Donnie Kicklighter relates a stirring story of despair at the loss of a loved one, and the brief moment of consolation and understanding he receives through a game of Pokemon.
When I was 9, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer. Before I turned 10, he was gone. He died on Valentine’s Day. It was an unusually rainy day for Florida, especially in February. I remember watching him die on the couch, surrounded by crying family members. Death, real death, isn’t anything like the movies. It takes hours of pain and suffering and unnatural spasms before a person goes to whatever is beyond our consciousness, and once they’re gone, they don’t get to come back.
I remember turning around after my grandpa had failed to breathe for 2 minutes and I saw everyone in my family as if for the first time. One uncle was drowning a triple of Jack Daniels; one aunt was screaming hysterically. My own father was solemn and stone-faced, seemingly lost in a world of inaccurate memories and revisionist nostalgia.
Me? I had no idea where to go. I didn’t have cigarettes or a triple Jack with Coke. I didn’t have a lifetime of memories to mourn or a closet of skeletons to repress. I just had a grandpa one moment and a lifeless corpse the next. I wanted nothing more than to sink into Brinstar or the Mushroom Kingdom or Hyrule and forget about everything. I moved over to the SNES and fumbled awkwardly with a dozen cartridges. I’m not sure when I began crying, but all the titles were blurring together. I settled for Mortal Kombat 2. Shao Khan was about to feel my sadness.
Just as the mourning came to a swell, God decided to mourn with us. The clouds sobbed and threw their anger down in a fury of lightning. Unfortunately, in their tantrum, they destroyed a nearby transformer, so we lost power. I was left in a sweltering mess of humidity with a dozen crying drunkards and no AC. There is no rest for the wicked.
I wandered around aimlessly for awhile, not really going anywhere. I was moving with no destination and seeing with no comprehension.
Eventually the rain gave out, and the street was damp with children. I walked past groups of football stars and Power Rangers and some kids playing hide and go seek. Eventually I saw a lonely kid sitting against a tree holding a Gameboy. My family was always pretty poor, so I was given a choice of an SNES (during the N64 era) or a Gameboy. I’d never really had a portable, so I opted for a machine that could play Yoshi’s Island. I still stand by that decision.
The lonely boy looked up and saw what must’ve been a poorly hidden expression of mourning. Without a word, he patted the space next to him and I sat. Without speaking, he leaned over so that I could see what was going on in the game. I had never heard of Pokemon, but it looked a lot like Chrono Trigger. He ran through a couple battles and caught a Pidgey. Then, in silence, he handed me the game.
I was looking for a place to lose myself, and I’ve been there ever since.
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