Wave

The antidepressants steal sensation away. Most often you don’t notice it. But I noticed it today because I was feeling sad and alone all day, and there were chills up and down my back and neck, and it felt good. It was sadness, but it was a trembling sadness that felt good.

I finally found my meds because I knew it would help. I took one and twenty minutes later I felt the familiar wave of sorrow come to wash over me. And I embraced it, because when your existence consists mostly of sorrow you embrace it, it would be foolish not to. Our bodies are 70% water, my soul is probably at least 50% sorrow. It’s silly to push the sorrow away when it is itself your very existence. I reached out to take the wave in my arms and feel the chills run along my skin again.

But the antidepressant snatched me away from the sadness. It’s like jerking off, and then suddenly your hand is pulled away, and your cock is screaming out for more, but there’s only one small fraction of a second that it still feels pleasure without your hand, the rippling leftover waves of pleasure, and then the sinking combination of disappointment and frustration and anger that comes from not being allowed to continue, the receding of the pleasure, the bar was almost full and now it’s sunk to zero and you have to start again. That’s what it’s like when the antidepressant opens it’s mouth and eats the sorrow. It doesn’t eat the pain, or the damage to your nerves and your muscles. No, you still have to keep those. But it eats the sorrow, it eats the fun part. You do all the work of living with the pain and the antidepressant takes the solace of at least FEELING the pain.

But if you don’t have the antidepressant you can’t walk outside or go in public without the rolling waves of fear and panic. You can’t work a job. And before you know it you’ve gone from being 19 and living with your mother to being 27 and living with your mother, and if you don’t get out now then eventually you’ll be 35 and living with your mother, and then you’ll have begun to exhaust your options

The antidepressant is a necessary evil but it is an evil, because I love my waves of sorrow, and I want to catch it in my arms and feel my body tremble with a feeling that is not unlike an orgasm, where the sadness reaches deep into my stomach and even further past what I can pinpoint into an area in the back of my head where my best memories are kept. The best memories are not just the happy ones. The best memories are the ones where I feel most acutely. It’s easier to pinpoint the sad ones than the happy ones. Happy memories are difficult to find because happiness is difficult to notice. You don’t realize you were happy until you’re not anymore. Happiness is a pulse, it has to recede so it can keep beating. Happiness is a heartbeat.

You deal with the sinking in your chest. You feel violated, because that sadness I was about to feel was mine, and the medicine had no right to take it, and here it is inside of me, because I swallowed it of my own free will (but really, when you’re given a choice between functioning without a soul, or suffering with one, how is that even a choice? There is no answer), and it’s in places it shouldn’t be. I put the pill in my stomach but it’s made it’s way into the deeper places, into the cathedral that is my private place, and it’s snatching away my sadness which was never part of the agreement. I did not permit it to take the sadness.

You don’t realize you loved the sadness until it’s gone.

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.

#128: Half Jack

“I see my father in my face
I hear him in my laughter
I run as fast as I can run but
Jack comes tumbling after.”

My resemblance to my father is actually very unsettling. Not only do I look just like him in the face, but I also have a lot of the same mannerisms, I have the same tone of voice, and it’s even weirder because I mostly grew up without him so I didn’t purposely adopt his mannerisms.

I really hate my father, and I try not to think about him most of the time, but there have been moments when I’m laughing and see my smile in the mirror, and when I smile I look exactly like him. And then my face will fall when I see the resemblance. And I’ll feel him underneath my skin, clawing and trying to get out, like a demon who’s possessed me, but he’s running in my blood and I can’t get him out.

The only thing you can try to do is make peace with it. There can’t be peace between my dad and me, so the best I can do is try not to hate him. It hasn’t worked yet, and I don’t know if hating does more harm than good for me. But sometimes hating him sustains me, and sometimes it hurts. I fantasize all the time about punching him in the face, about him coming up to me one day when I’m successful and I look him in the eye and tell him what a loathsome creature he is.

We’re never big enough to house the crowd. The people who’ve affected us, the good and the bad, live inside of us. Our love for them or our hate for them, both will keep them alive. They hurt us and they leave wounds, or they pierce us with love and they leave wounds, and either way we try and stitch the wounds up, but we let them in and the stitches pull apart.

Jack, or Greg, or whoever it is, he lives inside of us, and haunts us. I look in the mirror and see his face, and I know that I’m capable of the same evil he is, that I inherited his curse, his power, his intellect, his wickedness. I know that I can become the monster he is.

When I was a baby, my father stood over my crib, and he said to my grandmother that when he saw me laying there, so vulnerable and innocent, he wanted to hurt me, the same way his father hurt him. I think it was a brave thing for him to admit. I wish he had been brave enough to keep admitting the things he was afraid of.

When my dad was a young child, his father held him over a cooking grill and lowered his little feet onto the coals and burned them. His father put cigarettes out on his head. Is it any wonder he became a monster? Usually I hate him, usually I’m mad at him.

Sometimes I feel sorry for him.

My Jack was hurt by his Jack, and his Jack was probably hurt too. If I have a child, will I become Jack? Will I break them? Can I be trusted? Can I trust myself?

We carry multitudes. We exist and we exist and we exist.

Some days I’m half Jack, sometimes I’m only a quarter, some days he’s barely noticeable. I want to exorcise him. I want to get him out. But he’s always going to be there. And my body feels like an unclean temple, an unsafe place with no peace or privacy.

I keep hoping I can cleanse him away. I keep hoping the water is clean enough.

If I washed him out, would I still be myself? Is it better to cleanse ourselves of wickedness and lose the wickedness within us, to be empty even if what we’re missing in the darkness? Or do I make peace with it, do I forgive him, do I choose to love him because it’s the hardest thing to do, and it’s the bravest thing to do, and I can be brave where he was not?

I won’t say it to him. But right now, I love you. I’m choosing to love you because it’s the only way I can keep from being destroyed by you, dad. And I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry for what you’ve suffered. I’m sorry that you probably suffer now for what you did to me. I’m sorry that you destroyed me. I’m sorry even though I’m your victim.

Half of me is love, and half of me is hate. Two halves are equal.

I’m halfway home. I hope that home is love and safety. I hope that home is hope. I hope that home is a baby lying in a crib, and a Jack who doesn’t want to hurt him. Like my father, there’s a part of me that wants to consume and destroy everything. It’s the curse he passed down to me. It’s the black hole inside me that wants to absorb and rip apart everything I touch.

I have to be brave. I have to admit it. I can’t be afraid like my father was. I have to admit it so I can overcome it.

Brave enough to get this out. Brave enough to love. It starts with loving you, and then I can love myself because I’m not angry at you anymore. Loving you is not a one-time thing. It’s a journey. It’s a path toward forgiveness. I have not reached the end of that path. I don’t even know if I’m at the beginning. I don’t know if I’m halfway home.

But I hope I’ll get there.

#127: 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.