“Dude, I’m thinking about . . . kinda getting into Magic again.”
Dasad paused the game, his beefy in-game character frozen while carving the body of a subterranean orc-mercenary. High-res blood and brain-matter splattered the screen, proof of the game’s ‘M-rating’ and hundred-billion weekend sales. He stared at me, his eyes screaming silent chords of betrayal and disbelief as if I had confessed to operating a meth-lab in my spare time . . . and refusing to split the profits.
“Why . . ?” he stammered. “Why would you play again willingly? I thought you were going to register on eHarmony with me . . . well, not WITH with me, but . . . you know, figuratively cruise for potential female life-mates on a digital frontier?”
“Well, Magic doesn’t prevent any of that.”
“Unless you plan on lying on your questionnaire, it does. Face it, you’re mutant-bait.”
“Maybe, but role-playing strategy games cannot hurt my love-life any worse than ’33-years-old and still living with parents,’” I remind him. “Or my dream of owning my own house to solely to store my extensive comic book collection . . .”
“. . . and Japanese porn . . .”
“Anime. Manga, dude.”
” . . . and anime figurines, video games, Lego sets, and 3.5 cubic tons of novels, short stories, and whatever non-illustrated tomes you store in that library you call a bedroom.” Dasad counting off these . . . character flaws on his hands as he spoke, an unnecessary but effective gimmick. “Okaay . . . so Magic is a minor province to your growing geek empire, but why? Why add fuel to the pyre? Don’t you want someone hot . . . or at least under 300 pounds?”
“There were some cute girls at the last Con we went to,” I reminded him. “Remember the Hulk-twins?”
“Supermodels paid ten dollars an hour to pose with sweaty asthmatic man-boys do not count,” Dasad countered. “I’m talking about an equation, Murph. A computer algorithm that matches men with women with similar interests. You mention Magic card games, Batman and Dragonball Z and you really will end up with a she-hulk, some monstrous mix between Stephen Hawking and Honey-Boo-Boo’s mama.”
“That’s a little . . .”
“And you know that you’ll end up dating her three or four times, just so you don’t hurt Jabba’s feelings . . . lest she’ll choose you for her next meal.”
“Dude, that’s pushing it a bit far . . .”
“You know I’m right!” he shouted, nearly letting his controller slip from his hands — luckily it fell to the floor and avoided flying into the screen. “Your anxiety won’t let you hurt anyone’s feelings. You’ll torment yourself over whether you did the right thing for weeks on end, growing fat off mint chocolate chip ice cream and hot pockets. Remember Jana? The end of 2005 was a living hell for you. For both of us.”
Jana had worked as a summer intern at the local lab which had hired me as researcher a few months after college. My boss had originally taken me on as a pre-IRTA, a position only slightly above ‘intern’ as I understood it. Nevertheless, after a few months — I am proud to say — my boss seemed impressed with my work, eventually offering me my own project and eventually a position as contractor, which as I understand it is only slightly below ‘intern.’ She had one year left of college, when my boss accepted her application for the summer. Though only two years graduated with my BS from the 2nd hottest campuses in the area — according to Playboy, my friends told me — my dating life never amounted to much.
Jana was . . . well, she was special. Of course, all first loves inevitably are. During the last few weeks of the summer, she talked of hitchhiking across state lines, traveling in Paris alone, earning her PhD/MD in ten years, talking friends out of suicide, and dolling out soup to the homeless on weekends. Before the summer ended, she planned to visit India, work on as an apprentice nurse to a Buddhist community exiled from Nepal. Talking to Jana was like transforming into the Incredible Hulk, flipping the bird to the IRS, or skinny-dipping in the neighbor’s pool. The world suddenly opened before me, and like reading your first fairy tale, anything seemed possible.
And, God, she was beautiful. She reminded me of elf, ironically enough, beautiful and mysterious without really being conscious of either. So when I confessed my feelings one July evening, my heart leaped to hear her respond in kind: holding each other close, she whispered, “I wish we could stay like this forever.”
I should have seen it for the portent it was. For Jana hailed from Oregon, half a continent away. During the months she left to finish school, I sent scores of emails in a vain attempt to maintain our relationship, but with only a handful of replies over the following year, her message was made clear: without my knowledge, the summer romance had ended with the dawning of the school year.
I had considered sometime in the following spring of following her to the West Coast, abandoning my parents, siblings, and friends for redwoods, the Pacific Ocean, and sasquatches. For the change of spying Bigfoot alone, I thought merited the adventure.
Of course, that idea prompted me to distance myself from my family. Thus, I grew more irate, more critical of their doings in a foolish attempt to ready my mind and soul for the eventual journey. Needless to say, my mother put the kibosh on that right away, appealing to my Catholic guilt: ‘. . . that girl has changed you, Murph.” Dad appealed far more successfully: “Are you really going to abandon your family and friends, your entire support structure, for a girl who has emailed you less than five times this year.”
Clarity clubbed me over the head like a baby seal. The anxiety of the last several weeks, ignoring or belittling my family, . . . well, the pain has never really left me. With some people, anxiety is ephemeral like the memory of a 5th grade crush, vanishing as quickly as it surfaces; with others, anxiety is more like your first broken-heart, lingering forever.
“You’re not making much of a case for on-line dating, dude,” I say eventually. “The internet and I have been doing this ‘friends-with-benefits’ thing for years, maybe I should just . . .”
“Look,” Dasad sighed sitting down again. “I’m not trying to dissuade you from anything. You know that. But we both know that you’re afraid to hurt anyone again, even at the expense of your own sanity. I don’t want you to discover your date is a 500-lb Magic-playing mutant and be too polite and guilt-ridden to send her packing. I . . . I just think you aim low, dude, selling yourself short. You’re better than that, you know?”
“Yeah . . .” he sighed with a pat on the shoulder. We returned to our senseless digital violence.
“Thanks, by the way,” I said executing a mutated grub with my chainsaw. “But . . . and I’m grateful for the compliment . . . but I don’t have a thing for dudes. Just so you know. Not that there’s anything wrong with it but . . .”
“Oh, f&%$ you. You should be so lucky.”
“Seriously,” I say returning to my game. “Blatant homophobia aside, it’s not about lowering my standards. It’s just . . . you know, for so long I’ve been kinda afraid of being myself, the comic-reading, video-game-pwning-, Tolkien-quoting self. You know, how it was like . . .”
“Hey, I thought we liked being called the ‘Geek Lovers.’ The perfect ambiguity of the phrase itself: does it play into the stereotypical lax-team’s fear of homosexuals? Or does it suggest that we love all-things ‘geek’ and thus a veiled compliment? The world may never know.”
“Well, if I don’t at least mention, you know the geek stuff . . . granted it’s not the only aspect of my character . . . but if I try to hide it, it’ll be like I’m ashamed of myself. And that’s not a good way to begin any relationship, even a digital one.”
Dasad continued his game.
“Well, what color deck are you going with?” he said at last.
“Basically, it’s a hydra deck so mono-green for now. Maybe a few plains or swamps later.”
“Any flying? Reach?”
“Uh . . . not yet. No.”
“Hmph,” he sighed, sniping at a propane tank. “You are going to get so pwned, dude.”
“I know,” I said, watching the flames swallow a battalion of armed mutants, “but thanks anyway.”