“The Lion King. Disney. Safe bet,” I hear my mom say in the other room. And with that, my family is off to the movies.
Movies seem safe. An escape, a way to forget about everything that has just happened.
The Lion King opened in June, but it’s now October. Only one small theater near us is still playing it, but tickets are only a couple of dollars. The theater is empty except for my mother, my brother, my sister, and me. My sister has just turned six. My brother is seven. I am thirteen.
The lights dim and the film begins. Everything is fine. This feels good; it’s a nice escape. The colors are bright, the music pleasant.
And then Scar throws Mufasa off of a cliff. Simba, Mufasa’s son, watches in horror. I feel sick; I turn to look at my mother, who has her hands over her mouth, tears streaming down her face. My siblings look at her in confusion. I just put my head down. I don’t cry, because I still haven’t been able to for the last week.
A week before this, I held my father’s hand for the last time. My mother and the doctors agreed to take him off of life support. My mother had my brother and I come to the hospital to say goodbye. He looked peaceful.
We stick through the film, despite my wanting to leave. Later, Rifiki guides Simba to see his father. They come upon a pond, and Rifiki tells him that his father lives within him. Simba sees his father in his reflection.
A week later, I am rummaging through my garage. I wear glasses, like my father does. I have a lot of his facial features. I am wearing a pair of old scrub bottoms that he gave me years ago. They’re too long for me. I’ll never quite grow into them, either.
My grandmother comes into the garage, looks at me, and screams. She thinks I am my father’s ghost.
I have always loved video games, but I seem to be getting ever more lost in them. It is the summer of 1995. I am attached to my SNES, and devote most of my free time to it. I love RPGs; they last forever, and I can spend weeks on them.
My birthday is in June, and I get some spending money from my family. A few months later, I am at Target and see a new RPG. It’s called Chrono Trigger, and it looks promising.
I boot it up when I get home, and I am immediately drawn in. I’ve always been a sucker for time-travel stories, where moving small details in the past creates a ripple in the future. It’s empowering to do it here.
In one part of the game, a character named Lucca has the chance to go back in time and prevent a tragedy from happening to her mother. I fail the first time around, and watch as Lucca stands dejected and depressed.
On my second play-through, and each subsequent one, I save her mother each and every time. I like that I’ve changed the past, and kept a family whole. It feels right.
My reward for saving Lucca’s mother is an item called Green Dream. If you equip a member of your party with it, it brings them back to life if they die.
It is now the summer of 1996. My mother has forced me to travel to New Jersey, where she was born and raised. I am miserable. I am from California, and we do not have things like “humidity” there.
We are walking through a random flea market when something catches my eye. It is a graphic novel. I have not read comics since my father died, as I have been absorbed entirely in video games.
But the cover of this graphic novel is beautiful; a pale face stares at me from behind several shelves filled with what look like rocks and jewels. It’s a used copy, and its pages are yellowing and fraying in the same humidity that I have been cursing for days. But that worn look makes it seem even more appealing, somehow.
I look at the title. The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by someone named Neil Gaiman. I ask the stall vendor how much it is. It is two dollars, the same as the matinee screening of The Lion King two years ago.
I read it and am immediately engrossed. After I return home, I go to my local comic book store and buy the rest of the series.
I read all ten volumes in one week. When I reach volume nine, The Kindly Ones, I am filled with a familiar dread when the main character, Morpheus, sits on a rock talking to his sister, Death. Morpheus has decided to kill himself in order to save The Dreaming, and reality, from the Furies of Greek mythology.
Death asks for his hand. Dream takes it, and is no more.
Morpheus is replaced by Daniel, a child conceived in the Dreaming. Daniel looks like Morpheus, but is not quite Morpheus. He wears his clothes, but somehow does not fit into them.
My father was the one who bought me my first console, the NES. He liked to play Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out with me. My father was the one who gave me my first copy of The Hobbit. My father was a bit of a geek, and he started me on my journey into becoming one.
But he will never know that the deeper I fell into geekdom, the more I looked for him. And when I’d find him — in a pond in an animated movie, in the soft tones of overworld map music in a video game, or in the pages of a comic book — those were the moments where I felt not sadness, but connection.