I finally, officially, do not find myself homesick for a memory anymore.
Let me sum up. No, that’s too short, let me explain. For many, many years, I thought of my years at UC Santa Cruz as the best years of my life. My responsibilities were primarily to myself and my academics; I had not enough money to thrive, but enough to get by and indulge a little here and there; I had the friends I could already tell were going to last me the rest of my life. I felt in touch with myself and at peace. I mean, most of the time, there were meltdowns and freakouts and sundry bummers. That had to be my peak, right?
Fast-forward. This past week. We’ve been having a rough go of it in my household lately; my wife was diagnosed with type II diabetes, which necessitated she make diet and exercise changes that I have been expending a lot of energy helping her with, and that have required both of us do a lot more work on food prep than we are used to (no more “meh, we can both just grab McDonald’s for lunch tomorrow”). That, coupled with me waiting for the results for my physical, has led to a lot of stress and sleep issues and exhaustion and, yes, some depression. (We have since learned her doctor really likes the changes she’s made, she’s got it pretty under control with fairly low dosage of meds, and we even think we can send her into remission if we keep at it. Is good.)
But, this past week, we finally got to a break in the stress. I had Monday off for my physical, and after that was done, I came down to Sonya’s work for a few hours and hung out as a guest in the lobby, playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on my iPad and trawling the Interwebs before we headed off for our plans for the evening: the live San Jose broadcast of WWE Monday Night RAW.
It is no secret that I love pro wrestling. I love the primal storytelling itches it manages to scratch; the sort of stock characters like commedia dell’arte, the cathartic fake violence like a Punch and Judy show, the ribald and earthy themes like Greek New Comedy. I also love the athleticism and, yes, a chance to just have some silly fun and watch an Irish demon do a flying foot stomp on a sociopathic Canadian neckbeard. I never thought I’d get to see it live, though, and thanks to our good friends David and Alison, that was what we got to do on Monday. It’s actually even better live; the timing and pacing can feel a little weird due to it being filmed for TV, but live you really appreciate the artistry and psychology of the wrestling match a lot more. I got to see all my favorites, save one, go out there and show off their skills (Seth Rollins! Charlotte! Roman Reigns! Neville!) — and even the great Cesaro got to do a lengthy and fun talking segment with his current nemesis (Kevin Owens, the aforementioned neckbeard). I also got to challenge the Neolithic sexism of some jerks in the back chanting misogynistic garbage at the women’s division, which didn’t penetrate their useless brains but did feel really good. I had a wonderful time and ended the show hoarse, but joyous and celebratory. It was fun I will not fail to repeat when I get the chance.
Then came a short week of work. I got a chance to finish Revision, a character-driven sci-fi book by an author I had never read before; then the Usagi Yojimbo epic, Grasscutter, which easily deserves its place on War Rocket Ajax‘s “Every Story Ever” list; and then to start Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which is where this post started germinating. I tried to read Beloved in college (one of the handful of required readings I sorta didn’t finish), and just could not get into it. This week, though, I started appreciating it a lot more; the cadence and the pathos and the layers of emotion all really grabbed me and tore at me, and I find myself reading at far, far below my usual pace purely because I want, need, to savor all the feels and all the wordplay.
The work week ended with a relaxed Saturday of food prep (a routine we are finally falling into), writing, exercise, and at the end of it, the first session of a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign. My good friend Matt is running us through the Princes of the Apocalypse module, and last night was character creation, the first combat, and some roleplaying. I got screwed in the combat by some bad dice luck and perfectly logical targeting by the monsters (why not go after the guy who looks tough and is already beaten up?), but also got to start establishing my character’s personality. (I’ll be selfish here and admit, my favorite moment was the GM’s brother telling me that the GM tells me all the time about the Wild Talents game I am running for him, and that it sounds awesome. That’s so good to hear.)
Afterwards, we talked a little about health and a little about life and a little about next session, and the thing that struck me is how…easy it all felt. How easy it was to discuss managing diabetes, to discuss dieting, to discuss rules, to discuss education, to be there drinking scotch and rolling dice and hanging out with some guys who have, in some cases, seen me through serious drama and ugly spats and just being a shitty, shitty human sometimes. How easy and natural it feels to be having to plan around kids and jobs, or give each other advice on managing fleas. What was this feeling?
This morning, it clicked. I went out here to the garage for some writing, after prepping up part of our Monday food rations and making myself some breakfast, and I realized I needed some time for the ibuprofen to kick in on my headache before I could really craft prose. So, I booted up my emulator and started in on some Chrono Trigger; I’m on the final boss, might as well finish that up before I try to tell more stories of Playtime Town.
The final boss was easier than I remember, probably due to be planning tactics with the brain of a 33 year old instead of a teenager; and then I got to the ending. (There are spoilers for a 20+ year old game here, so be warned.) I smiled when King Guardia and his ancestors and descendants announced they knew what had happened and wanted to celebrate Crono’s achievement. I grinned and shook my head at the old 16-bit moonlight parade they put up for you, and wondered at the decision to have a Mystic leading the parade (which implies things I am only just now considering). Then I got to the back of the Millennial Fair, and to the sequence where everyone says goodbye. And I misted up a little at Ayla leaving, and a little more at Frog leaving. I…sort of didn’t care when Magus left, though I found myself hoping he found Schala. And then Robo went to leave…and yeah, I teared up a little. Because somewhere in the background of all that fighting, Robo and Lucca became such good friends, and Robo’s life was hands-down the most disrupted by the events of the series, to the point where his previous life quite possibly does not exist anymore…I mean, is it possible Robo is the most heroic character in the series? The one whose hero’s journey is the most damaging to his everyday world and who learns the most?
Then I got to the credits, and somehow, the comedy bit with King Guardia and Taban set me off grinning and misting again. And then I paid attention, I mean really paid attention, to what was happening in each of the characters’ final moments in the series. I saw the little touch the programmers gave us in Leene looking toward a clearly wistful, thankful Frog. I saw the playfulness and togetherness of Ayla and Kino. I saw Magus, still searching, clearly unflagging in his quest for Schala. And I saw that not only was Robo sitting with a no-longer-villainous Atropos, they were sitting together on a familiar-looking mountainside, next to a familiar-looking bridge…a reminder that we really had saved the future.
Chrono Trigger was what put this week into perspective for me. I have a depth of being and of perception now that I was only just learning about in college. I indulge in things that please me without shame, and I take care of myself with pleasure. I have friends who accept me for me, and who I do the same for right back. I make a difference in the world, even if it’s only on a local scale for the moment. I am more authentically myself, more in touch with my emotions and with the emotions of the world, than I have ever been in my life. And I am only going to get better at it as time goes on.
I don’t need UC Santa Cruz, except as one step in my journey. That doesn’t mean I’ll never focus my life on that county again, but it does mean that there is not quite so large a part of me unable to stop living in it. I am the best me I have ever been right now in this moment, and tomorrow I will be an even better me.
Now excuse me. I need to go start my New Game Plus.