On Stephen King and Storm Drains

I have a weird history with Stephen King and his fiction.

Admittedly, I probably haven’t read his best books. The first Stephen King book I read was one that was given to me by a friend who assured me I would love it. I did not. It was called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and I was surprised both by how boring it was and particularly by how not-scary it was. I mean, I had heard my whole life that Stephen King was a master of horror whose books were chilling and disturbing, and honestly the book was kind of meandering and had a creepy atmosphere, but in general it was pretty underwhelming.

I thought that Stephen King deserved another chance, however, and at the time I was working my first job and had absolutely no bills to pay, and I was nineteen, so of course I had no compunction spending way too much money on a super special deluxe edition of what was at the time his newest work: Under the Dome. It was a good concept, a story about a small town that’s trapped under an invisible dome that cannot be moved by any means, and how quickly society breaks down. Apparently the original title was an unfinished story called The Cannibals, and honestly that sounds much more interesting than what the book turned out to be.

I spent something like fifty dollars on a special edition of the book that came with some cards that had illustrations on them, really high quality paper and binding, and a weird cover that had the title in a flimsy ribbon rather than actually printing it on the book. Except for that ribbon thing, I was pretty impressed by the design of the book itself, and I was thirsty to read what waited within.

Under the Dome was about a thousand pages of wandering, meandering storytelling, introducing dozens of characters only to kill them off a few chapters later. I also wasn’t crazy about all the massive buildup to the incredibly underwhelming ending (SPOILER): oh right it was aliens all along. Not much explanation beyond that. Also the dome disappears and sends tons of polluted air that is killing everyone inside flying off to the rest of the state, and surely that’s going to have some bad effects but it isn’t really addressed. And there’s no epilogue at all, you get all that buildup just for the dome to disappear and the book to end on the next page.

At any rate, it was while reading this book that I began to notice the things about Stephen King’s writing that I really don’t like: everyone, be they man, woman, or child, all kind of have this jaded outlook on life and speak like truckers. I don’t mean profanity, because I don’t mind profanity. There’s just something weirdly scatological about the way everyone speaks. Everything comes down to metaphors about farts and shit and piss, or weird sayings that might sound natural coming out of a grizzled truck-driver at a 2AM pit-stop but just sound bewildering coming out of the mouth of a nine-year-old. And everyone is secretly some kind of monster. Everyone is secretly a murderer or a pedophile or a rapist, there doesn’t seem to be anyone immune from this.

Now, I get why that’s interesting in and of itself. Everyone does have the capacity to do horrible things under the right circumstances. But the character in King’s books are automatically portrayed as hiding a dark secret. The other thing that really stuck out to me was the catch phrases. I don’t remember if Under the Dome had many, but right about this time I was dating a guy who loved horror movies, who decided we were going to watch every horror movie ever adapted from Stephen King’s work. I have to say that a lot of them were great: there’s no denying Stephen King comes up with brilliant ideas. The Mist was a particular favorite, and I both loved and hated the bittersweet ending.

Carrie was a great movie, and as the weeks went on, my boyfriend and I worked our way through both versions of the Shining, through the two-part miniseries of It, Rose Red, Pet Semetary, Dreamcatcher, Misery, 1408, Secret Window, Storm of the Century, The Stand, the second version of Carrie, and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten. I still missed some classics: we didn’t watch Firestarter, Children of the Corn, The Green Mile or the Shawshank Redemption. But it’s fair to say I got a pretty good taste of what Stephen King’s ficiton is like.

A lot of those films dealt with similar themes: childhood, everyone secretly being some kind of monster, loads of catchphrases and incredibly corny moments, and even though these were adaptations and not the books themselves, I knew from reading some of King’s work that these aspects were probably present in his books too. Another thing about Stephen King books is that I just find myself feeling really uncomfortable reading them. I get that when you have a horror novel, you want to feel unnerved, but I just kind of felt anxiety, like I was trapped in a windowless room and running out of oxygen. That isn’t fun for me. I love fantasy. So it may be that I’m just the kind of person who is automatically diametrically opposed to Stephen King’s work.

I gave him another shot and read through several shorts stories from Everything’s Eventual, none of which particularly caught my interest. I had heard a lot of good things about the Dark Tower, and since it was a fantasy series and I love fantasy, I thought maybe I’d finally found the right fit. I read the Gunslinger in one day, I think about five hours, and that’s the only book in my life I’ve ever read in one sitting. Unfortunately it wasn’t because I was so enraptured by it or anything, I just wanted to get to the end. I remember bits and pieces of it. I’ve always hated westerns, cowboys, and deserts, so obviously that whole aesthetic was wasted on me. I really hated Roland for the choice he makes at the end of the book. I won’t spoil what happens but he does something very shitty and is eaten up with guilt for doing it, and I think that as a reader I’m supposed to empathize with him and this incredibly difficult choice he had to make, but mostly I just felt like Roland was kind of a dick.

I still want to give some of his other books a try. I want to read Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and maybe a couple of others. His most recent collaboration Sleeping Beauties has a very interesting concept. I’ve heard people rave about his memoir, On Writing, and I’ve read the first chapter or so and thought it was alright. Funnily enough, the only thing in Stephen King’s books that I REALLY enjoyed reading were the forewards and afterwards. I loved hearing his perspective on being a writer, on being famous, and how humble he is. It seems to me that King himself is convinced that a lot of his fame has to do with the fact that his first few books were successful, so everyone automatically loves everything written afterward. I applaud him for being so honest and self-reflective. I do notice that he has a tendency to write, um, a LOT of books about writers who live in Maine being haunted by monsters, and obviously that’s no accident I’m sure. I don’t really like his short fiction but in fairness to him I probably didn’t choose his greatest works to sample.

When I discovered that It was being adapted as a film, I was happy to hear it and thought it would probably be good. I did watch the TV miniseries back during my ex-boyfriends Stephen King movie run, and I was surprised at how terribly it’s held up over time. It wasn’t scary at all, it was incredibly campy and silly and ridiculous. As a child, I was vaguely aware of the existence of It and I remember finding it to be a terrifying concept, so seeing it as an adult it was kind of funny how incredibly not-scary it was.

Honestly, I don’t think Stephen King is really classified properly as a horror writer. Like I said, I haven’t read his classics, but a lot of his work has a very optimistic feel to it, it’s about normal people overcoming incredible darkness. It is no different, it’s about a group of childhood friends who triumph with the power of their will and their bonds with one another. It comes out to the same love-wins-over-evil trope that is a trope for a reason, because it’s a good concept. It is a little exasperating when everything ends the same way, but it’s still a good enough way to write a story.

I actually didn’t remember that the original film adaptation of It was a miniseries, I thought it was a movie. And I actually didn’t remember anything at all about the second part when the kids fight It as an adult, so either I didn’t pay attention, didn’t watch it, or just didn’t care. I do remember getting very bored, though.

So at my job we sell a few books, and one of them was the first Dark Tower novel, so I grabbed it while I was bored and flipped through the first few pages, thinking maybe I’d give that series another try. Although full disclosure, I did spoil the ending for myself a long time ago, but that’s beside the point. Despite trying, I still found the first chapter of the Gunslinger very boring. Then I saw a magazine called the ultimate guide to Stephen King or something, and I actually read through pretty much the whole thing, and I found the details about the upcoming It film to be really interesting. So when the movie was finally released I thought about going to see it in theaters, which would be a big deal for me because I’m typically very nervous about horror movies and I certainly don’t go to see them in theaters.

Last weekend I did something even more out of the usual for me, I went to see It in theaters all by myself. I was very nervous at first and did spend a little time messaging friends for comfort so I didn’t feel so alone. I had expected the movie to be good and I’d heard all the rave reviews about it, and they were right.

The movie begins with rain, which is automatically going to get my attention because I love rain. Apparently the word for that is pluviophile. What I love even more than rain is the sound of rain mixed with piano, and the movie begins with just that, so I was automatically hooked. The opening scene is pretty familiar by this point: a little boy in a yellow raincoat named Georgie takes out a homemade sailbot and runs alongside it as it sails down the rainy streets, disappears into a storm drain, and there he meets It, calling itself Pennywise, and is enticed to reach his hand in. In the book, Pennywise bites off his arm and leaves him to bleed out. In the miniseries, Pennywise grabs him and pulls him down into the sewer. The film combines these two by having Pennywise bite of Georgie’s arms in a pretty terrifying display where his mouth pulls back to reveal several rows of teeth, and a very painful scene where the actor who plays Georgie squirms helplessly in the rain in front of the storm drain.

I was really blown away by the beautiful cinematography of this particular shot. It’s hard to find a good screenshot to show you because the film hasn’t been released on home video yet, but after Pennywise bites off Georgie’s arm, he struggles to crawl away from the storm drain, screaming in agony. The actor’s performance is heart-wrenching, it’s hard not to feel incredibly sad at this very sweet kid being so mercilessly murdered. But even more than that, I loved the framing of the shot just before Pennywise reaches out of the storm drain to drag Georgie down into the sewer. It’s shown from above, with Georgie in his yellow raincoat crawling away from the drain, and rain pouring down hard on the whole scene. As he crawls, the blood from his arm fills up the water around him and the water begins to turn red. It’s just a really beautiful shot. Then Georgie is pulled down the drain and the movie’s prologue is done and the movie proper begins.

I won’t really go into too many more details about the film, except that there is one scene in particular that I have to mention because of how incredibly effective it was in the theater. There’s a scene where all of the kids gather in the main character Bill’s garage and look at slides on a projector of various incidents throughout the history of their town, Derry, and figure out It’s involvement with them. The projector starts working on it’s own and begins showing slides of Bill’s family, with Georgie in the photos, and the slides get faster and faster until they become a silent film. It’s interesting to note that Bill and Georgie’s mother is never shown directly in the movie, she is seen from the side playing piano at the very beginning of the film and mentioned by Bill’s father (who is shown), but is never explicitly shown and has no lines.

In the photos shown on the slides, Bill’s mother’s face is obscured by her hair blowing in the wind, and as her hair parts her face is revealed to be a smiling Pennywise.

Then the lights go out and the music stops, and real life movie theater is completely dark for a moment.

Then Pennywise leaps out of the projector screen at the children.

This is a particularly brilliant effect because the audience watching this movie is watching it in a theater, and the shot is framed so that the projector screen in Bill’s garage looks just like the projector screen of the movie theater, and for a split second, even though your brain knows better, you do have the feeling that Pennywise has just jumped out of the REAL movie screen and is screaming at the audience. It shocked everyone in the theater and made me jump. I really don’t like jump scares in general and the movie was mercifully short on them, but I can forgive the movie for that one because it was so genuinely unexpected.

I mean, looking back on it, sure, it does seem like the scene is obviously setting up Pennywise leaping out of the screen at the kids, but I honestly didn’t expect it, and during the moment when Pennywise jumped out of the screen, I remember several thoughts racing through my mind: one was that I vaguely wondered if this movie were in 3D and I’d missed something, then realizing it wasn’t in 3D, then the thought that scene would lend itself very well to 3D, and then how smart it was of the director to frame that shot like a real movie theater to convey the illusion of Pennywise jumping out of the screen. It simply wouldn’t work at home on a TV or on a computer monitor.

The movie was altogether very interesting and mercifully had a moment of rest where I was able to run away and go to the bathroom (I always have to pee at least once during a movie, so I have a bit of anxiety about how much I’m drinking and the timing of when I’m going to go). The ending was pretty satisfying, it was nice to see Pennywise speaking with the kids and trying to bargain for his life. I wasn’t exactly shocked by the sudden reveal at the end when the title card of the film flashes across the screen and it says IT, followed by a newly added “Chapter One.” I already knew that the filmmakers were producing a second film, as the book is set in two different time periods that overlap one another, one in which the kids fight It as children and one when they come to defeat It as adults.

After this, I skimmed the prologue of the book itself, and then skimmed through some more interesting parts that I wanted to read. There is some interesting underlying mythology about what exactly It is, it’s relationship to the universe and the universe’s creator, a mention of a kind of godlike deity guiding the children to defeat It, and all of this is heavily connected to the Dark Tower series. I had read in the Wikipedia synopsis of the book that there is a moment when the narrative switches to It’s point of view, so I was glad to find that and read it. I also read the very ending, as well as the penultimate scene that luckily never made it into either film adaptation, in which Beverly has sex with all of the boys in the sewer in order to try and bring them together. Sex scenes like that, particularly involving innocent kids who are just on the cusp of adolescence, have a way of making me feel incredibly melancholy and this one was upsetting to read too, but I do think it was pretty effective, if a little strange. But there was an element of Beverly reclaiming her power after her father attempted to take it from her.

All in all I’m really glad I saw It, and I didn’t let my initial fear of seeing it in theaters scare me away from doing it. I may also finally give Stephen King another chance sometime, although honestly I tend to assimilate the writing style of whoever I’m reading, and I don’t want my own writing to end up seeming too much like Stephen King, so I might put it off for a rainy day.

I’ll just stay away from storm drains.

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Wings With Leaves

Once upon a time, I woke up in bed with my boyfriend, and I kissed him and snuggled with him and I probably sucked him off, I don’t really remember the exact details of this particular day.

But as time wore on and I rolled around in bed or walked around the house, it became clear that I needed to take a shower. I didn’t smell great, my hair was a greasy mess, and it was time to get clean. But I kept putting it off. This is not a problem I’ve had my whole life, just something that’s developed over the last few years, where I keep procrastinating about taking a shower for so long that I go a few days without one.

Finally, my boyfriend told me he wasn’t going to kiss me anymore until I took a shower. I tried pouting and acting cute, but finally he said that’s enough, and with both of us laughing, he marched me over to the bathroom, opened the door, dragged me inside, and took me fully clothed and put me in the tub, then closed the shower curtain and said don’t come out until you’re clean.

It’s a really sweet memory, and it’s one that I love.

Writing is a little bit like taking a shower. It is utterly essential for me, and if I go more than a few days without doing it, my brain gets all foggy and unfocused and lethargic, and I just keep saying things like “I’ll do it tonight,” or “I’ll do it tomorrow morning, right now I’m going to play Pokemon.”

I came to the realization a couple days ago that there has probably not been a single day at least in the past few years that I haven’t thought about what I should write that day. There have been times when I sit down to write and I’m just not feeling it, so nothing happens. But more often what happens is I just jot down the central idea of whatever it is I’m thinking about in my notes, and never get around to writing in my blog.

This blog is my journal, as well as my notebook for stories, poetry, and everything else. It’s my home. If I died tomorrow, this blog would be the thing I consider to be my legacy. As such, I really ought to fill it with more stuff. There are plenty of poems I’ve never shared, pieces of stories I’ve never posted.

This month is November, and every year something called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, takes place. Anyone can participate. All you have to do is challenge yourself to write a novel by the end of the month, at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. Usually you can set yourself a word count to write every day (fun fact, the current word count of this blog post is 482 words), but people do different things. Every year I consider participating. After all, I’ve been working on a novel, mostly in my head but sometimes in my notes or on “paper,” for several years now. But my novel isn’t the kind of thing that I could write in a month. At least, not that one anyway. But there are other ideas banging around my head, ideas about boys falling in love, about sex gods who go around causing mischief, about a modern world where magic exists, or even just about telling the story of my life.

A big problem for me is the constant feeling of not having achieved anything. I’m twenty-seven now, and I’ll be twenty-eight in another six months. My life is still not where I want it to be. There are things that worry me, things that haunt me, things that I want to say out loud or write about but I can’t, other things that I need to write about that I’m not ready to. There are so many things to say. What I always wished is that I’d written more over the years, so I could go back and read about what I was thinking on a particular day.

And that’s what this is. I realized the little story about my boyfriend putting me in the shower would be a good way to start a blog entry, and here it is. I brought up NaNoWriMo because I’d considered the idea of kind of half-participating by writing, not a novel, but in my blog at least once a day. I don’t know if I want to do that yet, but I do know that I need to start writing regularly again.

A common piece of very important artistic advice I like to repeat comes from Kesha, “You have to give yourself permission to suck.” And I think what that means is that sometimes you’re going to feel inspiration, and you’re going to sit down and try to turn that inspiration into something beautiful. Sometimes you are successful on your first try. What is likely to happen in my case is that I feel inspiration and I sit down and try to turn it into something beautiful, and I find that I’m too rusty, I haven’t been practicing enough, I don’t know HOW to express that inspiration in a good way. I sit down at the piano to try and channel my inspiration into a beautiful song, but I’m still stuck on the last song I was playing, I haven’t been practicing how to move around the piano and play something new, and I’m stuck, and I can’t get my inspiration out in the way I want it.

So sometimes you have to write disjointed stream-of-consciousness blog posts like this, so that when inspiration strikes, you can sit down and write something REALLY good. You have to keep exercising your muscles, otherwise you won’t be able to… wait, there was an athletics metaphor but it got away from me. See what I did there, I pretended I’m so dorky that I don’t get athletics. Well actually I don’t but that’s not the point.

I’m fat. I’m creative. I’m pretty. I’m scared. I want to adventure. There are so many things about me that I want to express, but I have to keep writing if I want to be able to write anything decent. And maybe this is as good as a first step as any. Maybe I’ll write more tonight, or maybe I’ll wait until tomorrow, but as of this moment I’ve written something today, and now my day off isn’t wasted.

Maybe I can keep pushing myself, and keep creating, every day, something little, until a moment of lightning strikes me and I create something big and magnificent and beautiful. And then people can see that I’m worthwhile, that my mind and my heart are worthwhile, that there is something in me that is worth loving and appreciating. Because I think what’s we all want, especially writers. Writers want their ideas to be loved.

Here is something I created today that I’m proud of: every day, I write down something in my notes on my phone. Usually it’s just a line of dialogue, or an idea, or something to remember later. Yesterday’s line in my notes was “wings made of leaves.” That means someone having wings where the bones are like tree limbs, and the feathers are like leaves. Today’s note hasn’t actually been written down yet, but it’s a quote, a quote from a character I don’t know yet. In the little scene that played out in my head today when I thought of it, I was speaking with the voice of River Song from Doctor Who, but I don’t know if and when this line will appear in my own writing. The line was this: “A grown man trying to fight death is like a child trying to fight growing up.” It means that death is a natural and beautiful part of life. At least from one perspective it is. I’m still afraid of death. But this is something that a character might say, to argue with another character. No, actually, it would be to argue with me. I think writer’s have characters just so they can argue with themselves. And I think that’s beautiful.

So those are today’s contributions to my future work, today’s small ideas that can be planted and blossom later. A wingspan made of wood and wings, and a voice speaking about death. Today isn’t wasted. It never is, but this way I have a record, this way I have something concrete, this way I’ve done something, this way I’m taking a step toward the life I want to have, one where I’m a writer and a musician and I’m surrounded by love and support and I’m not afraid of where I am or where I’m going. A life that I can love and believe in again. A life as good as anything I’ve felt before, but much, much better.

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.