The passing of Alexsi Athenis

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The passing of Alexsi Athenis

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What follows is an essay I did for my college English class. The assignment was to write about an event that changed the way I look at something. I chose to write about someone I met online. I never knew her real name, and although I've been told her real name it never mattered anyway. Not knowing her name never changed how I perceived the content of her character. The essay got a grade of "A", 93.2%, and a recommendation to submit it to the college ^'s annual, Miner's Ink.

Dedications to her memory: [ Cilo ^] [ EchosCalling ^] [ Katarthis ^] [ Mewgal ^] [ Rose-Hunter ^] [ SadistiCfAction ^] [ Tyya ^] [ More ^] [ More ^]

I remember how I was led to the world of Furcadia ^, and it was there, in that virtual world, that I met the only friend I ever lost without getting a chance to say good-bye.

Furcadia is a free online game for Windows, a massively multi-player online social game. They call it "where the animals have learned to walk upon two legs and speak." It's a virtual world where players can get together from all over the real world and engage in role playing scenarios similar to Dungeons & Dragons, to create and share dreams that allow for a variety of playing styles, or to just hang out and chat about whatever is on their minds.

Within the world of Furcadia are many player-created dreams, dreams whose capabilities are limited only by the imaginations of their creators. Dreams are miniature worlds in their own right, all contained within the greater world of Furcadia, and all connected to one another only by the will or whim of their creators. Players have made all kinds of dreams, from simple to complex, strange to beautiful, and passive to active. But the most pleasant dream to relax in is Lost Lake. ^ (WikiFur has a Lost Lake article ^ as well.)

Lost Lake is a Rennaisance-era realm on the hilly and forested shore of a great lake. It is a nice place for me and others to relax, talk about anything on our minds, and get away with all sorts of silliness to unwind. The most popular silly activities are practical jokes obviously impossible to pull off in the real world, such as tossing anvils, animating magical sporks, and firing milkshake torpedoes at each other. Especially after stressful days, suspending the laws of physics is a welcome relief.

The lake was founded by a puma named Alexsi Athenis. ^ She was a character, a lively Texan who knew how to have good clean fun. She laid down an extremely permissive set of rules, yet she enforced those few rules ruthlessly. Alexsi's trademark was a very large mallet ^, like in cartoons, which she used to eject miscreants from Lost Lake. Since her rules were fairly common-sense, she only needed to use it sparingly. I had the fortune, good or ill, of witnessing one of the few times the mallet made an appearance. On most Sundays, she would host a poetry session at the amphitheater on the lake's shore, where everyone from everywhere could come to hear or recite poems, sort of like a coffee house, only outdoors instead... and bring our own coffee. One Sunday evening, I finally got the opportunity to recite a poem I was once given as my character's description. (At the time, I was a simple house cat.)

A cat is smart in a wierd kind of way:
He'll take your computer and hack away,
Fixin' here and fixin' there, and when he's done,
He'll play computer mouse games until you get the sum
Of $1,000 on your electric bill.

I was one of the few who was met by what seemed like a totally warm and receptive audience. Soon after, hecklers and other disrespectful misfits drowned out the poets. To this day, I don't know how Alexsi managed to keep her cool, let alone keep order. One poet even took the stage and did nothing but use swear words and insult everyone. After more warnings than I would've given, Alexsi let everyone know who was in charge: out came the mallet, and away went the potty-mouth.

During the San Diego Firestorm of 2003, which I had the misfortune to experience first hand, a couple of Furcadians in San Diego were evacuated, and even at the evacuation shelters the air was smoky and very difficult to breathe. One, Elizabith, managed to find an Internet connection for her computer, signed in, and sought escape from the reality around her. When she told us that someone was standing over her shoulder and, of all things, smoking a cigarette, Alexsi and I were not the only ones with an opinion to express. I didn't learn until later that Alexsi was a survivor of lung cancer, and her own smoking earlier in her life didn't help. The treatment left her immune system weak and susceptible to illness.

One day, Alexsi arrived with a story of her visit to the hospital. She had torn her middle fingernail by accident, all the way to the quick, and it was bleeding and wouldn't stop. (Aside from the nail and surrounding skin, there was hardly any injury at all.) When the doctor asked her to show him, she accidentally offered the flying finger of friendship. Oops. The doc didn't miss a beat when he gave his prognosis: the bleeding looked pretty bad, he didn't think think it would survive, and would she like him to just lop the whole finger off right there in his office?

But in June 2004, the fun and games stopped. She moved from Houston, Texas, to Las Vegas, Nevada, to be with her family. During the move, she left the world of Furcadia, but she was never out of reach of those she trusted to run the show without her, the closest Furcadian friends she had. She had so many friends that she had to trust the chosen few to keep everyone else up to date.

After finishing the move in July, she succumbed to pneumonia. She survived, but it left her even weaker than before. Everyone pulled and prayed for her, and for a full month it seemed like she would make a full recovery and return to Lost Lake.

In the first week of August, Alexsi made the decision not to return to Furcadia. She was leaving the game to be with her family and take care of real-world matters without that distraction. We all knew that this decision would eventually come. Furcadia is, after all, just a game, and the most responsible players give it a very low priority. Even after making that decision, support, admiration and prayers for her never let up. The staff of Lost Lake set up a guestbook-style system to deliver letters just to her, and hundreds upon hundreds poured in.

On August 18, Alexsi succumbed to another bout of pneumonia. Throughout the whole ordeal, she remained upbeat, funny, and as lively as she could. On August 22, it seemed that she was doing better and that she would get over this illness as well as she got over the last. We all looked forward to hearing of her full recovery.

But on the night of Monday, August 23, 2004, Alexsi Athenis passed away in her sleep. The news spread as quickly as possible on the 24th. The shock was instant, and the sadness cut to the bone. She survived lung cancer and countless illnesses, outlived her doctors' diagnoses by more than six years, and refused to let a weakened body weaken her spirits. But in that moment, the whole universe froze. Alexsi Athenis was lost forever.

She made thousands of acquaintences, hundreds she called friends, dozens close enough to adopt as a virtual family, in both the real world and the virtual worlds of the online. She never gave up, she never felt down, she was with her family, she was never far from friends, and she went to sleep contented. No one thought she deserved to be taken from us so soon, but when her number was called, no one could think of a better way to go. She never revealed her age—no sensible person would—but I gathered enough to know that she was still young when she was taken.

The most sobering revelation was that the real and virtual worlds are inescapably connected, and that behind each of those tiny video game sprites moving and talking on the screen is a real person with a real life. Not even hiding behind an avatar, whether by choice or by design, can keep the player's real character from emerging. And where-ever the character of good people are revealed, not even the distance of continents or the anonymity of the Internet can prevent relationships and friendships from being formed and strengthened.

There's no escape from the real world. If anything, virtual worlds like that of Furcadia make the real world closer, smaller, and easier to live in. But they're extensions of, not escapes from, the real world.

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