Vulnerability is Strength

As much as I love writing potential scenes between my and another character in my friends’ Exalted (tabletop role-playing / collective storytelling) game, I feel like I’ve been getting too far ahead of what has actually happened in the game. It’s been a difficult temptation to resist, so I tried to compromise by initiating a conversation with the player of the other character – in which I intended for us to discuss how the bond between our characters might develop. I figured if I’m gonna keep getting ahead of things, it’s better to do so with the other player’s input instead of allowing myself to become overly attached to an alternative / inaccurate version of his character.

Instead we ended up having an awesome, rather long conversation that included the friend who pulled him into the game and mostly had nothing to do with Exalted. We geeked out, laughed at ridiculous YouTube videos, and were otherwise very silly together – which was just what I needed, honestly; it was so much fun! At one point the conversation took a surprisingly personal turn, considering it was like maybe my fourth time talking to this individual and the first time that wasn’t primarily focused on gaming. We touched briefly on some of the trauma / loss we’ve each experienced, were honest and supportive of each other, and agreed that it’s important to be vulnerable. I shared that that’s something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember: whether it was needing to suppress my grief in order to function in school, trying to “be strong” for my mom because (I thought) she couldn’t handle my emotions, or otherwise just wanting to ignore my depression and have a “normal” life, I have fairly consistently fallen into the trap of what my friends called stoicism and I’ve seen referred to online as toxic masculinity.

Vulnerability is a theme that’s gaining prominence in the scenes I’ve been writing between the two characters. My ‘healer’ character initially wants to ‘fix’ the ‘wounded’ character; they avoid touching this individual because doing so evokes overwhelming emotions that make them feel vulnerable, and that terrifies them. But even in the earliest scenes I wrote they tell their story and literally show their wounds (scars), revealing that in a way the two characters aren’t that different. In one scene they instinctively reach for the ‘wounded’ character’s hand as the latter leads them through the Underworld; the ‘wounded’ character responds by squeezing the ‘healer’ character’s hand reassuringly (and it works). In another scene┬ámy ‘healer’ character braves their fear of touch and vulnerability to hug the ‘wounded’ character, with the intention of supporting them through a particularly difficult and absolutely essential milestone. Both characters end up holding / supporting each other while crying on each other’s shoulders; in that moment the two characters are both simultaneously ‘wounded’ and ‘healer.’ It becomes a milestone in both characters’ growth, as well as the development of the relationship / bond.

In the most recent scene I’ve written, the ‘healer’ character is severely wounded in battle and ends up unconscious. The ‘wounded’ character holds them until they awake because that is the only way to keep them safe, warm, and relaxed enough to get the rest they need to heal. Upon waking, the ‘healer’ character is able not only to accept but to enjoy the touch, and is finally honest regarding their ambivalence toward intimacy / vulnerability with the ‘wounded’ character. While explaining this they begin to consciously acknowledge that they trust in the ‘wounded’ character as a result of that character’s actions, which are more important than the character’s status as a Deathknight instead of a Solar. The two are finally able to enjoy being close without the ambivalence / awkwardness that has defined their relationship up to this point. (Of course the scene is getting way, way ahead of the game and relies on my – not necessarily the other player’s – interpretation of how the ‘wounded’ character may develop.)

For so long my whole inner Committee has perceived the Wounded One as needing protection, incapable of fending for themself or really doing anything. We – especially the Healer – haven’t considered the Wounded One’s agency or strengths, to the point that they may not even be aware of them. But the Wounded One was the first out of all of us; they created many if not all of us. Maybe we need to trust them more.

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