We’re pairing 8-bit music thematically, rather than based entirely on series. You can find this track and more Tater-Tot Tunes on YouTube! Stop by and jam to some great tunes.
Normal Happenings is proud to present The Characters That Define Us, a year long collaboration of 52+ incredible bloggers!
Today we’re joined by a very special blogger, The Shameful Narcissist herself! Don’t let the name fool you, she’s one of the kindest bloggers in the community. Plus, each of her posts are contemplative and academic. That might be why this is the only Characters That Define Us piece with footnotes.
If you’re not following her, definitely go and bookmark her blog. While this is her first NH collab appearance, she’s always been incredibly supportive of Normal Happenings.
Enjoy this wildly creative look at one of video games’ most iconic villains.
Editor’s note: This article deals with alcohol and grief. It’s a fantastic piece, but could be uncomfortable for some readers.
“Mother is the name for god on the lips and hearts of little children.”
– William Makepeace Thackery
“You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them. Language buries but does not resurrect.”
– John Green “The Fault in Our Stars”
When I was in college, the people I called my friends guilted me into visiting my mother’s grave. It is not something we do on either side of my family, holding onto the belief that only a shell abides. I was raised Christian, and even then (though I started doubting around the age of eight), I still had enough faith to believe in a hereafter. What I believe now is more nihilistic, yet this descent only heightens the appeal a concept such as the Lifestream provided back then.
I never found it.
“…a museum shut to all but the most devoted.” 3
It was Easter Sunday, and what sticks in my memory is not the flowers I bore, but the yellow, dollar store flip-flops on my feet.
“I walked the length of a myriad [graves], but never found her bones.” 1
It’s funny what the brain chooses to remember, what the mind splits into parts, which pieces it chooses to hide, and which ones it can only reveal. I don’t remember when we buried her. If I try too hard, my vision gets blurry and my stomach starts to hurt. The knowledge is gone like it never existed, same as the real reason for her demise. My father didn’t want an autopsy, though years later he would regret this as my older brother nearly succumbed to similar symptoms we both suffer from now. It is sadly information I will never have not even if I burned down a thousand libraries.
“The infection is not simply of the flesh.” 3
Many years later on Father’s Day, he almost casually mentioned how he didn’t think there was even a marker there, and I just…sat back and sipped my coffee. Learning how to wear the mask took me a long time, but I’ve become an expert at it. It’s far better than the terrifying alternative: showing people what I really am. It’s a terrible thing to be afraid of. It took more than a decade to realize my heartbreaking quest was an exercise in futility, but us creative types, we know what to do with despair.
“The pain flows through me like an underground sea.” 3
In the interim between failure and revelation, it became less the inspiration and more the foundation of my first full length FFVII fanfiction Northern Lights, a story I knew I would write the moment I played Final Fantasy VII and saw Sephiroth’s own. Everything about his origin bothered me. From his dickhead father’s lies to the fact he never knew his real mother’s name. It was this visceral gut punch that began during Cloud’s (false) flashback in Nibelheim, when the general says he has no hometown and his mother is dead. As the dramatic irony of the narrative unfolds, and we see, through an optional side quest, that his real mother is not only alive, but also not an alien parasite, the tragedy only deepens. This very mechanic adds to the morbidity. She is a side quest, a memo, consigned to the obscure. Wholly and forever unknown by her only child.
“…the very gravity of that term – forsaken by god – seems to find its very apex” 3
How a story can have such disconnect, yet be so perfectly executed, is a testament to the great minds behind it. I hate the paradigm with a passion, and yet it could be no other way. To destroy his falsehood in the original game would be shatter one of the foundations of what makes VII so great…but I could write a resolution occurring long after the fact, when the damage has been both done and restored…when all you can do is make peace.
“I have burnt my bridges. I have sunk my boats and watched them go to water.” 3
But this is not about Northern Lights. This is about what Northern Lights is made of. We are defined not only by the stories we experience, not only by the ones we tell ourselves, but also by the ones we don’t. What we let linger in the silence for silence like a cancer grows. It does not ease. It does not become better in ignorance. It merely looms on the edge of your tunnel vision, becomes disjointed as a clockwork spider, as you disassociate and wonder who you really are.
“…folded along a crease in time, a weakness in the sheet of life.” 3
VII is a story of identity, and what is identity without those who have come before? We are built from the pieces of the past.
“When…the cage disintegrates, we will intermingle.” 3
When your singing voice mimics the auditory memory of your childhood, when you look in a mirror and see that which was buried long ago, is it truly surprisingly you relate to a character whose end form is a fusion of the same?
“I find myself increasingly unable to find that point where…I begin. We are woven into a sodden blanket, stuffed into the bottom of a boat to stop the leak…” 3
Many of us are no strangers to Imposter Syndrome. There is an unavoidable separation of self in my singing, as if I’m another entity listening to my mother’s voice coming out of my mouth. Our culture is rife with the fear of such metamorphosis. Final Fantasy VII, like many others, merely twisted it into a horror motif, one that’s haunted my dreams with corpses and my memory with how once I touched a cold, dead hand.
“And what of the corpse of its curator…” 3
One of these nightmares blossomed into a dream I have of one day cosplaying my favorite SOLDIER, ending with me looking into my mirror and saying “Where’s mother?” before I awoke. Some time later I did a makeup test that went so well I decided to record the results. In the video I said that line as a morbid joke to myself, and I spent the next few hours paying for it. I have the fortunate (or unfortunate) trait of delayed reaction, where I’ll hear or say something that will come back later. I believe this grew out of my abhorrence of displaying public emotion, but it happens even if I’m alone. There’s a delay in processing.
“…a vacuum of fatalistic calm.” 3
This happened when we first found out. I wandered my house in a nonverbal state for how long I don’t remember, but it was only broken when my little brother asked where she was.
“Through the bottomless boat and forgotten trawlers where nobody has died.” 3
There is a fairytale about a girl who spat diamonds when she spoke.4 And even as the words were forming, she could feel them coalesce, hardening in the promise of bloody gums and broken teeth, yet she had to get it out. Like the grave I could neither find nor remember, my brain did not let me fully realize what Sephiroth took from Nibelheim until the dawn of internet hot takes with their casual flippancy (This is kind of similar to how I never realized Cloud was pulling the Masamune through himself during the climax of the incident as opposed to just using the blade as a handhold. Both of these are vomit inducing revelations but for vastly different reasons.). Now I choke on the words like a stone in my throat, while pretending to dry heave about something else.
“Shall I find a glass coffin and pretend to make Snow White of us both?” 3
Despite its invaluable worth as a creative and research resource, TV Tropes and I have had our disagreements (I have an essay planned about The Dragon, also concerning Sephiroth, based on such), and I count among them the dichotomy between Broken Angel and One Winged Angel. A Broken Angel is a unique and beautiful creature that has been torn cruelly asunder, not killed, but left to suffer being flawed when once it was perfect. Ostensibly, a One Winged Angel would fit this mold, but it is a different paradigm altogether, instead describing a super powered final boss mode vis-à-vis the end of FFVII. TVT insists there is no overlap between them, which in regards to the given definition I can only agree, but aesthetically and sorrowfully I must protest. I’d take it as a dark and discordant symbol of my own brokenness (if such wasn’t profoundly presumptuous, and I’m narcissistic enough), for the constant reminder of what you once were and what you once had is far crueler than no memory at all.
“I have found myself to be as featureless as this ocean, as shallow and unoccupied as this bay, a listless wreck without identification.” 3
I think about memory a lot. I think about how, in the end, none of us will be remembered, how none of us will be memories.
“There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember… Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught. Maybe that time is coming soon and maybe it is millions of years away, but even if we survive the collapse of our sun, we will not survive forever.” 5
I think of this most often on the anniversary. When my family repeats the mantra of “Gone but never forgotten,” because it’s just not true.
“…they will not forget you.” 3
It’s a lie you tell yourself for comfort. You might not ever forget, but who will remember when you are gone?
“I was wondering if everybody could be remembered. Like, if we got organized, and assigned a certain number of corpses to each living person, would there be enough living people to remember all the dead…” 5
It makes everything both so important and so insignificant, and the balance between them, riding the line between absolute and oblivion is sometimes too much to bear. How just one incident, one revelation, can be not only your undoing, it can shatter the world, and it doesn’t matter what’s true. It only matters what you believe, and you can only base your belief on what you’ve been taught. When the pain becomes so great you shatter in order not to fall apart, only to realize in attempting to mitigate the grief, you already have.
“Shattered into twenty-one pieces, I consigned you to the Atlantic, and I sat here until I watched all of you sink.” 3
The split that occurred in Advent Children only solidified my understanding more. The idea of separate entities living within one’s skin is part and parcel of feeling like an imposter, because it’s less of them being you and more of you pretending to be them. Then the frantic search for “mother” in order to become whole is something I’m always assured I’m not alone in when I talked to other sojourners in this type of grief. And it never goes away. It never eases. It’s just a burden you learn to bear.
“Somewhere, between the longitude and latitude a split opened up and it beached me remotely here. No matter how hard I correlate, it remains a singularity, an alpha point in my life that refuses all hypothesis. I return each time leaving fresh markers that I hope, in the full glare of my hopelessness, will have blossomed into fresh insight in the interim.” 3
I’m reminded of another funeral, one I was forced to go to when I was a caseworker ten years ago when one of my kids’ mothers ODed, and my job made me go. They thought I could help her deal with it. Joke’s on them. I still can’t even help myself. When we got there, we found out the grandmother had no money to bury her and would have to have her daughter cremated, which…upset the little girl, and then someone thought it would make her feel better to know the ashes could be made into a trinket that she could wear. You know…carry a physical manifestation of her mother around with her, as if we aren’t burdened enough.
“I have heard it said that human ashes make great fertilizer…” 3
I remember she sang the entire way down, and she sang the whole way back. I drove. And I wept. I drove and I wept for two days. Once for the viewing and twice for the funeral. I left that job after nine months for other reasons. To this day it is the hardest thing any place of employment has ever made me do.
Even alcohol has failed me in this endeavor, and my relationship to drink has greatly altered.
At a 4th of July party some years ago, I did 7-11 shots of this. I spent the rest of the evening uncontrollably crying about my mother in a welter of guilt and nonsense that she’d died in order to escape from me because I’m just terrible of a person. That drink sheered through all of my layers and laid me bare, and I can no longer stomach dark rum or anything with grenadine. To this day it is the first and only time I have ever thrown up from alcohol, and I now no longer drink to excess for fear whomever I was that night will return. It almost feels like a bad joke, similar to the one the universe played on me by having my mother die on April Fool’s Day. Is it driving home the feelings I already have with FFVII and Sephiroth to have me literally crying about my mother after doing shots named for a character known for “mommy issues?” Now sober and several years out I can almost detach myself from the moment for observation, but really, it’s just another separation.
I think of my own personal contest to see if I can make it to 47. It’s the same kind Nadia had in Russian Doll, another narrative of disjointedness, but there is no prize in despair. There are things I still can’t say. Not here. No matter how hard I try, and I want to. Even though I don’t think I can explain how why writing this was so important even if I had all the words in a thousand tongues. I appreciate the patience the coordinators have had with me, and I only hope I have not been too vague, too impertinent, or dabbled too much in deflection.
Can we be more than the sum of our grief? It’s something I’d like to believe. Even though I’ve grown more nihilistic in my old age, I don’t let my cynicism become a silencing factor to the idealism of youth. We need that and we need these stories and these characters to help us talk about ourselves. It is easier for me to use meme and metaphor than attempt genuine emotional expression. It is why I used so many deflecting quotes and images that still connect in my mind. I am a poorly built robot who is too poorly built to realize how badly I fail at this. Not…the memetic metaphor. No, never that. I am a Xennial after all. I fail in thinking my morbid humor convinces anyone my emotions are anything less than genuine, and yet I never cease trying to convince myself. It may just be a story you believe because it’s all you know, it’s all your can cling to, and it’s always awkward trying to explain why the character you most connect with is, surface-wise, one of the greatest villains in video game history. You hope your attempts at proving sympathy for the devil will blossom enough that their burgeoning pathos will spill over into sympathy and understanding for yourself.
Brown, Adrienne. Northern Lights. The Shameful Narcissist Speaks,https://theshamefulnarcissistspeaks.com/writing-3/fanfictions/fanfiction-3/
 Simon, Paul & Garfunkel, Art. “The Sound of Silence.” Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., Columbia, 1965, track 6
 The Chinese Room. Dear Esther. The Chinese Room & Curve Digital, 2012. PlayStation 4.
 Perrault, Charles. “The Fairies (Diamonds and Toads).” Fairytalez, https://fairytalez.com/fairies-diamonds-and-toads/
 Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars. Dutton Books, 2012.
Adventure Map! *FINISHING UP!*