I’m at my dad’s for the evening.

Back in June, I realized I was in a suicidal depressive state. I was in the “oh, transitioning is harder than just saying you’re trans” phase of coming out as nonbinary. I was living in literally toxic health conditions with another severe depressive. The most intimate friendship I’d had in the last decade ended suddenly and forcefully, and it took away two other friendships that were vital in me accepting I was genderqueer. 2017 in all of its misery and greed and cruelty was happening in national and local politics. Nazis were emboldened each day. They killed publicly. Rape culture was on full display through our President (and the litany of post-Weinstein revelations more recently). I was finally confronting the trauma of being a sexual assault victim as well as reckoning with how rape and sexual violence plagued so many of the closest women in my family and my dearest friends.  There weren’t days that I didn’t want to kill myself. There were occasional hours where I could be more protective than “lying in my bed, almost catatonic” but that was only if I was high. I had just dragged myself across the finish line of my final semester of college, and I was only able to batter my corpse across that achievement because I had started going to class high. It was the only way I could force myself to be around people.

I was tired of having to be high 24/7 to function in any meaningful way. I also knew that it had been a longtime since I had functioned in any meaningful way, even stoned. I was tired of living in a house that was in a state of total disrepair and feeling like I was the only person doing anything to take care of it. I couldn’t afford to live in Morgantown after I graduated because I had been too depressed to write for months. I had a brief period in the spring where I pitched five consecutive articles to Waypoint. It was some of the best, most consistent work I’ve ever done. And then I just totally fell apart. I put together a photo essay on No Man’s Sky and gender dysphoria and squeaked out a blog post on They Live, but mostly, I was just getting high and playing Stellaris and Hearts of Iron IV and fantasizing about science fiction and alt-history novels I’d never be sober enough to write.

(Seriously though. I watched my roommate play a Hearts of Iron IV campaign as Mexico. He fostered a Communist uprising in the years leading up to World War II and committed all of his resources to the Mexican air force, and, as it turned out, the Comintern aligned Mexican air force was the deciding factor on the Russian/German front in the final days of the war. Then, after Germany is crushed, the USSR declares war on Hungary and Hungary aligns with the Allies, and the United States quickly squashes the People’s Republic of Mexico. However, the government remains alive in exile, and forments a minor civil war in the American midwest when Illinois and its neighbors stage a Communist coup. Fuck Man in the High Castle. That’s the bullshit revisionist alt-history I want Amazon to make.)

And I needed to escape. I needed a reset. I needed a place where I knew somebody would make sure I didn’t kill myself and where I wouldn’t have access to the drugs I had to give up. And I had that option. I swallowed my pride, and I moved into the basement/garage of my mom and stepdad’s home.

My mother and I didn’t speak to each other from November of 2002 to March of 2008. Our relationship is much better now than it was when I was younger, but it’s still complicated, and we are emotional landmines for each other. We feel each other’s pain so acutely but speak such a fundamentally different language at this point that it’s difficult to have a conversation even when we try. Between attempting to figure out what it meant to have a substantive relationship with my mother and sobering up, my suicidal ideation was at its strongest, particularly in the first few months of an emotional labor intensive job for a public utility that I started a couple months after I moved into my mother’s home.

I go to my dad’s sometimes too, usually on the weekends but sometimes on weekdays. Their homes are almost equidistant from my current job. There’s no cell service at my dad’s. The internet barely functions. If I need a night or a weekend where I can just detach almost completely from the outside world, his house is where I have to be. My mom and stepdad also live out in the middle of nowhere West Virginia, but their county is where current U.S. Senator and former Governor Joe Manchin is from. Their county has access to amenities my home county does not have.

My dad’s place is also the house I grew up in as a teenager. Once my mom and I had our schism, I lived here with my dad. For the first couple months after the divorce, if it was my dad’s weekend to have my sister and I, all three of us slept in the same bed. Eventually, my grandmother gave me a bed of my own. It was in the living room. Finally, a year or two later, I got my own room which had been used as a storage closet for an aunt’s Star Trek memorabilia for years. Eventually we got the whole top floor of the apartment, and I got  a bigger room, and my little sister got my old, much smaller room. The apartment was supposed to be a short-term solution for my dad as he got on his feet after my parents divorced. He’s been living here for 15 years.

I wanted to get to bed and finish/fine-tune an essay I had been writing on Mindhunter and the inadequacy of liberal critiques of systemic social issues. It needs some work. I might return to it in the future. I was at my dad’s cause after two days in a row where I worked overtime, I needed to detach from the world. I changed out of my work clothes and into pajama pants and a t-shirt. I had packed my Gone Home shirt, and its beautiful purple caught my eyes when I was choosing what to take out of my backpack.

I bought the shirt years ago. It couldn’t have been long after the game came out. I bought it cause I wanted a piece of Gone Home clothing. I rarely order clothes off the internet, but I wanted a Gone Home shirt, and I wanted it right then. I remember watching StreamFriends play maybe fifteen minutes or so of the game, turning off the stream because I didn’t want any more of the story spoiled for me, immediately buying the game on Steam, and then beating it in one sitting the second it downloaded, sobbing uncontrollably through the game’s final ten minutes. The only other game to ever make me feel so deeply and primally as Gone Home is Night in the Woods. I may like Firewatch more than either, but Gone Home captured my heart in a way no other game had before and only one has since.

My first playthrough of Gone Home was one of the first times I really reckoned with how deeply traumatized I was by feeling forced to live my life in the closet. Unlike Sam, I don’t have a Lonnie story from high school. I didn’t go on my first date with a man until I was in my mid-20s, years after I had started coming out as “bi” to my closet friends (oh, “silly, young, don’t know you’re trans yet” Don). I was so deep in the closet that I didn’t come out to myself as being “bi” til I was 21. I identify as queer now, but recognizing that liking men was even a possibility took me two decades of shame and guilt to work through. Realizing I wasn’t a man took nearly another decade.

At the end of Gone Home, you work your way to the attic of the Greenbriar home. The game has given plenty of hints that Sam has committed suicide. Her parents refuse to reckon with the fact that their daughter is a lesbian, her sister is prancing around Europe, and her girlfriend is shipping out for basic training. And I was weeping like I was at a family member’s funeral as I made my way up those stairs. It turned out Sam was alive. Lonnie went AWOL, and she and Sam ran off together. But before the game revealed its bittersweet ending, I was so sure that Sam was dead because I knew that if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t have been able to keep going. And, afterwards, as I began to recover emotionally when I realized the game’s ending wasn’t as pitch black as I expected, I realized that I had been in Sam’s shoes. I had just denied even myself that knowledge because I knew I wouldn’t have been able to function if I’d admitted it to myself. I thought Sam had killed herself because that’s what I would have done if I hadn’t been in the closet to myself when I was her age.

As much as I love Gone Home, it’s something I have a lot of complex feelings about. If you take the premise of the game seriously at all, Katie Greenbriar is a monster. She spends her entire first evening back in the U.S., rifling through the most intimate experiences and feelings of her family without their consent. The ending is a little bit of escapist fantasy that is also a lot darker if you think about for a second. Lonnie abandons the one thing that she could have a career in. Sam is not an adult yet and not finished with high school and runs off with her girlfriend. The way the game handles sexual assault in the Greenbriar family is a little more oblique than I think the subject matter requires (the link is to my editor at Vice who makes a potent argument in the opposite direction). It is also a story about economic privilege that I will never comprehend.

But despite those critiques, it’s a game that showed me sides of myself I had never considered before. It’s the thing you should ask for in art. That it pushes you out of comfort zones. That it transforms your entire perspective of the world after you’re finished. And as I’ve returned to my home(s), it only feels more potent. The tragic loneliness of Janice Greenbriar. The desperate, depressive delusions of Terry Greenbriar. The compromised values to pay your bills. The familial isolation. The barriers that religion and politics can erect between those who should care about us the most. The ease with which we can ignore severe mental health issues in our parents — through distractions like popular entertainment and the simple fact that we know that if we acknowledge it in them, we might see it in ourselves.

Gone Home takes place in the 90s. Does Sam ever return? Or does she run away forever? At her age, it’s not hard to think that the cops pick her and Lonnie up eventually. What would Sam say if she went to that home now? She would be in her 40s now. Would she remember hiding in the basement with Lonnie? Discovering riot grrrl? Making zines and raging against machines? Or would she fixate on the frustration and repression that made her run away in the first place? Would she recognize how dissatisfied her mother had always been? Are Terry and Janice even still together? Would Sam be able to forgive or would the bitterness still be there? Will her father be any better? Or will he be unable to reckon with how serious his depression and trauma are? Will he be stuck in the stasis he’s been in since the 1960s?

I go home. I see my bedroom. I’m flooded by memories. Memories of my two “best” friends locking me and a (gender nonconforming) girl in the room. They knew I liked her. She knew I liked her. It was some cruel sexual ritual I didn’t understand that mostly involved me staying on the opposite end of the room of this girl who was sitting on my bed because Christianity had me completely fucked up about heterosexual romance too. The girl was part of a crew that had assaulted me in the name of jokes for years. Memories of giving that room to a (gender nonconforming) college girlfriend… who had raped me months before. She was staying with my family for Christmas because she couldn’t go home to her abusive father, and I was so lonely and in the closet and immersed in patriarchal values that I couldn’t articulate the ways she was abusing me. I see my living room. I see my dad and my dad’s dog sitting in the same spots on the same furniture we’ve had for a decade. Watching the same TV shows we’ve been watching for more than a decade. Failing to confront the depression that has consumed his entire life. Failing to confront the emotional and psychological abuse he endured as a child. Only just now reckoning with his own internalized misogyny because my (queer) sister and I have forced him to.

The Saas home and the Greenbriar home couldn’t be more different. Appalachian working class vs. Pacific northwest upper middle class. But the things that make families powder kegs are all there. The things that make our family our closest friends and the most inscrutable strangers are all there. The way it hints at the things we have to say to each other and never can are all there. It’s a miracle any of us can ever go home.

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