A Birthday Letter, 2021.09.14

With my cat pressed against my thigh purring loudly, it's hard to be unhappy.

But then again, why should I be unhappy? It's your birthday after all.

I'm putting this on my personal site because some of the things I'm about to thank you for aren't things that belong on Facebook, or Instagram or anything that requires thoughtful safe-for-work polish.

Do you remember the letter I sent you last year? About how Tokyo shut down because of a worldwide pandemic? Well, we held the Tokyo Olympics this year, which is the opposite of shut down. But the international borders are shut down.

Japan, land of contradictions.

The pandemic still looms over all of us like a fog. Normal is still not-normal. There's a deep exhaustion that I see run through us—we don't know how long it will take to return to pre-2020. Some of us have taken up denial as a hobby. Denial does feel better than hopelessness, or worse, gnawing emptiness.

I find myself lapsing into denial from time to time.

I'm sorry.

I still find it hard to face sometimes.

This year, the times that I have thought about you have been in context of our AOL Instant Messenger chats.

I saved our old chat logs.

Some of the things we said to each other genuinely made me laugh.

And cringe.

Cringe-laugh.

You always had a dirty sense of humor, and I picked that from you.

We'd be chatting normally one day and then bam—out of the blue you'd hit me with something so completely nasty and unexpected I'd start laughing first out of embarrassment, and then out of genuine joy. "I can't believe you said that!" I'd say, wiping tears from my eyes. For your sake and mine, I won't reprint our logs here. I remember pressing Enter a lot after you'd say something particularly NSFW and my parents glanced at the family computer.

I owe my fascination with sexy priests to you.

I don't know if I should thank you or curse you for this.

I hadn't considered it prior to meeting you, but something about the way that you wrote religious characters or straight-A students trying to "do right by" themselves but within a system of rituals that repressed their basic needs for affection, vulnerability and sex—it was messy and complicated and queer. It represented a very real system of oppression that the LGBTQIA+ community has been fighting against—the right to openly love who we want to love and marry who we want to marry. But at the same time, it was a reconfiguration of a framework you and I and many others knew—religion—into something that could express our desires to not only feel sexy, but also to feel spiritual and connected to the broader world.

I connected with that narrative deeply—I genuinely wanted to do right by society, but I also had a desire for things society didn't deem as "normal" or "good." Being LGBTQ+, being gender non-conforming, being someone who participates in alternative lifestyles.

So I split myself. And splitting myself meant trying to keep separate those two halves even though they were connected to the same person. Work self and hobbyist self. "Ready for family dinner" self and "bedroom" self. Sometimes they unexpectedly crash together, as they might be doing right now for any family member or coworker who is reading this.

I owe my dedication to Terranova in part to you.

Terranova's a game I've been working on since 2019. It's inspired by some of our chat logs, and broadened into a game about people like us in the early 2000's. Did you know that nowadays people are calling that time "historic" and asking to interview people "from that time?" It's strange to think that all of the things we loved on the net are now considered historical artifacts. So, I'm making a game for people who didn't experience it (and for those who did) to see it again. And I don't think I'd have the drive or the will to finish this game if it were just for me. But because I can see you in some of the characters, because Mabbees and I are working on this game, because it's not for me but for other people as well, I know I will finish it. And I'm excited to show it to you when it's done. I hope you like it.

I still can't believe you're gone sometimes.

The memories of us still feel so fresh.

I know that eventually, I will find something that reminds me of you and I will cry. But nowadays, I'm no longer entertaining fantasies of us talking, hoping for some made up future that never will be. I'm not writing you into my future. You're not here anymore.

But I can look at our conversations and feel gratitude. I can make new things inspired by you and your wit, your writing and your style. And in this way, I hope you live on.

Come next year, I'll have a pretty cool birthday present to show you.

Happy birthday.


2020's Birthday Letter is here.


The National Suicide Prevention Hotline in the U.S. is 1–800–273–8255.

TELL Japan provides a helpline support in Japan in English at 03–5774–0992.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of depression or suicide, call. I promise, it is not stupid or weak. It is strong. Some of the people on the other end of the phone are friends of mine, and the reason they volunteer is because they care about folks like you.

Love you, and stay safe.