By now, I’ve reached the point where I can function normally. To the untrained eye, I seem perfectly normal. I’m laughing again, I’m sitting with people on my breaks at work. My eyes aren’t so distant as soon as I have a moment of silence.
But it’s the little things that those who know me still pick up on. The silence as I glance down at the notifications on my phone. The way I’ll drift off in the middle of a group conversation before coming back just in time to laugh at a joke. The CD in my car’s been switched out and I only listen to three tracks. I immediately skip over the dangerous one, the last one on the CD, a song I love but I know will set me off.
Those who know me will also notice that I’m not speaking of it at all. In the first few days, I was willing to talk about it. Now, I change the subject as fast as I can. This isn’t because I don’t care anymore. This isn’t because I’m trying to forget.
Rather, I’m trying to move on, and for now, this is my bandage. In a few weeks, maybe a few months, I’ll be broken down to tears again. I hold it within and let it out later, when I feel more comfortable with my grief.
This was probably a post that everyone expected from me within the first day or two, but that’s not how I am. I have to make sure others are taken care of first, that the tears of others are shed and their wounds comforted, before I can look to my own. I have to reach a point of calm where I can finally sit down and see the situation for where it is. The words don’t come immediately, at least not in the form I want them to. I’ve played this post out a thousand times, changed my wording. In some of my fantasized posts, I wrote a passionate post. Others, I wrote a personal, detailed message. Others, it was short and brief.
Where this post is taking me, I don’t know. All I know is that it’s time to write it.
I can’t even remember the first time I saw one of his videos. Maybe it was my older brother Kristofer sending me the link to Haloid. Maybe it was my friends and I browsing YouTube at school before the IT’s figured out how to block the domain. Could I have run across it on Newgrounds when I used to watch other animations like the amazing creations by Legendary Frog or Dirty Doll Creations, the latter being a fantastic animator and not something perverted like one would think? When did I first see a Dead Fantasy video? I couldn’t say.
I couldn’t even say when I got added to the group. I know it was August, the year I was made admin. I can’t remember how I got in. Did a friend invite me? Did I request to join then was too shy to speak for a couple of months? Or did some stroke of fate glitch Facebook into adding me to a group I never knew existed? Did my brother invite me to it?
Who could say?
I remember checking the page at work. November 19th. The exact post has probably been lost to the Facebook archives, but it was something along the lines of:
Monty Oum has promoted Kayla Swenson to admin
Monty Oum: I do pay attention :)
Yeah, let me tell you, that’s a goddamn heart attack. I remember I stopped at work, feeling dizzy, light-headed, and absolutely amazed. Goddess, words can’t even describe the gratitude and humility I felt. I even remember the thread that had occurred before then. Monty had mentioned how hard it was to manage the group. Immediately a flood of responses, all clamoring for his attention and demanding, asking, pleading, begging to be made moderator. I was in the thread too, but not clamoring for any attention. Rather, my posts, like all my posts before it, were berating others for hounding Monty so much.
Members of Dead Fantasy now are used to my guidelines, but veterans will remember that every other post was a demand for another episode, whining and complaining that it was taking so long. I began telling people off, and tried to pick up as much as I could on the basics of animation so I could understand why it took so long, and explain to the impatient why he couldn’t just snap his fingers and make it appear. I even berated Monty when he would mention how he went without sleeping or made jokes about his health.
I took no shit.
Shortly after, I started getting the messages, “Monty made you admin!” I did what any good admin would do:
- Set up guidelines, all in favor of protecting Monty without trying to change the group or take over from him, as well as protecting others and stopping the trolls and assholes.
- Set up a crack-team who had my phone number and could text me at any time to report a problem. One of them became the second admin.
- Slipped a covert account of mine into the group just in case someone blocked me and tried to cause trouble. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I could see the posts of someone who had me blocked if I was admin or not. I didn’t want to take chances. No, you will not find the account, because I have probably two-three dummy accounts in the group.
To anyone who says the job of an admin is easy and not a real job at all, you have no idea. There was one very important detail to my job that I never told anyone, not even Monty:
I would become the villain.
With every click of my mouse, with every stern berating I gave members, I grew a reputation. Members who have friended me outside of the group or encountered me in other media or groups will tell you right off the bat, I am not the person you know in Dead Fantasy. In Dead Fantasy, I am Momma K. I have the ban hammer, the hair flip, and I tolerate nothing. Most of the time I only appear when someone is being trolled, harassed, or abused. I arrive to sternly remind you to credit artists. I upheld the guidelines, and if you broke them, I called you out on it.
That meant I made enemies.
Time for a secret that I did tell Monty: My privacy, my security, and even my life have been threatened over the course of the three, going on four years, that I have been admin. I never shared this with everyone, not even Samantha knows all of the times I have been threatened for upholding policies and protecting the other members of the group. The few times I spoke to about it with Monty, it was merely to warn him that an angry bullrush of a person might come complaining to him, or that something of the like happened. Every single time, he told me the same thing with a beautiful sincerity that still rings true to this day: That he was horrified such a thing had happened, and that I shouldn’t feel obligated to try to handle ‘his’ messes.
And each time, I told him the same thing: That it didn’t bother me, and that I would feel obligated. Not just because he had entrusted me as admin in a group that he had considered his unruly, almost 10,000 children, but because I valued him as a person, as a mentor, as someone to look up to.
There was a brief lie in there: It did bother me. There were nights I went to sleep without eating anything and lay tossing and turning, my mind screaming the words that an angry member had typed at me. You have no idea how immature people are until they grow angry because you asked them to do a few simple, humane things: Credit an artist with their beautiful work, and don’t be a complete dickhole to the other members. Apparently asking for human decency meant that I had to have bastards calling me a stupid cunt, a worthless nobody, a tyrant, etc.
Maybe I should have quit. But I couldn’t. Not only am I stubborn to a fault, but every time it got so hard, I would receive a different kind of message: A member thanking me for protecting them, for making them feel comfortable in the group. One message, however, always stood out to me.
I felt giving you admin status was something you deserved for caring as much as you did.
How could I disappoint those words? I had something to live up to, a legacy of my own to live up to. Even if I never met him in person, even if I hated myself for having to ban someone, even if my hands shook as I typed up a reprimand, it was my legacy. We don’t always like our mothers, but there is no denying that there is love there. Maybe not all egg-bearers are worthy of being called a mother, but many are. Even if you don’t see eye-to-eye with your mother, there is no denying that a mother means well for her children. You could fight for hours on end, but the moment you’re injured, she’s there. Someone talks crap about you? Mother is right there to tell that other kid to fuck off, politely.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that Monty attracted artists by the droves. Anyone who has ever dabbled in the arts can tell you how much of a toll it takes on the ego, the confidence, the spirit. We’re always striving to prove ourselves better, and we are our greatest critics. Monty didn’t just attract artists, he created and inspired them. I could never count how many times, over the years, I’ve seen the phrase “I’m not exactly that good, but I was really inspired by to try…”
And while it may not be a Thomas Kinkade, there’s a beauty of it’s own. All of these children, clamoring to show ‘Papa Monty’ their heartfelt pieces of work, to ask him questions, to idolize him. And in the shadows waited the vultures, the piranhas, the thieves.
I could handle a bit of abuse if it meant that those budding artists had at least one place to share their joys, loves, and creations without being attacked by those shadows.
And as melodramatic as it is, it’s true. Another thing I can’t count is how many more people have felt comfortable sharing their work, or sharing a piece of their favorite art, or sharing stories about their own experiences. Even the shippers have felt safer to confess who their OTPs are, and find like-minded individuals.
I haven’t gone without gain either. I’ve met amazing people, including the members of Final Fantasy Topaz. I’ve had some hilarious moments (discs, anyone?) and I have learned. Boy have I learned quite a bit. I may not be able to animate much myself, but I can confidently say I have a good grasp of the basic concepts. Because of Dead Fantasy, I have a deeper appreciation for the creations of others. I don’t just look at a video game as a video game anymore. It’s a myriad of mazes, a collection of frames, an agonizingly difficult sequence to choreograph. I may never see the faces of those who spent months behind a monitor to finish a two-minute scene, but I can see their fingerprints.
I’ve learned a great deal about people as well. You can’t be an admin of a group this large without maturing more yourself. I was so naive and idealistic in the beginning. Then, I was jaded and pessimistic. Now? I’m realistic. I’ve learned the importance of wording things properly. I’ve grown to appreciate those who struggle to understand different languages while also being realistic and knowing that it would be impossible for me to translate everything into every language. I’ve learned how to phrase things better to get a point across.
I’ve learned when to let something roll off me so I can sleep at night.
Now, comes the hard part. Fast forward to 2015.
The words “God damn it, Monty!” have come out of my mouth more than once over the past few years, and not for reasons one might think. I always kept Monty’s twitter on SMS so I could always keep an eye on things. That even meant that when he sent dour, borderline depressing messages, I would be able to quickly shoot off an encouraging message. It gave me a warning for when a flood would hit Dead Fantasy.
It also meant I sometimes got 20 notifications between the hours of 2am and 6am. Hence the “God damn it, Monty!”
I was so used to getting anywhere from 2-10 notifications every hour that when the silence hit, something in me felt uneasy. I had multiple notifications about Monty Oum being ill. I fully admit that for the first twelve hours, I refused to look at them. I had a sick feeling in my stomach.
I think as soon as I saw the headline that he was ill, I knew. And I immediately went into denial.
Finally though, I had to look. I began to scour for information. I labored endlessly, trying to look for any clue, knowing that people would begin asking. If I could at least give them some kind of answer, anything at all, it would keep them from harassing the Oums, Rooster Teeth, and Sheena. I put everyone I could on mobile notifications and slept fitfully. I told everyone that it wasn’t an if he was going to get better, I told them it was when he was going to get better. I had to give them hope. I had to give myself hope. But the sick feeling never went away.
When I have a gut feeling, it’s always right. My instincts have never been wrong, though I wish with every fiber that for once, my instincts were wrong.
I can tell you exactly where I was when I got the news. I grew to have a habit of keeping my hand in my pocket where I could feel if my phone was vibrating. Just the previous day, the weekly podcast for What’s Your Tag? had been recorded, and the guys were awesome enough to let me end the podcast with a small spiel asking people to respect the Oum’s privacy while we waited for updates on his condition, and to head over to the Rooster Teeth website for information on how to donate, as well my fervent amazement at how wonderful the community was and how fast they responded to help support Sheena and the rest of his family financially. I was heading up to clock out to lunch. My mind was going over a new design for a podcast banner for What’s Your Tag, I needed to finish it to give to Paul so he could finish organizing the article. Podcasts recorded on Sunday, posted on Tuesday. Misha Collins was being a hilarious dork on Twitter and I sent the tweets to the other writer on Casual Gaming Girls, Aly, for laughs. I needed laughs. The What’s Your Tag? Twitter was always sending my phone into a frenzy, especially when Brad was handling news and whatnot.
10:33am. I’m in the men’s shaving aisle, the door is about fifteen feet away. I feel my phone vibrate. I glance down and pull it out just long enough to peek at the lock screen, expecting What’s Your Tag?.
It doesn’t register at first. I put my phone back in my pocket before stopping dead in the aisle. I pull my phone back out.
The world spun. For a moment, I swore I was going to pass out. I felt like someone had punched me. I felt like it was a nightmare. Dazed, I moved, moving into the office. My phone vibrates again. It’s Cameron texting me to tell me the news, and that the group was going to explode. I copy the tweet and send it to the guys at What’s Your Tag?. As soon as I clock out, I’m on the page. I’m trying to control it. Then, I just give up. I watch the page explode with post after post, and it’s everything I have not to cry. It’s hard to breathe. I’ve always been asthmatic and I have had the sniffles.
Then a tear drops.
I can’t eat. Some of my co-workers see the look on my face, the haunted look in my eyes, and ask me what’s wrong. I numbly tell them what happened, that someone I knew had been announced dead just moments ago. I’m pulled into a couple of hugs, while others look on in shock. I’ve never been like this. One of my bosses catches me. He asks me if I want to go home.
I don’t know.
I finally force myself with the last ten minutes of my lunch to try to eat something. I sit at the furthest table in the break room. I have no appetite, no taste buds. It’s apples with yogurt and granola. I love it. But I can’t taste it. I can’t stop crying. I turn myself away from others and try to control myself.
It doesn’t work.
I try to focus on work after lunch. I make it about thirty minutes before I can’t handle it. I find the boss from earlier and talk to him. I offer to stay until the team member I’m covering comes back from break. He doesn’t give me that option. He takes over for me, takes my equipment so I can make it up to the office with minimal interaction with others.
I don’t even make it ten seconds out of the building before I’m breaking down, crying. Somehow, I make it to my car. And for just a few minutes, I sit there with my arms on my steering wheel and my head buried in my arms, crying. I cry until I feel like I’ve let out enough for me to get home.
Somehow, I made it home. I immediately get on the page. I get off the computer.
Throughout all of this, the guys at What’s Your Tag? have been fantastic. They’ve been supportive. Paul’s editing out the now-inappropriate bit in the podcast and is writing a small bit in the article for me. Brad and Paul use generic images and don’t pressure me for the podcast banner. There’s no pressure about articles, graphics that need to be done. Just heartfelt sympathy. Brad even messages me private and manages to get me talking. He encourages me to paint.
So, I paint. It takes three, four hours. By the time I’m done, my hands are trembling, I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m exhausted, and there’s paint all over my clothes. But when I look at my creation, I’m overcome with a peaceful feeling.
I can’t remember much of the day.
I sleep. I head to work and throw myself into my tasks. I make up for the three hours I lost and get my workload done. I’m unresponsive to messages. I’m deep within my own head, trying to sort out my tangled emotions. I force myself to try to eat on my breaks, I still have no appetite. Any chance I have, I’m on the Dead Fantasy page. On my breaks, I’m scouring the posts. Looking for trolls and protecting others is distracting me. The sniffles I had have been triggered into a full-blown cold. It hurts to swallow, talk, and I can’t stop coughing.
I sleep a lot when I get home.
The next day, the anger hits. I keep it from those around me, but I can feel my temper thinning with those around me. Stage two of grief.
I got to Sara’s house after. I spend time with her and our other friends. I paint again. I drive home at midnight and sleep.
I just keep going forward. I don’t know when I hit bargaining, stage three. I don’t know where stage 4, depression, started. I don’t even know if I’ve really reached stage 5, acceptance.
I buy cold medicine. I go out to breakfast with my neighbor. I’m smiling again, telling jokes. The skip in my step is back.
I know it’s faked. But I can handle that.
This entire time, I’m still in my head. I’m going over all the things I wanted to say, everything I wanted to do. I missed a chance to meet him at PAX. I’m a coward, I’m lazy. The thoughts going through my head aren’t pretty. For how encouraging I am of others, I bring myself down to the worst levels.
But it’s when Trevis, a masterful artist who surprised me with the beautiful piece at beginning and ending of this piece, asks me for quotes, that I remember that I already said my good-bye. Though the words were said three years earlier, they were everything I ever needed to say in just four words.
I’ll always appreciate you.
I know what some of you are thinking: This sounds like I was in love with the guy. Except I wasn’t. I can say that with the clearest possible conscience possible. Monty was my friend, and someone I looked up to. He inspired me, as he inspired so many others. The confidence he had in me, whatever potential or promise he saw in me when he promoted me, it gave me confidence that I hadn’t had before. Out of over 9,000 people, almost 10,000, he had seen something in me that he hadn’t seen in the others.
You gotta admit, that’s a confidence booster right there.
It’s amazing how a small bit of confidence can start there and move onto something else. It also forced me to confront my own flaws and work towards change. I had to confidence to continue doing what I believed in. I held Monty up like an example whenever I was too scared to finish a challenge. If he could devote himself to working non-stop to finish a project, I could write 14,235 words to finish my NaNoWriMo goal in a single day.
Which I did, by the way.
It’s hard to put into words what Monty was. Probably the closest thing one could come up with was that he was an inspiration. But even that pales to what he really was. He was a ridiculously talented man with an almost bashful humility to match, and a work ethic that pales in comparison to anyone else I know.
It’s heart-wrenchingly ironic that this past week has seen so many people quoting his infamous “Can you match my conviction?” post. I wonder how many people remember the main fruit of that post: The death of his mother. How sadly ironic that the words we quote in his passing were the words he spoke in the passing of someone in his life?
And how poetically fitting.
It grows late, and I have a full workload that starts early tomorrow.
Monty left a legacy that’s up to all of us to succeed and break past. There is no limitation but those that we create. In each and every one of us is a seed of creativity that we must nurture. He gave us the sunlight, and we had the soil to plant it in. Now, we must grow it, nurture it, and teach it how to reach to the sunlight.
It is up to all of us to treat each and every other person around us with the same grace that he did. If there is anything we should take from his legacy, it is that our character is what defines us. This isn’t to say that we should be wishy-washy doormats or advocate for perpetual peace and hippy ideals. Rather, we should remember that every word we speak, type, or promote is received by someone with feelings, someone with emotions, someone who can perceive. That every person may not see the world the same as you, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.
That if you treat others well and encourage others to grow their seeds of creativity, you may be rewarded.
It is up to each and every one of us to chase our dreams and see them through. There is no excuse, no reason why we can’t all have our dreams, or do what we wish. It won’t be easy, but nothing worth having is. The negative words of others may strike with the intent to puncture and harm us, but we can choose what we let hurt us and bring us down.
So pick up your pencils, your tablet pens, your brushes, your posters, your needles, and turn your eyes to the sky to see your dreams unfurl.
But never forget that every gesture you make, every word you say, will be remembered by someone.
Nothing is ever forgotten.