To my Beloved, Brilliant, Brave, Black, and Beautifilled Baby Girl:
You were barely a year old when Mommy knew she’d finally done something right for the first time in her life.
It was nearing the middle of May. You, Daddy, and I had just come back from visiting Grandma and Grandpa. On the way back, we made a quick stop at GameStop to pick up Mommy’s pre-order of the deluxe collector’s edition of Final Fantasy X/X-2: HD Remaster.
The fact you were with Mommy the day I finally received a remastered copy of a game I’d loved so much as a kid almost made me emotional. While holding you, I reached into the bag and pulled it out.
I held up the glossy box up to you for to see, and your big, brown eyes grew wide with curiosity at the newly-redesigned cover featuring Tidus and Yuna.
“Look,” I said turning the box upside down so you could properly see (in your Mommy’s opinion) one of the greatest women in video game history. “This is who you’re named after. And where one of your favorite lullabies come from. Mommy even got a chance to meet the man who composed it*.”
I named you Yuna when I was fifteen; a whopping fourteen years before you were even a Nala-esque twinkle in Mother’s eye, and another fourteen (give or take, you know Mommy’s math is bad) or so until they would revive the game. I made it a point to proclaim to everyone that my child was going to be named after some character from one of three categories:
3) Video Games
(Just ask your very patient Godqueer, Adrian.)
Everyone thought I was absolutely nuts for wanting to name my first daughter after “some video game character,” and adamantly wrote it off as some unrealistic, tweenie daydream. They believed that when I became an adult, I’d find a far more “respectable” name for you.
Something that didn’t sound “like a crazy ‘white girl’ name,” even though Yuna carries the meaning of the Okinawan word for “Night”; my favorite time of day because everything is peaceful, calm, beautiful, and reveals there’s hidden beauty to be found and cherished within nightfall when all is dark.
Only…to me, there wasn’t a “far more respectable name” for you. In fact, to have named you anything else would have been incredibly disrespectful, because your namesake was the very first (fictional, but the impact still ever-so-real) female role model I’d come across in my years and years of gaming and being a nerd, and one who I really liked.
I was introduced to the character at a time in my life where, growing up, not only did girls “not play video games”, if they did, all signs pointed to one of three things:
1) She’s lying to impress a guy.
2) Her definition of a “video game” was “Letting my dad/brother/boyfriend play the hard parts for me.”
3) She was a lesbian (I’ll explain when you’re older, Yunie).
But a Black Girl playing video games and nerding out was utterly unheard of, and usually grounds for a lobotomy.
But from the moment your namesake appeared on the screen, I knew this was a young woman whose impact on me would last all of my days.
I wanted your name to reflect one of the bravest, strongest, selfless, and kindest souls I’d ever come across in video game lore — an homage to a young woman who was willing to lay down her life for those she loved without question, and wasn’t at all afraid to stand for what she believed in; even if those beliefs went completely against everything everyone else strongly felt she should believe in.
And when Final Fantasy X-2 came out a few years after, I felt like one of maybe thirteen people worldwide who genuinely enjoyed seeing Yuna strike out on her own and grow for herself. Even when other women who had been fans of the more “modest” and “reserved” Yuna cried sexism and disgust at her makeover, I was so proud of her transformation.
Anyone else I knew who played the game just did not like it.
I almost felt ashamed for admitting I loved the game so much; just not enough to be ashamed of owning up to the fact that I was in mourning for sometime after the events of Final Fantasy X.
When the sequel came out, I played obsessively to get that Perfect Ending. Not the for gamer’s satisfaction of seeing “100% Complete” on the screen, but because Yuna deserved her Happy Ever After, I’m a romantic, and Mommy felt a wee bit shafted (I’ll explain before you’re old enough to learn how Google works on your own)) by the end of the first game.
Free, adventurous, resilient, beautiful, dedicated, intelligent, and a little (more) on the mischievous side now, I just couldn’t help but fall in love with the idea of having my firstborn daughter be named after such an incredible character.
Often, people ask me if, because you were named after a video game character, I had any expectations of being you being a nerd.
At the time, not seriously; but I also knew you were going to be a product of your environment, and being a nerd was in your DNA.
I still wanted you to develop your own hobbies; enjoy your own interests. If you so chose to live the nerd life, it was because you chose the nerd life and not the other way around.
In fact, it almost frightened me; the thought of you being a Black girl nerd. I’d stay up late feeding you; usually while contently watching hushed InuYasha reruns, or rocking you to sleep while softly singing “Dango Daikazoku” from Clannad, and often wonder if the day would come when you came home from school in tears because someone told you “Black girls don’t play video games,” or “You’re ‘acting like a white girl’” because you just might be the only Black girl in your class wondering how come everyone has seen DragonBall A-Z, but look at you crossed-eyed when you asked if they’ve seen or watched Kill La Kill (and don’t think I don’t know you went behind my back and watched that, little lady)?
I wanted you to make your own decisions; to cultivate your own unique interests — and if you did have an a genuine interest in the nerd life, and decided to follow in your mother’s thumbprints, then it’s because you wanted to; not because your Daddy and I forced it on you (I won’t apologize for your half-Pokémon and half-Lion King themed nursery, though).
And yet…that still wasn’t the “Ah Ha” moment when Mommy realized she’d done something right; it was after we had gotten home later on that day.
I left you with your Dad and his JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure! marathon (In hindsight, a highly questionable parenting choice on my end) as I hurried upstairs to take a shower and change, more than excited to live out one of my lifelong dreams: my daughter sitting in my lap while I played FFX and FFX-2, all the while pointlessly explaining to you everything happening on the screen as I finally got to share this experience with you.
From the anxiety that stupid Sphere Grid system supplied me with, to annoying your Daddy by salivating over Tidus and Auron, and, yes, politely asking your Dad to take you from your obscenity-shrieking Mommy whenever that unsent pain-in-the back-of-your-Mom’s-Cadillac Seymour just. wouldn’t. stay. dead.
When I came back downstairs, I saw that your Dad had set you up on your favorite blanket and Kovu plush in front of the TV where our smorgasbord of generational consoles, games, anime, and other geektastic entertainment collection awaited.
I scooped you up, grabbed one of the PS4 controllers, and sat down on the carpet to play…
Only for my phone to go off the very second the melancholy theme of “To Zanarkand” began to filter through the speakers, signaling the opening sequence of the game.
With a wail of theatrical woe, I sat you and the controller down before hurrying over to the computer where your Daddy was sitting, informing (instead of just bringing me phone) me that Grandma was calling. I’d barely answered the phone when your Dad’s jaw suddenly dropped. I just assumed it was over how amazing the new graphics of the remastered game that I was missing looked on our TV.
“Honey…” he quickly said, as though he were was completely unaware of me trying to have a conversation with his mother-in-law.
“Babe,” he repeated. This time, his voice raised an octave. Again, I ignored him, though getting a little irritated.
I finally looked at your Daddy and went, “WHAT.”
Without another word, I watched as the corner of his lips slowly turned upwards into a smile that reached his eyes, wide with amazement.
I thought: are the graphics really that good?
He inclined his head in a way that meant I needed to turn around and look behind me. And when I did, I nearly dropped the phone. I told your Grandma that I would have to call her back.
There you were — barely a year old, and inching yourself on your belly closer and closer to the game controller I purposely sat down a few feet away so you wouldn’t be tempted to play with it. Not even Kovu had been enough of a distraction, and was sitting off to the side as we watched you wiggle closer and closer to the controller.
I almost stopped you. Instead, we watched to see what you’d do. I hadn’t started the game, so it wasn’t like I was afraid you’d mess up Mommy’s progress, or hit a button you shouldn’t. The screen was still on its beautifully remastered opening scene, with ‘To Zanarkand’ resounding softly throughout the living room.
Once you reached the controller, you stared at it, and then looked right up at the screen showing Tidus overlooking the ruins of an eternally dreaming city he once called home. The screen faded to white as the marquee for Final Fantasy X appeared.
You looked down at the controller once more. You reached your tiny little hand…
And pressed “New Game”; start.
“Listen to my story…” Tidus began to narrate.
Mommy makes her living through writing. I’m supposed to be very good with words; and yet I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t the proper ones to convey the emotion that washed over me in that minute.
But I know that it had been long awhile since I’d cried that hard; and whether a fluke of an uncoordinated infant’s left hand, or a sign of things to come…
Well. It was all right to not know for now.
Because Mommy was the happiest she’d been in years.
As I walked over to you, you turned right to me and smiled. I held you as softly as I did as the day you were born, and told you how much I loved you.
Regardless of whether you turned out to be a hardcore nerd, or one of those too-cool teens (you’ve always been Cool and The Gang To Me (I sound like your grandparents — Oh dear.)) who has to explain to their friends that their parents still cosplay at their age, I love you, your Daddy loves you, and I want you to remember something that it took Mommy a very long and hard time to learn (and am still learning now and forever):
Please — be yourself. Don’t change just because some people don’t like the way you are; and never be afraid to be everything you truly are. Don’t be ashamed of the person you are just because you and your interests are a little different (*ahemcoolerahem*) than everyone else’s. Evolve into a person who loves yourself the way you are, and be proud of who you are. Just as I am (and always will be) proud of you.
We finally settled in to play, with you nestled in my lap, and the controller back in Mommy’s hands.
And. There was one more thing you did to prove you are definitely my daughter:
The very second the cutscene featuring a soaking wet Tidus before his Blitzball Game started playing, your eyes got huge. And you broke into a bigger smile than the one I had plastered to my face.
That’s my girl.
P.S.: (Meanwhile, Daddy was off pouting in his mancave and couldn’t be reached for a response.)
(*During my time writing for the Jace Hall Show (Now TwinGalaxiesLive!), I had the incredible honor of meeting legendary composer Nobuo Uematsu and sitting down to interview him.)