The sprite on the left holding its own brain in a jar is the one I still remember from when I was ten. It’s a game boy RPG so they reuse the sprites with different names — I looked them up and they are things like Duke, Headless, Brain — but Removed was the only one I remembered: concise, past-tense, ambiguous, the name is as memorable as the sprite. Lacking context or explanation has always made RPG enemies terrifying, and the name and the image are equally ambiguous to a child who can imagine a lot and knows very little. Did the writers even even talk with the art department about the cute little horrors or were they busy with something else and let them doodle vaguely horrible weird things until they had enough to fill out the 30 hour game. Maybe they weren’t even thinking about the kids. Removed looks pretty cute and droll to me now, a little cyborg musketeer, and likely that is all they were thinking. Or maybe they were thinking exactly about the kids, knowing that kids love to be totally freaked the fuck out.
There isn’t enough room in the character limit of the UI to specify, so maybe it’s not just its head. What else has been removed? In 1995, I was just at the right age for me to think about that for the rest of my life; being a kid is a lot of learning how to not be miserable and one thing I hadn’t quite worked out in 1995 was shutting my brain off, which is an important life skill, to not consistently repeat and retread and reinterpret every thought that makes you uncomfortable on an instinctual level and persists in you like a toothache that begs to be worried until all other thoughts burn away. This happened to me many times with many thoughts. (I dealt with them through, and I am serious, praying, not that praying invoked any kind of healing of course but because I couldn’t control whether or not I obsessed over a thought I created a relatively safe and good and protective thought to obsess about instead. I wrote about this a little in Thirteen Rules).
But in 1995 I was still very bad at thinking about anything else but the worst thing, and thoughts grow like mold in the brain, once a thought occurs it can’t un-occur and I didn’t know how to stop or redirect my brain from encouraging a terrible thought to bloom. And removal is not an unattractive idea. When I was six a tree fell on me and broke both of my legs so even in 1995 I had experienced the kind of pain that made me at least consider the possibility that having a part of oneself removed might be preferable to the pain of keeping it. It’s impossible to not think about, once that thought is there, and so, so you can enjoy this too: what would you have removed if you could? It’s missing its head, so the sprite in the Game Boy game made me think about headaches — mine and my mom’s (she gets migraines) and so I can imagine at least what it’s like to have a headache so bad that in brief moments of world ending agony I wish my head would be removed, and in that case, what a lucky guy that cyborg musketeer is. But not having a face is too much existential pain to bear, I need that reminder of self. The thought is grotesque, but it teaches something important: even during the worst hangover of my life, having a head is, reluctantly, worth the pain.
But oh, there’s no shortage of other stuff that can go. When I was an little teen I was on medicine that completely killed my appetite, and eating became boring and loathsome and incredibly difficult and I wished so much I could just inject nutrients in my veins instead of having to force myself to eat. I was around this age when I was reading Battle Angle Alita and Ghost in the Shell and thinking about how blissful it would be to be a brain in a perfect machine body, and become an invincible, unflinching, unstoppable woman. Which is funny, a little; I had basically just got my flesh and blood and I already was wishing I could lose it, knowing my body had already betrayed me and having enough sense know that it would just keep on doing that for the rest of my life.
Tear out my stomach so I don’t have to eat and tear out my heart so I can’t blush and give myself away, and you know, why don’t you take out those organs of generation and gender and all the baggage that comes with them while you’re at it. Wouldn’t that have been convenient, to be like Alita, or the Major, or the Air Maid to the left, also from The Final Fantasy Legend III, fast and beautiful and the most powerful thing in the game and you could turn yourself into one if you wanted, you could install parts into the heroes and heroines until they glittered. What a beautiful thing to do.
Growing up with hideous images is not so bad; the irritation becomes a pearl and terrible dreams are a comfort, the path to the real thing, showing you the way before you knew what the way was. It’s all weird silly childhood nightmares from decades old disposable entertainment but it still lodged itself in my brain like it meant something and now I just can’t help it. Now it lives and it is part of me and I have built layers and layers around it and I have rearranged it from an awful little thought into part of me, and here is the story of that grain of sand, small and alive in me still: