Night in the Woods
Released on macOS in 2017
My therapist says we mourn the paths not taken, the offers declined, the opportunities missed. She and I have talked a lot about what became of my life and ambitions. Instead of having a career in music, I made a side hustle out of pit orchestra gigs. Instead of getting a book manuscript together by the time I was twenty-five (or thirty or thirty-five), I flitted from zines to short stories to personal essays to a fiction podcast to this stupid blog.
I’m trying to find grace. I’m trying to own my decisions. I’m trying to understand how power and privilege hold me back or push me forward. Time is running out, but there’s still plenty left. It was harder to see when I was younger. At nineteen, I thought life offered nothing more than opportunities for failure.
Just like Mae Borowski, the anthropomorphic cat protagonist of Night in the Woods, I left school because of mental health issues. I moved back in with my parents with a mix of relief and disappointment. I had a bunch of ne’er-do-well friends trapped in low-wage service sector jobs. I played bass in a band. I fucked around on the computer late into the night.
Choices matter. And in a game like this, choice is the primary mechanic. You decide what to say and who to hang out with. I spent most of my time with Bea, largely because she was super goth and outspoken with her disillusionment. Working in a hardware store, she grappled with her resentment toward Mae for dropping out of college, an opportunity she could never hope to afford.
Everyone struggles in this dying town with its dying industry. Newark, Delaware, my hometown, used to be kind of gritty and shitty until its slow transformation over the past two decade into a gentrified nightmare. No one believed in the townies. Only a wealthier student body could revitalize Main Street.
Despite the new condos and restaurants, Newark still pretty much sucks, only in a different way. I fell out of love. I moved away. But it’s still home.
During band practice, Mae’s friend Angus sings: Will they know I walked alone / Along these dusty streets / My tired old home. Disappointment requires some measure of affection. So it’s no wonder his anti-hometown anthem, “Die Anywhere Else,” drips with reluctant nostalgia, a sad longing for a time irrevocably lost.
According to Spotify, a cover of “Die Anywhere Else” was my most-listened to song of 2021. I don’t want to go back to Newark, but maybe I was hungry for a simpler past, for the normalcy of pre-pandemic life, before the Trumpian slide toward American fascism. But the past is passed. Conflicted and restless, I’ve started going to shows and eating out again, still wrestling with the ethics of unmasking for a meal. I cry over the legislative attacks on trans kids. I brace myself for when lawmakers come for trans adults like me.
And just like Mae Borowski, I hold inside so much anger. Anger and disenchantment and a worry that maybe things won’t ever improve. The ‘90s of my teen years weren’t really any better, but at least I had more time to get things right.