Death, The Childhood Destroyer.

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.

Brotherly Tolerance

The year is 2001. I am 10 years old, my brother, Kirby is 8, and my first dog, Shadow, is 5 and still with us. I am in Kingscliff NSW, in a Caravan Park I can no longer remember the name of. The days are long, fresh, and filled with childish abandon, where the hardest decision was to take another lap around the park on my bycicle, to try and con my Mum out of another dollar so I can go play pinball, or to go swimming.

Kirby, sporting his ginger curls, almost like an Irish afro, long before he grew ashamed of them and kept his hair to a buzzcut, shouted merrily “LET’S GO CLIMB TREES!”

I looked to my mum. She was the boss, even though my dad liked to think he was. You know the phrase “Behind a great man is a woman?” that’d be true for her if the man was wearing a leash.

She smiled and nodded. “Just be careful!”

That was more directed at me than at my little brother. I was the bigger brother, it was my responsibility to keep Kirby safe. But in my history, I was categorically bad at it. In fact, I am 100% serious when I say it would likely have been better for us if the roles were reversed. I am impulsive, sensitive, and emotional. He is logical, with a thick skin and is very much the glue that has kept our family together through our drama.

So off we went into the green brush of Northern New South Wales, which interestingly enough, is not that far from the beach. I always say, if you’re filming a movie which requires multiple locations, Jungle, Beach, City, Shithole… You can find it all in Australia. Particularly the latter, but I digress.

Suddenly, a gigantic tree revealed itself, like a bogan Whomping Willow. We grinned and began our ascent.

Kirby has always been the more socially able of the two of us, which is hilarious considering our respective choices in careers. I, a fledgling actor, he a very successful personal trainer in business with our Dad, running bootcamps with equal dose of encouragement and asskickery that they deliver together.

Kirby in these days was always the one to go swimming with Dad, he on his boogie board and my father on his surfboard, while I would climb up the cliffs, alone. I liked the feeling of being the only person on earth as I scaled my Everest- add that to my love of being on a platform and I guess it certainly explains a lot. But when Kirby decided to indulge me and participate in an activity I enjoyed, I appreciated it quite a bit then, and a lot more so now.

Slowly, but surely we climbed and climbed, grabbing branch after branch on this seemingly endless trek. Up and up we went, Kirby below me, and I, his carer, and the person he trusted the most, above.

This story is about when I broke that trust.

As I stopped for a break at about 15 feet up, I felt something brush my foot. It was Kirby’s hand. His tiny, trusting hand, grabbing the branch to pull himself up to me.

In doing so, he touched my foot.

I didn’t like that. I never liked being touched, as a child, teenager, and adult; unsolicited. This has led to many altercations, some funny, some horrid. One involved a costume assistant on a film set and my bundle of anxiety and fear of her as she snuck up on me, and grabbed my waist to tuck in my shirt… But that’s a story for another day.

Kirby had touched my foot. In my verge of puberty, “THIS IS MINE” focused brain this was crossing the line. I tried to claim my territory, like we had both done a thousand times in the car. We shoved. We pushed. We had full on fist fights.

This time, I slammed my foot on his hand, gripping the branch. He dropped. He screamed.

Crack. Thud.

My world stopped.

The ambulances came some time later, Kirby had cracked his skull open, he was lucky to be alive. For years, I always wondered if he hated me. I knew for certain he didn’t trust me as much. Really, I should be glad I hadn’t been the accidental murderer of my own flesh and blood, but all I felt was guilt, loss and self hatred.

I held onto it for years. In petty future squabbles Kirby would use “YEAH WELL, YOU CRACKED MY HEAD OPEN” or some version as his Manum Opus for years to come, and as far as I was concerned, I deserved it.

I had asked for his forgiveness many times, as a child does, not truly knowing how badly I had betrayed his trust. Then, he would forgive me as a child does… Not really meaning it.

No matter what though, no matter how many times I approached the subject, and went through the song and dance I call “Jack, Don’t Worry About It”, I did. I was supposed to be his protector. I had failed. It tore me up.

The year is now 2008. I am 17, Kirby is 15, the last year of the Irish Afro, and our dog is dead. We are in a Vietnamese restaurant my mother loves to celebrate the visit of my Aunty Jenny and my two cousins. It is a happy affair, despite my poor table manners and my father’s love of talking slowly to our Asian waiter, who clearly didn’t need it, spoke perfect English, and was quite offended.

After our meal, I exited the restaurant, and for some reason Kirby and I were alone outside. I took a deep breath.

“Listen man…”

It all poured out. My guilt after all these years, my belief that I thought he secretly hated me, the fact “I” hated me for my idiotic, selfish act that could have killed my only brother.

“Jack… It was years ago.”

“I know. And I know it’s stupid, but I just wanted to say I was sorry again. I don’t expect you to forgive me or whatever, but I wanted you to know.”

“It’s okay, mate.”

Kirby was a man of few words. Has been ever since he thought that’s what a man should be. Now it’s part of his charm. He clapped my shoulder and smiled as we stood and waited for Mum pay the check.

Even though I’d heard it before, this time it was different. Maybe this time, I was just ready to hear it.

“Thanks, man”, I said with a smile that hopefully didn’t show how grateful I was. Men didn’t show their feelings after all, we show it through how hard we can clap each other on the arm.

HA! Had you going didn’t I? Remember, I’m the black sheep artsy one of the family. I’m sure I cried or something.

About a year later, I would leave the house after my dad hit me in the face for the last time, taking what little possessions I could cram into one suitcase and hitting the road. I didn’t talk to Kirby for a long time.

But you know, whenever I feel guilty, I remember that clap on the arm, his “It’s okay mate”, and I know that even if he doesn’t understand, he will always be in my corner, and that means more to me than he will ever know.

“Ready Freddie?” my mum said to me as she passed me on the way to the car.

“Yeah.” I said and climbed into the car, cramming into the car with my brother and cousins.

We played Corners all the way home.