Last night, I downloaded The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on my 3DS. This is going to sound absurdly privileged and gross, but summers are a pretty big source of anxiety for me. I’m without a doubt an extrovert who feeds off the energy of other people, and for me, that’s one of the most difficult parts of being a writer: the long hours of isolation spent in front of your keyboard. Maybe that’s why I love Twitter so much. I write a paragraph or a few sentences, then I tweet about Drake, read a few more tweets and remember that there are other people out there and I’m not alone. For the majority of the year, this isn’t much of an issue. I’m a professor, and I’m on-campus at least four days a week. I engage with students and other teachers and administrators all day, and at night, I come home to Theresa. I’m happy. It’s the type of life I’ve always wanted but never would have thought to dream of when I was a dopey kid in Scranton wondering about trade schools. Summers, on the other hand, mean long stretches of time where I see and interact with no one. It’s unbelievable to have this much time to work on fiction, but the hours of loneliness are a real source of dread for me.
So, and please excuse the long-winded introduction, that’s why I downloaded Zelda last night. I wanted a time killer, something to ease my anxiety when I wasn’t working on the book or finishing syllabi. I downloaded the game and was surprised to discover—even though I knew this going in—how closely this new Zelda mimicked my favorite Zelda game from my youth, A Link to the Past, the one that hit me at the right age, when I was just seven. It’s the same Hyrule, the same map, basically the same structure, with a few cosmetic tweaks: swapping out the Dark and Light Worlds with the physical and painting worlds. It’s a fun game and endlessly nostalgic, but I didn’t make it five minutes in before I started dwelling on Mike.
Mike was my best friend in high school. We were pretty similar in that we were both huge dorks, our fathers both worked with cars, and we survived our teenage years by marathoning video games and listening to Weezer CDs. His favorite game was A Link to the Past, and I remember working with him at KB Toys when the Game Boy Advance came out along with an SNES Zelda remake. We both bought it and enjoyed it, and what was really cool was that Nintendo added a multiplayer element. They took this game that was inherently a single player, lonely experience and turned it into a group activity. We hooked up our Game Boys, and I just thought it was so neat. Me and my best friend playing Zelda together. What glorious future was next?
Next month will be the two year anniversary of Mike’s death. He was diagnosed with leukemia in 2011 and died right before his 28th birthday. He received most of his treatments in Pittsburgh where I was living, and I remember going into his hospital room and giving him my Game Boy to pass the time, my worn down copies of Tetris and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan. I remember his wedding in the hospital church. I remember the last time I saw him at the movie theatre at the Waterfront. We went to see The Dark Knight Rises, and Mike had to wear paper boxes over his sneakers and a mask over his mouth. Neither of us liked the movie much, and we both burst out laughing when Joseph Gordon Levitt is revealed to be Robin right before the end credits. We’d always really enjoyed shitty movies, and one of our first bonding experiences was laughing our asses off at Godzilla 2000 at the Steamtown movie theatre. That wasn’t a very good film either.
So now it’s 2014. And I still think of Mike quite often. When I booted up Zelda last night and the familiar soundtrack kicked in, I immediately thought of him. But for one brilliant moment I didn’t remember him as dead. I wanted to text him. I wanted to text him and tell him that I’d gotten the new Zelda, the remake/sequel to his favorite childhood game, and that he should download it too so we could play through the game together and compare thoughts. I almost reached for my phone before remembering everything that had happened, all that had changed. And I just sat there staring at this dopey little cartoon character resurrected from my youth, and I once again understood why at 29 years old I still collected NES games, why I still made yearly pilgrimages through Hyrule, the Mushroom Kingdom, through Maniac Mansion: because no one really dies there.