“Lamb, tell me a story.”
“There was once a pale man with dark hair, who was very lonely.”
“Why was it lonely?”
“All things must meet this man, so they shunned him.”
“Did he chase them all?”
“He took an axe and split himself in two, right, down, the middle.”
“So he would always have a friend?”
“So he would always have a friend.”
—Kindred, League of Legends
Ask anyone who has played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time what they think of the fairy Navi and overwhelmingly the response will be negative. Players hate her shrill announcements interrupting gameplay, her arresting the camera and subverting your viewpoint, her repetitive explanations for familiar things, and her endless, iconic litany, “listen.”
I am not most players. I absolutely adore Navi and will wholeheartedly defend her to the death. For I do not merely play games for gameplay elements. I play for the story. Navi’s carries great narrative and sentimental weight.
Navi’s story begins by being assigned to Link, the “boy without a fairy,” in a society of forest fairy dwellers. She is skeptical initially, but can’t go against her boss’ will and so follows and helps Link as he journeys to save the land. Their adventure and shared experiences bring them closer. The two become a team.
As the pair fight the final boss, the dark energy emanating from him prevents Navi from getting close and helping Link target his foe. However, when the fight reaches its final phase, and the foe’s magical defense drops, amidst a stirring soundtrack Navi tells Link, “There’s no way he’s going to hold me back again! This time, we fight together!”
They do, and win. And when peace has been restored, Navi flies off into the glowing heavens, and I bawled my eyes out. Me. Eighteen, almost adult me, who would have rather died than be caught “emotional.” I cried because I understood. Navi was not simply a navigational tool to assist the player. Navi was a friend, someone who would provide aid and companionship, to share the short or long road, who would stand beside you in the face of death and proclaim, “This is where I belong. Here I make my stand.”
I cried because I wanted to hear something akin to those words. I still do.
Most of my life has been without friends. Introverted people especially like to exaggerate and make claims like this, but here are the facts: my best friend has always lived at least eleven hours away. We talk approximately every three months for about an hour. After fifth grade, only one person invited me to his house—and he left three years later. My phone serves as a glorified alarm clock. No one greets me with hugs. People aren’t reminded of me during their daily life to the point where they reach out to me.
It’s like I barely exist.
My first induction into a friend group was as a junior in high school. From then on, it seems like I have been drifting into somebody’s friend group then out to another. In some of these groups I played a more interactive and integral role; in most I provided background presence and quips.
None of them quite reached what I call “conventional friendship”—those portrayed by cinema that most people experienced. The kind comprised of good memories, where peoples’ faces are readily seen and activity was easily available.
Writing this feels like a complaint or an insult to those around me who consider me “friend.” That is not my intent. I know that I have not been a good “conventional friend,” nor even tried too hard. I will neither accuse, guilt, nor judge others for something I myself have failed to do well.
I have attempted a few forays. Scarred myself on the social scene. Become a veteran of conversations lost. Arrived at parties, despite lacking desire. Nothing. When you reach out and nobody takes your hand and you fall into yourself, believe you only have yourself, trying becomes pointless. More than that, painful. Friendships can hurt, but there’s supposed to be something fulfilling too.
The real world does not function like games. A party of friends is not thrown together for your benefit. Everything must be fought for. There will be blood, sweat, tears, and despite them all there is no guarantee.
Time can heal, but more often it hardens. My choices have not built a life conducive to friendship—constant busyness, doing and enjoying “single-player” activities, avoiding people because it’s easy or I’m afraid. Even still, the longing for harmony immured deep within the composition of my being cries daily, unsleeping. I crave togetherness, the meeting of mind and soul in the mundane and the meaningful; long in-depth conversations, baring heart and dreams; a feeling of connection, understanding, value.
An easy solution remains elusive. Do I beg for company? Demand that others give something they have heretofore been unwilling to express? Or perhaps simply be content I have been given something at all? None of these feel like the correct response. Further discussion is awkward. Friendship so often seems like a given. Confronting others about it is contradictory, selfishness in a cooperative system. Yet our needs will never be successfully communicated if we say nothing.
All I know is that loneliness is not a battle to be fought alone. My unique experience and position throughout life has sculpted my definition of friendship. To me, a friend is someone we enjoy seeking out, someone who enriches our life.
They don’t have to fully understand you; they only need to be there for you, where you are. They don’t need to move heaven and earth for you, but they should help you see them, even a little bit, and take a step closer. If you enjoy their companionship and are developing as a person, that is enough.
Plenty of people exist in the peripherals, without heart, voice, hope, friends. People you might never expect, who hide behind smiles or pretend strength. They could use some awareness too. Even something unconventional. Something heartfelt.
Everything needs a beginning.