My mom moved my younger brother and I half-way across the country not long after I celebrated my 10th birthday. We left a lot of the life we knew in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla behind—mostly because a lot of it couldn’t fit on top of the rickety station wagon that had been hauling my brother and me around for most of our lives. Somehow, we managed to fit 30-some-odd cardboard boxes up there, strapped down with a tangle of bungee cords and covered in a black tarp to help protect them from the elements during the four-day trek to Oklahoma, where—we were told—we would start anew.
Aside from clothes, most of the boxes were filled with priceless keepsakes our mom had amassed since before we were born—photo albums, letters, knick-knacks, gifts—with one major exception: a Sega Genesis video game console. We were fairly poor kids raised by a single mother who also grew up poor herself, but we somehow managed to get this little box that allowed us to lose ourselves in a myriad of low fidelity worlds. It was a source of constant wonder, with bright colors and flashing lights that were designed to enrapture, it held our attention almost every waking moment.
My brother is three years younger than me, and, at that age, he was so prone to hyperactivity that it was difficult for me to stay in the same room with him for longer than a few minutes. He had an unnatural ability to find my last nerves, and he talked so fast that it was hard to understand him. And everything was exacerbated if he had any amount of sweets. I was patient, but every boy has his limits for what he will tolerate, and my little brother’s shenanigans often resulted in me asserting myself via a closed fist to some fatty, fleshy part of his arms repeatedly. The Genesis, however, was the one thing that seemed to center him—to calm the frantic, bombastic annoyances that had plagued our relationship for so long. Perhaps it was the challenge or the fidgety motor skills that the games required, but it made living with him more and more bearable as the years went on.
My mom tried very hard to hide the fact that we were poor—I imagine scraping together enough money for an expensive video game console was likely a part of that—but it manifested in seemingly small ways, like free lunches at school and poor hygiene, that made it easy to be cast aside by my more affluent peers. However, with the Genesis hooked up in our bedroom, my brother and I suddenly had other kids who were excited to come over and play—and we were more than willing to exploit that advantage.
But less than a year after this benevolent gift, it was strapped to the roof of a car, bulleting through the arid New Mexico landscape, as we were dragged along on a journey to rural Oklahoma in hopes of quelling the lull of poverty. The few friends—if one could fairly call them that—we had made in the months prior weren’t so sad to see us go as they were to lose what we had to offer in exchange for their camaraderie. But before we could really settle into our new room in a strange new house in a strange new state, we hastily unpacked that magic black box and sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the floor, quietly losing ourselves in sprites moving across a screen.