Save Point: Lunar

I am holding onto my pet for some sentimental reason. (For example, the pet belonged to a now deceased family member, the pet helped me through a hard time in my life, etc.)

This is one of the Yes or No questions, out of six pages of questions, on the checklist my husband and I methodically peruse, trying to decide whether it is time to dial up the veterinarian who will come into our home and put our terminally ill cat “to sleep.”

Later I read this question to my father over the phone and he balks. “Who would say no to that?” he asks. “Who could say no?” It’s a fair question.

The pet helped me through a hard time in my life, etc.

What do we really mean when we say, “et cetera”? The utterance lost at the end of the ellipses. What muscles in between hulking parentheses like a linebacker in a center airplane seat the moment our voice trails off. Sitting there and scowling. Wanting to be said.

This month I’m thinking about Lunar, an RPG made for the PlayStation in 1996. In it, you play Alex, a young man who sets out to rescue his friend after she is revealed to be a goddess and predictably, the evil forces of the world come and claim her, desiring her power. Along the way, you meet lots of new friends and face lots of new enemies. As with any RPG, sometimes you will “KO,” or get knocked out during battle when your HP reaches zero. In some games, this state is called “Unconscious.” In some, it’s simply called “Death.” Lunar calls it “Faint.” We can use different terms, but we mean the same thing—the enemy was too much and you failed to stay upright. “Failed to” or simply “couldn’t.” I guess there’s room for interpretation here. Even if the result is the same.

In every game I’ve played except Lunar, it’s on you to keep yourself and your party members upright. It’s on you to make sure you’re prepared to enter the dungeon, taking care that your armor has sufficient defense stats and your inventory of items is appropriately full. Depending on the stage of the game—and the amount of money you have—you can purchase herbs and tinctures and berries and potions that will restore a little, a medium amount, or a lot of HP, for use before you die/KO. Ideally, they will be all you need. But you can also purchase herbs and things that will revive you—bring you back from incapacitation. In this way, “KO” makes more sense than “Death” to me, in the terminology of games. You can’t bring people back from death. But rock bottom? A state of waking unconsciousness? Yeah. You can sometimes beckon people back from that.

In every other game, this is on you. You need to prepare. If you KO/die, it’s revive or game over. But in Lunar, Alex has a furry companion, Nall, who will sometimes bring him back. No one is sure what animal Nall is at the start of the game. He’s brown and black and white with feathery wings. People call him a cat, though he’s clearly not a cat. He’s not a playable character, but he has a lot of in-game dialogue. He’s a presence in your life. And in battle, every so often, when you KO and can’t or won’t revive yourself, he will swoop down beside your lifeless body, shake you a little, and say, Come on! Get back on your feet! Then, you’ll regain a little HP. You’ll come back from KO and get up.

The pet helped me through a hard time in my life, etc.

It’s 2012 and I live in a state where I don’t have friends yet. I’m coming out of a messy, painful breakup. Some months I struggle to pay my bills. My depression is so deep, some mornings, I don’t want to get out of bed. My limbs feel like they are full of pebbles. Like I am a pebble-filled woman. My phone alarm jingles and I stare at the ceiling and I stare at the ceiling and ask myself, Why should I? I hit snooze and roll over and stare at the wall. I do not revive myself.

But there’s a twitch at the door, and the creak of a board. The puff of black and white fur. The cat comes in and her eyes look at mine and she jumps on the bed and purrs. Come on, she purrs. Get back on your feet. It’s a sound I can’t resist. I sit up despite myself, a little restored. An HP or two is better than zero. It’s something better than zero.

This happened in lots of battles. This happened more than once. Sometimes you live for someone else during these rough patches, these stretching “et ceteras.” Someone who is all love and all need. You have to care for them and so you get up, leave the pebbles in bed for a while. You feed them and figure you might as well eat too. You shower. You care for them, and in doing so, you have to care for yourself.

If I were in a similar situation, I would not want to live. Another survey question. I had to stop on this one. But it also helped me know.

Luna fell ill. Rapidly ill. Her decline was swift and shocking. I kept denying it at first, thinking, Maybe we’ll get a few more weeks. It wasn’t until I saw her stumble and wanted to scream, Come on! Get back on your feet! that I knew the answer to this question. If I were in a similar situation—pause. Ellipsis. Et cetera.

Near the end of the game you find out Nall is a dragon. In a flash, his hidden power is unlocked and he grows enormous, takes his true shape. He’s vibrant, shiny, the size of a school bus. You ride him through the skies.

Once, I dreamt that Luna grew enormous and I rode on her back to school. I clutched her dark fur and nestled into her warmth, her milky scent. It was such a joyful vision, I thought of it a lot. Luna, a titanic beast. So powerful nothing could touch her.

The night before the vet came to our home, I dreamt Luna had feathery wings. She was crouching in the closet, where she was in real life. But in the dream, she had these bright wings. Luna, the healer, the little dragon. Ready to take her next shape.

No one gets to tell us how to grieve. I won’t say I don’t think there are wrong ways to grieve, but I don’t think there are “right” ways either. We can scroll through our inventories all we want, but none of our items quite get at it. Lots of people think they know what transpires when we die. That something happens. Or it doesn’t. Some have a lot of conviction about this. I know what I think happens. But the truth of it is that no one knows for sure. So all we have, really, is hope.

I hope she took flight toward the sky, growing enormous as a school bus. I hope she shook off that cocoon of discomfort and licked her new fur clean. I named her Luna because I loved the moon and the way I saw it in the crescent on her belly, that archer’s bow of white. I hope she is up there drinking the moon, huge bowl of cream that it is. Chasing the stars like houseflies.

No one gets to know. But I hope this for us. That our “et ceteras” can span to infinity.