Necklaces, Fallen Children, and Forgiveness.

 

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So let’s start at the end. Recently, at the April 2019 Salt Lake FanX Comic Convention, as I am legally required to call it without being sued by the San Diego Comic Con, I went dressed up as Chara from the video game Undertale(If you don’t know who that is, or haven’t played Undertale, I may do some spoiling, so only keep reading if you have played it and/or will probably never play it and don’t care about being spoiled. Anyway, while I was there, I was looking for additional costume pieces, and I came across a necklace that seemed perfect, as it almost looked like the Undertale heart logo, and Chara is supposed to have a heart locket, so I picked it up and wore it as part of the costume.

jeffchara

It was a pretty cool part of the costume, to be sure, but for some reason there was a little more to it. I liked wearing it. For some reason it felt good to wear it, safe, friendly. I didn’t know exactly why; after all, it’s just an 8-bit heart necklace, just metal and paint, but for some reason it felt like there was a deeper meaning to me wearing it, something that I couldn’t articulate very well at the time, but strong enough that I’ve actually worn it every day since then, often under my shirt. I’ve tried coming up with a few different articulated reasons as to why I feel such a strong connection with a piece of jewelry (other than the possibility that, like, Sauron made it, but that seems unlikely), but when people have asked me, “Hey, that’s a neat necklace; why are you wearing it?” (because, you know, a guy can’t just wear a necklace without having a reason, that’s just the society we live in) I’ve had a hard time coming up with a good, short answer beyond “I want to wear it.” For you see, the true reason is far more complicated than I can explain to some clerk at a gas station, and far more personal than I feel like blurting out to Stranger #14 at Wal*Mart or wherever.

But I shall attempt to do so here.

A few years ago, in March of 2017, I planned a camping trip to Goblin Valley State Park in central-ish Utah (if you’re not familiar with it, it’s where they filmed the part of Galaxy Quest with the rock monster, and if you’re not familiar with that then go watch Galaxy Quest, it’s great) with some of my favorite people in the whole world: my good friend Johnathan Whiting, and my two nieces Ivy and Madeleine, who at this point were just barely 14 and 13 years old, respectively. The four of us had hung out on many occasions (most notably we’ve recorded over 100 videos of a game called Dokapon Kingdom that is on my YouTube “Let’s Play” channel), and the girls’ parents didn’t want to come as neither of them are big on camping, so it was just us four. Now, I’m not a huge camper either (a fact that will be important later), but despite being a city boy who grew up in the suburbs, I’m still a Utahn who did Scouting trips when I was a teenager and I can appreciate getting out in nature every once in a while, which was one reason I wanted those girls to come, to just experience something they hadn’t before that their parents weren’t really interested in.

 

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So we set out over Spring Break. We arrived in the afternoon, set up tents, drove into the park and went hiking around for a few hours, came back and had dinner, etc. etc….in short, a normal camping experience for the most part. In the morning we had breakfast and got completely packed and ready to drive back home. We had probably about an hour or so before we had to leave, though, so we decided to take one last sojourn into the park and hike around for a bit. A ways into the park the terrain gets a little more dangerous: high hills and steep cliffs and scattered boulders everywhere, though for the most part you can navigate fairly easily as long as you take it slowly.

At one point I was taking a breather and resting on top of a large boulder at the top of a steep incline. The other three in the group had gone down the incline, up the next one, and were trying to reach the top. At one point one of them called over to me and asked if I saw a path up (we knew there was one somewhere because there were a handful of hikers that day, and some had made it up there). Johnathan and Maddie were near each other on an incline littered with boulders, while Ivy was about ten feet away from them, close to an overhang over a 15-foot cliff above a steep, packed-dirt hillside. From my vantage point I didn’t see an easy way up to the top, so I called to them that I didn’t see one Ivy’s way (what with it being a cliff and all), but there might be one around the back going the other way. As they continued climbing, I lay back and enjoyed the moment. It was late March in Southern Utah, and the temperature was absolutely perfect. It had been raining earlier in the week but during our trip the skies were clear and sunny, and the dirt was still a little softer than usual since it hadn’t been baking for days. A slight breeze blew its way around the rock formations, and all I could hear were the muffled sounds of hikers nearby as they were climbing and clambering their way through this unique landscape.

I didn’t see the exact moment when she fell.

A flash of movement caught the corner of my eye, and I swiveled my head around to see what it was. And there she was: Ivy, in complete freefall, limp as a ragdoll and somehow spinning head over heels, now plummeting down the very same cliffside I had seen her near earlier.

“IVY!!!!!” I screamed, more forcefully than I have ever screamed anything in my life; so strong and loud that it alerted everybody within hearing distance. I honestly have never screamed as loud as I did then; I don’t think I’m physically able to do so on command.

I didn’t see the actual impact either; it was obscured by a boulder that stood in between us, though later it was clear that she had landed on her face. I did see her rolling down the steep hillside, though, and the only clear thought that came through my ever-analytical brain was, oddly, “Wow, she’s rolling pretty well. Like, it looks kinda controlled. Must’ve been all that Zelda she plays that helped her know how to roll with an impact like that.” This was, of course, nonsense in the end, but it was the one thought that somehow cut through the panic and the shock.

Just as soon as that thought had come and gone, though, I sprang up from my sitting position and very nearly leaped off the rock I was on to check on her. That, however, probably would’ve resulted in me sustaining the same injuries, so instead, still in mostly-panic mode, I had to somehow navigate down off my own perch, through some treacherous drops and boulders, in order to make it to her side. By the time I was out of the dangerous area, she had come to a stop, after falling about fifteen feet, landing on her face, and rolling down a steep hill for about another sixty vertical feet that, fortunately, was still a bit soft due to the rain earlier in the week.

I was the first to reach her. Legs tangled in a heap, head lolling to one side, snow-white skin spattered with bright red blood.

Still.

Unmoving.

It was then I had my second coherent thought. “If anybody in the future comes up to me and asks if I have ever seen what death looks like, I can now tell them I have, because it looks like this.”

I knelt down beside her. No tears, no outburst, nothing. Just dread inevitability.

Fifteen seconds went by before I could hear her raspy gasps for breath.

Soon other hikers started gathering, many of which had first aid training. I had first aid training once, when I was in Scouts. I should know what to do. Once, a long time ago, when I was Ivy’s age, I had known what to do. But it had been so long, and none of it was readily available to me. Hikers who were knowledgeable took over. Some called for some fast young men to run quickly and fetch the park ranger (there was no cellphone service anywhere in the park, at least not nearby) Others checked her vitals, checked for broken bones. I ended up parking myself under her legs in an attempt to get her body level on the steep incline until help arrived. At some point Johnathan and Madeleine had arrived on the scene, but I don’t remember their initial reactions, just that Madeleine was hysterical and Johnathan was doing his best to console her, as I could not do.

I wish I had written this down closer to the time it happened so there would be more details, but I couldn’t do it. Mostly now I remember moments instead of a complete narrative. Helping Ivy take off her shoes so she could wiggle her toes to make sure they weren’t broken. Sheepishly asking someone to fetch my hiking bag with supplies that I had left up where I was resting earlier. Madeleine making Undertale references (more on this later) in an effort to ground herself and Ivy in something familiar. Something like a dozen other hikers standing around, being incredibly supportive and helpful. And through it all, the constant whimpering, gasping, raspy-sounding cries coming from that blood-spattered pale face, which was terrible yet wonderful. It meant she was still with us.

I had not seen death that day.

The ranger arrived with a stretcher and told Ivy to keep making noises so that we knew she hadn’t passed out as we carried her. She started with a video game song (I forget which), but after only a few seconds it proved too much for her to continue with something so complicated, and it somehow morphed into “Jingle Bells.” We got her onto the stretcher and set off, the entire party: Johnathan, Maddie, me, about a dozen or more other hikers, the ranger and a cohort carrying the stretcher, all in complete silence, except for a small, raspy voice wheezing out of a sand-filled, blood-soaked throat:

“Duh-duh-duuuuh, duh-duh-duuuuuuh, duh duh duuuh, duduuuuuuuh…”

For nearly ten minutes we trudged through the desert sands, navigating through the hills and boulders we had been exploring not too much earlier. Occasionally you’d hear a sniffle from Madeleine, or some low talking from some of the other hikers, but for the most part it was just a small, plaintive voice:

“Duh-duh-duuuh, duh-duuuh-duh-duh, duh duh duuh duh duh duh duuuuuh, duuuuhh…”

It was surreal, hearing nothing but a soft breeze and a croaking rendition of a Christmas favorite, but there we were. A cluster of protectors and/or mourners, protecting a small fallen child on her way to safety.

Eventually we reached the parking lot, where we loaded her onto the ranger’s pickup truck that would take us to the park entrance, where the Lifeflight helicopter could land and take her to a “nearby” hospital (which was about 150 miles away in Grand Junction, Colorado; bad weather forced the helicopter pilot to forgo anything closer). At the ranger station I could finally call her parents with the news, which at this point was actually pretty good, all things considered: she was alive, she could move everything, no major bones were broken, she was on her way to the hospital — it could have been far worse. They immediately set out from Salt Lake out to Grand Junction, which was about a five-hour drive (this was now early afternoon), and since there was no extra room in the helicopter, Johnathan, Madeleine, and myself got into my car to do the same.

Then the car wouldn’t start.

Because of course.

Luckily it wasn’t that hard to get a jump from the ranger’s truck, and soon we were on our way. The entire time I had kept a cool head and was completely in business mode, especially since it was apparent that Ivy would be (relatively) fine. I had to see this whole thing through to the end now. After all, I was the one who had planned this trip, I was the one who was responsible for these girls, I was the one who had to put right what had gone wrong on my watch.

And then the doubts started to creep in. Though I hadn’t actually pushed her, it was when I was responsible for her that all this had happened. I wasn’t a trained outdoorsman, and I should have been more careful, should’ve been able to train the girls correctly in safer hiking techniques. She fell when it was noon and there were lots of hikers around, but the evening before we were out there when it was nearly pitch black and nobody else was nearby; what would have happened if she had fallen then? Would I be driving to a hospital knowing that she was in good hands and would recover, or…

I had to stay focused. I had to fix this as best as I could. I had to be strong for Ivy, be strong for Madeleine. I had to show to myself that this was an accident, that I had done my best, that I wasn’t negligent. Because it was an accident, I couldn’t have prevented it, right?

Right?

No use in second-guessing. We made it to the hospital, where the doctors informed us that she had fractured bones in her face and needed to be flown back to Salt Lake to Primary Children’s, where they had the staff and equipment needed to deal with the types of injuries she had sustained. We were in talks with the pilot about weight limits, because Madeleine wanted to stay with Ivy and I wanted to stay with them too as the responsible adult, and Johnathan could then drive my car home. But then her parents finally arrived on the scene, and I was quickly swapped out for her mother on the helicopter, and her dad got back in his car and started to drive back to Salt Lake, leaving Johnathan and myself alone in an unfamiliar town, with no situation to fix, no problems to resolve, nothing to do but spend the night at the local Ronald McDonald house and drive back the next day. I was doing my best to fix what I was in charge of, and then I was in charge of nothing, and I couldn’t do anything to fix anything.

Then the other thoughts began, the ones based more in social anxiety than in reason. “They obviously don’t trust you anymore. You hurt their daughter. You were responsible for this trip, a trip they were never in favor of from the start. You’re not a responsible camper, you’re a city boy who was in Scouts twenty years ago and wanted to go hang out where one of your favorite movies was filmed. Maybe if you took along someone more experienced or done this as part of a larger group like you used to do in church activities…”

Then more thoughts. “Johnathan said that he had a bad feeling about this trip from the start. He believes that it was the Spirit of God warning him that it shouldn’t happen. You left the church two years ago. You don’t believe in that any more. If only you had stayed within the fold, maybe you would have received that same inspiration and this wouldn’t have happened. Turn your back on God…and he turns his back on you.”

Most of this I knew wasn’t true logically, if not all of it. But understanding something logically and believing something emotionally are two separate processes, and as much as we want them to always harmonize, often they don’t, and we have to push on regardless.

Johnathan and I drove back to Salt Lake the next day straight to the hospital. I stayed as long as I could, though at some point I had to take Johnathan home and sleep at my own apartment. Though as I was there I was increasingly worried that I was more and more an unwanted presence. After all, there was nothing for me to do, with her parents there. All her other visitors had come in for a few hours and left, as is normal. It was too fresh to really talk about other than in a superficial way (these are the injuries, this will be her healing processes, etc.), and everyone was so focused on her that I might as well not have been around.

In a day or two she was finally released and I went with the family back to their home, but within a few minutes it was clear that I wasn’t being helpful. Everyone was just too tired. Now there was all this extra work to make her better. To get her through the school year. There were some permanent ramifications to her health. This girl had to wade through hell just to get back to where she was before, and that’s not even counting the emotional trauma that Madeleine had to also deal with (to this day she refuses to discuss anything Goblin-Valley-related with me). And still, there were those thoughts, the ones that kept insisting, “You were responsible for this. They all know that this trip was your idea and that your negligence caused this. They don’t want you around. They have to concentrate on her well-being. Nobody’s concentrating on your well-being. It’s not worth concentrating on. You are a problem that they now have to fix. You cannot fix this. You’re not able to fix this. Go home before they get even more resentful of your presence.”

So I went home.


Now, at this point, I have to make a weird detour to explain parts of the video game Undertale, for reasons that will eventually become clear (and again, some major spoilers!). If you want to skip this part you can (go to the next horizontal line), though I don’t know how much of the rest of this will make sense if you do.

Undertale is a game that those girls absolutely adore, and they got me to play it a few months before the trip. I thought it was pretty good at the time, but the more I analyzed it, the more I liked it, as it’s a truly emotional, heartfelt game that’s also really funny in spots and somehow makes you care deeply about the characters in it. I won’t recount the entire game here, but for my purposes I need to touch on a few things. The game is a cutesy RPG where you play as a child who has fallen, Alice-In-Wonderland-style, into an underworld populated by monsters, albeit (mostly) of the goofy, friendly kind. You can choose to either fight these monsters, increasing your LV and EXP and getting stronger like pretty much every other RPG, or you can befriend them all, which is more difficult and results in no EXP (meaning that bosses are way harder ’cause you’re stuck at LV 1 the whole game with piddly health), or a combination of the two, killing some and befriending others. How you play through the game determines the ending that you receive.

Most endings of the game follow variations on the Neutral route, where you’ve killed some monsters and befriended others. There’s also the Pacifist route, where you don’t kill any monsters and results in the Golden Ending where basically everyone is happy (which takes at least one prior Neutral ending to even be possible). Then there’s the third route, which is nearly impossible to stumble upon blindly without looking anything up online, as it requires you not only to kill all the bosses, but hang around in each area of the game and kill all the random encounters until there are none left. This is the Genocide or No-Mercy route, and it’s pretty dark; other than some darkly humorous bits in the first section or two it’s a depressing slog through murdering all these fun characters that you befriend on the other routes, and the game is so good at making you connect with these characters that a lot of people haven’t finished a Genocide run simply because they can’t bear to cut them down, even though the whole thing is fictional. The Genocide run, however, does result in two unique boss battles (which are magnitudes more difficult than any boss battles in the other routes) and is the only way to see some unique dialogue and learn some backstory that you can’t get any other way. But most importantly for my story, the Genocide run is the only way you get to truly see the character Chara.

As is standard in RPG’s, you get to pick a name at the beginning of the game. Most new players believe they are naming the child that you control throughout the game, but through a Pacifist run you learn that that child is actually named Frisk, and the person you named (whose default name is “Chara”, short for “character”, so pronounce it right!) is another person entirely (also called the “Fallen Child” in-game). A super-brief synopsis of her backstory (and I’m gonna call her a “her” even though in the game Chara’s gender is ambiguous, for reasons that may come up later) goes thusly: Long ago, humans and monsters engaged in a war. The humans won, and sealed the monsters underground beneath a barrier. Anybody can cross into the barrier, but leaving requires the power of at least a human and monster soul, and destroying the barrier entirely requires the power of seven human souls (which are stronger than monster souls). In the year 201X (according to the intro), Chara, a human child (the game never says specifically but she’s probably around twelve years old or so) who didn’t really like other humans very much, climbed the mountain over the underworld and fell into a hole through the barrier. She was injured, but nursed back to health by a family of goat-looking monsters, including their son Asriel who was about the same age. She grew to love them and they loved her, though none more than Asriel. She eventually learned of the situation with the barrier and devised a plan to free all the monsters from their prison: poison herself, and have Asriel take her soul in order to cross the barrier and find six more human souls to break it once and for all. This ended up backfiring, as Asriel didn’t really have it in him to kill six people (and they were both too young to think of, like, digging up graves or visiting terminal patients or anything), and ended up fatally wounded by a bunch of freaked-out people and died, though not before making it back to the underworld. A series of events (that aren’t currently important) occurred that eventually ended up with Chara buried under a field of flowers that had been planted under the hole where she had first fallen, and there her soul lay, until some undetermined time later, when another child, Frisk, fell into the same hole and somehow woke up Chara’s soul which then attached itself to Frisk. This is why, in battles and so forth, the name Chara (or whatever you put in) appears instead of Frisk: while Frisk is the child you’re controlling, the soul is actually Chara’s (or some amalgamation of the two kids’ souls or something, it isn’t 100% clear), and a popular fan theory is that all the narration text boxes actually come from Chara, speaking into Frisk’s mind or something.

From here it gets a little ambiguous, as sometimes the game doesn’t differentiate clearly between Frisk, Chara, and the player, but my interpretation is this: the actions you choose throughout the game, whether you kill monsters or spare them, has an effect on who Chara ends up being in the end. If you are nice (or neutral), then the narration retains a playful, fun quality to it that especially gets a little emotional when dealing with Asriel and his family. If you are murderous and follow the Genocide route, then the narration grows terse, often only showing one or two words, occasionally turning red on more violent lines. Following the Pacifist route will result in Frisk and most of the monsters leaving the underworld, only leaving behind Flowey (really Asriel resurrected as a flower; don’t ask) and Chara. Flowey tells Chara to let Frisk and friends be happy where they are and move on, which she is finally able to do (you know, unless you reset the game) because she learned from you, the player, how to let others be happy, even when she’s ultimately not included.

At the end of the Genocide route, however, after you’ve killed pretty much everyone else in the game, Chara finally makes an appearance outside of a flashback, saying that you’ve shown her her purpose, which is to gain power and LV (which in this game actually stands for Level of Violence, because Undertale has a Message), and there is nothing else left in the game. She then asks whether or not you want to erase “this pointless world” and move on to the next one. If you refuse, she gets confused (since you were the one killing everyone, this is a bit out of character from her viewpoint for you) and erases everything herself, meaning that the game closes, and if you boot it up there’s nothing but black and howling wind (there is a way to restore it to normal, but for our purposes it doesn’t really matter). If you agree, however…

…she calls you a great partner! You’ll be together forever! (Then she erases everything just like the other choice.)

That’s right, while everyone else hates you and calls you a monster and fights you at every turn, she just wants to spend more time with you. No matter what you do in the game, if you befriend everyone or kill everyone, the one character who stays by your side…is Chara.


Now what does *any* of this have to do with that Goblin Valley trip, or its subsequent effects on its participants, or my own journey through processing it all?

I had played Undertale for the first time only a few months before the trip. More recently just a week or two before, the girls had recorded their own Let’s Play of the game at my house, and it was due to post on my YouTube channel the weekend after the Goblin Valley trip, so it was on everybody’s mind. We talked about it a bunch on the way down, and at the campsite. I had put together an MP3 CD (because my car stereo is pretty old) of music that we all liked (we each picked a quarter of the songs, so we ended up with a really eclectic mix where one track would be a weird MIDI file from Homestuck that Maddie liked and the next would be a Journey song chosen by Johnathan), and a bunch of the tracks were Undertale tunes. Undertale became the de facto theme of the trip. And even during/after the accident, we used Undertale as a crutch to push on through the experience (Maddie kept telling Ivy to “Stay Determined!” half as an inside joke-reference, as that phrase is a reoccurring one in the game, and half as a serious request). And even the accident itself (girl with dark impulses falls off a cliff, gets nursed back to health by loving family) could be considered an Undertale parallel.

Before the trip I had completed the Neutral and Pacifist routes, and had been working on the Genocide route. A day or two after everything happened and I had Gone Home, I picked it back up to finish it. But here’s the thing with the Genocide route: it goes out of its way to make you feel like absolute scum. Once you start down that path, everyone in the game either gets scared and flees from you, or goes out of their way to point out what an absolute garbage monster you are, worth less than the dust. Only one character has faith in you until the end (well, one of two, but we’ll get to that), and that’s Papyrus, the lovable skeleton man who knows you’ll do the right thing right up until you lop his head off. A lot of people simply can’t complete the Genocide route because it means killing Papyrus right as he’s expressing his good faith in you, and indeed it is kind of a turning point, as nobody shows any sympathy for you after that. Which makes perfect sense in-universe, I mean, you are killing them all. From then on, it’s all “What kind of monster are you?” and “You’re gonna have a bad time” and “You can feel your sins crawling on your back” and the Christmas tree in town has “Nothing for you” and “Kids like you should be burning in hell.”

And I just thought, “Are you f@$&ing kidding me?

“After the week I’ve had? After the very serious damage that happened on my watch, after the pain and the trauma and the subsequent non-closure, after nearly killing one of my favorite people in the entire world, trying to deal with that guilt with no help, then just being dumped back into my normal life, having to move on as if nothing happened, and the first thing I try to get my mind off of it all is telling me that I am a garbage human being for clicking a “Fight” button instead of a “Mercy” button, so that a bunch of moving pixels turn to dust instead of fading gray? That I should be wracked with guilt because a bunch of fictional characters don’t want to die even though they’re not real and if I wanted to I could just reset the game anyway? That I should be BURNING IN HELL FOR PLAYING A GAME, A GAME, the way I want to PLAY IT?!?!?!?!?!?

No.

NO MORE.

This is IRRESPONSIBLE.

The world has enough guilt as it is. You shouldn’t make people feel more guilt for doing something ultimately innocuous!

I WILL NOT stand for this!

I was playing the Genocide route just to see the ending.

Now, though…

it’s personal.

So I killed all those smug, sanctimonious preaching faces. I murdered Undyne, who told me that I was a world-destroying monster, when less than twenty miles away, a girl lay seriously injured for the rest of her life because of something I was responsible for. I know guilt, Undyne. Beating your boss battle is not guilt. Caving in the head of Muffet or Mettaton or anyone else is not a cause to feel shame, no matter how much this game wants me to think it is.

It took me about forty tries to beat Sans.

Sans, the joking douchebag. Sans, the fat skeleton thingy, who was perfectly content to sit around and do nothing until almost everyone else was dead, who proceeds to wipe the floor with your face again and again and again, telling you to burn in hell just because you were playing a video game in a way that he doesn’t like, even faking redemption just to immediately murder you if you fall for it.

It made sense, in character. In universe.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t want to slice his grinning face open with a True Knife. And I eventually did.


Was I a greater monster for murdering dozens of fictional characters, or for going on an ill-advised, spiritually-warned-against camping trip without preparing the participants adequately? Which was the worse sin, crawling up my back? Or did it matter? Guilt compounds. Voices, characters, lines, telling me it was my doing, that I was responsible, in both of these cases. They’re both wrong. I’m a monster for both of them. Everyone wanted to fight me, nobody wanted me around.

“You left the church, no longer believed in Mormonism. Therefore you had no spiritual discernment to avoid that trip.

Kids like you…

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So I beat Sans. Then I murdered Asgore in cold blood and sliced Flowey in half as he begged for his life. As long as I’m going to hell, I might as well go whole hog. What depressing message do you have left for me, game? What last, stinking epithet are you going to throw at my character, my SOUL? Let’s have it!

Then she appeared.

“Greetings! I am Chara.”

charasprite

Smiling. She actually seemed happy to see me. The first smile I’d seen in my direction in quite a few days.

“We have reached the absolute. There is nothing left for us here.”

That’s true. Everybody here hated me anyway.

“Let us erase this pointless world, and move on to the next.”

Sounds good to me.

“Right. You are a great partner.”

A…a great partner? As in…

…not a monster?

“We’ll be together forever, won’t we?”

Somebody knows all the terrible things I’ve done, what I am at the core…

…and they still want to be with me?

…..

Then she slashed the screen. Killed the world. The game closed, and upon opening it there was nothing left.

All those characters, calling me scum. All those fictional NPCs doing their best to pile on guilt upon guilt, shame upon shame, throwing hate and fear and all manner of loathsome bile my way…

…gone.


That was the first time since the accident that I had felt any hope. That I felt that, somehow, I could overcome all the negativity that my thoughts kept heaping on me. It wasn’t “Don’t worry, it wasn’t your fault,” which was the only response I got from people about the accident, which didn’t happen often and wasn’t what I truly believed anyway. It was “I know what you’ve done. I know who you are. And I still want to be with you.”

I live alone. Due to some social anxiety issues (and, you know, being older than 30), I find it very hard to make friends. And even the friends and family I do have have to live their own lives, obviously. The only people who’ve ever even wanted to visit me in the past five years or so are those that went on that trip with me. Of those three, one had their life changed for the worse because of me, one is completely unable to talk about the subject with me, and the third…

…well, Johnathan could at least go home to his sister’s family, with a bunch of kids who hug him and tell him that they love him and want to be with him.

I went home to a bunch of fictional characters who told me I was a terrible person, up until Chara appeared. And yes, she is as fictional as all the other characters I had just turned to dust, but they were still the words I needed to hear.

“Those things you did? Killing fictional characters to let off steam about a real-life situation you haven’t come to grips with yet? Those characters wanted to give you more guilt, more shame, more self-loathing, but not me.

They don’t matter. All that shame…doesn’t matter.

Let’s erase that pointless existence, and move on.

Move on.”


Other voices suddenly were allowed through. “Ivy’s parents, your sister and her husband; Maddie; Ivy herself —  they were all tired. They had been through similar trauma that you had; worse, as they had to deal with the aftermath. They couldn’t go home and pretend it didn’t happen. They weren’t shunning you because they hate you now. Give them time, give them space, and soon they’ll have the emotional energy to reincorporate you into their lives. They need to support each other now before supporting you.”

“You may have done some irresponsible things. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t worth being around.”

“The accident may have been your fault, it may not have been. Ultimately, that’s a pointless train of thought. Learn from it. Erase that pointless existence and move on.

Move on.”


A fictional person allowed me to be forgiven for murdering other fictional people.

Maybe that meant I could learn to forgive myself for injuring a very real person.


I can guarantee you that’s not the response the game intended you to have toward Chara at the end of a Genocide route. But I felt more love and gratitude for her than I had felt for anyone in a long time, for allowing me to finally make that breakthrough.

So I indulged her last request, to balance the books between us. You wanted to move on to the next world?

Hey, Chara, you wanna explore Skyrim?

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Oh, you just want to see Solitude burn down? I guess that can be fun.

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Yeah! Burn! Skyrim is for the Nords!

Or maybe you want to visit the post-apocalyptic world of Boston?

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Hmm… seems a little dark…let’s get you somewhere safer, with better lighting.

 

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That’s better. Within the echelons of an underground amoral scientific community experimenting on innocent surface-dwelling citizens. Seems like a fun time for all.

But hey, maybe you’d rather see what’s going on on the other side of the country. New Vegas, baby!

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Hey, that’s a pretty badass pose, with that green-and-yellow duster and all. But, as I recall, you’re more of a knife person…

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That’s better. Far more your style, I think.

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Ooh, creepy! I like it!

Or what if you want to see something more old-school? I hear Baldur’s Gate and the Forgotten Realms have some pretty interesting places to visit.

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You can even bring some of your old friends with you, if you want to (oh, and also that jerk Sans).

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Not in the mood for a group adventure? Maybe someplace simpler, a little more two-dimensional?

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Yeah, that seems better. An idyllic place, where nothing can go wrong.

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Well, the killer unicorns are pretty scary, but you seem to have that covered with your vampire knives. But you’re so small! How do I know that’s even you?

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That’s a little better. And you’ve made it to space, even! And for some reason are wearing a Starfleet uniform and a miniskirt?

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I suppose some games are harder to customize than others. Oh, well. Have fun bringing down the evil space penguins!

Though maybe all this action is pretty crazy. How would you fare somewhere far more down-to-earth, like on, say, a farm?

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Oh, I see, you’d…

…plant a field of golden flowers…in memory of your fallen family…

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That’s actually really touching, Chara. You do have a soft side after all.

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Though clearly it’s not your only side.


Though most of this “let’s put Chara in every game” thing I’ve been doing for a while now has been just for fun, there remains the part that has been therapeutic. You see, every time I see her, I don’t just see a character design. I see forgiveness. I see unconditional love. I see peace. I see the ability to let go of the past, learn from mistakes. I see someone who, fictional or not, believed in me at a moment when I felt that nobody else did. In some ways it’s like I’m playing with an old friend, who I can bring along in all my adventures, and who wants to be there just as much as I do.

It’s kind of ironic that this epiphany of self-discovery came from the Genocide route of Undertale, as forgiveness and being at peace with one’s mistakes form the emotional core of the Pacifist route of the game. Though in that case, instead of characters either calling you out for your terrible deeds (or forgiving you for them), you are the catalyst of their change. Through your kind words and deeds you help several people who have done terrible things to feel that maybe they aren’t worthless after all. One character, Alphys, a character that I didn’t really understand until after all this, is a prime example. She’s a scientist who performs some experiments at the king’s request to try to find a different way to break the barrier, but in doing so accidentally mutilates and mutates her test subjects. Stricken with guilt, even though she had no idea that what happened was even possible, she was unable to own up to her own mistakes, hiding them all in her basement lab, not returning the letters of the subjects’ own family members, obsessing over pop culture to ease her guilt, and thinking that she has to trick you into being her friend because in her mind there’s no way your friendship would ever happen naturally. Through your actions, and the actions of some of the other characters (particularly Undyne), she realizes that she needs to own her mistakes, learn from them, and move on. By the end of the game, she isn’t magically all better, but she has begun the process of learning how to forgive herself, with the support of those close to her.

Sound familiar?


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We’ve all had to develop our own ways to cope with the accident. Ivy, for her part, has developed somewhat of a fascination with death, though not in the way you may think. Less with an attitude of fear, or murder, and more the concept that within death there can be found new life and hope and joy (the Neil Gaiman/Tim Burton/Harry Potter approach to death). I don’t know how Maddie has coped as she hasn’t clued me in to her process at all. Maybe someday she will, maybe she never will; either way, it’s her own path, and at least outwardly she seems to be doing well. Johnathan still has his own family and faith to support him. And, as for me…

I don’t get a lot of support from people around me, which really is my own fault. I’m a fiercely independent loner who often doesn’t express his emotions for fear of embarrassment, especially since usually when I try I either get tongue-tied or say something that simply causes an awkward silence. The irony of the world is that few, if any, people care about how I feel because everybody’s trying to get others to listen to them talk about how they feel. Sometimes all your friends and your family are unavailable because they’re living their own lives and you find it hard to make inserting yourself into their lives your priority (and they’re sure not going to make it their priority). Sometimes the thing you need to hear to feel better about yourself comes from an unexpected source, like a character in a video game. But regardless of where it comes from, you grab onto that hope. You remember that hope. And you remind yourself of it every day of your life so that the good thoughts outweigh the bad.

Which finally, finally, brings us back to the necklace I found at FanX. You see, the 8-bit heart that comprises the Undertale logo is more than just a heart. It represents the SOUL, which in Undertale is a very real (if still somewhat metaphysical) thing. There are different colors of SOULs in the game that represent different people and/or concepts, but the red SOUL represents Frisk/Chara. By wearing this necklace, I’m literally wearing a symbol of Chara specifically. And since she helped me re-find my soul, I feel it appropriate to wear hers close to my heart.

It reminds me of peace. It reminds me to look out for those people nobody else has the time or the energy to look out for. It reminds me to forgive, and to seek forgiveness. It reminds me that goodness can be found even in the most unlikely of places. And it reminds me that, despite no longer believing in an organized religion, I too, still have a soul that I need to protect, heal, and help grow.

Though if some gas station clerk asks about it again, I’ll probably just tell them that it’s because I like Zelda, just to save some time.

2019-05-15 01.02.48

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5 thoughts on “Necklaces, Fallen Children, and Forgiveness.

  1. I wanted to preserve the Facebook comments that were made when I posted this there, though I am leaving out last names just in case.

    Kjersti P.: Now the heart makes sense- cool!

    Mom: Thanks for sharing. I will always be here for you. ❤ LOVE MOM
    – Me:Love you too, Mom!
    – Mom: ☺

    Daniel O.: Thanks for the long-forum story. Impactful experiences like this can and should never be condensed, because that would betray their meaning. Love you, buddy!

    Ben P.: Thanks for sharing. Now I have to play Undertale so I can read the rest (I will play it, I swear…)
    – Me: Get to it!

    Madeleine M.: I haven’t relly thought about it in a relly long time, I dissent relly know how much it still effects me, the last thing that I said to her before she fell is ” hey dont fall that lookes dangerous” then I paused looked at her then continued climing up. Then I hurd you screem and it was tarrafing, I relized that ivy fell of the way you yelled. In that moment I was thinking why wasn’t I thare to stop her. Then I started running down the hill not thinking of my self yelling to ivy that I wold save her and I’m so sorry for not telling her to git off the cliff. Then Jonathan was running after me telling me to slow down, becuse I might injer myself to. So I did. I was still running and screaming but he helped me not git hurt. So we finly make it and I cant look at her, I thought she died. And thare is so much that I couldnnot do without her. I rember she was singing undyns theme Wich turned to jingle bells. We got to the place whare we had the car and I was so scared that my parents wold blame Jeff. It was not his falt. It just happend. All I wanted to do was be with ivy but I couldn’t even look at her. So I went and had subway and drove to the hospital. I rember the nurse telling me that ivy said “maddie is gonna kill me” that made me realize how much she knows I care. I rode in a fire truck and a helicopter. I was trying to forget. I wanted to stay with her at the hospital but I couldn’t. I had to go with my aunt. I love her so much and I know she had good intentions but she was saying its fine she will be ok but I fellt like it was the end of the wold. Like nobody cared bisides me. I stayed at her house for a weekend. Thare was a can of fanta that was in my bag the whole time. I texted my friends.we called it the fanta who has been places. The one song that helped me is the song battle scares with a AMV ( animated music video). I had to go home and back to school without ivy for about a week. Everyone was asking and I was tired of respoonding. She came back to school and I’ve tryed not to think about it ever since. This post made me cry, but thank you I needed this.
    – Madeleine M.: Also drawing has helped me cope by drawing cute things, or trying to draw edgy things. Little things remind me of it but I just have to rember hope is so much stronger then fear. The word hope makes be believe anything is posibul. Look at ivy she is good now and so am I I just have to have hope. A lesson undertale taught me.
    – Madeleine M.: Sorry for keep commenting things but I just thought of this, all of our cosplayes mean so much to us, Jeff’s is chara, ivys is death, and mine is mae from nitw Wich has my faverot quot that helped me with so many things, “at the end of everything hold on to anything”
    – Madeleine M.: https://youtu.be/gtGU2EnKIms
    – Madeleine M.: I encourage for u guyes to lissen to this. It is one of my Favriot songs
    – Me: Oh, Maddie! Now you’re making me cry!
    – Me: All the guys from El Salvador that I work with will make fun of me!
    – Madeleine M.: oooohhh nooooooo
    – Me: It’s OK. The guy already makes fun of me because once he was telling me a story, but I didn’t know the Spanish word for “grass,” and I thought he was telling me about weeding his grandmother. It…was confusing…

    Shelly L.: Jeff, it was really good to see you at FanX… if you want to talk, I am here and willing to listen. You have such a good heart. I’m glad this has helped you find some peace.
    – Me: Thanks, Shelly! It was good to see you too

    Wendi G.: {{hugs}} this post made me totally emotional! So many great memories of the whole Parkes family! I’m a non-judgmental ear and a great listener if you ever need one my friend!
    – Wendi G.: oh and I think when people ask, you should just say: “you never know when you’re going to need an extra life” and leave it at that 😉
    – Me: Love it!

    Stephanie F.: Jeff, thank you. Thank you so very much for writing this all down. I feel so honoured to have had the opportunity to read it. Last September, I became intimately acquainted with State Street in Sandy whilst riding my 125cc motorscooter. I got pretty banged up, but that was immaterial because my now 13 year old daughter was riding with me. We were both wearing helmets, but I did not have my motorcycle endorsement, and was therefore endangering both of our lives.
    I don’t recount my experience to attempt to “one up” you or anything bizarre like that. I just wanted to cite why your insights and processing resonate so strongly with me. Thanks again for being someone I consider a friend.
    – Me: Thanks! It’s good to commiserate sometimes, and remind ourselves that we all have some forgiving to do.

  2. A few of my thoughts.

    Remembering from my perspective what happened.

    I remember we had already done some exploring and climbing, and decided to climb one of the larger mesas.

    It was my suggestion, however, that we go up a path that wasn’t the main path. There were plenty of hikers going up the regular beaten path, but I was feeling adventurous, and wanted to try what I thought was the path less trodden. I had my hiking boots on. Ivy was wearing flats.

    Maddie actually slipped and slid down about 10 feet when we were crossing a ridge a few minutes earlier. She scraped up her back a bit. That probably should have been an indication to me to be more careful. I’m no expert climber, but I am experienced. I love climbing rocks and trees and exploring.

    I was the farthest up the side of the Mesa. Jeff was resting down below, watching us. Maddie was about 15 feet away from me, taking a break from climbing or looking for another path up that wasn’t so steep. Ivy was about the same distance away, but closer to the cliff side.

    Jeff called up to me to say the path I was heading up looked too steep. I yelled back something flippant about trying to “James Tiberius Kirk” my way up, but I agreed with him and came back down to check on Maddie and Ivy.

    Ivy was very close to the edge, sitting on the lip above the cliff. Before I could say anything, I saw her step out to a ledge, and then slip and fall. (I still don’t know what she was trying to do, and she doesn’t remember. I think she was either trying to get a better look at the view from the other side of the lip, or maybe look for a different way for us to go up.) Jeff yelled, “IVY, NO!” then Maddie yelled, too. I couldn’t see from my angle how far down the ground was. My first thought was, “She’s dead. I just got her killed.” But I couldn’t focus on that, because Jeff ran towards Ivy, then Maddie started running to get down. I started running after her to tell her to slow down so she didn’t get hurt, too. We rounded a part of the ridge before we were down, and I saw Ivy roll down the dirt. She looked limp and dead. The thought popped into my head again, “She’s dead. I just got her killed.”

    I tried to focus again. I’d gotten Maddie to slow down. Jeff had reached Ivy. I told myself that I didn’t know if she was dead yet, and I needed to go see what we could do. Maddie hunkered down by a rock near us, crying (or maybe she was yelling for help from the other hikers, I can’t quite recall), and I caught up with Jeff, who was cradling Ivy. She was breathing. She was alive.

    Luckily, I remembered some of my scout training and had us gently turn her to put her head uphill from her feet. I took my or Jeff’s hoodie and put it under her head, then rested her head on my knees. Jeff was at her feet. Half her face was covered in blood. Her arm looked to be bent back too far. I thought it might be broken (but I think it was just because she was double-jointed).

    Suddenly, she started screaming. It hurt to see her in so much pain, but it meant she was alive. I was still worried about how many broken bones she had. I was especially worried that she had a broken neck or back, and that, by me having turned her around, that might have exacerbated the injuries. Jeff and I kept talking about what we should do, and checking her for injuries. I wasn’t quite sure what to do at that point, other than to try to keep her talking and conscious. I gave her a priesthood blessing in my mind, since my hands were already on her head. I didn’t know how Jeff would feel about that, so I didn’t say it out loud.

    Luckily, help soon arrived, some of the first responders showed up (either Maddie got them or some of the other hikers had). They took my place, and I left Jeff with her to go comfort Maddie. Maddie was still crying, so I put my arm around her. To keep Ivy talking, the first-aid guys asked her to hum a tune. Maddie suggested Undyne’s theme, and Ivy started with that, but it morphed into Jingle Bells somehow.

    They got her on a stretcher and we crossed the desert back to the ranger station. We got her on the ambulance.

    Jeff said to me, “I’m glad you were here to help.” I blurted out, “I wish none of us had come!” I wasn’t mad at you, Jeff. I didn’t blame you, I blamed myself for taking us up a dangerous path that Ivy and Maddie weren’t experienced enough to be safe on.

    For the rest of the trip: the drive to Colorado, the stay at the hospital, the stay at the Ronald MacDonald house overnight, the drive to Utah the next day, the visit to Ivy at the Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake, and the ride back home to Ogden, I must have recycled the events leading up to her fall in my head a hundred times.

    The only thing I remember from the hospital in Colorado was the doctor telling us how lucky Ivy was that the injuries weren’t worse – that she could have easily broken her neck. I remember Maddie exclaiming, “It’s a miracle!” I felt the same way.

    When a lady at the hospital asked us if we were okay – if we wanted some grief counseling, all I remember responding was, “I thought she was dead!” I remember saying that a few times to a few people who asked me if I was okay. I did want to talk to a grief counselor, but I thought it might be selfish of me to be so focused on my own feelings when Ivy and Maddie were the ones who were hurt.

    I knew Jeff was hurting, too, but he was being very quiet about his feelings, and I didn’t quite know what to ask him. Both of us were in shock and in crisis mode, just trying to be focused on how we could help. When we realized we couldn’t do much, that the doctors and her parents had to take over now, I think both of us just felt depressed that we couldn’t do more, and we just tried to focus on other things for a bit.

    So, we both went home. I had messaged my cousin at the Ronald MacDonald house that night to explain what happened (actually, she had messaged me that day to say hi, and I just responded honestly).

    It took a lot of talking to my family and friends to get over the shock of what happened that day. I had to open up to them.

    Hiking especially (something I would often do, since there are mountain paths right behind my house) took on a different outlook for me for a long time. I debated whether I should give up hiking for a bit as it still brought up those negative memories and feelings. I decided to keep doing it, but to be a lot more careful and wiser than I had been that day. I figured I might as well learn something useful from the experience.

    Hiking with family members, especially my nieces and nephews, was especially nerve-wracking. I hiked with my cousin, Rainy, and my niece, Mea, within a few months from the Goblin Valley trip. Mea likes to be very clingy when Rainy is around, so Rainy was pushing ahead on the path, and Mea kept running after her to keep up. That brought up some PTSD of me running after Maddie, so I kept yelling at Mea to slow down. When she ignored me, I caught up to her and gently but firmly told her that I couldn’t bear for another young blonde girl I cared about to get hurt on a hiking trip. She slowed down after that and we enjoyed the rest of that hike.

    About a year after the trip, I was asked to help on the same trails behind my house (though higher up) with a group of 11-12 year-old scouts. Half of them were special (with ADHD), and were doing some dangerous climbing, throwing rocks down the mountainside, and not listening to the leaders. Luckily, there were 2 or 3 other leaders there besides me, so we could better keep them in check.

    However, at one point I lost it on them – yelling at them to stop throwing rocks and to behave and reminding them about the dangers of heights. They didn’t listen too well to that, and some of the other leaders had to take a more subtle approach to get them to understand. Later on in the hike though, one of the boys and I got to talking and I told him generally about what had happened to Ivy. He kind of got the message when he realized that a friend of mine had gotten hurt while climbing, and he listened a little better from then on. He and I are still friends to this day, and play basketball together on occasion.

    The shock of the event has worn off over the last couple of years, but the memory is still there.

    It is interesting how much Undertale was involved in that trip, though. Even when we were at Primary Children’s, Maddie’s cousin (I can’t remember her name) came to visit Ivy and all she and Maddie talked about was Undertale and Underfell (it’s all she talked about to me, too, even though I had little idea what she was talking about).

    I’m glad that Chara has helped you get through some of the hurt and given you some renewed hope.

    You might think it was easy for me to just overcome what happened that day, because I have the family & kids at home for support, and while I do admit that helped, it also took a lot of introspection and prayer. Personally, I think my relationship to God is what ultimately got me through. I know you and I don’t talk about religion a lot anymore, but I might as well let you know that the reason I still attend church is that, despite the Church’s flaws and the flaws of the greater Mormon society we live in, my personal relationship & belief in Jesus Christ is why I stay. I’ve always felt a relationship to God/Jesus through prayer, and that’s who I go to when I don’t think anyone else understands me. (Understand, I’m not trying to preach to you or tell you you’re wrong for doing something else with your life, I’m just giving you a window into my own religious feelings.) The Lord Jesus Christ gives me hope, so I talk to Him.

    Another thing that helped/has helped throughout my life is working on my art and my writing. The characters I’ve created (like Jack) feel real to me. They feel like friends and people who understand me – at times even more than the flesh and blood family/friends I have around. They’re who I turned to when I felt I didn’t have any friends growing up. They were my imaginary friends who went with me when I went on my long walks exploring outside. I would insert them into the storylines of the Lord of the Rings or whatever comic I happened to be reading. That’s why I’ve tried for so long to write them down and share those adventures with you and others. Like I said, I’m glad that you found hope in Chara. These fictional characters can mean a lot to us when it feels like we’ve been abandoned by everyone else.

    “I don’t get a lot of support from people around me, which really is my own fault. I’m a fiercely independent loner who often doesn’t express his emotions for fear of embarrassment, especially since usually when I try I either get tongue-tied or say something that simply causes an awkward silence. The irony of the world is that few, if any, people care about how I feel because everybody’s trying to get others to listen to them talk about how they feel.”

    I think more people care than you realize.

    As someone who’s also dealt with social anxiety (though I’m not trying to say what I’ve experienced is the same/to the same degree as yours), I’ve learned that sometimes we allow the feeling/the paranoia involved in that anxiety to feel more real to us than the reality of the situation.

    Sometimes, we hurt so badly that that hurt can overshadow the reality that others love us. We start to think that nobody cares, or nobody wants us around or that nobody is interested in what we have to say. A lot of times, I think it’s more a reflection on how we feel about ourselves at that moment than how other people actually feel about us.

    Some people have this friendship thing nailed down. It’s easy for them to just naturally make friends and have relationships. But for you and I, who think/overthink and feel/overfeel about EVERYTHING, it’s not so easy. We’re constantly analyzing everything we do, and everybody’s reaction to everything we do. For some, they hang out with their friends and then go home, content that they have people that care about them somewhere out there. For you and I, we hang out with friends/family and then we go home and worry about everything we said and did (and everything they said and did) – the paranoia sets in when we’re alone.

    I remember back when you and I were at the BC at BYU. Lots of people wanted to hang out with Jeff and know what Jeff had to say. We all loved the game nights you would put on. Monica and Lydia and Jen Paladino and others (Doug) were always coming around to hang out. You were so involved in having fun with others, that I didn’t even realize that you felt isolated until you talked to me about it once/wrote it on a blog post (and told me you sometimes sabotaged your own relationships).

    That’s part of why I felt a connection to you. I realized we’d gone through similar situations growing up: feeling isolated, feeling like we had no friends, spending a lot of time alone focusing on our talents, getting beat up in scouts by jerks, feeling estranged at times even to members of our own families, etc. I felt like I’d found a kindred spirit. Not someone who was the same, but similar. Someone who understood.

    I think, even back then at college when you were surrounded by people who cared about you and wanted to be your friend, it may have been difficult to recognize that people cared because you were so used to people not caring, and you didn’t know how to react to it.

    There was a guy back then who would always come up to me and be like, “Ayyyy!!!! Johnathan Whiting! Wassuuuup!?!?” And he was a nice guy and being sincere, but I didn’t really know how to react to him. (Mostly because that was the extent of his conversation.) I felt bad because he was trying to make friends with me, but there wasn’t really a friendship chemistry there between us. I think bald sincerity can be hard at times for you and I to take, because you and I have so much going on under the surface. A lot of people don’t. They are what they wear on their sleeve. But you and I are usually looking for something deeper. It’s been hard, but I’ve learned over the last few years to just be okay with people like that guy, and to just talk about the weather or shoot the bull for a minute or two. I figure that they’re at least trying in their own way to be nice, I might as well talk their language back to them. And I can move on and find someone else to talk about something deep.

    I’ve been involved in a lot of talk therapy, and one thing we go over is called “distorted perspectives” or “distorted thinking.” There are usually six (or so, depending on who you talk to) different types of these (link below if you’re interested), but I just want to talk about one: “mind reading.”

    Check #4. “Jumping to Conclusions” or #6. “Personalization”: https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-cognitive-distortions/

    This is something that people do a lot. Those of us who have more paranoia/social anxiety do it even more. We think we’re Professor X and know what other people are really thinking. We think they have hidden agendas that they’re keeping from us. We think (as Weyoun said to Captain Sisko) that, “We know you better than you know yourself.” This, of course, is horsecrap. My mom used to try this on me all the time, and it bugged the hell out of me (and my siblings). She would never take what I was saying at face value. She would always try to overanalyze what I and others said to her, to find some hidden meaning that wasn’t there, instead of just listening to us. Turns out, my mother was a constant worry-wart (paranoia/anxiety again).

    You and I are smart. We are gifted artistically. We can look at a situation from many different angles and see things that aren’t there or that others don’t see, for artistic purposes. Not everyone sees this way. I have (and I’m sure you’ve had) conversations with people where they attest that they can’t see/hear the things we are seeing/hearing in a renaissance painting or a classical piece of music.

    The problem arises when you and I start to think that, because we have this gift, we can therefore see into someone’s mind or heart. We can wonder, of course. We can analyze, but that’s different from actually knowing for sure. A better way to get to know someone is just to talk to them and spend time with them.

    The other issue we have is not recognizing that others don’t have the gift to see things the way we do, or assuming that they have to see things the way we do in order for us to be friends with them. Sometimes we assume that others are over-analyzing us the way we’re over-analyzing them. Some might be, but most probably aren’t. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about us, it just means they’re not as concerned with Jeff Parkes’ or Johnathan Whiting’s flaws as we assume they should be. And that’s good to know, because we can stop making mountains out of molehills when we do something embarrassing.

    Like I said before, having known you for 13 years or so, I’ve seen that lots of people like Jeff and want to be around Jeff.

    Every time we go and do the Improv Shows everyone in the troop is excited to see you. Everyone in the audience laughs at your jokes (even the bad ones). You always seem to be having a good time when we meet up at Casey’s for the annual 24th of July. Everyone wants to know what Jeff’s been up to and listen to you tell (or retell) some funny story. Sure, we’re not having deep philosophical discussions, but that’s to be expected from a party or a get-together – you save those for more intimate discussions.

    When we play D&D, we all want to hear what you have to say – we want your perspective and your insight on the rules. Even when the group jokes with you about being a “rules nazi.” That’s just bros being bros. That’s just teasing and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Plus, you do the same to others at times. You’ve made fun of my little quirks countless times on Player and Doodler, and I’ve done the same to you. We both joke about TIM!?!? It’s just one way people interact. Heck, I make fun of Brady to his face all the time, and to Tim. Yes, they have stuff about them that bugs me or that I think is goofy (and so do you), but we’re still friends. We dish it out and we take it. Having someone point out some of your flaws occasionally doesn’t mean they hate you.

    Your family cares about you, too (though they all show it in different ways). Some probably care more, and some less. Some care in ways that you probably don’t like, or would prefer they did things your way, but that’s people. My mom annoyed me to death, but I still love her. Tim annoys me all the time, but I’ve recognized he has his own endearing traits, too. Your sister bugs me, but you can find something likeable in her, so that shows that neither of us is the final expert on these people.

    Sure, your nieces are self-interested, but that’s what teenagers do. The world revolves around them. Sure, they’re bored about some of the stuff you like, but that’s the generation gap for you. They’ve latched onto tons of other stuff you’ve introduced to them. You’ve shaped a lot of what they value (video game tastes, in particular), and how they think about media. I’ve found it to be the same with my nieces and nephews. They’re all way into drawing just from me being around them.

    Heck, you can tell that people care just based on the fact that we’re responding to this blog post (and on Facebook). Mark this down in your internal journal of “proof that people care about Jeff” as a win. Just because we don’t always agree with your point of view doesn’t mean we don’t care or that we’re not listening – we just have our own perspectives.

    I think, like you said, you don’t express “a lot emotions for fear of embarrassment.” That may be true, but I also think you’re afraid of being wrong. (Now, I hope I’m not “mind reading” on this one, but just making a guess.)

    I think you might be afraid of having/showing your flaws, because you were so used to being good at the things you liked to do growing up (music, gaming, academics, etc.), and so you stuck to those things.

    I think maybe opening up to and telling those jerk boy scouts as a kid that you weren’t interested in what they liked tainted you into thinking that all of us might be like that – that we’d all want to fight with you or look down on you or bully you for thinking the way you do. So, you bottle the real you in.

    At least, I know that I’ve done a similar thing. I was beat up enough for being overweight, wearing glasses, being poor; made fun of for liking Star Trek and X-Men and dragons; or bullied for being socially awkward or clumsy at sports. I eventually learned to keep to myself, or keep how I really felt to myself, until I found people (or at least started to recognize that there were people) who I could open up to. I started being able to tell the difference between who was a safe person to talk to, and who was a jerk. Turns out, I’ve realized, that kids are a-holes (at least a lot of them). But not everyone is like that.

    The other thing I realized, was that I had been more of a jerk than I had thought, too. When you’ve been mistreated a lot, you can start to develop a victim mentality. You start to think that you’re always the one who needs to be given the benefit of the doubt, and that everyone else is wrong. I’ve done this, you’ve done this (Tim does it a lot, and I can’t stand it). You develop an attitude that “the world is out to get me.” Which simply isn’t true. I am in no way justifying what any of those kids did to you growing up, or what the kids did to me growing up, but looking back on my own life, I found there were times where I was the one who instigated the fight with my actions or words. Or that I continued the fight/argument when I didn’t have to. Or that I said things to another person that were rude or condescending or mean. Or that I was driving away potential friends by acting like I was smarter or more talented or better than them – possibly because I assumed they were just going to be mean to me anyway, but probably more because I was young and inexperienced and didn’t quite realize what I was doing.

    It’s nice now, with experience, to see that everyone is not the jerk kids I grew up with. People do care, and I and you can open up at times to them, without having to fear we’re going to be ostracized from the community. It’s possible to accept that other people have flaws, and let others accept ours, too.

    “Usually when I try I either get tongue-tied.”

    What’s so bad about that?

    I get tongue-tied all the time. You know. You’re constantly having me restart my jumbled sentences with, “You wanna try that again?”

    Sometimes it bugs me to stutter so much, but not as much as it used to. At the end of my mission, I was a district leader and had to be in charge of district meeting. The meeting was full of other missionaries from the Spanish zone – many of whom I’d know for months or years at that point (some former companions). I stumbled and stuttered my way through what I was trying to say. I remember my companion coming up to me afterwards. He said he’d been talking to some of the other guys/gals, and they’d kind of joked about me. “There’s ole’ Whiting, hemmin’ an’ a’ hawin’ again!” they’d said (roughly). But he said it in an endearing way, and I knew the people who had said it, which made me feel less like they were making fun of me, and more like they’d come to know me well enough that they appreciated (and even kind of looked forward to) the way I rambled through my discussions. Turns out I’m just long-winded, and that’s okay (I hope).

    I think another thing to remember is that you and I may be better at writing out our feelings where we can edit and revise and take some time to think about what we’re trying to say. Sometimes vocal conversations aren’t the best for getting across our intentions. That’s one reason I really enjoy messaging with you back and forth. I like the interplay between the sentences, and I like taking a minute or two to think of something clever, rather than just always going with my first gut reaction.

    As far as “awkward silences” I know those happen between you and I occasionally. Like I said above, sometimes that habit of taking a moment to think about what I’m trying to say carries over into audible conversation. Although, if I think the other person is angry, or if I think what I’m about to say is going to be something angry that I’ll regret, I just shut up instead. I have no desire to argue with you or anyone, because I find angry arguments to be useless – both sides don’t listen, say things they don’t mean (or that they’ll regret later) and just go away with bitter feelings. Maybe that’s a cop-out on my part, but I’ve had so many arguments in my life that I’ve just decided to surrender that point, let emotions settle down, and maybe bring up the subject later when both people are talking more reasonably.

    Perhaps it’s more “mind reading” on my part, but there are times when you seem angry, contradictory, passive aggressive, or not in the mood to listen (call it what you will), so I don’t answer. It’s not just you, I do the same thing to Tim too, when he says something that I think will start an argument, so I don’t answer it and change the subject. I did the same thing on the phone when I was working for all those call centers.

    It kind of goes back to what you said earlier. “The irony of the world is that few, if any, people care about how I feel because everybody’s trying to get others to listen to them talk about how they feel.”

    I feel the same way a lot. There are times when I’ll say something, and you’ll immediately contradict it, try to correct it, or flat out tell me I’m wrong. That says to me you’re not in a mood to listen to what I have to say. To me, that’s the end of the discussion, because if I try to assert my point of view, I think you’re probably going to just contradict it or not listen again. It’s an impasse, so what’s the point of continuing the discussion?

    And it’s not just you that does this. This is a shared human thing. I’ve caught myself doing it to Tim or Melissa, or the nieces and nephews or other friends of mine, too. (Heaven knows Tim does it to me all the time). We feel this great need to correct, to be “right” all the time, that we can’t let others be right (when we know they’re wrong).

    People are interested in what you have to say, if what you have to say doesn’t immediately negate or override what they just said. Even though what you’re saying may be technically correct, it’s annoying to have someone, “Actually…” you all the time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAyt3KUVkrY

    You know how this feels. You’ve told me on several occasions how Ben would gaslight or correct you growing up, so you never felt like your opinion mattered. Now Ben is a smart person and has his own insights, but that doesn’t mean his point of view is correct all (or even most) of the time, or that it’s not rude to constantly be condescending to someone else. It doesn’t lead to a healthy discussion or healthy relationships with others. It doesn’t acknowledge that what the other person is saying has value. And if you don’t give any credence to what the other person has to say first, then they won’t care about what you think or feel, no matter how well-worded your argument is.

    There’s a good experience that Dale Carnegie cited about this: https://www.lingq.com/lesson/vhow-to-win-people-to-your-way-of-thin-246638/

    If it helps, maybe look at it less like, “people only care about the way they feel,” and more like, “everyone wants their voice to be heard and recognized.” You and I both want our voices heard, so we can relate to that. My experience is that once you’ve shown you care about the other person, then they care about you and how you feel. There are also people who legitimately care from the get-go (they’re probably the minority, but they exist).

    If you’re looking for an argument, or looking for somewhere to correct other people on facts or whatever, then there are times and places for that. Casual conversation with your friends/family might not always be the best place. It’s like that nerd blog you linked me to the other day (the Endgame one). That was a good place to argue trivia. The author dude had stated his position, which was probably meant to be inflamatory to some, and the comments were left open for people to discuss or argue with him. I disagreed with the guy, so I added my two cents. That started a small argument/disagreement between him and myself. That was fine, because I’m not looking for the author to be my friend and I probably won’t ever end up talking to him again. My intent was to defend the positions of some of the other commenters, but also to defend the scriptwriter’s position in general. I think that sort of thing is okay in small doses.

    Our friends/family that we see more often are different. I detest talking to one of my brothers most of the time (not Tim), because he has to argue with me (and everyone else) on EVERY. SINGLE. POINT. I never feel like he’s interested in what I have to say. When I’m able to divert the discussion to something more palatable, like our shared interest in classic films, then we have a good chat. I don’t mind that he has opinions, I just mind that his opinions to him have to be better than mine or anyone else’s.

    Really, the only times I don’t like talking to you is when you take a similar attitude. I respect your intelligence and your perspective, but when your viewpoint is immediately, “You’re wrong and I’m right and here’s why…” or “You’re wrong and this internet critic is right, and here’s why…” then my listening muscles shut off. Maybe that’s petty of me, but I think you can understand. It’s not that I’m looking for agreement, just respect. After all, I’m you’re friend and I’m the one who cares about you and is spending time with you. These internet people may make a good argument, but they don’t give a rat’s behind about you. That’s part of how friendship works (or at least, how I think it works) – you give a little more credence to the people who want to be with you and worry less about who’s technically correct. There are times when I and other people are in the mood for deep analysis, and times when we’re not. If I’ve just watched something I’ve enjoyed, then I don’t really want to read/watch a scathing review of it – especially if the author is taking the point of view that they hate the thing (or point out all the plotholes/flaws in it), and that that’s the only interpretation that any other intelligent person should have of the thing (as I thought that author did on that Endgame article).

    It’s much nicer when you share something with me and ask what I think of it – like when you shared that Infinity War article a while back that related the MCU to Greek Tragedies. It showed you respected me as a peer. And it’s nice to ask you what your viewpoint is on stuff, too (and not just get the AV Club’s opinion of the piece, but the Jeff’s real opinion). I think a lot of us look up to Jeff because he’s so smart and gifted and has a great viewpoint to share on the world, but if he turns around and uses that viewpoint to make us feel dumb or insignificant, it hurts. I think there’s a difference in telling people how you feel, then there is in telling them how they should feel. I think we get that way at times – we hope people will feel the same way we do about something, and if they don’t, we get upset and want to argue with them to “correct” them. Or we feel our perspective is more correct, so we feel the need to correct/criticize. It’s dangerous to do this with our friends, though, because they/we are mostly looking for someone to respect and support us.

    That’s why we don’t always need to give Billy a scathing review of Transformers 1986, or tell the girl we’re interested in how her piano-playing isn’t technically correct, or tell Megan Francom that she needs to pursue a career in hunter jumping rather than get married young.

    I know you like to analyze and criticize, but on the same token, you don’t always like being criticized or analyzed, so it cuts both ways. For example, back at the BC you, me, Jared Baxter and whoever else were talking about the Disney Afternoon one day, and a few of us said how we didn’t like Rescue Rangers as much as the other shows. You got offended and became passive aggressive and started digging at Ducktales out of spite. That’s not to say that correction or argument aren’t useful at times – just not necessary all the time, especially when people are just talking about what they like and not necessarily looking for analysis. Since then, I learned not to rag on Rescue Rangers around you (because you like it), but instead I’ve let you tell me the reasons you liked it so much, and I’ve come to appreciate the show better, even if it still isn’t my favorite.

    I apologize if I’ve been contradictory or condescending in the past to you. It’s a flaw I’m working on.

    I hope you don’t think I’m being too harsh. Yes, there are things about you that bug me, and things about you that bug other people that know you, but you can relate to that. You could probably come up with a long list of things about me that bug you, too. I think that’s part of love and friendship, though. Accepting that your friend/family member has both flaws and strengths to them, ignoring the flaws if they’re trivial, pointing them out at times if they’re important, and reminding yourself often what you like about the person.

    Like you said, “You may have done (do) some irresponsible things. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t worth being around.”

    I think sometimes we slip into friendship perfectionism. For instance, you’ve often said to me that you “didn’t have a group of friends in high school.” This kind of baffles me, as I’ve watched all the Pimp Landos and you’ve told me how much fun you guys had making them. You’ve told me funny stories from when you and Casey were in drama together, or when Billy had a sleepover at your place, or making the Josh Rees Christmas Carol, etc. Every time I see you with those guys, you’re having a good time. You seem like a group of old buddies to me. In fact, you seem more tight knit then most of the groups of friends I had when I was younger – you hang out more often too (even if it’s only a couple of times a year). I think maybe you expect friendship to be something different than it actually is – that a real person has to understand and agree with you 100% to be your friend. Maybe that’s what makes it easier to project our feelings on Chara or Jack or whoever, because we feel these characters do completely understand us. Maybe you can illuminate me on that, though.

    But when I see you out with those guys, I see you let the fun Jeff out. The one we see on the Improv stage. The one I’ve joked around with so many times. Sometimes, I wish you would let that Jeff out a little more to new people, and not worry so much about what they’re going to think, because I don’t think you have anything to lose if you try.

    You make fun of me sometimes for flirting with waitresses, but I do it for a purpose (and it’s not always to get their number). No, I don’t know that person, but even if I’m never going to see them again, I want to have a fun interaction with someone. What could just be a boring business transaction lets me get to know someone new, and it usually brightens their day, too. As someone who worked in customer service for a long time, dealing with so many people all day runs a body down (especially if the majority of their customers are needy or impatient), so having someone joke around with you a bit and be lighthearted can be a nice change of pace. It’s also a bit of a social experiment for me, too. I know that I’m probably never going to see that person again, so I have little to lose if I end up looking silly. However, even if it’s a place we regular, I find the servers remember us and we can have that little connection for a small amount of time. It just makes the experience a little nicer, and restores my faith in humanity. It also lets me just hang loose for a bit.

    I understand that both of us enjoy deeper friendships and want deeper conversations, but I think a part of life is that those are harder to come by, so why not just enjoy a light conversation and a light friendship for a bit (if that’s what life hands us)? That way, you can let a piece of your soul out a little at a time – spread it around, and you don’t feel like you have to dump it on someone all at once. I also find sometimes that I can open up to complete strangers about personal things. Just chatting with some random people I meet on the train I find out they’re more similar than I originally thought – and I don’t have to feel so alone. That’s one reason I go out and go on so many walks – sometimes I want to be alone out there, but other times it’s nice to just run into some stranger and start shooting the breeze. Turns out, with the billions of people in this world, there are others who’ve had tragedies happen to their loved ones (that they feel responsible for), there are others who’ve lost their fathers at an early age, there are others who deal with social anxiety or who like Star Trek and The Simpsons.

    Speaking of dumping on someone (sorry about the long-windedness of this comment, but hey, it’s me), I seriously think you might enjoy having a therapist. I know it can cause anxiety just thinking about going to one, but hear me out. One part of the disconnect might be expecting your friends and family to be good listeners. Turns out, most of us aren’t. It’s less that people don’t care, and more that good listening skills take practice and training. That’s why society invented psychologists. They’re literally trained and paid just to listen to you, and if you don’t like one, you can just switch to a new one (that’s even better than friends/family!). You can say what you want to say, knowing it’s going to stay within that office, and knowing the person is going to be professional and generally unbiased. It’s nice to just have a sounding board and be able to say things out loud (vent your frustrations) to someone. I share a lot of personal things with my therapists that I don’t say to anyone else. If you’re worried that they’re going to harp at you about religion or whatever, I wouldn’t. My current therapist is a dude from St. Louis who isn’t a member, and we have some pretty good chats. He doesn’t bring up religion unless I do (that’s how I found out he wasn’t a member, btw). Even with my Mormon therapists though, it’s been similar. They’re trained to be professional, so they usually don’t bring up the religion question unless you do. If the religion thing is a game-changer thing for you, then google one who’s a non-member. I just think it might be something useful to try, rather than feeling all the time like you have to keep this all to yourself.

    Wrapping this up, I know this may sound trite, but I refuse to allow you to take all the blame for what happened to Ivy on your shoulders. You and I were both the responsible adults there, and Ivy chose for herself to step off the cliff for whatever reason. Also, her parents allowed her to come with us in the first place. We were all in it together, so let’s not play the blame game. This kinda crap happens. Let’s just be more careful next time.

    Or, to put it in words more eloquent than mine: “The accident may have been your fault, it may not have been. Ultimately, that’s a pointless train of thought. Learn from it. Erase that pointless existence and move on.

    Move on.”

    P.S. Here’s one more article that may be helpful: https://theascent.pub/research-confirms-that-no-one-is-really-thinking-about-you-f6e7b09c458

    (You know most of the stuff in the first part of the article, but skip down to these sections:
    “So when you feel judged, it’s because you’re judging yourself,”
    “Sometimes people will say judgmental things, but it’s not what you think,”
    “The absolute freedom in realizing that nobody is thinking about you.”)

    P.P.S. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7o1DCJwG2qI

  3. Since I wrote this article I’ve found even more things that I think this necklace represents (that aren’t quite as connected to Undertale but are still important). A week or two ago Kjersti posted an article written by a single woman about dealing with being “nobody’s number one,” or in other words, having nobody in their life that puts you first, no matter how many people put you second, third, fourth, whatever. I want to quote part of my reply (mostly so I remember what I said before it gets lost in the vagaries of Facebook):

    “[…]I can relate to this, especially the “you’re nobody’s number one” statement. Even the friends and family members that I am closest with, those who I would consider my number one, most likely put me at, what, 3? 4? Conservatively speaking? Not that I’m not important, but I’ll never be the *most* important. Which makes sense, though it never stops hurting, just a little.

    […]It takes a lot of time, effort, and initiative to spend quality time with others when you’re single (especially if you have social anxiety issues like I do), but it simply won’t happen otherwise, so you *have* to take control of it yourself. And, for me, it takes some true chutzpah just to invite myself into other people’s lives, especially often enough to fill that hole, but the alternative is “computer games at home” again (for me, anyway; the woman in the article seems more inclined to bake).

    […]One reason (of many) that I’ve taken to wearing my heart necklace[…], is to remind myself that, since nobody else is putting me at number one, I need to do it to myself. I don’t mean ‘be selfish,’ but ‘remember that you’re worthy of the greatest of love, even though currently nobody else happens to be giving it to you.’ It’s become a daily reminder that I physically put on every morning. And that kind of reminder helps me, anyway. Others deal with it differently. But all single people have to deal with it.”

  4. Pingback: New blog! | Jeff's New Blog

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