Come Hell or High Water, This is My Redemption Song: GOTY 2017

by Amanda Graham
AKA Atma Weapon

CW - This post contains discussion of natural disasters, drug abuse/addiction, the police/jail. Proceed with caution.

Spoilers - This post contains spoilers for NieR: Automata and Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash

Hell or High Water - Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash

Hurricane Irma formed at the end of August and only dissipated halfway into September this year. It targeted an area of the state of Florida where a woman known online as Koshka lives.

Koshka is a deaf woman in her early 40s with not much to her name in the way of material goods, but is in possession of one of the most incredible minds I've ever had the good fortune to know and come to deeply respect and love, be they a living figure or a long dead one I am only now reading the genius of in tomes long forgotten and musty. We met in a chatroom mostly for lesbians and yuri fans and within the hour, thanks to a plentiful amount of mixed grain alcohols with dinner, within the hour of first ever speaking to her, we were banging a gong and getting it on in front of everyone else. I woke up the next day to the IRC equivalent of a hangover, a body next to me in bed, naked as I was.

That was almost eight years ago. Without this woman, I wouldn't be the person I am now. Hell, there's a few instances along those past almost decade of time I can think of that, without her to keep me on the rails sometimes, I would most likely be dead right now. I owe her my life and my love.

I refused to let Irma take her, and if she were to die, I wanted to know the answer to one question.

Koshka, will you marry me? So that when you come back, if your house lay in ruins, I can help you rebuild and make it a home with me?

She said yes. At least I knew, were she one of the dead, that I could go on living and not be one of those people whom would dwell forever on regretting not asking.

We made contingency plans for how to stay in contact, since all we have is online text and snail mail to communicate easy with, and prepared for the long haul. I don't know which one of my kami or kamuy was listening to me, because it was barely a week when she was able to come home. Irma had missed her side of town, only barely, and she was only evacuated a couple days, back home without internet the rest of that week. She was set to mail me a letter informing me of her status when she came back.

When I saw her come back online, it was as if I saw a ghost. I immediately froze, dropped everything, broke off into silence mid-sentence as time slowed and all sound was hushed around me, my eyes swirling in tunnel vision as she was returned safe to me. It took a minute for reality to hit, but when it did, I don't think I'd cried happier tears in my life.

So if high water comes, it's only fair that Hell does, too, as the old saying goes. Hell, for me, came in a more figurative form followed up immediately by a very literal definition.

A couple of weeks after Koshka returned, at the start of October, my birth mother had me arrested, claiming I stole her prescription medication. I won't sugarcoat it; my birth mom and I have a tenuous relationship at best because she's a selfish addict. She regularly chooses her handfuls of Librium (a benzo), Methadone (synthetic heroin), Cymbalta (anti-depressant with atrocious side effects), and Ambien (sleep medication) over normal human interaction. There are times, especially the days she gets refills, I barely see her awake enough to eat or use a toilet maybe a couple times a day. The rest of the time she's passed out or nodding off or not aware of reality. She takes too many, runs out about 48 hours ahead of time every week like clockwork, and then picks fights with us as she deals with cravings and ever-reaching withdrawals.

At the end of May, in one of her drug hazes, she tripped on a cord and landed her right arm and shoulder into the washer and dryer on our porch. It completely broke everything from her shoulder to elbow and after she was released from the hospital, me and my transmother had to be her caretakers. My transmom works nights now as a card dealer at a local super high-end casino. So when night fell, it was my turn to basically live on the couch in her room and cook for her, get drinks for her, feed her, help her change clothes, walk her to the bathroom, help her actually use the toilet and clean up after, get her into bed, and, well, measure out her medications and draw blood for blood sugar tests and draw out insulin and dose her.

It was this and her complete refusal to do any physical rehab or therapy for her arm that, well, it's still kind of busted instead of the 6-8 week turnaround time they initially had for her. She can thankfully do 99% of stuff on her own again, but the first couple months were horrendously rough and entirely thankless.

She forgot how many Methadone she took, which is a frequent thing. She woke up one day, accused me of stealing them in a haze, and called the cops. Because my fingers were on her prescription bottles from playing Unpaid Nursing Assistant for months on end, they took me in on that alone. I live in a town roughly 60 miles north of San Francisco known as Rohnert Park. It's a part of the famous Sonoma-Napa wine country, namely it being a suburb of Sonoma itself. They're, unfortunately, the only reason my town is known anywhere outside this area at all is they have made national news for being shitty and corrupt at their jobs pretty consistently. There's plenty of stories between everyone I know, friends and family, concerning their behavior. So without other proof, I was tossed into booking on $5000 bail.

I was bonded out at $500 by my grandmother. My arraignment wasn't until the start of November, and I only met my lawyer on November 29th. Thankfully, she will be able to, for sure, get my charges dropped and my record clean by Spring rolling back on over here again.

The actual inferno flavor of Hell came at the start of October, just a mere few days after being bonded out of jail. One county east of me is Napa, the other major half of the Sonoma-Napa Wine Country complex, and late night Saturday, the 7th, going into very early morning on Sunday, the 8th, something sparked in the dead, dry debris of all the plants that had grown out of our years-long drought ending rains from the seasons before. An unprecedented pressure system pushed in westward from Nevada, creating a horrible combination of embers swirling madly and erratically in hurricane level winds, vomiting themselves up westward across the county border here into Sonoma. A few smaller ones burned a couple counties to the north-east and jumped north of here, which then those also jumped further north into Mendocino, the county where my grandmother and brother currently reside and burned just due north of them not by much.

Thanks to the fires being ignited so late at night, on a weekend, and in unfathomable winds and conditions that didn't die down for days on end, we wound up in what news was calling the Great Wine Country Fires.

Atlas. Tubbs. Nuns. Pocket. Redwood Valley. All of these five fires, each one its own major catastrophe in its own, were made up of smaller ones that had their own names and converged into these testaments to nature and death. I still remember some of those names, as well. Partrick. Pressley. Adobe. At the time, I was visiting my grandmother and brother.

This is a map of the fires as they converged and stood at their largest by October 13th.

Normally, I live in Rohnert Park, which is, on this map, roughly above the Y in "Pressley" but during this, I started off in Ukiah, just barely south of the marked Redwood Valley Fire. The only reason we didn't get hit is because the winds never blew south, west, or southwest. Mere chance of the draw. Within the first couple days, it was clear Ukiah was never going to be in danger thanks to Redwood Valley burning north to northeast pretty consistently. I went back home, the fastest I think we'd ever driven 70 miles south back down to my house, just as they were beginning to put in curfews and block off major and side roads and were getting ready to contain the county; either get out of here now or not at all because nobody was getting in or out.

We barely slipped back into Sonoma County to drop me off and my grandmother allowed back up north in a long, slow line of people seeking refuge. And the fact her and I managed to slip past the one marked Pocket Fire and her past it back again. Neither of us was going anywhere for a while, but Sonoma is where I was born and have lived most of my life and I have grown to develop a fierce love and loyalty to my homeland. Mendocino and Sonoma have been home to my family, a Scottish knight clan, the Grahams, that still possesses land and a castle over in Mugdock, since 1902.

The Graham's mottoes translate to "Do Not Forget" and "Right and Reason". It was with this I willingly placed myself between the worst of these major fires, the sky a hellish orange nearly 24/7, even in the most pitch black you could see that filthy colored sky reflected against the dancing flames of the lands burning just at the end of your line of sight far down the horizon. The air was thick with smog, smoke, debris, scorched metal, burned wood, ash, soot, decay from the now dead. All of it was stuff we had to breathe in and choke on for some time.

I mention the date October 13th for a reason, beyond it being when the fires were converged and at their largest, before we really started getting any heavy containment on any of them.

October 13th, 2017 was the day I turned 31 years old. There was no way for us to celebrate my birthday, and as of this posting it's still all delayed, but on that day we were told, due to the weather conditions and the whims of the wind and what the containment level was, that the west end of Rohnert Park was, in all likelihood, going to be one of the only places in Sonoma County not marred by this hellfire.

For my birthday, I was told I would yet remain alive. It's honestly all one could ask for.

Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash ultimately came out in the US on September 26th after some delays. I had spent the summer writing a now famous personal essay on what Katsuragi means to me as a lesbian that went over beyond well, even with non-Senrans, people who just wanted to feel accepted anywhere by anyone felt strongly about it. It was one of the games I had been looking forward to the most. If you know me, you know this is my absolute favorite video game series in all seriousness, and you know why it is. If not, stick around, kid, we'll take you places. How appropriate that a game about water gun fights would become one of my main focus points of normalcy and happiness and consistently so between the coming of Hell and high water upon me and my most beloved Koshka. I had barely got to touch it before my arrest and hardly again by the time the Great Wine Country Fires erupted all around me.

I distinctly remember the night of October 7th, I had been dressing my favorite, Katsuragi, up in the pirate costume I had given her in Estival Versus. I was also reconstructing the outfit I made for Hikage, and had affectionately dubbed them "Captain Axewound and First Mate 'Hurricane' Hikka." The irony wasn't lost on me that I would call Hikage a hurricane, given as my very own Koshka reminds me immensely so of this character, and she just got out of Irma alive.

As I drummed up these outfits and poses, Atlas Fire over by Napa was born, it being the mother fire of it all, and a month long battle against the whims of nature began.

This game, on top of being a solid, fun to play game with a remarkable sense of humor, both of which are staples of the franchise, helped me transition into a new normal as someone from and living in Wine Country. It's been over a month since the last of the embers were extinguished and cleanup has only barely begun. You can't drive by a lot of the major areas in the radius of these fires and not see something cracked and twisted in coal-black scars left behind by the flames that engulfed us. Stone and brick buildings collapsed, metal structures melted, trees and land hollowed and razed, but midst the wreckage left, whether it being picked clean so the spot can be used for something reborn or a whole pile of ruin still, there are now clear skies that are hued in blues once more that give us all hope.

All round this area you can see countless billboards and homemade signs hanging off overpasses and window decorations praising those that fought this fire, the cleanup crews, anyone donating or helping, and just a sense of true, complete camaraderie between us all. Hashtags SantaRosaStrong, SonomaStrong, MendocinoStrong, WineCountryStrong, you name it, the message is that we're both stronger together and stronger not despite but in spite of it all. There's no way to go back and stop what happened and it will take years for us to recover on every possible level.

But we can't dwell on it all forever.

Senran Kagura has long been my safe space to explore myself as a martial artist, a woman, a lesbian, and as someone who sees herself as a woman born for a man's role in life. It's been my home away from home, in a way, where I am free to be me in ways reality would have trouble agreeing with morally. Peach Beach Splash remains true to the spirit of the series by giving me something of unbridled fun and shamelessness to see myself reflected in. The game is fun, the characters all lovable as always, and the community for it has been nothing less than stellar to me, outside of the occasional entitled asshole, but everyone has at least a few of those. I've never felt this level of love or acceptance being a fan of anything, especially as a lesbian (you'd be surprised how hostile fandoms are in general to lesbians, or even just fan made f/f content in general), and I found it all in the hallways of shinobi academies. Not just Americans, but people all over Europe and Australia and even Japan and Korea have reached out to me to be my friend, solely because hey, that girl's got a Katsuragi avatar, clearly she's a woman of taste. Barely a fuss is made about my preferences, people like what I have to say about the series, and I've even changed peoples' minds on never giving it a try to potential fan now that they've actually bought one of the titles and put some time into it. Just because I own how much I love it and why. That's some potent stuff.

Peach Beach Splash let me, when Hell and high water did come, swim instead of sink. My 'normal' is long gone, not after facing an event that had the potential to take the life of my now fiancee, not after facing jail and court on charges your own irresponsible family has pit you against, and absolutely especially after barely coming out of the worst wildfire the history of your homeland has ever seen alive, especially with anything intact. I get to drive by debris from this daily now. I will for some time. The first time I saw it all after the fires were contained, all the death and destruction, wreathed in signs and messages of hope and community was when I was first able to really cry, a full month after the fires started. A month's worth of grief and relief all at once.

The only constant during this conflict was Senran Kagura. They reminded me I can still have a 'normal' so long as I build it myself and share with everyone. We're all in this together, after all.

To all the wonderful shinobi women whom I've met thanks to this, to all of the fans I've become like a big sister to, to anyone not a fan I've inspired by talking about it and my experiences in finding joy, relief, and comfort in it - Thank you from the absolute top and bottom of my heart. If being the glue that held me together during all this isn't worth the title of Game of the Year, then I don't know what it would take to qualify for it.

We are Sonoma Strong, because I'm also Senran Strong.

If this made you want to donate to help us rebuild, The Redwood Credit Union is the best place for donating online. They do not take PayPal but will accept credit/debit and are transparent as to where the money is going and are not tied to any particular agendas. They are consistently rated one of the absolute best and most trustworthy banks in the area since they were originally founded.

If you want to make the donation in someone else's name and not your own, I only ask you do it in Katsuragi's name and not mine. She, above all other Senrans, deserves it this year, too, for helping me keep it together more than all the others combined and being someone I can see a clear reflection of myself in. She gives me hope and optimism yet. It is no exaggeration to say she has helped save my life and has absolutely earned her title as Queen.

Kat doesn�t make for a bad Atma.

Next Page: NieR: Automata and the redeeming of a hero