Your old Cutlass: an E3 Story

| kris

A green hue presses through the fake fog that smells faintly like overcooked marshmallows. A crowd gathers in front of the stage, and a phone call draws me to the back of the auditorium.

“He ain’t doin’ good. He’s gonna to die soon.”

”Oh, um…”

”What about gettin’ paid?”

”Sorry, what’s that again?”

”Will I still be gettin’ paid?”

”Don’t worry. We’ll take care of that. Should I come home?”

Deep breath, heartbeats mute the murmuring crowd in the room ahead, and my heart is quietly crushed. Concrete. Darkness, then a green hue, pressing through. Burnt marshmallows.

It was E3 2008. When I left Fort Wayne, I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. My dad’s health had been deteriorating over the past few years. At 77, he was no young father. When you grow up with an elderly parent, you constantly think about this day. From childhood to adulthood, it’s always in the back of your mind, that your parent will likely pass early in your life. That time was at hand, in the middle of Microsoft’s green press conference. After a life of worry, of faux preparation, I still wasn’t ready for dad to go.

I don’t know much about my dad. He closed off his emotions, sealing them up with gin, his stoicism only broken up by a gratuitous curse. Reading glasses partway down his ski slope nose, recliner reclined, feet up, tube socks, newspaper, gin and ice. From what I understand, his father was a philanderer, and left my grandmother and my dad. In the 1930s as a child in the Catholic Church, that makes you a bastard. You’re targeted with disdain by the nuns at school, bullied by the kids. You’re somehow lesser than everyone else, on top of internalized abandonment issues. I think during those early years of my dad’s life, the thick shell he would wear began to calcify.

But the problems that accumulated over the course of his life, and which had manifested in my own life, they didn’t matter. They hadn’t mattered for the past few years. In his old age, I loved him, he loved me.

I walk back into the Microsoft show. I take a seat. I listen to people talk about a couple of post-apocalyptic video games, about sales numbers, about a firmware update for Xbox 360. “Along with this update comes an exclusive partnership with Netflix, which will allow Xbox LIVE subscribers to view over 10,000 movies in the Netflix library,” is an actual sentence I wrote and published while in this haze.

I’m not sure what the hell I was doing there, writing up a report and taking notes on product promotions while my dad was on his deathbed. I had convinced myself that nothing was imminent. Nothing would happen if I did nothing, and I chose to float in the foggy green superficiality and cynicism of a marketing spiel. For the rest of that press conference, nothing happened.

”How is he?”

”Not good. We getting paid? I need to know. Will we get paid after he dies?”

“Yeah, two weeks worth, we’ll take care of you. Is it that bad? Should I come home?”

“It’s up to you.”

My dad’s balance started to go a few years earlier, and he was reluctant to get a walker. He’d navigate his house by taking wobbly, daring steps from stationary object to stationary object.

Recliner to doorframe to doorframe to kitchen table to counter. Grab a peanut butter cookie. Eat over the sink. Counter to kitchen table to doorframe to doorframe to recliner.

The method failed him one night, and he fell down in his bathroom, cracking his hip and the tile under him. He was home alone at that time, and had managed to drag himself beside his bed after the fall. He spent three months rehabilitating in a nursing home. He didn’t like that place, he resented being looked after. When he came back home, it was nice seeing the stubborn man finally using a walker.

“Could you get me a glass of wine?” I hesitate. “I haven’t had a sip in three months.” He deserves a drink.

I stay another night in L.A., unbelievably. I was finally starting to accept reality. I talk with my boss at breakfast about bailing out on E3. I tell him why, and he tells me I need to go. He’d pay for the flight change.

At the hotel, I pack up my belongings, I book my flight. I still don’t go to the airport. I decide to keep an appointment with Peter Molyneux at some hotel. I listen to him talk about ideas and imaginary things, innocuous things he wants to do in a video game. It was a last bit of escapism for me.

Snapping out of my selfish denial made me realize how much time I’d wasted. The flight back just felt like I was just waiting. Waiting the whole time, when I have absolutely no time to wait. Pray that he hangs on. It’s happening. Just let me get there before it happens. I shouldn’t have gone to L.A. I should have stayed home, I knew I should’ve stayed home. E3, work, who cares. It was stupid to go. I knew this would happen. Close my eyes and wait at LAX. Wait on a plane. Wait at the layover. Wait on a plane. Wait when there is absolutely no time to wait.

My family was making the same trips back home to Indiana. My mom, who had been divorced from my dad for 10 years, came up from Atlanta, along with my older sister. My younger sister drove up from Bloomington, Indiana. We were all in transit, all in a haze, all rushing back to my dad.

I get home, and I’m the last one there. My wife Anna gets me caught up on the situation.

He waited for all of us, waited because we had thought we had the time to wait. We were with him all afternoon, and into the night. It was the first time all of us were together in I don’t know how many years.

He was letting go. A little after 1 in the morning, we sat in a circle around him, and held hands, my younger sister’s finger on his pulse.

Mom recites The Lord’s Prayer:

“Our father, who art in heaven”

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“hallowed be thy name.”

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“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”

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“on Earth as it is in heaven.”

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“Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts”

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“as we forgive our debtors.”

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“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”

In L.A., the open bars were open, the schmoozers were schmoozing and the drunks were drinking. I sat outside on my dad’s driveway in Northern Indiana in the light of the moon under the twinkling July stars, moments after he was carted away, thankful that his famous stubbornness afforded me one last goodbye.

Kris Graft is editor in chief of Gamasutra. His dad left him a 1969 Cutless.

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