The first thing I see when I wake up in the morning is “Joe Biden just performed a miracle” written in neon monster blood on my bedroom ceiling. And the first thing I hear is the voice in my head saying, “You never could find a way to resurrect Aeris.”
Yeah, the voice is right. I suck at performing miracles.
It’s the day after Super Tuesday and our dreams of a Berntopia seem far-fetched at best, but whatever righteous rage I can muster quickly dissipates in my head and forms a 32-bit movie instead. And suddenly I’m a confused teenager again.
The Flower Girl walking the streets of Midgar, the vampiric capital city of Shinra Electric Power Company. They are sucking the planet dry, turning everything into a wasteland of slums and craters. And most people are like The Flower Girl, just trying to make ends meet and hoping to be uncorked from their seemingly predetermined path. The Flower Girl, well, her name is Aeris and she’ll start hanging out with a group of eco-terrorists determined to save the planet. There will be a lot of destruction along the way. Anyway, Aeris will fall in love with one of them. The ladies’ man with the checkered past. His head is always buzzing. They’ll go on a date at a casino that’s shaped like a UFO and the date, if you play your cards right, goes reasonably well. But shortly thereafter, Aeris will be murdered right in front of you. And you can’t do anything about it. She will be impaled by a sword long like a dinosaur neck. And the man wielding that sword? A beautiful, emotional train wreck who will eventually sprout one angel wing. Not two, but one. And this is important.
I’m talking of course about Final Fantasy VII, arguably one of the most important video games of all time. The game that taught me that cross-dressing eco-terrorists can and will make tomorrow a better place. That strength comes with understanding who you are as a person. That you can eventually stop the buzzing inside your head with a little help from your friends. That sometimes you need to summon a comet into your atmosphere and have it simply hang there like a disco ball or mistletoe that’s always on fire but never turns into ash. That sometimes a little destruction turns you on, inspires you to lock lips and throw away the insecure key.
But this is also the game that taught me how to be paranoid. That if you dedicate yourself to a cause and work obsessively hard, a whole new world will open itself up to you. You just might not like what you find.
And my cause was a Herculean one: the resurrection of Aeris, our favorite Flower Girl. What followed was a journey into paranoia. Surfing on shadows through the cracks in pixels. Trying to understand grief and dealing with it. It was a war against fate as I tried fixing a disagreeable narrative. Rewriting an ending I didn’t like. An ending that filled me with emptiness and predetermination. Boredom at the way things always seem to be. The big questions. Like, why does death exist? Why can’t most people think about anything but themselves? All these things would later go on to create a fertile soil for alcoholism to bloom.
Anyway, there was one problem though with my newfound cause: when it came to resurrection, I didn’t know where to start. I wasn’t Jesus exhaling invisible pollen into the bumblebee air. I wasn’t a phoenix down festering in the Rust Belt. So I had to do some research.
One day while I was autopsying my Final Fantasy VII Brady Games Official Strategy Guide, which is basically the Infinite Jest of strategy guides (a meandering, overrated mammoth that sometimes offers up insight but is mostly bloated confusion) when my older brother popped out of nowhere, asked what I was doing then quickly scoffed that I was trying to find secrets in a strategy guide when I should just be using the Internet.
The Internet? I hadn’t even thought about that! The year was 1997. Or maybe it was 1998. Either way, I was in seventh-grade and by no means an expert in Internet research. Also, our household just got Internet access. It was an exciting time. So my brother showed me the ropes, which basically means he showed me how to use Yahoo and Lycos. Afterward, I changed places with him, hopped up in the office chair, put my fingers on the keyboard, and asked an un-evolved cloud one simple question:
Can Aeris be resurrected?
My entire life was changed.
There were a billion horizons. A billion suns. The brightness carved a hole through the darkness of my teenage depression. There were message boards where people like me argued that the game’s true artistic vision had been compromised by corporate interests. Fuck big business – Aeris turned me into a gutter punk throwing rocks through storefront windows. Not just because of the game itself (which is as anti-capitalism as video games come) but also because of the mystery surrounding her resurrection. Capitalism fucked us all over, all us teenage dreamers.
I stumbled across rabbit holes where supposed translators and developers, people who worked on the game, hung out talking about a sick, old man in a pipe. That he’s the key to everything. You can find him on the first disc. I didn’t really remember this character, but apparently he helps you get deep under the waters of the floating castle where Aeris died. It’s not really a floating castle, but anyway… there’s also a fish involved. Anyway, according to one developer, this would’ve led to a better, more beautiful ending, According to them, all the FMVs were completed on time, but the coding wasn’t. Square, the developer of the game, wanted to get out the game on time so they scrapped all of this. According to this mystery developer, there are resurrection breadcrumbs scattered throughout the game that were never removed: items that don’t make sense, the glitch of a ghost, etc.
All this talk just gave us hope that Aeris could be brought back from the dead. We had hope. Hope that good things can still happen. The hope that grief can be dealt with in a healthy and adventurous way. That there will always be the glitch of a ghost that needs help unglitching itself, achieve flesh, achieve reality, the reality of a dream fulfilled. And once that dream is fulfilled, our lives would totally make more sense.
It’s easy to see why my mind went to the resurrection of Aeris the day after Super Tuesday. Bernie Sanders is essentially the glitch of a ghost haunting everyone I know, everyone who is desperate for real change. Now we’re getting paranoid. Now we think the world’s ending. Now we’re grieving hard and deep down, no matter how old we might be, we know nobody truly gives a fuck. Or change would already be happening. In other words, we need to resurrect Bernie and everything that he represents.
But Aeris has also been on my mind because the game has been remade. New graphics. Possibly some new twists to the story. And maybe, fingers crossed, Aeris can actually be resurrected in the remake. While it hasn’t been released yet, I’m still full of hope about the changes. There’s that word again. Hope. How long have I been clinging to it? How long will I continue clinging to it? You can put hope in new clothes, fancier graphics, but its essence will always remain the same.
Either way, back to the Final Fantasy VII of my childhood, I was desperate to believe in the things that I read, that the resurrection of Aeris was real and possible. But if it wasn’t possible? Well, there’s a conspiracy for that, too. And we can blame big business! No matter which way I look, there was a mystery to solve. A rage to play. A fire to burn. A grievance to fling. And I had ammo for days. Still do.
There were so many theories and I experimented with all of them. Despite all evidence pointing to her being dead-dead (like, for example, her death is utterly crucial for the story to play out), I still held out hope that there was a way. I started seeing things in the game that weren’t there. More glitches of ghosts. NPCs suddenly had control over my life- whatever dialogue they spewed, I managed to find the fault lines in the words. Then I would fall into the quakes. I’m still shaking for the truth. I’m still upset I never brought her back from the dead.
But I promise one day I will.
When I look back, I can conclude the following: I lost my paranoia cherry on the hunt for a way to resurrect The Flower Girl. It was the first time in my life I started using the Internet to figure out the truth and what I found confused me more. A billion truths or a billion lies. I really learned to hate capitalism. The more theories I tested, the more I began to distrust the powers that be. How the idea of resurrection falls on deaf ears and no one really gives a shit. In other words, the Internet and paranoia go together for me. We all came of age at the same time. I don’t know how else to perform a resurrection. Do you?
Twenty years later, I wake up the day after Super Tuesday and I’m told that Joe Biden has been resurrected and Bernie Sanders has become the glitch of a ghost. It seems that big business is at it again. Whenever we cry, we tell ourselves it’s because endangered whales live in our eyes. They’re learning how to swim again. Our dreams and desires stomped into concrete. Chalk boys, chalk girls trying not to disappear in the rain.
But I know there are a whole bunch of likeminded people hiding out in the rabbit holes of social media. People who talk and talk and talk about resurrection. Who’ll do anything in their power to make the world a better place. Because we are all Flower Girls at the end of the day. People just trying to make ends meet while living their lives in slums. Despite everything happening, we refuse to become the glitches of ghosts partying in patches of ignored pixels. We are here. And we will burn into life, whether you like it or not.
Justin Karcher (Twitter: @justin_karcher, Instagram: the.man.about.town) is a Best of the Net and Pushcart nominated poet and playwright born and raised in Buffalo, NY. He is the author of several books, including Tailgating at the Gates of Hell (Ghost City Press 2015). He is also the editor of Ghost City Review and co-editor of the anthology My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry (BlazeVOX [books] 2017).