Content notification on abuse.
I think a lot about what a home should be.
To me, home used to be kind of a nebulous term. If someone asked me to define home a month ago, I would tell them home is where people hoard a bunch of useless garbage to preserve the past. As far back as I can remember, a harmonious connection to this supposed sacred space has eluded me; deep-rooted anger, generational trauma, and negligence nested like a Swallow under the eaves of our small ranch house. I find thinking about home an exhausting affair, let alone writing about it.
There was a moment of dialogue in Life is Strange that captured the complicated relationship I used to have with home. While we listen to Max Caulfield and her childhood friend Chloe Price share a tense conversation about their estrangement, we learn Chloe and her life had been in utter chaos since Max up and moved. According to Chloe, the people in her life who matter most to her seem to either disappear or abandon her: “Arcadia Bay,” she said, “has taken everything from me.” Although we know Arcadia Bay is just a place, Chloe is convinced it has a dark secret.
To Chloe, Arcadia Bay is imbued with some sort of malignant, preternatural power; it has a purpose, and that purpose is to hold a grudge against her. I used to be convinced of the same phenomena when I was her age.
Punk Chloe is no longer the preppie Chloe that Max knew from grade school. Her disheveled room is a stark reflection of her tragic inner world; a depleted beer bottle stash atop miscellaneous garbage is littering her floor, a clear indication Chloe has experienced far too much pain for someone her age. The height chart she used to fill out with her father has been tarnished with graffiti, another sign Chloe has not been able to process the grief of losing him. “JUST GOTTA LET HER GO” is scribbled above her bed to quell the incessant reminder she was somehow responsible for the disappearance of her best friend and crush, Rachel Amber.
Rachel was an overachiever and the popular girl at Blackwell High admired for her natural charm. She was privileged and pugnacious, a classic example of what can happen to an overprotected golden child. Her room is just how I anticipated it would be, immaculate like her academic reputation and spellbinding like her soul. As Chloe and Rachel sit under a magical projection of the constellation, Rachel will tell Chloe each star is a reminder of how life is the most beautiful when we ditch our comfort zone. Like the quintessential small-town girl, Rachel longed to escape the pressure of pretending to be the perfect daughter, and pursue the life of a glamorous movie star.
The idea that we can thrive if we incinerate the past and flee our podunk town is one that resonated with me. When we were fifteen, I would spend all evening in her room with her; she would pass me the controller and tell me it was now up to me to keep Lara Croft safe from the rolling death boulder. I would pretend to fumble and fall into a spike pit just so I could pass the controller back to her and watch how her mouth parted when she would focus too hard on Tomb Raider. “You’re not even trying!” she would scold me.
She lived in a suburban house so large it never stopped echoing. Even now I struggle to recall the shape or ethnography of where I used to sleep, but I still remember everything about her room and her bed. Like Chloe and Rachel, we would lounge under a her star-covered ceiling, except it was the plastic glow-in-the-dark kind, and instead of obscure indie music we would dance to a disc I burned for her; it featured a lot of Placebo, and our favorite song was “Special K”. People assumed it was about being high, but I remember lead singer Brian Molko admitted it was about the correlation between suicide and whichever national holiday is most effective at reminding people being alone can be hard. We listened to it over and over each Christmas Eve, the night she would have to send me home when she had to “entertain” her abusive uncle.
Like Rachel, she had long hair. Like Chloe, I had short hair. Before Rachel was abducted, she and Chloe wanted to escape “Bigfootville” for Tinseltown. We wanted to escape Los Angeles for whichever rural town was similar to “Bigfootville.”
“Life is filled with little miseries,” she would peck at me like a hen digging for a grub worm. “Petites misères de la vie humaine. Vincent Van Gogh wrote about it.” She was French-Vietnamese. I never understood what she meant when she told me she had to entertain him until her mom forbade him from coming over. I asked her the reason she never told me what had been going on, and she said she was scared she would never get to sleep next to me again. It was then I realized we both characterized our trauma as routine, an inevitable stop on our road trip to somewhere greener than California, or something that could have been erased with a sad kiss. Like Chloe, I was so certain she could save me I felt like I had failed to save her.
If she were alive today she would probably tell me we saved each other.
Life is Strange is designed to make us linger; it is acutely aware of the importance of standing still, a concept so completely antithetical to gaming. We can sit with Chloe and Rachel on the train ride to their secret hideout for as long as we need. “Through The Cellar Door ” by Lanterns On The Lake is blasting on the right earbud should we choose to share the left one with Rachel. The lush forest of Arcadia Bay is zooming past them in an infinite loop; there is no rush to get to our destination or press the right button. Instead, we are invited to pause and remember this moment like Chloe would have remembered it: the most precious afternoon of her life. In my mind, each moment with her is framed like a serene vignette from Life is Strange, and I found myself loitering alongside Chloe and Rachel for as long as I could.
The feeling of alienation and the feeling of belonging are never tied to one particular form: the coffee at our local diner; ditching school and freighthopping to our clubhouse with the most important person in our life; how the kitchen cupboard smelled when we were six and would crawl inside to hide from the horror of our own imagination, or even a drunk stepfather. Now I think of home as an ever-changing and flexible concept, centering on where the heart is most full. Home is arriving at a place where we feel content, where acceptance is unconditional, and where we are free to give and receive love. I used to despise people whose sense of home was so effortless to manifest, who were born into this coveted feeling of being safe and supported. Now I see I had a home all along; it was her.