The Long & Winding Road - Finding the One
“Words divested of their magic are but dead hieroglyphs.”
-Henry Valentine Miller
When I was eighteen and a senior in high school, I fell in love with a junior named Lauri. It happened by accident. I was actually interested in her friend, Lindsey, who was in several of my classes. Lindsey was a mystery to me; we liked the same television shows, the same music, the same movies. I loved her sense of humor and her style, but I couldn't read her at all. Maybe that was part of the attraction. The chase is always part of the attraction. I think my ability to read people is one of my strengths, but I could never bridge the gap with this girl.
Lauri was Lindsey's friend, and I started to hang out with Lauri as a means to an end. I fell for her, instead. Unlike Lindsey, she wore her emotions on her sleeve. She came to my senior prom, and she was beautiful and sweet, and the summer after I graduated high school was one of the best times of my life. It had been two years since I'd touched a Magic card, and the game was one of the farthest things from my mind. Lauri had no idea I'd ever played.
Something happened when I went to college that August. Slowly, a rift began to form. Conversations that were once natural became forced and awkward. I thought the rift would close when I came home that summer. It didn't. I thought it would close when Lauri came to college twenty-five minutes from me. It didn't.
It got worse.
We'd set the bar so high that first summer, you understand? That summer was perfect, innocent and hopeful and free from the impending pressures of real life, pressures that would start pushing on us as we got older. We both had ill-prepared defense mechanisms for the stress of life. Lauri liked to use me as an outlet for her anxieties and unresolved tensions, which was made more problematic by my proclivity for self-sabotage. I became so conditioned to defend myself against slights that were imagined that I stopped apologizing for slights that were legitimate. Even when she was right, I refused to see it. Our relationship became one extended argument, with both of us playing chicken.
My senior year of college, the dam finally broke for good.
Part of the process of moving on was finding a distraction. A new distraction, but really, an old one.
“This pen's all I have of magic wand.”
I'd also made a friend the previous summer, at work, a young woman named Jen. She was tall and smart, with a wickedly sharp sense of humor. I fell for her immediately and perhaps that played a role in the final demise of my relationship with Lauri; something, a reminder, that things hadn't always been that hard, shouldn't be that hard.
One of the things I loved about this girl was that she had a nerdy side to her; that's kind of more acceptable now, but it was a novel thing at that point, to see a girl so attractive that was happy watching anime, or playing videogames, or going to the Renaissance Faire, one with the intention of going to college for lab sciences. Jen knew that I used to play Magic and knew that I'd played it a little bit again recently and never looked down on me for it. I didn't feel like I had to hide it from her.
I had dated Lauri for several years before I told her that I'd ever played Magic, so this was a change.
Jen and I only dated for half a year, until she started school in Pittsburgh. I was working retail, and that meant working weekends. I worked almost every Saturday for the better part of three years. The long-distance thing wasn't going to work, so we fell into an awkward on-again, off-again thing that took its toll on me until I couldn't take it anymore. I suppose that more than anything, it was the uncertainty that ate away at me. I never knew if what I felt was reciprocal, or whether I was just a convenience, so she never felt lonely when she was home for the holidays and the summer breaks.
My friend Andrew has been my best friend for as long as I can remember. His decision to stop playing Magic played a major role in my giving up the game. Well, that, and an ever-improving ability to connect with the opposite sex, one of the few hobbies that's actually more expensive than keeping up with Magic.
Andrew introduced me to Jen, actually convincing me to transfer to the store he was managing by using her as bait, in a way. I'm not convinced he thought I'd actually get anywhere, but one shouldn't underestimate me. I'm a scrapper; I'll fight for what I want.
Sometime later, I was invited to work at a carpet install at the Suncoast in the Gallery Mall in center city Philadelphia. Andrew went, and so did another manager who he'd become friends with, Michele. Andrew and I were talking about getting an apartment, and that came up in conversation; Michele said that she and her best friend, Diane, were also looking for a place to live. That random conversation somehow resulted in the four of us renting a house together in Bryn Mawr for eighteen months.
In many ways, Diane was my polar opposite. She was introverted, quiet around people she didn't know, had no particular interest in making new friends, was perfectly happy to sit at home and work on something personal or private instead of engaging in social activity. To get to know her, I had to make an effort to talk to her, to wedge myself into her life. She didn't always make that easy, but I could tell she found my efforts interesting, or at least curious.
Not only did Diane learn that I played Magic in the past, she knew I had started playing it again casually with my friend Drew. As roommates, I never really had to put on a show for her. We got to know each other as friends, over time, so there wasn't any need to hide anything. She told me later that she was interested in me for a while, but I didn't notice. I guess I wasn't really looking.
Diane loved R&B, and she also loved Weezer. I still love Weezer. She got me into John Legend. I got her to eat Greek food. One day, I guess we'd both seen enough to realize that what we wanted was already there, in front of us.
In a lot of ways, Diane is the reason you're reading this article today. She encouraged me to get back into Magic in a more significant way; she knows I need to have an outlet for my competitive tendencies. I think she had some ulterior motives for pushing me to get an office job, such as eliminating the travel I had to do as a district manager, but she did point out that I'd always lamented the fact that I couldn't play tournaments on Saturdays, or get back to testing in a store because of my time traveling during the week. Taking a job that didn't involve weekends would address that.
As I had no friends playing the game, she let me teach her to play, although she was constantly accusing me of inventing the rules along the way. Part of the problem there was that I had to relearn the rules myself; the stack, and so on. The bulk of my time playing was with pre-6 th Edition rules. After a time, I went to one of Mike Smith's tournaments at MontgomeryCountyCommunity College. Diane came with me. She knew I hated going places alone when I didn't know anyone. She also knew that I'd make friends quickly if I was going to get back into the game again. I learned that most of the guys at this tournament played at Alternate Universe in Holmes and Blue Bell, so I began to go to Blue Bell to draft every Friday night.
Diane framed the uncut Antiquities sheet I won at GenCon in 2008 and insisted on hanging it up. She didn't give me a hard time about using vacation days to travel to tournaments, or using weeknights to test.
The other thing Diane did, always, was to encourage me to write. When people ask what my major was in school, they then usually ask what I intended to do with an English degree. I suppose that I hoped to use what I learned about reading, and thinking, and writing, and analyzing, to do writing of my own, in some capacity. I hadn't really thought about writing Magic articles, and I think Diane really wanted me to write something with more… potential for earnings. Nevertheless, she encouraged me to write about anything, including Magic, and told me I'd be able to pull off a weekly column.
Diane and I don't play Magic much these days. Before we started going out, she didn't play videogames. Years and years ago, I won a tournament at Paul Ferker's store. I took the store credit and bought a Sega Genesis and a bunch of games. One of my favorite memories is playing Sonic 2 with my brother, over and over again. How about that Casino Night Zone?
Magic was a part of that, a memory tucked in behind the one that I remember.
I didn't really try to get Diane interested in videogames; it just happened on its own. Have you played Shadow of the Colossus? If you have, then you know how amazing it is. Shadow of the Colossus is a Playstation 2 game unlike anything else I've ever played; there's an atmosphere to the game that is palpable, like an interactive fairy tale. Supposedly, it is coming out in a high-definition rerelease (with Ico) in 2011. You should buy it.
Diane enjoyed watching me play Shadow of the Colossus so much that she decided she wanted to play. From there, she taught herself to play Kingdom Hearts. Then Okami, then Zelda – all of them, in fact – and on from there, to Katamari, and more. Any game that had an aspect of collecting, whether that meant Uncharted 2, Lego Star Wars, or Batman: Arkham Asylum, and especially those with a fantasy or adventure bend to them, Diane would play; she would play them relentlessly, in fact, with the aim of beating every part and collecting every item.
(I haven't figured out how to get her to play FPS games yet, though. The two-stick control scheme seems to be the main sticking point. Someday, I hope to find a trick for teaching that control scheme to someone who didn't grow up a dual-analog game player. Any suggestions?)
Diane's the only woman I've loved who lets me really be myself, because that's the person she's known all along. She's the only one who actively encourages me to be myself. She pushes me to be the best version of myself that I can be.
The first game I played with Oath of Druids, with a deck full of proxies, was Forbidden Orchard, Mox Jet, Oath of Druids, Force of Will your Force of Will, then Oath into Hellkite Overlord. I remember thinking: it's that easy? And just like that, I knew Oath was the deck for me.
Catching on to Diane, well, that took a lot more time. I didn't know what I was looking for, or that I was even looking. Maybe I never did, and she's actually the one that found me.
Last Wednesday, I was filling out paperwork for a new doctor's office and had to correct the section that lists marital status. By the time you read this, I'll be a married man. I'm not at all nervous about this, but I'm anxious for the day itself, only in the sense that I want the day to be whatever Diane wants it to be. In my heart, I married Diane a long time ago.
This is a woman who learned to play Magic for me, and framed and hung up an uncut sheet of cards because she was proud of me for doing well, and got upset when I took “her” deck apart because I needed some of the cards, and bought me something I've wanted my entire life (a dog), and fell in love with my parents, and made me a part of her niece and nephew's lives, and got better at platform sections in videogames than I am, who plays Guitar Hero on expert, loves superhero movies and Asian cinema, and who has encouraged me to write about anything I want to write about, including Magic.
What can I say?
She's the one.
“Though relationships can get old,
Have a tendency to grow cold,
We've got something like a miracle,
And I will stay with you.”
(…for my beautiful wife, Diane, on the week of our wedding, from…)