The Thumbs that Guide Me
This was his Xbox and his favorite game before he passed. Before I turn on the console, I wipe off the thick layer of dust. It has a musty smell. When I hit the power button, I’m jarred by the old start up screen. The loud bass thumps as a glob of green jelly tries to escape it’s spherical form before becoming an “X”.
I plugged in The Duke controller. It was too big for my hands the last time I played with Dad. Mom called it cute and took a picture. I haven’t seen that photo in a long time.
The graphics are dated. I remember them looking more realistic and less pointy. As
the countdown starts, I tighten my grip. When the screen flashes “GO” I notice one other car. It’s transparent like a cartoon ghost. I forgot this game recorded the best times and saved them as ghosts to race later. I’m racing Dad 12 years after he died.
He drives the track like he’s programmed to win. I try to follow, but my fingers don’t remember the controls. He beats me by almost a full minute. I never lost this bad when I was younger which makes me wonder if he had been going easy on me. I feel the tears welling up, but I fight them back. It’s near pointless as my chest starts to ache, as well. I hold my breath to keep from losing control of my emotions. While other kids got to play with their dads, learn from them, watch them; I mourned mine.
There was a time where watching him play was the coolest thing to do. As I grew and learned to play on my own, I wanted to play every game with him. I couldn’t even hit all the buttons properly on the oversized controller. He laughed at that. He tried to teach me the basics in games, but I was just too little to understand. It often resulted in him placing his rough hands over mine and guiding my thumbs.
I know now, that if I won it was only because of him, but it didn’t stop the feeling of accomplishment I got. Especially when he would cheer for me.
“You did it! High five! Great job, buddy!”
After a few practice runs, I finally got in “the zone”. The birds chirping outside, mom still going through boxes in the other room, it all becomes a dull hum. All I can hear and see is the television. I hear the motor’s roar, the tire’s squeals, and the brake’s screeches. He’s still too good. The thought passes across the front of my mind that Mom is probably struggling with her own emotions with the memories in those boxes, but I make a silent promise to get revenge on him for her.
Twelve tries feel like a hundred, but I finish each race a little closer. I’m learning from him, though. He’s taught me when to brake and when to use the E-brake. I switched to manual shift, because I realized that’s what he used and sometimes he’d downshift instead of braking at all. I’ve practiced and memorized every move he makes.
He’s missed formative years of my life. So many birthdays have gone by where my only wish was for him to come back. I never told Mom, but I’m sure she wished the same for me. One year I was sure I tasted the salt from her tears in the icing.
I set small goals each race. First, hit this turn by this time. Next, drift this corner without hitting the wall. I’m inching closer. We’re both hitting corners with flawless choreography. I stay close without touching. He sends me a message in skid marks. I reply with rolling clouds of dust. I try to enjoy our time together, but I can’t stop my brain from overthinking. Every time the countdown of a new race starts I’m reminded of the laughter we’d share. My determination of trying to win with my tongue hanging out and the sudden strike of tickles to my ribs from him. The end of every race is another reminder that he is truly dead still.
He left Mom and I all those years ago. Now I could wipe away his memory. At least in this moment. He put a lot of hard work into this game then left us. But what I once envied of other kids I was experiencing. We were playing a game together and he was teaching me how to get better at it. I had no right to erase the little bit of his life that remained behind.
Unless that’s what he wanted. This was his save and I had just spent an hour on a quest to wipe his memory from existence. His death brought Mom and me so much pain. We couldn’t look at anything that reminded us of him without crying, but Mom couldn’t bring herself to get rid of any of it either.
I start to feel anger rise. Not for me, but for Mom. He left her with all the responsibilities. She has had to be everything for me. She didn’t even have time to mourn for herself, because she was too busy mourning for what I lost. This was my revenge. I shift up and I’m pulling away. I dreamed of doing this for years, but in my fantasies, he was sitting next to me and we were having fun. This is no longer a game. This is what he gets.
As the finish line draws near, the anger ebbs away from me. As the feeling releases me, I release my grip on The Duke. I couldn’t lose him again. Not yet, anyway. I let him pass. I lost by mere seconds. I roll up the controller and head into the other room to join Mom.