Genesis

After the paper route, before mom woke up, was my favorite hour of each day. No chores or schoolwork or shouting then. It was the nineties and we had a SEGA Genesis and a 13-inch bubble TV. Chad and I were allowed one hot drink to warm up from the cold morning we had just biked through. I would make an apple cider and Chad would make “Fudge”: hot chocolate with only a few drops of water. We played NBA Jam, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Mario Andretti Racing, but mostly we played Road Rash 3. We raced on motorcycles through Brazil, Italy, and Kenya, clubs or crowbars in hand. We saved up our prize money for better bikes. After hearing the course songs again and again, we turned off the music and listened instead to the rev of the engines. There were peaceful silences and rowdy victories. Chad and I were a team.

 

*

 

I lost my virginity after a night of video games. I’m not saying it was destiny, but perhaps it wasn’t coincidental either. Kyle was playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City; I was taking a shot of Sambuca each time he gunned someone down. At twenty-one, I had learned to be afraid of men. Cartoon-red blood spurted from the bodies he killed, unlike the crimson blood that would later trickle from my own body. I was afraid of him, of course. Of his real-life gun and menacing stature and even the gaps in his teeth. But there was something about watching him play a game that reminded me of home. I followed him to the bedroom, blurry between the virtual and the real.

 

*

 

Many days after school, my seven-year-old son and I play Donkey Kong Country. The retro Super Nintendo is his favorite pastime. He heckles me for falling to my death trying to avoid the armadillos. After all, I played it before as a kid, he reminds me. I slap Diddy Kong in, let him finish the level. I watched my neighbor play this same game twenty-five years ago. Although I was at their house for Mall Madness with his sister, I would sit there instead and watch Cody, rapt. One summer the neighbors invited me to their cabin. I was so surprised when mom said I could go. “Are you bringing along the Super Nintendo?” I asked Cody. I haven’t told my son that I mostly watched people play Super Nintendo games. I’ll let him keep expecting me to be as good at them as I am at SEGA games.

 

*

 

Moments surrounding a game console are hard-wired into my memory. The first time I played Super Nintendo was at the beach house of a family from our church. My brother and I sat on bunks and watched Josh play Mario Kart. After awhile, he offered me the controller. Excited, I swayed the entirety of my small body into the direction of each turn. Josh laughed at me, then gently said I didn’t need to do that, that I could just push the arrow buttons. I never wanted to stop playing. I wanted to get better, wanted to win, wanted to impress the boy who was so kind to me. That weekend we also dug clams from the wet sand. Afterward, there was a bucket of them in our kitchen. When I walked by it, I noticed their necks—how they stuck out from their shells.

 

*

 

I moved away from my family a long time ago. I take my sons to visit them once a year. By the time we see them again, so many days have passed, and we have missed so much it seems pointless to try to catch up. Instead, my boys play video games with their cousins. This year it was Minecraft but the visit before it was Animal Jam. I see them growing up in the glow of their iPads. Because my mother had moved away from her own family, I also saw my cousins once a year. We didn’t ask each other about school or crushes or how much we hated our mothers then. We played video games. In that Papasan chair, we took turns with the controller, instantly comfortable. We didn’t know much about each other but we knew how to play Sonic 2.

 

*

 

There was a night once I don’t remember. I mean I remember up to the point I don’t. I remember drinking in a bar, covering my drink with a flimsy coaster before I went to the bathroom because I didn’t have a friend around. At closing time, I went out to my car and a man whose advances I’d been shooting down followed me. The next thing I knew, sparks were flying, I was ramming into signs and medians, convinced it was a video game. It would all be over soon and if I couldn’t win I could go out in a blaze of glory.

 

*

 

I had just given away my baby and moved halfway across the country when I got my first apartment. I went to Gamers for a SEGA Genesis. It was only $60 in 2005. The clerk tried to sell me a PlayStation 2 for $150 instead. “It’s more updated,” he said, “it has better graphics.” He said it as if I didn’t already know, like I was there buying something for my boyfriend. “I’m just here for a SEGA and Road Rash 3,” I repeated. I carried my purchase to my new home and set it up, nostalgic for what had come before.

Holly Pelesky is a lover of spreadsheets, giant sandwiches, and handwritten letters. Her essays have appeared in The Nasiona and Jellyfish Review, among other places. Her poems are bound in Quiver: A Sexploration. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska. She cobbles together gigs to eke by, refusing to give up this writing life. She lives in Omaha with her two sons. Read more. Follow here.

Submit a comment