I’m home for the weekend or, rather, at my parent’s house for the weekend because home is a cake that everyone I love has divided evenly and eaten. I can hear my dad’s CPAP machine faintly and the robotic pumps of oxygen are comforting in their predictability.
It is 1:00 AM. I’m looking through my collection of video game ephemera, because growing up has been disorienting. I’m 24 and miss when each year didn’t come with more weight on my chest.
The nest of Pokémon-embroidered carrying cases twisted in obsolete chargers and hunks of handheld game systems lives in the center of my childhood closet. An altar, an egress, a cognitive distortion. I want to curl up in it, to feel like a baby robot again. Back when I thought my shortness of breath was due to secondhand smoke exposure. When success was a level beaten without reading the instruction booklet. The closest to satisfaction I’ve ever felt in my life, sexual or otherwise, were the times I beat the Elite Four after weeks of training. But eventually, I grew bored after these monumental victories. What else is there, after?
Buried beneath my Gameboy Advance, the one with the broken hinge on the battery door, I find a Gameboy Color cartridge called Ouija in a clear plastic case. I put it in my red Gameboy Color, the one with my name stuck to the back in my mom’s handwriting. I hear it click into place. There is no main menu on the darkened screen. No game company proudly introducing their creation. Just a tiny, 8-bit Ouija board taking up the entirety of the Apple-watch-sized screen. The pixel planchette first moves slowly then rapidly gains speed. It spells “AH-LEE-SAH” over and over. The volume of the dissonant game music increases in kind; far beyond what the near-ancient speaker should be able to emit. It screams until the screen turns off with a tinny hiss.
The Gameboy is warm to the touch. My hands are a matching red now. I manage to pry the cartridge out. The bottom is singed and smells of burnt bread. I can’t remember where I’d gotten this game but I feel I’ve had it forever. I dig back into the snakepit of wires for another.
This one, dusty with a faded pink label, reads: Grandmom’s Funeral 2018.
I distantly notice I’m shaking, that the crickets from outside have quieted and the light in my closet is significantly dimmer. When I put this cartridge in my still-smoking Gameboy I smell roses and Chanel No. 5.
I’m confronted with an aerial view of a rectangular room. There’s a row of stout pixel-people at the bottom of the screen and an 8-bit casket to the right. An arrow points to the third character in line followed by the message: THIS IS YOU. A text-box appears over the scene: OBJECTIVE: HUG ALL MOURNERS WITHOUT CRYING. QUICKLY PRESS ‘A’ TO HOLD BACK TEARS. As each pixelated figure greets the line of people, I mash the ‘A’ button. I see my character pinch her arm in tandem. Text-boxes quickly cycle as each mourner approaches me:
SHE WAS A GREAT WOMAN.
SHE TOLD ME ALL ABOUT YOU!
YOU GOT SO BIG.
SORRY ABOUT GRANDMA.
I press harder. My thumb is cramping. My wrist is tingling. A text-box materializes after what feels like an eternity: GOOD JOB. I grit my teeth at the taste of salt. BONUS ROUND: UH OH, YOU FORGOT TO EAT BREAKFAST THIS MORNING. CHECK ON YOUR GRANDPOP WITHOUT COLLAPSING. USE THE ARROW BUTTONS TO MOVE AND PRESS “B” TO TALK. GRAB A BOX OF TISSUES BEFORE YOU WALK OVER.
I dutifully use the arrows to move toward a seated figure, a cane is leaning against the arm of the chair. I see my digital doppelganger hand over a tissue and then I press “B.”
POP: *BLOWS NOSE* SHE LOOKS BEAUTIFUL.
I press “A.”
POP: WHEN I WENT TO THE FUNERAL HOME, THEY ASKED IF THERE WAS ANYTHING ELSE THEY COULD DO FOR ME.
I press “A.”
POP: I SAID, YEAH…
I press “A.”
POP: YOU COULD WAKE HER UP.
I turn off the power. Fat tears distort the image still burned onto the screen and I’m still mashing the “A” button through hiccupping sobs. Frantically, I drop my Gameboy and dig into the pile of games again—reading each title feels like a punch in the jaw.
Big Bi Crisis
Grandmom Marie’s Chemo
Your Ex’s Parents Found Out You Fucked and Want to Talk to Your Parents
Taking a Break
Long Distance Relationship with Your Ex Who is No Longer Your Ex
Grad School: Will You Survive?
Now That’s What I Call Suicidal Ideation
Real Life: The Breakup
Moving Back in With Your Parents
Who Are You?
Is *This* Love?
Another Breakup??? Really???
Studio Apartment: Will Anyone Miss You?
Hooking Up with Your New Ex Who is Still Your Ex.
Stop Breaking Up, Jesus.
That’s Not Love
I can’t see any more titles. They blur together. The lightbulb in the closet shatters and I’m coated in glass. I’m gripping What Now. in my fist. I sit for a moment. Breathing in the heavy smell of old plastic. Briefly, I feel stuck, trapped to my spot on the floor. The game in my hand heats up.
I stand and shake myself off. I drag the box of games out of the closet. When I step into the light of my childhood bedroom, I can hear the crickets again, the steady puffs of my dad’s CPAP, the cars going by in the early morning.
I dump the games in a trash bag and pick up my Gameboy with a now blissfully blank screen. Once the new game is inside, I turn the power back on. New levels will all look different, but I’ll play What Now until I’m at a high enough level for what comes after.
Alyssa is a scientist and a writer. She is currently being haunted by nostalgia and working on some home remedies for keeping the feeling at bay. Tweet her if you know the cure for nostalgia @ClinicallyChill. More of her writing can be found in Tenderness Lit, Sea Foam Mag, Philosophical Idiot and on her website alyssaciamp.com.