One of the stranger things about our species is our ability to figure out that we are going to die. An ability which I would argue is equal parts useless and useful. The inevitability of our fates would make it seem that knowing about it is essentially meaningless. What is there to be gained in knowing our own futility? And yet, with equal truth, we could say that knowing makes our lives more meaningful, as we know there is a full stop at the end of our sentence.
As for me, I remember with acute precision where I was when I first realized that I was a little boat full of holes, slowly filling with water. I was 10 years old, at a friend’s house, let’s call him Ryan. Ryan was a blonde boy, 12, and lived down my street, and this was as interesting as that kid was, as cruel as it is to admit. Still, he and his brother had a whole array of gaming devices (a Nintendo AND a PC, man!) and my brother and his were friends, so we were there fairly often, less out of genuine affection, but mere convenience, as I would later find in girls.
I had always had a fasincation with superheroes, what boy doesn’t in this day and age, and my hero of my childhood years was Spider-Man. He was a brightly coloured paragon of justice with a sense of humor a ten year old could get behind, and a secret identity of a regular joe schmo, struggling to pay his rent. There’s a reason ol’ Web Head has stayed relevant all these years, and you wouldn’t have caught a single day of me walking home from school without flicking my wrist and adjusting my fingers outward, trying to shoot webs and swing away to the nearest building, in a pose I hadn’t yet learned that, properly adjusted, was a good and proper salute to devil and his favourite music.
In 2001, Activision and Marvel Entertainment created “Spider-Man” a 3D Platformer of a superhero way back when before they were a surefire way to make profit. Yes, children, there was a time before the Arkham Games, get off my lawn. “Spider-Man” may have been a sterling success or a flop, all I know was it’s own significance to me. Back when games came on discs (again, lawn, mosey on off), I’d played a smidge of it at another friends house and couldn’t believe how cool I felt crawling on walls and beating up badly polygonal rent a thugs- but ALL OF A SUDDEN AFTER THE FIGHT WITH RHINO-
The game froze. Every time I tried. I was heartbroken.
On another visit where we talked just enough to keep our “friendship” afloat, yet left no room for doubt of the “wham bam” nature of it all- I saw the disc. I asked, heart in throat, whether I could give the game a try. To my elation, Ryan said yes, and like many a child, and indeed, adult would do in the years to come, I took a single player game, popped it in, and thorougly ignored my friend as he stood there by his chair at his desk in his house and didn’t ask for a turn. Ryan was good people. Which was lucky, because I was Spider-Man, and Spider-Man only takes the best.
Hours passed. I stayed glued to the screen, Ryan had long since abandoned me, presumably to look through the phone book to find a better friend. I let nothing break my focus, and soon I was on the final level.
I could go into the nefarious plot of Doc Ock, but all you really need to know is that he had bad guy plans that ended up creating this:
To this day, I remember that monster. Oh how awful it looked, maroon and black, with huge white staring eyes, hanging twelve feet above the floor, using only its hundreds of tentacles to slowly lumber forward toward its prey, and it’s scream, it’s awful guttural scream, a mixture of nails on chalkboards and a deep throbbing roar of eldritch horror, pattering towards me as I ran for my life-
Suddenly, a wall! Shit! I’d spent too much time staring at the thing, I prayed to whatever deity I could hit and hit the space bar as hard as I could to jump, and…!
I died. I died again. I died over, and over again, and every time I did, I felt my world crashing in on me. In my ten year old stomach I felt for the first time my gut clench, in the most primal form of fear and despair.
This creature was death. My death.
I was going to die.
It was hopeless.
One way or another, I would be consumed by this… thing.
I had no choice in the matter.
Running was an option, but only a temporary one. The abomination would always be there. I cried as I started the game again, like an addict jonesing from another hit, begging for another chance to run from my tormenter, not knowing why it hurt so bad to feel this way, and why I was so determine to try anyway.
On the umpteenth turn at bat, I breathed steadily, kept my reflexes sharp, and led the abomination forward and into the engine of the Submarine itself. BOOM! With all the processing power an engine of 2001 could muster, the screen filled with flame and rubble in a colossal explosion! SUCCESS! The two symbiotes unfuse, SHIELD picks up Spidey and his friends, congratulates him on a job well and Doc Ock is brought to justice. I had finished the game, and yet, I didn’t feel happy.
Feeling numb, I picked myself up and made my way home, trying to hide my obviously red, wet cheeks as I bade goodbye to a no doubt baffled Ryan. I ran home, opened the door, ran up the stairs and flung myself into bed.
Why did I feel so bad? It was just a game, after all.
“I’m going to die” I whispered to myself.
“I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die.”
My childhood illusion had been shattered. I was not immortal. Nothing was. Nothing I viewed from that point on would be separable from that one, true fact. Nothing would be the same again.
I cried for a long, long time.
Do you remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban- where Professor Lupin and his class find out what their greatest fear is, come to life, right in front of them? And the only way to deal with it was just to laugh it away? If I were a betting man, I’d place good money on my personal boggart being that awful fusion, with that horrible sound of suffering, and to be honest, I’m still not sure what there is that you can laugh at about that.