Elaine Morrigan is terrible.
That’s not an overstatement. She’s fit, mean, blonde (these are fine traits), and has nasty fucking white girl dreads (this is not) that she doesn’t even pretend to try to maintain anymore. She’s crap, and she probably did a whole lot to save me.
Morrigan is my player character in a game of Monsterhearts 2 that my friends and I have been playing for a little under a year. She’s a Ghoul, which means she died horribly, and she used to be the Chosen, which means at one point she was better than everyone else and she knew it. She made sure they knew it, too.
Elaine Morrigan died when she was seventeen.
I based Morrigan off the girls I hated—irrationally, uncompassionately—in high school, with a healthy dose of the lack of self-awareness I still hate now. On the outside, she seems like she has it great. On the inside, she kind of does: she’s privileged, in both actual, physical power and in social perception. I’m privileged, too—I’m white, I’m able-bodied, and my family is highly educated and highly paid. But Morrigan doesn’t necessarily realize her luck, and she—like those girls I hated—is deeply unlucky in a way I was not: she’s not the most important person in anybody’s life. Not even her own.
Elaine Morrigan died when she was seventeen, watching her mentor walk out the door moments before a monster stabbed her through the heart.
I created Morrigan a few weeks into the first full-time job I ever had, and the first job I ever quit. I worked office-job customer service for a museum—not quite a call center, but not not that, either. In my first week, my supervisor asked me if fixing a printer I needed to do my job was really the most efficient use of my time; in my second, her supervisor told me I couldn’t use the word “weird” on the phone anymore. I should use a different word. How about “strange,” or “interesting,” or “different”?
But Morrigan doesn’t necessarily realize her luck, and she—like those girls I hated—is deeply unlucky in a way I was not: she’s not the most important person in anybody’s life. Not even her own.
I am twenty-three years old, nonbinary, and furiously idealistic. I’ve been queer since I looked in the mirror for the first time, and I’ve spent my life listening to well-educated rich folks sneer at me, my friends, and anyone who doesn’t fit their rigid idea of what a person should be.
“Weird,” to me, is a fascination. A new wrinkle, or a clue I haven’t yet understood. It’s a representation of reality that means there are patterns I don’t yet understand, and that things aren’t going as we necessarily expected, but that’s okay, that’s good, that’s beautiful. It’s an acknowledgement that something does not align with the norm, that schemas are useful, but they aren’t all there is.
“Different” (my shoes my clothes my hair my speech) is a sanitized expression of prejudice. An insult; a dismissal.
Morrigan isn’t weird or different. Well, she’s both, but that’s not the point. The point is: Morrigan is shitty.
When I become Morrigan, I can be everything about myself that I could not be at that job. I can be snide, crude, mean, a square peg forced backwards through a round hole because the inside of the box decided to chew me up and spit me back out. I can say, indirectly, fuck you to an institution that wanted my success only so long as that success would pay off for them twofold. Fuck you to my boss, who told me that I was brilliant in the same breath as she told me to leave essential parts of my identity at the door; fuck you to Morrigan’s mentor, who left her as soon as they realized that they could more easily manipulate someone smaller, younger, more naïve.
Morrigan was abandoned by a system that she thought could make her great, and that she thought was great for the world. Now she has to learn how to be herself, learn what is right, and learn what is necessary, on her own, alongside people who are making all the same mistakes she is. She has to learn how to do those things in ways that will not tear her apart, and to do them even through her anger and resentment.
I am lucky to never have been abandoned. But I too am full of anger, and I too have to learn.
Morrigan is a mix, a hodge-podge, a metatextual Frankenstein’s monster of the things I hated about those girls in high school and the things I hate about myself. A talented, appropriative powerhouse with a hero complex and no self-awareness, who turns her quick wit and sharp tongue on anyone who interacts with her, no matter whether they deserve it or not. In helping Morrigan relearn compassion, I am in turn learning to have it for her, for those girls, and for myself.
Morrigan’s story is ending soon. Monsterhearts seasons are limited by the game’s mechanics: once your character levels up five times, you get one more session and then Avery Alder tells you to take a break, play something else, go home. I don’t know if I’m ready to go, because I don’t know if I’m ready to let go of my anger and trade it for compassion.
I don’t know how things will end. Morrigan is dead (again) right now, killed while protecting her friends in a fucked up magical forest. She was stabbed (again), but this time she brought the other guy with her. To her left, an evil substitute teacher with the body of a spider and the mind of a xenophobic asshole lies broken in the dirt. Morrigan will be back, though. She has a move for it.
What I do know is that Morrigan has grown, and that I have too. She understands more, now, that living only for herself and for the people who will tell her what to do is unsustainable. She’s learning that part of living for other people means sometimes, when they need it, being kinder instead of smarter. She’s learning that intention doesn’t always matter and that not everything is hers for the taking.
When Morrigan finally steps out of this period of her (un)life, she will shave her head. Her awful, matted, appropriative hair will still exist in memory, just as the memory of my own cruelties and mistakes follow me around like a useless guilt shadow. But casting them off is the chance to try again, to build a new identity that is based on collaboration and empathy, not just a facade based on ego and superiority. She will become a person who looks forward and listens, someone who learns from the past but does not dwell in it.
I hope she gets to do that. I’m going to do my best to do it either way.
I wrote this piece two years ago, well before the world was plunged into quarantine lockdown and the festering cruelty inherent to the United States’ law enforcement was yanked furiously into the light. In August of 2018, Morrigan got to shave her head and start a new life, and a few months later I got to move to New York City to take a job I love. We’ve both worked hard, and we’re both lucky.
Zora Gilbert cares a whole lot about words, kids, and comics. Find them at @zhgilbert on twitter, and find the comics they edit at datesanthology.com.