I picked up the HD re-release of Final Fantasy X and X-2 a few weeks ago, and I expected to be sent into a whirlwind of nostalgia: of loving its turn-based combat and its interesting characters; of cringing at the questionable quality of its voice acting; of pretending to enjoy playing Blitzball.
What I didn’t expect was being flooded with memories of my grandmother passing away.
I originally got Final Fantasy X along with my PlayStation 2 for Christmas back in 2001, a mere two months before my sixteenth birthday. Around that time, my grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and she became too weak to support herself in the trailer home she was living down in Tucson. We drove her up to live with my family and me in Phoenix, and she ended up taking over my room as it was more comfortable for her. I ended up in our tiny guest room, staying in there for the two months or so my grandmother had left to live.
With a television and a computer in there, I was pretty much set. I hooked up my PS2 and I whiled away my Christmas break delving into the colorful world of Final Fantasy X. I would see my grandmother every now and then – for dinner, in the hallway, going with her to doctor’s appointments, or sometimes I’d sit and talk with her outside as she would smoke, her oxygen tank in tow next to her emaciated frame – but for the most part, I was in that guest room, exploring Zanarkand, getting to know Tidus, Wakka, Yuna, and the rest.
Finally, she got too weak to even stay with us, so she had to live in a hospice – basically, a room where you go to die. I ended up back in my room, moved my PS2, and continued plugging away.
I was there when she died. We all said our goodbyes, gave her hugs, told her we loved her, and she just kind of… drifted off.
I didn’t really talk to anyone else that night. I sat in the car, staring out the window, thinking. When I got home, I went right back to playing Final Fantasy X.
Why was I so distant? Why did I wrap myself so tightly into the fictional world of Zanarkand when I should have been spending more time with her, with my family? Why didn’t I just talk to someone?
Perhaps I felt some connection to Tidus and his plight. He was a teenager, unable to communicate with his father. He was confused, scared, lonely in the new world Sin had thrust him into. Yuna had no clue how to defeat Sin without sacrificing herself. Death and tragedy surrounded this small band of compatriots at every turn. They all had no clue what they were doing – but they did their best to confront it head on.
Life’s funny like that – we do our best to pretend to know what we’re doing, but no one knows what the hell life has in store for us. We’re all just as lost as everyone else, and we make connections with our friends, our family, our loved ones, to help us in our path toward some kind of peace. Sometimes, we escape into the things we enjoy to find some kind of solace from all the noise, the static that surrounds our lives. At the time, I found that comfort in Final Fantasy X, and escaping into the game was my therapy.
Now, in 2014, I sit here, playing Final Fantasy X again, wishing I’d done things a bit differently. I wish I’d been more open, more present during that time. But I was young. Confused. Scared. Death was staring me right in the face for the very first time, and I didn’t want to look back.
I know that my grandmother knew that I cared about her, that she knew I was there for her, even if I didn’t know how to express it. Even if I was just a scared kid that had never dealt with anything like this before, despite being responsible for countless virtual deaths at my own hands.
What I have left are memories. Memories of being a kid, my grandmother giving me toy cars she got from her Reader’s Digest subscriptions. Memories of going to Red Lobster for Mother’s Day. Memories of riding in her 1994 baby-blue Toyota Corolla (which would end up becoming my first car). And memories of embarking on a summoner’s pilgrimage during my grandmother’s last days.
So when I play Final Fantasy X, I’m reminded not only of a fantastic RPG from a company responsible for creating some of the best games of my most formative game-playing years, but of a time of melancholy in my life that I’d never dealt with before.
And I find peace in that.