It all started with two kidnappings. Well, mine started as more of a hostage situation. Yet, somehow, they turned into love that lasts a lifetime.
I was nineteen. My then-boyfriend of two months was coming to visit. He was, horrifically, bringing me flowers. After several rants about my distaste for cut blossoms, I thought he got the message. They were luxury, they were death, they were the sacrificial ornaments of coffins and graveyards. And yet days before he drove downstate he asked about my favorite kind of blooms and I waited anxiously for a bouquet of doom when he arrived. Nervous, uncertain, excited, dreadful, mesmerized, I sat in the window waiting for a red Acura to pull up, wonderfully afraid of what might appear.
He arrived and two surprises greeted me. One, there were no flowers. Instead, inside a box sat an origami tiger lily. Two, he brought a game he wanted us to play: Final Fantasy X. His favorite. I didn’t realize that was the exchange, my favorite flower immortalized and uncut for 40+ hours of his favorite childhood video game, but it seemed the negotiations happened right under my oblivious nose, and the next thing I knew — after a few obligatory parental polite hellos– we were in my basement and he’d set it all up. The game on his laptop screen, a wired controller in hand, a chair for two. It was a rush and it was strange and never in my life had I had any interest in any Final Fantasy game, but he was handsome and eager and he didn’t bring me dying flowers so I sat down next to him and he pressed start.
Spirited Away to Spira
Time to get to that kidnapping bit. When the game started, we were introduced to Tidus, an affable, futuristic underwater-soccer star. Not the interesting part. The interesting part was when a giant whale with wings started destroying everything and flooding the streets with monsters. For me, that was a lot more compelling than the soccer. But that street-side peril didn’t last long. Tidus was quickly swept up and black-hole-kidnapped onto the shore of a beautiful island. The story slowed down. Lore started flying everywhere about Summoners and a girl named Yuna and an evil named Sin. It felt like the cheesiest bout of fantasy exposition dumping. But even though I sympathized the most with Tidus, kidnapped and trapped in someone else’s beach fantasy, the boy next to me kept smiling. So hostage situation or not, I didn’t say no.
The hours went on and on, and we spent most of that weekend playing the game. At the time I would’ve rather died than admit it, but I began to understand the charm of this cursed conglomeration of characters. Let me paint a picture of this motley crew: A shirtless cat man, a There’s Something About Mary-haired sports fan, an overly-bubbly tech pirate, a mysterious middle-aged edge lord with a big sword, an impractical fashion goth accompanied by a tiny Togemon, a fish-out-of-water boy with a strange sense of humor, and an eager girl walking her way to death. Truly bizarre characters that sound like they’re from a dozen different stories. But what brought them together was the fact they’d all lost people — friends, lovers, parents, siblings — and the way these characters bonded over that loss…
Vibrant, origami tiger lily in hand, I saw heartbroken people come together and I think it spoke to a part of me that never knew loss could be worth loving.
But it’s not easy to tell a boyfriend of two months all that.
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The Final Fantasy Continues
When we got back to college, the gameplay continued for weeks. Any time we could, we laid curled up on his futon, playing Final Fantasy X. And the damned, confounding thing kept pulling me in.
As a person fascinated with villains, I became astounded by my absolute and immediate hatred of Seymour Guado. The betrothed/reincarnating asshole got my blood boiling, trying to break up this little found family and use Yuna like she was less than a person. How dare he, when Tidus and the rest of the story worked towards reminding Yuna she mattered? And Seymour’s irritating face opened up this well of unspoken annoyances inside me. I began to rave about the frog-like creatures being called Lizards. Spent days mocking the infamous Tidus laugh. Made a cacophony of groans while my boyfriend collected every Blitzball player and painstakingly crushed each difficulty level of the absurd mini-game. In a rare moment of loud irritation, I somehow wasn’t actually all that annoyed with any of it. My boyfriend giggled. I giggled. None of Final Fantasy X was my normal cup of tea, but every wonderful and absurd moment had a charm to it that I didn’t expect.
He had a charm to him I didn’t expect.
A Futon became a Lagoon
The story pushed on towards its fatal climax. As I watched everyone in the party grapple with Yuna’s role as a summoner, to give her life to stop Sin, I surprised myself by tearing up. A goofy Final Fantasy story was taking a stab at the unfair horror of self-sacrifice, at the same kind of trauma I felt as the family therapist — the one who stayed mature and emotionally intelligent and always alright for everyone else’s sake. I looked at my boyfriend at the controls and wondered if he knew secrets I didn’t, if in two months he figured out something about me I was just recently coming to terms with. My body felt hot with embarrassment, worried he caught on to just how fragile I was. How I’d only been playing a part. But as I grew self-conscious of my tears, he pat my head and kept going. Like having feelings could be that simple.
Things got slow, one late afternoon when Tidus and Yuna found themselves alone in a lagoon — a beloved scene for any fans of their romance. But my boyfriend, this man who let me rave and ramble the whole game, suddenly got to talking. He said that he wanted to be like Tidus, to find a talented girl and help her become who she was meant to be. And he held my hand and looked at me and in that moment I felt more loved and scared than I had ever felt in my entire life. I suddenly understood two terrific truths: I knew I wanted to be his Yuna, but feared that I was not nearly talented enough.
I think, in a way, he was telling me he was scared, too. That I wasn’t her. Or that I was.
I cuddled in closer and we kept playing.
Cut Flowers and Expectations
As Tidus began scheming to find a way for Yuna to survive the summoning, part of me wanted to laugh at him. That his ideals ruined the hero’s journey. That sacrifice was an age-old story told over and over and who was he to get in the way? I’d call it the writer in me, but it wasn’t. It was the part of me that lived in speeches I never understood and smiles that never felt brave. I saw the legacy Yuna’s father left for her, the promise to die so others could live, and I prayed he’d find a way out. That Yuna could be more than a sacrifice for the greater good. All teary and loud and with a paper flower at my bedside, I wanted more.
I never knew there could be more.
I was four when I cut my first flowers to make a bouquet. They were for my great-grandfather. That day, I didn’t understand what turned his papery skin to powdery wax. How his lips wouldn’t twitch to the side and smile. Where his cough of a laugh went. I was most confused why I was holding a dozen white calla lilies and placing them beside him in his bed of a box. My family said I was so brave and strong that day, but I didn’t feel strong or brave. I felt lost. I raised my chin high and kept my tears small and repeated quiet, nice words I didn’t understand, but I acted that way because people around me kept acting like that. And my family smiled. They said they were proud of me for being so grown up.
The next time I saw my flowers next to his grave, they were dried and wilted. The time after that, they were gone.
A few months later, we did the same to all nine pounds of a cherub little boy who didn’t even get a first breath. The process repeated. Cut flowers, box, words, smiles. Empty, somber, isolating. I gave a speech for my brother, one that family members still talk about to this day. I don’t remember a single word. And it kept happening over and over every few years. By the time I was fourteen, I’d seen seven graves and couldn’t stand cut flowers. I just wanted to watch them keep growing for once.
Of Sin and Theft
Those final fights in the airship are a blur. I barely remember them. I don’t even remember how they figured out how to save Yuna, I just know they did. And in the end, no one died as a sacrifice.
Though the end wasn’t what got to me, my boyfriend’s hand found mine as Tidus faded away. It startled me and when I looked at him, I couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening. Somehow, this fairly reserved and unemotional person, the most grown-up and wonderful man I’d met, just started to cry. I didn’t watch the credits. I watched him and every expression on his face as he processed this story — a story he loved — of found family and loss and how, here, generational trauma and horrible legacies ended with love.
And in an instant, what started as a hostage situation turned into a kidnapping with a video game, this one man stole my heart out from under me.
A Final Fantasy Begins
I knew then I didn’t love Final Fantasy X. Yes, it was memorable and fun and worth every second. But what I really loved was the person next to me, who found such joy and beauty and purpose in something as absurd as Final Fantasy. Though, at that point, it wasn’t so absurd to me anymore. It held some truths far wiser than anything I’d been raised to believe, but I don’t know if I was ready to process that right then. Right then, I was just scheming up how I was going to figure out how to be spectacular enough to stay by his side… And how I was going to learn the opening of “To Zanarkand” on the piano.
It’s been eight years, three houses, two dogs, and a marriage, so I think I’m doing a pretty good job. And every year he listens while I rave and cry, stays by my side while I fantasize new plans for our life, and buys me potted plants so we can watch them grow.
Here’s to the weirdest, most wonderful video games that happen to hit our hearts just right and teach us how to love. Or, in my case, who to love.
Sometimes a Final Fantasy can lead to a real beginning.