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Colby dives for the RESET button on the Nintendo, slamming it with a vigor that he used to save for bygone games of Hungry, Hungry Hippos.

You yell, “NOT FAIR!”

He whips his head around and hisses at you. “Shut UP. You’ll wake Mom up and then she’ll be REALLY angry.”

He is right. The last thing you want to do is wake your mother up. It’s almost ten o’clock. You and Colby should both be in bed, asleep.

Your mom has been so cranky lately.

Yelling at you when she’s home for an hour between working her office job and waitressing at the diner. Shaking her head about the game system is “rotting your brain” and how she never would’ve spent all her money on it if she knew it would turn you into a “dead-eyed zombie.”

You do worry that your brain is rotting away, so you always make sure your homework is done before you supercharge with some mushrooms as Mario or beat up some thugs in Streets of Rage. You are still getting good grades; Ms. Karley still gives you that warm, congratulatory smile every time she puts a test face down on your desk. That means she is pleased.

You find satisfaction in proving your Mom wrong.

“Look, my brain ISN’T Swiss cheese! I’m still a straight-A student!” But what does she care, anyway? Ever since Dad left, she doesn’t even ask about school anymore. She’s always rushing in and rushing out, telling Colby to throw some Stouffer’s mac and cheese in the microwave so no one calls Dyfuss on you.

“Hey, Colb, who is Dyfuss?” you ask sheepishly as Colby deftly handles the controller.

Hitting reset clearly worked in his favor. He’s winning, and you’re distracted, focusing more on a stranger named Dyfuss ripping you away from your home, like some real life King Koopa kidnapping the princess from her castle.

Colby presses pause and looks at you, a mix of anger and pity.

“No one, you dweeb. It’s a… thing. A thing you don’t need to worry about. It’s not like Mom is beating the shit out of us after smoking crack.”

You gasp at your brother’s language, but aren’t surprised. He IS in eighth grade, after all. And crack?! Of course not. Your mom isn’t doing drugs. Officer McDougall did a whole assembly on drugs and how bad they are. Especially crack! And weed. Maybe your mother is on weed?! Sometimes you catch her smoking a cigarette when she’s taking the trash out, and she thinks you don’t notice when she drops it and stamps it out with her foot.

Colby seems to notice your concern and presses the START button to pause the game.

“What’s wrong? Why are you being such a nerd?” He sounds impatient, but you sense there’s actually concern underneath his insult.

And, because you’re confused and angry and scared and frustrated, you begin crying. You try to explain what you’re feeling, but you can’t. So instead of actually using your words, you just start crying. You try to wipe away your tears, but they just keep coming. As soon as your cheeks are dry, they become wet again with more tears.

Colby puts his control down, momentarily ignoring the bleeps, bloops, and blips of the pixels on the screen. He places his hands on your shoulders.

You blubber. You’re still worried about Dyfuss, so you say that. You tell Colby you miss your father. You’re now worried your Mom is addicted to drugs. You ask him if you’ll get kicked out of your house because she spent all the money on the Nintendo you’re playing. You worry Colby’s hanging out with bad kids because he’s cursing now. You panic because your gym teacher tells you you’re supposed to have a serving of vegetables with dinner and the Stouffer’s meals he heats up for you don’t ever come with vegetables.

This is the first time you let all of these feelings out in front of someone.

You first felt this overwhelmed at school the day after your dad left, and you asked your mom when he was coming back, and she responded angrily with “NEVER!” You started crying at recess over it all, but had managed to escape to the corner of the playground so no one would see you.

You begin to hiccup because you can’t get your breath. You struggle with words and then your eyes settle on the Nintendo.

Through hitching gasps, you manage to get out, “Can we just reset life?”

Colby tightens his hands on your shoulders and looks directly into your eyes. “Sorry, buddy, that’s not how life works.”

Your shoulders slump and you look away, disappointed.

But in that moment, your big brother comes across as wise beyond his years. It’s like he’s just imparted the secret of the universe in his attempt to comfort you.

He keeps his gaze on you and then sneaks a peek at the screen.

Colby reaches for the reset button and presses it gently.

“One more game?”

Eric Mochnacz

A wizard of pop culture. A prince of snark. A delightful addition to any dinner party.

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