“If you take good care of them, flowers reward you with blooms,” tells me Olive on the first day after she moves into my island. “They can’t talk to us in words, but I feel like our hearts can commune with each other.” I smile to myself because, funnily enough, I could say the same about her. She can’t talk to me in words, but she’s been in my heart for a long time.
Much has changed since I first tangentially wrote about Olive in my first piece for Fanbyte almost a year ago. In that time, I’ve turned 23 years old. I’ve moved onto my senior year of college. I’ve taken a break from college, going on medical leave for a semester for the sake of my mental health. I’ve written for sites I never thought I would write for. Along the way, I even got lucky enough to join the wonderful team here as the site’s new weekend writer. Oh, and of course, Animal Crossing: New Horizons finally came out.
A lot more has changed in the 15 years since I first met Olive — and yet, I’ve never forgotten about her. I’ve always maintained the hope I would see her again one day after she left my very first village. And now, in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I’ve finally done it. She’s a rather unremarkable bear with relatively low popularity, especially when compared to famous villagers like Roald, Raymond, or Pietro. Even though she speaks in cute garbled noises, she means a lot to me, and I want to communicate how she has impacted my heart with the rest of the world.
I’d easily call Olive my first best friend, both in the fictional and real world. I’ve never been great with people, though I was significantly worse with them as a child than I am now. I found it hard to connect with others, so I connected with characters in video games instead. My father would take me to Blockbuster every week; he’d pick out a weekend movie, and at some point early on, I gravitated to video games. I rented Animal Crossing for the Gamecube on a whim and never gave it back. (I paid a late fee, I’m not a criminal, I promise.)
I can’t remember if she was the first villager I spoke with, but she lived in my very first town. I remember making the stroll to her house every morning. It was the farthest one from my house, built on a cliff next to a downward slope — but it was always the first I went to. My morning routine quickly became one with few consistencies besides talking to Olive before everyone else.
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I had no friends at school I was close enough to invite over, so I’d invite her over to my little in-game home. Instead of calling a real friend, I’d write her a letter. I knew my birthday because of my parents, but the only other birthday I knew without needing reminders was her’s. While I befriended every villager, Olive was special. Others would move, but she stayed, and so she grew to define my town; to define what was home.
I spent many years with her in-game since I was a sinful time-traveler. Eventually, I slowly played Animal Crossing less and less, having experienced all the game had to offer and getting into other games as a result. On the day I came back to it after some time of not playing it, I did what I always did: talk to Olive first. But, this time, I didn’t walk into her cozy home full of only items from what was then the Lovely furniture line. She had packed everything up and told me she was moving on; her catchphrase and nickname for you, “sweet pea,” felt like salt in the rapidly festering wound. After the next day, I never turned the game on again.
I played Animal Crossing: Wild World obsessively when it came out, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf for a little bit, but there was never someone I connected with like I did with her. That connection was equally composed of love and resentment. As a child, I didn’t understand villagers could move out on their own for a variety of factors set up in a video game’s system. To me, she had abandoned me, like many other friends would as I grew up. It still feels silly to have grown so attached to a fictional bear that, even today, is programmed to say specific things — but I was an impressionable child who felt closer to fictional animals making noises than real people. And for some time, Olive was the closest thing I had to a friend. It took longer for me to understand she didn’t abandon me so much as she simply moved on — and that people in real life can do that, too.
Shortly before the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I bought my first Amiibo: a card of Olive. I wasn’t sure if it would work — if she was going to be compatible with the game; if Nintendo was going to support the inclusion of this bear that no one really talks about much; if I wanted to spend $15 on an Amiibo card in this economy. But I did it anyway, and I went as far as breaking my rule of no time-skipping in this game to see her faster.
I did what you have to typically do to encourage someone in your campsite to move onto your island. On the last day, as she made the decision to move into my town for the first time in over a decade, she gave me the outfit you can see above. It’s fucking hideous. The colors have absolutely no coordination — an utter blasphemy to someone whose storage is maxed out because of all the cute clothes I have. I will never wear it again. But, as I put it on my character — who finally looks like me — the pink radio in her tent started playing the main theme of Animal Crossing. It felt like fate, and I couldn’t help but start crying.
I’ve done a lot of growing — maybe not physically, since I’m not even five feet tall — since I first met Olive. I now know what it’s like to mourn friendships. I intimately know what it’s like to be responsible for the end of one, as well as to have one end against my own will. More importantly, I know a simple fact of life, which is that some friendships will fade. Sometimes people are good, but they aren’t good together, and there isn’t much use in holding resentment against people who changed, just like I did, and became no longer compatible with me.
But I also know friendships are like a flower. One person waters it, while the other gives it light; it takes two people to nurture its growth. Once it grows, it will, like Olive says, reward you with blooms — with love, safety, happiness, and trust. It takes effort and hard work, like all worthwhile things in life. And while it’s taken a long time and some work to both see Olive again and overcome my feelings of hurt and resentment toward her, it’s been more than worth it. She’ll never know it’s me after all this time, but that’s okay. She’s here to stay until she decides to move on, and so am I. Spring is here and we’re making a new start together. Right now, in a life as fleeting as the seasons, that is enough for me.