina in the nineties and early two-thousands, who would grow up to realize he was gay, he never truly felt a connection with Christianity, and never saw the world through the narrow, limited view of his family or the people around him, you can imagine how hard that must have felt.

Part of what scares me so much about “becoming an adult,” that is to say, turning thirty, is that I still view the world with the same childlike naive confusion that I felt back then. I’ve learned, of course, I’ve become wiser over time, I’ve had my life experiences, and layers upon layers of trauma, emotional distress, and more anxiety than any person ought to be forced to endure, even though I know there are people who endure much worse than myself. But part of what makes life hard for me is that I have an essentially fragile constitution. Emotionally, I can’t handle confrontation, change, or danger. I have a need to feel safe, stronger than most people’s need, and so I repeat certain rituals to make myself feel that I’m safe. For most of my life this has been playing video games (RPGs especially), while simultaneously watching television (usually sitcoms or other light-hearted comedy shows). It makes me feel safe to come home, eat, and play video games while listening to Youtube essays or episodes of funny shows. I don’t even laugh, usually, it’s just the light-heartedness that makes me feel safe.

My life… it’s been scary. There’s been a deep, abiding fear for as long as I can remember. My grandmother used to stay up late at night, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and tell me and whoever else was assembled there at her apartment about the traumatic experiences of her life: how she was a long-haul trucker for decades, the people she met, how she met a young soldier on leave from the military riding home on a motorcycle to surprise his family for his own birthday, and how she later found him lying in a ditch, having collided with a truck that’s lights were broken and how she cradled him, dying, in her arms, and in his terrified and hallucinating state thought that it was his own mother holding him, and how she cooed him gently, telling him he was safe, that mama was here. She told us about her abusive, alcoholic husband, who held a knife to throat of his young daughter (my mother), and laughing sadistically, told her that he was going to take away the thing she loved the most, because it would hurt her, and how she held a shotgun toward him, waiting for the moment when he finally pushed his daughter away and she had a clean shut, and then pulled the trigger and blew him out the front door into the yard, and how she dropped the gun and chased him out, grabbing blankets and shirts and pillows on the way, to stuff the gaping, bleeding wound in his stomach and keep him from dying before the ambulance arrived.

My grandmother’s stories were frightening, sad, and left all of us who listened to them sitting in amazement. She made supernatural things seem possible, because she was such an effective and believable story teller that when she attributed something to God or to divine intervention, it was easy to believe she had to be right, because she was so good at telling the story. The most convincing one was about my own mother, who before her birth, apparently died while in the womb. She was told at the hospital that she’d lost the baby, and she refused to accept it, so she just left and went home. After a few days she got sick, and was taken back to the hospital where she was told the baby was beginning to poison her blood stream and had to be removed. She was still in shock, and at the same time she was in the hospital, so was her own grandmother, in a room across the courtyard from her own, so that she could see into the room where her family gathered around her grandmother’s bed, and when she saw them begin to cry and saw someone pick up the phone and heard the phone by her own bed ring, she knew it was her family calling to tell her that her grandmother had passed away. And it was around those moments that she felt the baby inside her kick, and she frantically called for a nurse, who frantically called for more nurses, and a flood of medical professionals and equipment was brought into the room and they began running tests on her, and my grandmother, distraught with grief and confusion, grabbed the sleeve of the doctor nearest her, and asked “What has happened to my baby?” And as though it were a line being delivered in a movie, he said to her, “I cannot offer you a medical explanation for what has happened, ma’am, but I can say this: the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”

It was, during these moments in the middle of the night, listening to my grandmother tell us her life stories, that I felt something mingled with the weariness of being a sleepy child who stayed up way too late: a consuming fear. The kind of primal fear that there’s something inside the closet and if you look up you’ll see it’s eyes staring back at you, that if your foot escapes the confines of your blanket a hand will reach up from beneath your bed and snatch you under. It was that same fear. I can’t really explain to you what it is, but it’s been with me my whole life. I don’t experience it all the time. But it’s the feeling that right now as you read or write or talk, there is someone standing just behind you, staring, their eyes boring into the back of your head, and that if you look just over your shoulder you can catch them. The feeling that there’s someone in the back seat of the car waiting to come up behind and strangle you, someone whose face will suddenly appear in the bathroom mirror when you close it. The feeling of the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end that have since the dawn of humanity signaled danger from predators.

You might have felt something of what I’m saying and looked behind yourself just now. I did while I was writing it. It’s a common feeling. But it hits me in very acute ways, sometimes. And it’s not an incredibly common occurrence, it’s not something I deal with on a daily basis, but that’s partially because I have learned to surround myself with things that make me feel safe, like video games, bright lights, and most of all, funny TV shows. Like I said, I don’t always laugh, but the light-heartedness makes me feel safe.

For the past few days I’ve been dealing with this fear I mentioned, because I’ve been binge watching or binge listening a Youtube channel called Found Flix, narrated by a guy who goes through the plot of movies and explains what happens, as well as elaborates on twist endings and theories about future movies. He speaks in a somewhat monotonous voice that becomes a little grating after a while because he’s always gently shouting to be heard by his microphone, but the videos are each about fifteen to twenty minutes and they’re addictive, so I occasionally will fall down a rabbit hole watching them. Whenever I do, I usually end up watching and listening to his videos until late into the night while I’m playing video games, and as I get sleepier, I begin to again feel that creeping dread, the sense that someone is just behind you. Walking outside to my car is terrible during times like this because my house is in the woods and there’s very little light, and the cats outside make disturbing shapes before I realize they’re cats.

And so, here I’ve been, the past few days, feeling a little vulnerable because of how often alone I am at home (I live with my brother who is always either at work or in his room with his door closed), and also feeling an encompassing void with how I’ve been spending my time off. I’ve had three days off this week, today being the third (though not consecutive), in which I’ve done more or less nothing on my off day.

When I do have a day off, it usually starts the same, I wake up, I probably jerk off, I get up and drink coffee and play video games and watch shows or Youtube videos for a while, because it’s what I do when I’m relaxing. Then a few hours have gone by and I remember that I need to do something productive with my day. For me, productivity is writing or going to the gym, and I always intend to do both, and often do neither. I almost always drive somewhere.

Driving is the thing that makes me happiest. I usually feel the excitement someone might feel about going to Disneyland when I know I have a long road trip ahead of me. I love getting my car cleaned out, getting a trash bag ready for all the food I’m going to eat along the way, and stopping at the gas station to get snacks and soda for my trip, then starting up a music playlist or an audiobook and starting my GPS to prepare for a drive that may take hours and hours. I feel an incredible sense of hope and potential when I’m on the highway, and when I’m inside my car I feel safe from the outside world, where I can control the temperature and the music and the entertainment, and I can pull over whenever I want or go to a rest stop or a restaurant whenever I want. I feel most in control of my life when I’m driving. My car is a safe and happy place for me, the place I feel most at home, probably more so even than in my bedroom, because my bedroom is at my family’s house, and being with my family is not something that makes me feel safe.

I have so much that I need to do.

My greatest regret in life is that I haven’t gone to college, and it’s not just because I need a degree, but because I want to have the experience of being in college, of being around other young people with fresh ideas who want to go out and live life, to find a friend group, to have a lot of sex, to try drugs and drink, to meet people who share something with me, to feel a sense of belonging I’ve never had, to have the ability to go to someone else’s dorm or apartment and just sit on their couch or lay in their bed. The commune, the safe brotherhood of other people, their friendship enfolding me. This is what I’ve pined after my whole life, and what I’ve never truly experienced, instead spending my days alone, on the couch or my bed or in a chair, playing video games and listening through headphones to music, to audiobooks, to podcasts, to Youtube essays, to TV shows.

My goals for today were to begin, yet again, the process for applying to college, which I’ve started many times but never finished, to go to the gym and do some kind of physical exercise to help me toward losing weight and overcoming both the type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea I struggle with, and to write in my blog, this one in fact. I’m writing this over on Blogger, rather than on my usual WordPress blog (although I’m likely going to cross-post is there), because even though I’ve been blogging since 2010, I often feel the need to reinvent and start over new. I’ve tried on several occassions to number my blog posts, so that I can say “I can’t believe I’ve actually reached number one-hundred!” or something, but there’s just no good way to do it, because my blog entries have been written at different times for different reasons with different potential readers in mind, although always they’ve been for me, and not really for anyone else.

I’m not influential enough to have my posts read by a wide array of people, but I like to imagine that one day I will be successful and people will care about what I have to say, and they’ll scour the back logs of things I wrote throughout my twenties to see what I had to say then. In the current 2019 climate of combing through someone’s back log to find incriminating evidence with which to label them problmatic and decide someone is “cancelled,” I’ve made some of my old posts private or deleted them altogether. I don’t think it’s wrong to keep your old thoughts up online, I think it shows growth. I don’t want to be judged in my thirties for something I thought in my twenties, but that’s the world we live in, and I’m hoping that pretty soon people will come around to the idea that everyone is problematic, everyone is always growing and evolving, and people shouldn’t be held responsible for an insensitive or bigoted thing they said, particularly without intent to offend, years and years ago.

So, I’m hoping this post will be entry number one in a new chapter. My old blog isn’t going anywhere, but I’m toying with the idea of trying things out over on Blogger and starting a “new” blog, which is something I’ve actually done in the past and ultimately gone back over to WordPress, but I’m going to try it again just to give myself a bit of a reason to keep writing. With a fresh slate I can keep coming back here and journaling, which is essentially all that my blog has truly been all this time.

I often feel that the past decade of my life has consisted of so much wasted time and potential. It’s a harsh thing to say because it implies I wish I hadn’t have met the people I’ve met in the past ten years, and there are people who I love today who I wouldn’t want to disappear, but still, if I could go back and do it all again, I might do things very differently. The first thing I’d do is find any way, no matter how difficult, to get far away from my family and stay far away, something which I still haven’t managed to accomplish today. But college would have helped me find friends, find a support group, find a way out. I wish I’d gone to college when I had the chance to do it without so much fuss, and without needing to juggle a full-time job along with it to survive.

A friend of mine from high school is now an English professor at a local community college who promised she would help me to get applied, and now all I have to do is just do it. I wanted to start the process today, along with putting in applications for a new job as I’m beginning to feel uncomfortable where in my current job, but I didn’t get any of that done. I did, however, write this, meandering as it may be, and that is something. My friend, the English professor, says that she knows I’m a good writer, that she can tell I’m talented. I know this too, but it’s hard sometimes because of an issue which I’ll talk about at length another time, the fact that I have difficulty finding my own voice, in every avenue of life. I assimilate the styles of my friends and influences and emulate them, and I don’t know if there is a truly unique voice within me, unless of course I’m wrong about what the concept of originality really is, and every unique person has always been reinterpreting the world around them and reflecting their influences through their own prism, which of course I know is true, but it’s still difficult because I don’t know who I am yet. I don’t know my own voice as an artist. I appreciate my innate ability to emulate the writing style or musical style of other people, but I also have the fear that someone else will see right through me: this passage reads just like Anne Rice, this song sounds just like Tori Amos, that kind of thing. And the reason I’ve been writing tonight in an ornate, circuitous style is actually because I’ve been reading Anne Rice, and there’s a particular quote that really struck me today, from Interview With The Vampire, that I feel really captures how I feel about the way other people affect me, as a writer, as a musician, and as a person:

“I didn’t know I thought these things. I spoke them now as my thoughts. And they were my most profound feelings taking a shape they could never have taken had I not spoken them, had I not thought them out this way in conversation with another. I mean that my mind could only pull itself together, formulate thought of the muddle of longing and pain, when it was touched by another mind; fertilized by it, deeply excited by that other mind and driven to form conclusions.”

The narrator, and my favorite character in Anne Rice’s chronicles, Louis, also in the next paragraph refers to “the great feminine longing of my mind being awakened again to be satisfied.” I feel that way too. I have my own thoughts, my own style, my own music, but it waits to be touched and fertilized by someone else, that’s the starting point, and then I’m off. But I don’t have the starting point. It’s funny, because as I hope I’ll write about at length, I have a real reverence for the male aspect of life, for the male form and the male mind and the mind being, and I wish so dearly that there were a movement like feminism for men, that was about the empowerment and appreciation of men without the toxicity and chauvinism that tends to ordinarily imply, a wholesome place where men could appreciate and respect and love themselves and one another as men, and to organize around the issues that face men which need societal addressing (i.e. male victims of abuse, circumcision, the favoring of the American court system toward mothers even when they are unfit parents, etc.). And here I have what Anne Rice, who herself has said she doesn’t really identify strongly with any gender or see people with any gender, might describe as a feminine mind, a feminine longing to be fertilized by another. Tori Amos fertilized my musical mind, Anne Rice fertilized my writing mind. And I hope there are more and more who will fill me ideas that I can transform to create my own stories, my own music, my own voice made up of others, as all voices really are. A chorus of voices in one person.

We’re all made up of the experiences of our lives: the squeaking shoes on the floor of the school as the kids march in from the rain, my grandmother recounting her harrowing life stories through the smoke of a cigarette, the days and nights sitting in quiet, sedate calm with a video game controller in my hands, looking in the eyes of the first boy I fell in love with on my fifteenth birthday, the moment another, different, young man first pressed his lips against mine two years later, the shiver up my spine and weakness in the small of my back as I was kissed and finally, finally, felt safe. The aching hours spent in regret that I’ve done so little with all this time that I’ve been given.

Struggling, even on a day when I feel I’ve accomplished next to nothing, to believe that the life I’ve been wishing for, the day when the loneliness will finally end and the world will open up like the highway on a long drive, when I will feel the warmth and safety of smiling and laughing friends beside me, and the warmth of lovers in my bed at night, will finally fill my life with the meaning and the purpose and the hope that I’ve been longing for since those first days of sexual awakening when I was thirteen and thought surely it would be years and years and years before I ever felt the satisfaction of someone who loved me. I thought that by thirty I might have begun to understand, but I am confused by life’s questions now as I was then, and afraid, afraid of being alone as well as being without purpose.

This is my small attempt to find meaning in a day that doesn’t go wasted.

Wanting To Get Better

I’m not sure where to begin with today’s post. This past week has been a really difficult time. I’m still feeling very shaky and unsure of my life, things have been pretty solid for a while and lately everything has been upended.

Some of it I won’t talk about yet, because a lot of it involves my job and it’s not a good idea to air your job drama in a public space online. But what I can say is that I started a new job in December of last year and over the past nine months or so I’ve become pretty good at it, I’ve received positive feedback from management, from customers, and from the people I’ve met at my job. I’ve become comfortable with where I am and what I’m doing, and it’s been a great feeling to have a job that isn’t a source of constant stress.

Working is always a source of stress for me. Especially if I have to work at a job I hate. I find it completely unbearable. If I’m forced to get up and go to work every day at a place I hate, with no end in sight, it isn’t an exaggeration to say that the entirety of life starts to seem futile to me. My thoughts turn very morbid. Last year was especially difficult because I started the year employed and then had a health problem that I couldn’t do much to fix. I had a bone spur in my mouth, poking through the gum, and the oral surgeon I went to see wouldn’t remove it, so I had to spend a month or so on very heavy pain medication just trying to exist, and missing a lot of work. On top of that, my stepfather died, and my family was busy with his funeral and with dealing with his death, and right afterward my mom got a really substantial insurance policy from his death, which meant that all of a sudden our family didn’t have to worry about where groceries was coming from next week until pay day.

My mom moved into an apartment of her own, because she couldn’t take being in the house after he died. I quit my job because it had become too stressful, I was getting in trouble for missing so much work, and I knew my mom could take care of me anyway. I admit that’s not a healthy attitude, but at the time it was the choice I made. Afterward, a lot of things started to happen very quickly. My best friend, who is the closest thing I have to a boyfriend, and who I love very much, moved in with me. I drove eight hours to pick him up and tried to help him break away from his abusive family. After a few months living with me, he went back home so he could go back to his internship, and then his job. I was left alone during the summer and unsure of what to do next. My mom had basically given me one of her debit cards and though it didn’t have unlimited money, I could get food and gas pretty much whenever I needed. I got a couple of jobs that I didn’t last long at. I finally started to settle into a job at Starbucks when I got incredibly sick and had to go to the emergency room, followed by recovering at home for two weeks, during which time I quit Starbucks. After I had recovered I was feeling very alone, very useless, and very unsure of where to go.

I ended up finding the job I have now, a comfortable job in a sales environment, a fairly low-stress job where I can sit at a desk. It’s not quite as stress free as an office job would be, but it’s a good place to be, and I’m able to use my personality to make money. Though I admit to feeling a little slimey being in a sales position at all, as it makes me feel like I’m actively participating as a cog in the machine of capitalism, but then again, I exist in a capitalist society so I have to survive somehow. My pay has been decent. My mom moved into her own house at the beach and my brother and I have been living at the house my mom owns. We don’t exactly pay rent, just the power bill and our phone bill and we help when asked, but usually my mom takes care of the bills. I started to get a lot of commission and have large pay checks for the first time in my life, and I was honestly not sure what to do with the money, so mostly what I’ve done is spend the majority of it on food. Eating out for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m getting progressively better at grocery shopping but I still don’t know how to cook many meals.

There is a big purchase I need to make, which is a new computer, as the one I’m currently typing this on is on it’s last legs. But I just never seem to have enough money. For a while I was using a savings account and doing pretty well but then I had to start dipping into it until there was nothing left. It seems like I have just enough money to feel confident that I’ll survive, but not enough to get nice things. I guess it could be worse, I am from a poor family.

And all that preamble is to say that I find myself in a position where my life is going to go through some changes, and it all hit me rather unexpectedly. Starting a few weeks ago I started going to the gym and though I haven’t been doing it as frequently as I’d like, I’ve been getting in about two to three visits a week which is a very good starting place. I’ve been overweight since I was a kid and as an adult I have type 2 diabetes that I don’t exactly manage very well, so losing weight is important. I was actually starting to feel really contented with my life a couple of weeks ago: my housing situation is safe, I’m making enough money and I even had a savings account, I was starting to get in better physical shape, and my anxiety wasn’t hounding me as badly as it ordinarily is. I still dealt with intense loneliness and depression, but in general it seemed like things were on an upward curve.

And for all I know, they still could be, but there have been some upsetting developments.

The first and most important thing is that my job situation has changed. I’m still employed, but I’m no longer at the same store. Again, I can’t go into the details, but my old manager, who was great at his job and who was a very honest person with a lot of integrity, left our store when he moved to another state and transferred to a new location. The new manager was a nightmare, who made working there virtually impossible for me. I asked to be transferred to another store and thankfully, the management came through. Right now I’m working at another location while I wait to figure out where I’m being transferred. I don’t exactly know what will happen next but at least I’m out of that toxic environment with the new manager. Still, things have changed, a job where I was happy and comfortable has been pulled out from under my feet and I have to learn to adapt to a new atmosphere, possibly with people I won’t connect with very well. I can’t know what will happen, but the anxiety the past few days has been almost unbearable, and I’ve had to take way more of my anxiety medication than I’m used to, which scares me because I don’t want to become even more dependent on it than I already am.

Today I was off. I spent most of the morning and early afternoon sitting in the living room and playing Final Fantasy X and watching Youtube Essays, which are my favorite form of entertainment lately. A lot of what I was watching was related to media from when I was a kid and early teenager: The Simpsons, Silent Hill, Dragon Ball Z, even W.W.F. Wrestling. And it got me thinking about those days in the 90’s, and how young I was, and how I wasn’t truly able to enjoy a lot of the things that were popular then because I was too young. I’ve started to wonder what life would have been like if I’d been born in the early or mid-80’s and been a teenager during the 90’s or the early 2000’s instead of a kid. I might have been able to go to Tori Amos concerts in 1996 or bought my own Playstation or Nintendo 64 with money from my own job. I would have had a car with a CD player and a binder full of CDs like I do now, except it wouldn’t be outdated. I’d be making mix CDs like I do now, except other people would actually care about mix CDs and I could make them for friends. I could use the internet not as a young child but as a young adult, enjoying the fullness of AOL instant messenger and browsing the web with other people who were just building the online landscape.

Hell, I’m writing in a blog right now. Blogs are a mostly outdated form of media, at least a personal journal-style blog like this one, which might have actually been popular if this were the early 2000’s.

And of course, these thoughts are rooted in the same thing I’ve been thinking about for the past few months: an encompassing feeling that I have wasted the past decade of my life. I’m 29 now, and in a year I’ll be 30, and what will I have to show for it? I’ve done virtually nothing with my twenties. And I came to realization earlier about why I might be feeling that way.

I have never had a social life.

I mean, I almost did, once, in junior and senior year of high school. I went to friends houses and rode around in cars with them, and we laughed and had fun. I met new people, did new things. I went places. But now… I don’t do any of that, and I haven’t for many years. And I think I’ve just wasted so much of my youth. My life since I graduated high school has consisted of trying to survive through a haze of rolling, continuous panic attacks, and then alternating between relaxing at home playing the same handful of video games I’ve played all my life and going to work, day in and day out. There’s been no time for much else. My romantic attempts have all failed. Very few of them were even fulfilling or meaningful. I’m musically talented and I’m a good writer but I’ve not created anything with it. I’ve not written a novel, I’ve not recorded an album.

On top of it, I’m faced with issues I didn’t have when I was younger. I’m fatter, I have type 2 diabetes, and over the past few years I’ve been having issues with my memory that have been getting progressively worse. I have difficulty recalling words I need when I need them, especially when writing, or in the middle of conversations. I can’t recall things I need to when I need to, and my gut suspicion is that it’s a result of all the antidepressants I’ve taken over the years reshaping my brain chemistry and fucking up my memory. I’m tired. I used to just be lazy when I laid around doing nothing, now the reason is that I’m exhausted. I’m just as horny as I used to be but now I’m becoming a grown man whose penis doesn’t respond to the slightest whisper with a stiff erection the way it did when I was a teenager.

Time has not yet quite begun to take it’s toll, but it’s starting. I’m about to hit some kind of peak and then… what? So often my thoughts turn to death. What will I leave behind when I die? I’ve come to accept the fact that I probably won’t have an afterlife. So life is now even more fleeting and precious than I thought it was before. So what then? What will I leave? This blog? It’s the closest I’ve got to a legacy. My journals, where I talk about the really dark shit that I wouldn’t admit in a public space? The conversations I’ve had?

What would my funeral be like, if I died today? Would my mom organize it? Would it be a Christian service? For god sake, would they play I Can Only Imagine or When I Get Where I’m Going? Would I be buried in the same drab cemetery where my grandparents lay? The thought is sickening. It’s defeating. So much of who I am would be lost. No, all of who I am would be lost.

Today when I came to Starbucks to sit down and write this, I felt the overwhelming urge NOT to. It was like a boulder I had to push out of the way. When I’m in my car, when I’m playing videos, when I’m sitting and thinking, I can come up with a brilliant way to express my feelings, but when I sit down to do it I’m reduced to scrambling through a hastily written journal entry like this one. I’m confused, I’m scared, and I’m alone.

So what do I do about it?

Dragon Ball Z is all about growing through adversity. Maybe this is a low point. Maybe this past decade has been building to something, some moment where I make the choice to change. Like I said in a previous post, a little at a time, but a change nonetheless. To go to the gym. To find the right job. To go to school. To study piano and creative writing, to record my songs, to organize my thoughts and feelings, to reach out and meet new people, to build relationships, to not be stuck on my own, sitting in my chair or in my car with nowhere to go and no one to do anything with. To move away from South Carolina to a place where I feel I can truly be myself.

After I wrap up here, I’m going to the gym.

I haven’t reached a point where everything changes, not yet. But I’m still trying. I’ve been sinking and sinking for years, and I can’t come up and crawl and stand and fly and soar in one day or maybe even in a year. But I can keep making changes. I can keep trying. I can keep doing little things until finally, something big happens.

I just don’t want to keep feeling like everything I’ve done up to this point is futile, like I’ve wasted not just the past decade but my life. I wouldn’t want to start all over from childhood because I hate where I come from, I hate being from the south, I hate being from a poor family, I hate having parents who damaged me, I hate not knowing the concept of a loving and supportive family, I hate the pernicious influence of the religious cult I was indoctrinated into. My life has just been a series of traumas, moving from one to the next, and as an adult I’ve been stumbling around, trying to survive, but I don’t want to just survive anymore.

Maybe therapy is the next step. I can’t say I know when I’ll try to reach out to a therapist but I hope I do it soon. I want things to change, to get better.

Maybe that’s what’s different. I didn’t want to get better before. I would have been happy if things got better but I wasn’t driven. Am I driven now? I think I am. I want to get better.

I want to get better.

That seems like the most important step in beginning a journey, truly wanting it.

And That’s Enough For Now

I’ve been thinking recently about what I’ve done in life, and what I haven’t done.

I turned twenty-seven years old in May. And I remember, when my older brother was in his twenties, I used to think to myself, “I won’t be like him. I wont’ be in my twenties, sleeping until the afternoon, living off my family without paying rent, having no job, staying up all night playing video games and watching movies, doing nothing with my life.”

But I was wrong. That’s exactly what I’ve done.

When I was eighteen, I graduated high school. I hated school, all twelve years of it. There was a brief period in eleventh grade when I started having fun, but mostly I hated school, and never tried very hard. Which is a shame because I was a very bright student and a naturally intelligent person. But I got terrible grades from middle school onward. I started out with the mind of a sixth grader, so the first five grades were simple, and I could coast on my natural ability, and especially my ability to read and comprehend. But starting with middle school, things got harder. And truthfully, I didn’t care.

School didn’t matter to me. Video games mattered to me. Because video games were the only thing in my life that made me feel safe and gave me something to believe in. Final Fantasy was a world I belonged in, not this one, not this world without magic or airships or crystals or monsters. This world was boring, school was boring, and when you grow up and go to work, that’s even more boring. There was no way out of the boredom except to spend as much time as possible in fantasy worlds.

My mother criticized me for living in a fantasy world, but I always found it so confusing when she told me I needed to grow up, stop spending all my time in a fantasy world and live in the real world. Because my genuine response was… why? What does this world have to offer me? There’s nothing interesting here. Just tedium, monotony.

Sex happened when I was seventeen, and I began to have some understanding of what this world has to offer. I sucked a cock before I first kissed a guy, but regardless, I enjoyed it. And for the first time I felt tethered to this reality by something, by a desire in my chest, not just to fuck, but to feel safe and loved. I had my first kiss, and the boy who kissed me laid me back on the couch and pressed his lips to mine, and then we wandered into my bedroom, my hand in his, and lay down on my mattress, and for the first time in my life I understood what sexual connection was like. The intense pleasure, not just of orgasm after orgasm, but of the smell of another person’s body, the sweat on their forehead and their armpits, the musk of a guy’s balls in a hot room where the box fan doesn’t really cool you off, but it doesn’t really matter. The need to pump yourself against one another again and again, relentlessly until there is no energy left in you, and then the moment you’re awake to do it all over again.

I experienced a broken heart. I experienced a longing to be loved. I fell in love with music, then, and I learned to play piano. I had a new passion, not just video games. Music was something real and tangible now, and it was another fantasy world to lose myself in. I began to write poetry and lyrics, and then I began to write stories, giving me another fantasy world to live in. I spoke in the voices of my characters and lived their lives in a world with more than this one could offer, and I walked around with these things constantly swirling in my mind: lust for a boy to hold close to me, the warmth of his kiss and his affection to fulfill me, the sound of the piano with all the lights out, comforting me in the darkness, the sound of the music that inspired me, the names and places and events in the stories I wrote.

I graduated high school. What was college to me? I had made a decision very early on, during the first week of Kindergarten. I remember where I was. I had gotten off the bus and walked into the school, it was so early in the morning that it was still dark outside. It may have been raining, because I seem to recall the sound of wet shoes scraping across the floor. I remember a kindly older lady standing in the middle of the hallway, directing kids to where they should go. I remember looking up at the ceiling, and how it seemed so high above me that it was like a cathedral with a domed top. I must have been six with this happened. I remember thinking, “I don’t want to be here. I hate it here. I want to go home.”

And I held on to that moment, that anger, that resentment. I never wanted to go to school. I wanted to be at home, where things that mattered were. I wanted to be with my games, and my movies, and my books, and my toys, and my friends. I didn’t care about math, or about labeling pictures on a piece of workbook paper, or about reading comprehension. Of course, I know now how important school was, and I did enjoy the feeling of excelling, particularly at reading, but still, the feeling never left me that this was not a natural place for me to be, that this was not where I belonged. I remember sitting in those classrooms for eight hours at a time, thinking about all the time that was being wasted, and drawing Sonic the Hedgehog running through green fields on the back of every sheet of paper. The stories in my head were always more interesting than learning the months of the year song, or reading aloud in class, or making popcorn, or nap time. I just wasn’t interested.

Twelve years passed, and though many things about me changed, I never let go of that old anger that I felt, looking up at that ceiling that seemed so high to the six-year-old boy, and thinking, I don’t want to be here. I remember asking in Kindergarten, how long kids have to go to school, and they said that you have to do it for twelve years. Frequently during my time in school, I would make a mental note of how many years were left, I’m sure I’m not the only one to have done that. By the time I’d reached twelfth grade, I was just ready for the damn thing to be over. My mom and everyone else pressured me to go to college, but I didn’t care about college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, and it hadn’t occurred to me yet that I was now grown up, and it was too late to give it any more thought. Obviously you don’t need a major picked out when you start college, but still, I was entirely, completely aimless.

I knew I wanted to write, I’d like to be a novelist. But a college education doesn’t get you a publishing deal. I knew I loved playing music, even though I was still just an amateur, but a college education certainly doesn’t get you a recording contract. I knew I loved playing video games, but the process by which someone becomes an actual video game designer involves a lot of technical proficiency and training in computer coding, which wasn’t what I was interested in. So where was I supposed to go?

I said I was going to take a year off. My mom was more willing to allow a summer off, or even a half a year.

I graduated in May. I met a boy right around the same time. A month later he broke my heart, and I sunk into the most intense heartbreak I’ve ever felt. For three months, my world was nothing but tears, longing, and intense, burning loneliness. My only life preserver was a friend who lived too far away for me to possibly visit (funnily enough, it would be easy now, he was only a five hour car journey away, but five hours in a car is an impossibility when you have no vehicle, license, or driving experience), and I had no desire to go to school. My mom pressured me to get a job, but the only thing I could imagine that would be worse than going to school again would be working a job. Standing behind a counter serving food to people, or ringing people up at a register, day in and day out, an endless boring tedium with no reward except for money that’s only used to sustain you so you can go back to working the pointless job.

In December, I met another guy. He was a couple of years older than me. We had sex within an hour of meeting, on that same mattress where I’d rolled around a couple years before with the first guy to ever kiss me, and I lost my virginity. He sat down on my cock and I gasped at the unexpected feeling. I had no idea it would feel like this. He lay on his stomach and I pumped into him, collapsing beside him, my head swimming. He held me.

I felt so guilty.

I didn’t really like this guy. We didn’t have much in common. But I’d just done this with him. I was lying to him, wasn’t I? I was giving him something I didn’t really want to give to him, but it was done and it couldn’t be undone now. I was immediately conflicted. What was I supposed to feel?

He took me home with him, back to his house. We spent the weekend together. I found myself crying uncontrollably several times. This was wrong, this was all wrong. I didn’t love this guy, I didn’t even like him. But here we were, fucking again and again. And I was insatiable. I was eighteen, and I’d tasted real sex for the first time, and my body wanted more, as much as I could possibly handle and then some. I pumped myself inside of him over and over, delighting in our size difference (he was a foot taller than me and thicker around, and much stronger), but when I was inside of him I unlocked a power that existed through pure adrenaline, and his body was mine to move around, to pick up and and to hold, to lift and to fall over onto, and to roll around with. And our lips kept meeting, and our cocks kept touching and going in one another’s mouth, and I reveled in the curiosity I felt to toward his uncircumcised cock, the likes of which I’d never touched before, and he laid me out naked on his body and covered me in massage oil and rubbed my whole body. But when we weren’t fucking, I was crying, because I knew this was wrong, I knew that I didn’t know this guy at all, and that I wasn’t really interested in him.

But I couldn’t help feeling a need for him, and uncontrollable need to be near him, and when he dropped me off at home, it was torture to be separated from him. So I was caught in an endless cycle of pain and despair: being away from him was unbearable, I needed to have him close to me, but when we were together, I knew that I didn’t really care about him. But still, I needed to touch him, to fuck him, to kiss him, to hold him close. I was caught in a situation that had no way out. I could stop seeing him, but that was unthinkable, it would hurt even more than being away from him or being near him.

My obsessive compulsive disorder kicked in harder than it ever had or ever has since. I would word-vomit everything I was thinking, often saying incredibly mean and hurtful things to him because I felt the obsessive need to be completely honest with him, and told him how confused I was, how I didn’t like him, but I didn’t think he was attractive, but how I did like him, how I did think he was attractive. It was all completely paradoxical, utter nonsensical ramblings. I called my best friend and talked in circles for hours and hours, and he listened attentively, and patiently. A month went by. I told my new half-boyfriend that we should just be friends. He was heartbroken, so was I. He called my crying, he missed me. I missed him too.

Two years went by. Two years in which we continued this abusive cycle. I didn’t want to be with him, but now I was used to him, now I needed him. He wanted to be with me but I was psychologically abusing him without meaning to, because of the combination of my intense anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and misguided need to be honest with him, brutally honest, about everything. He lived with his father. I lived with them too, though they insisted I just visited a lot. But I only ever went my mother’s house for a day or two a week. I cleaned up my half-boyfriend’s house, and I went to my mom’s house on the weekends, because now he was actually dating his ex-boyfriend, and still seeing me at the same time.

I got jealous. My jealously over his ex-boyfriend was greater than my love for him, but I wasn’t ready to admit that to myself. I asked him to be my boyfriend, for real this time, and I begged. And eventually, I got what I wanted. There was never a moment when we made it official, but there was a moment when it was understood. It was a terrible relationship. He had become abusive as well. He spit on me, he pissed on me in the shower, despite me asking him not to, he called me names, he didn’t listen or show attention or affection to me, and when we decided to open our relationship up so that we could flirt with other guys and invite them in for three-ways, he began spending our time together on his phone, flirting with guys instead of paying attention to me, many of whom were underage high-schoolers, but I really wasn’t ready to deal with that fact yet. He called me one night, drunk, and asked permission to go on a date with a seventeen year old. I wasn’t used to him showing me emotion, so I tried not to pass judgement on him, I just told him that what he was doing wasn’t healthy for any of us, and he shouldn’t go. But he wanted to anyway. I told him that it wasn’t my place to tell him what he could or couldn’t do, but truthfully I knew that once he went to see this guy, my feelings would be forever changed, and he did, and they were.

I developed severe agoraphobia, and rolling panic attacks that lasted throughout the day. I was only comfortable when I was inside, preferably with a video game, or with music, or something else to occupy me. I didn’t like my mind to be quiet, because then I was forced to think about what a sham this whole relationship was, what a liar I was for pretending to love him, and how angry I was at him for the way he treated me, not to mention how angry I was at myself for the way I treated him, and for allowing myself to come this far into something I’d have been better off leaving behind a long time ago.

When we broke up, two years had passed, and now I was twenty, and I had severe agoraphobia. I couldn’t start college because I needed to have a job, and I couldn’t get a job because I couldn’t go outside without having a panic attack. I started taking medication, which opened up my life and gave me possibilities again, but I still needed a job. My mom kicked me out and I lived with a lesbian couple for a few months, I found a job but I didn’t get a chance to start it because they kicked me out too, and now I lost my insurance and my medication, so I was withdrawing from it, while staying with a new boyfriend in another state. I couldn’t find a new job and we were starving, so I asked to come home, and my mom let me. The first thing I did was cheat on my boyfriend with my ex, and that relationship ended. Now I was back to where I started, and even more alone and confused than ever.

My family moved to Georgia, and after spending months moping and feeling sure that now that I was twenty-one and still had no job and no future, there was no hope for me. I began to regret not going to college. I wanted to know what it was like to be surrounded by people, to be in a pool of people which is known for containing many gay people and having a lot of potential sexual partners. I wanted the opportunity to drink or do drugs, to fuck new guys, to make friends, to feel wanted, but instead I lived in a camper in my mother’s back yard. I hadn’t stopped my abusive habit of meeting a guy, and then holding on to him even when I didn’t have feelings for him, dragging us both along and tearing us both up in the process.

I met a new boyfriend and had the same doubts I always did. After a couple months my family moved back to the Carolinas and I moved in with my boyfriend’s family, and we lived in a shabby trailer with no food and not much in the way of transportation, both of us aimless. He quit school to be with me, giving up his future as a teacher. We slept all day, played video games all night, sometimes we kissed, even rarer were the moments when we fucked. I hadn’t been very attracted to him at first, and had continued my upsetting habit of being brutally honest about that, which of course only hurt his feelings. The funny thing was I was now very attracted to him, and the more time went by the more beautiful he became to me, until I loved every inch of his body. He wasn’t as affectionate or as sexual as I was, but we shared video games a common interest, and we supplemented any actual growth or connection or work we might do in our relationship with playing video games for endless hours.

Another year had passed and now I was twenty-two. How had so much time gone by so fast? We moved in with my family, and both found jobs, then moved in with a roommate. College was still out of the question, I had to pay rent, how could I possibly go to college at the same time? My chance to go live in a college dorm, surrounded by friends and potential lovers, going to parties or having fun, spending my time learning, was gone. I had to work now.

We broke up. Another year passed. I was living in the camper again, in a different back yard. My mother told me I wasn’t allowed to come into their house for anything. I was hungry. She cooked dinner in the front yard but didn’t let me have any, and that night she texted me saying she left food for me on the back porch. I expected it to be the dinner they’d cooked, but no, it was half a bag of chips and a bottle of water. I briefly found myself in a three-way relationship with two Pagan guys, but when they wanted to introduce a fourth guy, with whom I shared a mutual animosity, things didn’t work out.

I was twenty-five now. Fuck. So much time had passed and I’d done so little. I was still so aimless. And now I wanted to go to school. The little boy who looked up at the ceiling and wanted to go home didn’t feel the same way anymore. He was still in there, though, home just became a different place. Home was an air-conditioned little building, outside in the yard, where he would sit with his computer and watch television shows and listen to music and watch porn and jerk off, then drive up the street to buy fast food. The eighteen year old who had been a hundred and seventy pounds had become the twenty five year old who was two hundred and sixty pounds, and who, though I didn’t know it yet, was developing type two diabetes.

Some friends stepped in and saved me. I packed what I could into a suitcase and a computer back, put on my heavy leather coat, and got on a train bound for Delaware. Zack showed up at the train station and took me home with him. I spent those first few months crying, having breakdowns, terrified I’d have to go back to my mother. Zack would hold me and promise me it would never be like that again.

I still couldn’t go to college, because I had to find work. I found a full-time job, I had a car, I had a smartphone and insurance, I was actually succeeding in life, for the first time. But my anxiety remained. I made things worse than they needed to be, and I gave up. I quit the job, and bounced between part-time jobs afterward. I found another full-time job in a pawn shop in the bad area of town sandwiched right between the liquor store and the homeless shelter, and I loathed going to work. I was exhausted. I was so exhausted. And now I’d learned I had diabetes. And my anxiety medication was failing me. And I didn’t know what to do next.

I decided to go back to my mom’s house voluntarily, so as not to be a strain on my roommates anymore. On the second day I realized it was a huge mistake and asked Zack and his husband if I could come home. They let me, but I just get jumping from job to job again, and with tears in his eyes, Robert told me that it was time for me to go. I packed my things again, and I came to South Carolina.

Where I still am. That was November. I’m twenty seven now. I was eighteen, and then suddenly… I’m twenty seven. I’m twenty seven and I’m two hundred and forty pounds, and I’m still no closer to achieving success. I still have no degree. I still can only hope to find a job in food service, or retail, or if I’m lucky, a call center or maybe office work (the latter of which I would like very much). I’m still writing, I’m still making music, I’m still playing video games. My novel has been written and unwritten in my head a million times over the past five years, while scraps of it exist in reality, pieces torn from different versions of the story, a hundred-thousand words of notes and concepts and scenes and old drafts. But the book is still not written. And as for my songs, it’s taken me ten years to write less than ten songs. Most of them are just ideas, floating around. There are mountains of poetry, and for that I’m glad. And there’s this blog. There’s seven years of this blog. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of words, expressing who I am.

I’m proud of that. I’m proud of this blog, of my writing, of my music, and of who I am. But the fact remains that I’m still in my mother’s house. And I’m tired of that. I just can’t live that way anymore. Sometimes, this compels me to work harder. Most often it depresses me, and I sink into my bed, which of course isn’t really MY bed at all, it’s a bed in my mother’s house, and I sigh. Because I’ve wasted so much time.

It’s never too late, I know. But still… I’m so far behind. There is so much I could have done. If I had been responsible, I’d still be in Delaware, working a full time job and making something of my life, even if I were only doing school part time or online. But no, I’m here. And it’s hot, and I’m sweating, and I woke up this morning feeling like absolute shit. There’s a boy who I love, and he lives in England, and he gave me two weeks together, and held me in his arms, and he made love to me, and he talks to me every day. But he has his own path, and there’s nothing I can do to place myself on that path right now. He’s going to teach English in another country, and I can’t go with him because I don’t have a valid reason to go to another country. And besides, what would I do there?

I’m still lost. I’m still aimless. I’ve still done so little.

So I’m sitting here at a coffee shop, and I’m putting in job applications. And I’m thinking about what comes next. I’m trying not to think about the misery I feel when I realize how trapped I still am, how incapable I am of caring for myself, how much I’ve failed. And I know plenty of people will tell me I’m not a failure, and I accept that, but I HAVE failed. I’ve failed at so much. I accomplished other things, and my failures were lessons in themselves, that taught me about life, but I’ve still failed. And truthfully, my anxiety still has me just barely hanging in there. And how can I possibly hope for some hero to swoop in and save me a second time? Zack gave me a chance and I failed him, and failed myself.

I failed those guys who I tried to love, but I failed in loving them, and maybe I haven’t really learned what love is, maybe I’m still learning how to love someone in a functional way, what love is really like. Maybe we all try to recreate our first love, and all love we feel is a dim reflection of first love that is sometimes brighter than it was the day before.

For now, all I can say is that here I am. I can’t know what happens next. I guess I can just keep hoping, and keep making tiny steps. And maybe that’s enough for this day, and for this hour.

Final Fantasy

I’ve loved video games my whole life.

The first game system I ever received was a Nintendo Entertainment System. I must have been three or four years old at the time. The first video game I ever remember seeing was Super Mario Bros. I remember watching my parents play it once in the living room together, with my mom not doing very well and asking my dad questions about how to play it. Funnily enough I don’t have a specific memory of playing the game, although I must have at the time. I do remember my earliest memory of playing a game, and it was Mega Man II, also for NES (although at the time we all just called it the system “Nintendo”). I remember sitting in my mom’s room, with the game hooked up to a television on her dresser, and watching the opening scene of a camera panning up a building to Mega Man standing with his helmet off on top of the building.

I remember how difficult Mega Man was. I could never get further than one or two levels in, and once I actually managed to make it all the way through to the final level and couldn’t beat it. I remember playing the original Super Mario Bros, and an old lady who babysat me tried to teach me the trick to getting 99 lives with a turtle shell. The second video game system I got was a Sega Genesis. In the early 90’s, everyone picked a side in what became known as the “console wars”: either you were a Nintendo person, or a Sega person. It’s not that you necessarily only liked the games from one system or the other, everyone loved all the games, it’s just that the systems were so expensive that no one’s parents could afford to buy them both. To have both was a big deal. I only happened to have both by luck, because my cousin, whose name is Andy (and who will reappear soon in this story), was getting rid of his Sega Genesis and sold it to my mom. I’m not sure for how much but for some reason my memory tells me 50 bucks. I have no clue if that’s true or not.

My first Sega game was Sonic the Hedgehog 2, along with Taz-Mania, a game about the Loony Tunes character Taz the Tasmanian Devil. Fun fact: I was surprised to learn Tasmania is an actual place later on in school, I always assumed it was a made-up place from Looney Tunes. Anyhow, a lot of people fondly remember the first Sonic the Hedgehog, and it’s opening level Green Hill, with nostalgia, but for me it was the second game. I actually never even played the first game until years later in elementary school, and was kind of aggravated by the lack of a spin dash ability.

I loved Sonic 2. I played it constantly. Eventually my cousins who were around the same age as me wanted a video game system, so my mom came up with a rule that I could only have one of my two game systems at a time, and if I wanted one, my cousins got to use the other. I still think that was a stupid rule, particularly because I always chose my Sega Genesis, and eventually my Nintendo just became their de facto possession, and they lost it.

Not that I’m still bitter about it or anything.

But it was mine.

Just saying.

Anyhow, like I was saying I loved Sonic 2. I loved the levels and the characters of Sonic and Tails, and during school I used to draw pictures of Sonic running around on the back of my school papers. I don’t know if schools still do this but at the end of the year the teacher would give our parents a folder filled with all of our work from that year, which make pretty great keepsakes. My mom still has many of my Sonic the Hedgehog drawings, which I was constantly getting in trouble for doodling.

The thing that I loved most about Sonic, though, was the music. Chemical Plant and Mystic Cave Zone especially. My aforementioned cousin Andy (the one who sold my mom the Genesis, not his two sisters who always got to keep one of my game systems) always knew more about video games than I did, was always a more skilled player than I was, and always had something interesting to show me. I used to watch him play in awe, and I was very entertained just watching. He revealed to me that there were cheat codes to Sonic 2, which he had memorized, and he would sometimes put them in and show me Super Sonic, who could jump incredibly high and fly through levels at triple the speed of Sonic. I was amazed by Super Sonic, by his shiny yellow hair and his ability to float in the air as stars rippled past him, and by the way he would cross his arms and stand on his tiptoes, looking regal and powerful, when you stood on the edge of a clif. I also loved the Super Sonic music that played, and I would go to the sound test menu and turn on the Super Sonic music, then turn the volume way up on the television, and run around the house as Sonic, jumping on the furniture and making up stories about Sonic’s adventures.

Incidentally, Andy refused to tell me the cheat code and never did, I learned them when I got older and found them online. He did input them for me and let me play as Super Sonic sometimes, but he seemed to enjoy not telling me and keeping the information a secret from me. Once, after I begged him incessantly, he finally wrote the cheats down on the back of an envelope, and it turned out they were completely fake and not the real cheat.

Not that I’m still bitter about it or anything.

But really, he should have just told me the damn cheat codes.

Andy was to be a pivotal player in my love of video games. He always had the newest systems and the newest games, and he would always let me play them, though usually I had to spend most of the time I visited watching him play, but even still, I was fine with that. I never really got to play much of the Super Nintendo, I had an aunt and uncle who had one along with Super Mario World, and on a few occassions I would visit and get to play, but I never had a Super Nintendo of my own. I still loved playing Super Mario World for the limited time I could, though. Anyhow, Andy eventually got a Sega Saturn, which I was entirely interested in due to it’s complete lack of Sonic the Hedgehog games, though I did watch him play Panzer Dragoon, and was pretty stunned by the graphics.

It’s funny now to look back at older video games and think of how stunning the graphics were to people at the time. But good game designers have tried different ways of creating beautiful games, and some of them have stood the test of time. For instance, I still think Super Mario World looks incredible, but unlike many other games it isn’t because of superior graphics as much as it is superior art design. The characters and environments are drawn in a style similar to cartoon animation, which means that they hold up over time. The opposite of this would be games like Doom or Goldeneye, who tried to go for a very realistic aesthetic, and as such look like paper mache pasted onto polygons now. I think that games that use an animated style, or any style that resembles animated art rather than realistic art, hold up over time.

I had only ever heard of Zelda as a game for the Gameboy, a device which I found fascinating. Gameboys were the first real handheld video game systems, apart from little handheld poker or Yahtzee games with little light up screens that had the game built in to the system. The first Gameboys were massive and heavy, with tiny little screens that were always green, and the games were black and white except for the fact that the screen was green, so they were more black and green than anything else. There was also a slew of accessories, my favorite of which was a huge clip-on magnifying glass that went over the screen and made everything look bigger, along with “worm lights,” which were glorified reading-lights that plugged in and lit up your screen in the dark (back-lit screens, surprisingly, would not arrive until much later). I had an aunt (Andy’s mom) who apparently loved Zelda and though she never let me play it I’d seen her playing it on her Gameboy (the game, by the way, was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening). I later saw the original Zelda for Nintendo but never found it terribly interesting, and always died very quickly, along with having no clue where to go.

Andy had a Nintendo 64 and I saw him play a lot of great games: Wave Race was the first one I saw, followed by Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, and then shooters like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Forsaken, and many others. In those days video stores still existed, and in video stores there was a video game section where you could rent games. I both watched and played a lot of Nintendo 64 games through Andy, who would let me play his consoles while he was busy with something else when I visited him.

Andy eventually moved in with me and my mom when he was sixteen and I was about seven years old. He’d had a falling out with his mom, and in my family throwing your children out is a somewhat common occurence, so my mom took him in. I fell in love with Andy. He was the older brother I’d always wanted. I actually had an older brother but he’d been adopted before I was born by a relative who lived somewhat far away and didn’t allow us much contact, so Andy became my older brother. I totally worshipped him. I followed him wherever he went, I listened to his music and sang along with him, I watched movies with him, I read his video game magazines and played his games when he was busy, I watched eagerly as he played and asked questions which he patiently answered (being an adult now and having played video games next to kids who are around the age of seven, and listening to the endless barrage of questions, I understand just how patient he was with me, which is kind of surprising because I remember him not having too much patience).

Andy’s influence was a really big part of my life at that age. Because I didn’t listen to anyone but him. I wasn’t a bad or disobedient kid, it’s just that I did what Andy said, when he said it, and I did it happily. I loved his approval, and I did not question or argue with him. My mom probably used this to her advantage a few times and had Andy order me to do something that I wouldn’t do when she asked. Andy also began to go through a phase that a lot of white guys in the 90’s went through of adopting a lot of mannerisms and speech patterns of black culture. In the south, they have a word for this, which is “wigger,” a very crass portmanteu of the words “white” and, well you can guess the other one. He started listening to a lot of rap music (although he also listened to a good bit of alternative 90’s rock, provided it was a male artist, so I heard a lot of Third Eye Blind, Sublime and Sugar Ray in those days), and went through a very long Insane Clown Posse phase. To his credit, he never became the kind of cult-like devoted “juggalo” follower the band is known for having, he just enjoyed getting high and listening to their music and laughing at the absurdity of it.

My world changed in a profound way one day when I came home from school. I walked into the living room to find Andy just starting up a game. I was surprised to see it wasn’t a Nintendo 64 game, it was actually a Playstation that he was playing. I do remember seeing people with Playstations around that time, and I remember seeing games like Crash Bandicoot and some of the wrestling games that had a huge surge of popularity in the 90’s (along with professional wrestling itself, which was more or less a glorified soap opera with people throwing each other around and bouncing off of ropes), but I don’t know if it was before or after this moment.

This moment was important. This moment is imprinted on my memory. It’s the moment that everything in my life came into focus. It’s the moment that I became a writer, a musician, and an artist. I didn’t know all of that yet, but this is the moment that it started.

The game was called Final Fantasy VII (Andy had to explain to me what roman numerals were, and that the symbol meant “seven”). It was the start of the game, and Cloud Strife had just hopped off of the train and stood with his back to the camera. His blocky, pixelated form didn’t look silly to anyone at the time, in fact the graphics were great. The first thing I noticed was his spikey blonde hair. Now, I hadn’t watched Dragonball Z at the time, and didn’t know anything about Super Saiyans, but I remembered thinking that I recognized the game he was playing and said “Hey I know that guy! Who is it?” but I’d never heard of Cloud. Looking back, I must have thought it was Super Saiyan Goku, although paradoxically I don’t remember seeing the episode of Dragonball Z in which Goku goes Super Saiyan until a bit later, and I THINK that I was watching the show as new episodes came out.

At any rate, I was intrigued by the spikey blonde haired character, and sat down to watch Andy play. I had never seen a roleplaying game before, and I was confused about the fact that instead of actually moving around and slashing the sword with the buttons on the controller, Andy was selecting commands from a menu, and then the characters would go forward and do what he told them. Even though it was new, I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed watching a green aura swirl around Cloud as he did his magic incantation pose and throw lightning bolts or blocks of ice at enemies.

Final Fantasy VII quickly became everything to me. I think that what did it was the music. The music was so beautiful, so intensely beautiful, so world-changingly beautiful. I’d never heard anything like it. The song that always stands out the most in my mind is called Anxious Heart. It plays several times in the game, but it’s the area music for the Train Graveyard. I remember watching Andy play this area, and my mom was chatting with someone who was in the room, and actually made a comment about how these new video games had this cool incredible music. I’ve never forgotten her saying that. It was true, the music was incredible.

My favorite was the battle theme. I heard it constantly because there are endless amounts of battles in the game. I remember one morning when I woke up, and I heard that battle song as I woke up, and I instantly became filled with excitement and ran into the living room, jumping up onto the couch beside Andy to watch the action. I would stand in the living room floor and watching the battles, singing the battle music in “dum dum dum”s and mimicking the actions, standing in battle position and moving like I was slashing a sword, doing the character’s victory poses.

I loved Final Fantasy VII in a way I had never loved anything before. I was completely enraptured, watching this game. I was fascinated by everything, by the characters, by the battles, by the monsters the characters fought and summoned, by the villain Sephiroth, who was cool and soft-spoken and terrifying, by the artwork in the game’s manual which I tried to copy in my sketchbook and draw pictures of. I even drew little figures of Cloud and Sephiroth in battle, holding their swords, and I cut them out of the book and made the two little flat drawings fight one another.

Andy bought an unofficial strategy guide which I used to gleefully look through, looking at the pictures from the game and the incredible illustrations of items and materia, which I thought looked so beautiful and real. And even to this day, I think that the pre-rendered backgrounds of Final Fantasy VII are beautiful. Some of them hold up better than others, but the decision to put the game on pre-rendered backgrounds filled with lush forests, barren snowscapes, and brilliant skylines was a great one, and it’s caused Final Fantasy VII’s environment to age significantly better than, say, Tomb Raider, which looks like a pixelated polygonal mess now.

Andy beat the game, and then some. He did all the sidequests, he spent a long time breeding and racing chocobos. One day he was racing chocobos all day, and during that day he made us lunch, a huge pot filled with barbecue sauce, spices, and cut up hot dogs, which was so incredibly hot and spicy that I had to drain an entire glass of Sun Drop with every bite. It was a bright day, there was a sliding-glass door in the living room, and everything was perfect and bright and happy. I was so happy watching Andy play Final Fantasy VII. Everything in my life just came into focus when he was playing that game.

He wouldn’t let me play the game on my own because he was afraid I would overwrite his save file. I know he restarted the game many times, and I remember one time he restarted the game and gave the characters funny names, which he and his best friend, our next-door neighbor, found amusing to no end. It was kind of funny to see the characters all calling Cloud “Asshole,” Barret “Dr. Dre,” and Tifa “Bitch.” I mean, it was juvenile, but we were literally juveniles. Me much more so than them.

I remember one night I was watching television and I heard the opening music of Final Fantasy VII in the other room, and immediately bolted into the living room to watch Andy play. My older brother did actually come to visit once, and while Andy was away we played his Playstation (which I was EXPRESSLY forbidden to do when he wasn’t home, and I was PARTICULARLY not supposed to play Final Fantasy VII because I might scratch up the game disc or mess his Playstation up in some way). My brother and I played through the opening section in Mako Reactor No. 1, although I think I did most of the playing, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was I doing well, I actually beat the guard scorpion, the game’s first boss. Andy found out about this and got really angry, because from that point on, his disc 1 would always lock up at the FMV scene where the bridge breaks on Mt. Nibel in Cloud’s Nibelheim flashback. He blamed this on me mishandling the disc.

It didn’t really matter that I rarely got to play though, because I loved watching Andy play so much. He did manage to do everything there was to do in the game: bred a golden chocobo, got the master materia, and beat both Emerald and Ruby Weapon (Ruby Weapon was a long process of trial and error, and I happened to be out of the room when it happened but I remember Andy’s exuberant jubilation).

There are so many parts of that game that recall certain memories. I loved the music of Cosmo Canyon, I remember watching Andy battle these clowns that draw cards from a deck that have different effects, I remember the first time I saw Andy fight the final boss, Safer Sephiroth, and was stunned to hear that there was actual choral singing, in the music. I was stunned: people were really talking, IN A VIDEO GAME! There were actual voices.

I could probably go on for much longer about watching Andy play Final Fantasy VII. Suffice it to say, it became everything to me. When I was alone, I played pretend games of FF7 with myself, being Cloud or Sephiroth, turning sticks in the yard into swords and standing in place until my “attack” or “magic” command was selected from an imaginary menu, and then I would rush forward and slash my sword, then jump back into place to wait for my next turn. I also played the opponents usually too. I know it’s a common sight to see a little boy holding a stick and pretending it’s a sword, jumping around and swinging the stick through the air shouting like he’s fighting monsters, but it must have been a strange sight to see a little boy standing in place, assuming a battle pose, waiting for a command that came from himself, then rushing forward to slash and jumping back into place to wait for the next command.

Andy was playing Final Fantasy VII, fighting the red dragon in the Temple of the Ancients, on the day that my mom called me into the kitchen and, along with her aunt who was there, told me that I was going to be staying at a mental health center in the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation that my therapist had recommended, and that she couldn’t come with me and I’d have to sleep there and be away from my family. I was terrified buy they gave me a teddy bear, and I made everyone hug the teddy bear several times, so that if I got lonely, I could ask my teddy bear for a hug from Andy, or from Mommy, or from one of my cousins, and he would relay the hug to me.

It’s sad, I know. The experience at the mental health center (which was actually just a floor of the hospital) was horrifying, but it’s another story for another time. When I came back, I was anxious to see what I’d missed in Final Fantasy VII.

This is how it started. Final Fantasy became important to me, and changed my life. It made me creative. It inspired everything I did from that moment on. I wanted to create my own fantasy stories, I loved magic and swords, I wanted to make my own stories like Final Fantasy, I wanted to be a video game designer and work for Squaresoft, the company that made Final Fantasy. I read all the video game magazines and loved anything mentioning Final Fantasy. I resented Final Fantasy VIII when it was released because it wasn’t a direct sequel to VII, and how could anything be better than VII? I did eventually come to love every entry in the series, though.

Years later, I started learning to play piano because I wanted to be able to play music from video games. The music from Final Fantasy VII, from Sonic the Hedgehog, from Kingdom Hearts. Kingdom Hearts is it’s own story. I went absolutely nuts when I found out Cloud was in the game, and he had a voice. I could HEAR Cloud’s voice. My brother played a mean prank on me once, by pretending that he was actually Cloud, that he’d traveled to another world, and that he could morph between my brother and Cloud. I completely, legitimately believed him. I was heartbroken when he revealed to me that it was a lie, and cried my eyes out. Incidentally, he also pretended to morph into several other Final Fantasy VII characters. It’s a pretty funny story. Apart from me being heartbroken, anyway.

I printed out the sheet music to the Final Fantasy VII battle theme and put it in front of my chorus teacher, asking if he could play it on piano. He did. It was the first time I’d heard Final Fantasy music played on a real instrument, not coming through the speakers of a television, and not in the form of those wonderful MIDI sounds that I loved so much, but here on a real instrument. It was a different sound, but it was magic. I was hooked from that moment. I had to learn to play this song.

And really, that’s how it all started. I started trying to write my first novel when I was twelve, and it was a story heavily influenced by Final Fantasy. I started learning to play piano because I wanted to play music from video games. To this day, I’m still playing Final Fantasy, and I’ve never stopped playing the games from the 90’s either (although admittedly I rarely play Final Fantasy VII anymore, it’s a bit boring to me now and I don’t find the battle system as fun or engaging as others in the series).

My story with video games continues from here, but I’ll stop there for now. There were other games that had a big impact on me, other games that helped me create beautiful memories, and there are plenty more memories associated with Final Fantasy VII and it’s profound effect on me. When I started experiencing depression and became reclusive and afraid, I hid inside the world of Final Fantasy VII. At one point I even believed Cloud was real, and I begged that he would come and rescue me from this world and take me to his. Final Fantasy gave me a safe place, a place that made sense to me, a place where the things I loved were, where I was special and cared about and had magical abilities, and could do the things I wanted.

I never stopped believing in that world. I don’t believe it’s real anymore, but when I was a teenager I had an ardent wish. There’s an area in Final Fantasy VII, an area outside Nibelheim, where the green land drops off in a cliff and the ocean stretches out. I know that in the game, it looks like a bunch of polygons and textures. But it didn’t look that way to me. It looked like real green grass on a real rocky surface, overlooking a real, beautiful sparkling blue ocean, lit by the sun, with the Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII playing in the background behind it.

And one day, when I was fourteen, standing outside in the cold morning and waiting for my bus to come and take me to school, I hoped that Heaven would be that place. That when I died, I’d go to a personal Heaven, where I could finally live in the world of Final Fantasy VII. Even now, the memory of that wish still lives in my heart, though now I’m ostensibly an atheist so I don’t know if I believe in anything after death, or in real transcendance anymore. But it didn’t matter then. All that mattered was that I loved this world, and that I found beauty and joy and happiness and safety and security there.

Final Fantasy VII gave me hope, and it still does. During a difficult childhood, it gave me something that made sense, something to love. And the thing is, it’s not like I just started developing a fondness for it out of a need to cope (although I completely believe that’s probably what happened), it’s that I fell in love with it INSTANTLY. I was hooked from that first day. I was spellbound by the characters, by the places, by the music.

And I’ve never stopped loving Final Fantasy, or fantasy itself. And right now, a fantasy story lives in my heart, a story with my own characters and my own places, all of whom borrow concepts and ideas from Final Fantasy, but which are mine. I don’t have to be ashamed to take from Final Fantasy because all art draws from all other art. I try not to outright copy the series, but in my mind I always see a future critic of my novel that hasn’t even been written, saying that it’s a blatant copy of Final Fantasy. But I know that my vision, even if it borrows heavily from Final Fantasy, is unique, and that it will become clearer the more I write, the more I try, and the more I explore. As time has gone on I’ve drawn inspiration from many more sources than just Final Fantasy, and I will continue to do so.

But Final Fantasy will always be special to me. It will always be that safe place, that place of numbers and menus and RPG mechanics that gave me something to focus on when I was feeling scared as a teenager and gave my time structure, that place of beautiful music and scenery and adventure that captivated me as a child and made me want to explore the fantasy realms in my mind, the place that I started writing fanfiction about as a teenager, creating my own stories with these characters, borrowing them and placing them in a world where I coexisted, creating my stories out of thin air as I danced barefoot through the wet grass in the morning, slashing a stick through the air, and adventuring with Cloud and the other Final Fantasy characters.