Private: Game Over

So long y’all, it’s been fun. Thanks to Maud for creating and maintaining such a great site.

I leave you with an extensive excerpt from my favorite book of the year, Lucky Wander Boy by D.B. Weiss.

The Microsurgeon Episode, excerpted with author’s permission

Microsurgeon was the last Intellivision game I ever owned; my grandfather bought it for me a few weeks before my grandmother got sick. Her illness came as no surprise, given her three-pack-a-day habit. She would stay up until three or four in the morning, smoking and reading in bed, while my grandfather, an early riser, slept soundly in the living room. I’d often heard my mother theorize that her parents, with their divergent lifestyles, would never have stayed together had they gotten married in the age of no-fault divorce. Yet I believe they were happy. It never occurred to them to measure their lives together against some glossy ideal.

After her chronic cough became more persistent, the doctors took X rays and found spots in both her lungs. Further inquiries revealed that the cancer had recently metastasized to her brain, though it had not yet gotten a firm foothold there. They started her on aggressive chemotherapy, and the rest of her body deteriorated along with her tumor cells. There is no need to catalogue the details of this deterioration — you have seen it for yourself, or you will. I have nothing to add to your current or future memories, no light to shed on them, no meaning or hope to extract. Her sickness was a constant whisper in our house, even when it was not being talked about. In the living room at night, you could hear my mother’s murmuring remorse that she’d done nothing to stop my grandmother’s smoking, or her own for that matter, and the hallway walls would carry her cries of helpless rage through my closed bedroom door.

It took me a while to get around to playing Microsurgeon; I was still infatuated with Astrosmash. When I finally did get around to playing it, I was taken aback by its complexity. Power, brains, antibiotics, tumors, lymph ducts, tapeworms; it was a lot to think about all at once. But I kept at it, fueled by morbid, obsessive tendencies, and finally got the hang of the game with patient #23, a relatively easy save compared to some of the others. She began the game with lungs in critical condition, brain in serious condition, and everything else good or fair. I saved her, barely, doing the absolute minimum necessary to get her brain and lungs up to “good” or “fair” while preventing any of the other “fair” systems from falling ill, and made it out through her eye socket just before my power ran out.

The following day, my mother took my grandmother to Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital for a checkup, where the doctor told her that the chemo was working. Her cancer had not retreated, but it had not advanced either. My mother seemed hopeful, which lifted my father’s spirits, and mine. Making the connections I could hardly expect anyone else to make, I retreated to the basement for more Microsurgeon, hitting Reset on the Intellivision until it delivered patient #23. As I got better at the game, I was able to bring all of #23’s systems up to good condition, and once a body region was in good shape, it stayed that way and never got bad again. In Microsurgeon, health was forever. Once, when my mother came down to check on me as I sat cross-legged on my orange vinyl cushion, I told her what I was doing.

“I’m killing Grammy’s tumor cells,” I said.

Thinking I was being metaphorical, she kissed me on the head.

I refused to go to summer camp that year. I had work to do. My resolve was such that my parents saw little point in denying me what might be my last summer in my grandmother’s company. One day on the patio of her condo, after swearing her to secrecy, I told my grandmother what I was doing with the game on her behalf, explaining the whole thing to her in my disjointed way. She squeezed me weakly to her side and looked out over Lake Michigan, the wind sending ripples through the top of her terrycloth turban. I think she believed me.

“Thank you,” she said as she lit up a cigarette.

She would occasionally smoke in my presence, having exacted from me a standing promise not to tell anyone. Though I knew this was not a thing for her to be doing, I never asked her to stop; it only made me work harder at Microsurgeon. Even after all systems were good, I continued to blast away at pathogens, paying special attention to lung and brain tumors. I would not leave the body of patient #23 until all traces of disease had been eradicated.

In spite of her stolen cigarette moments, my grandmother’s cancer began to recede. The doctors, my parents, her friends — none of them could conceal their surprise. I had to fake mine. She began to venture out, holding onto my grandfather’s arm as he led her to their usual table at Barnum & Bagel deli. We even took her to a movie, An Officer and a Gentleman, I think it was. It nearly bored me to death, but she didn’t cough once.

Then, a week before school started, the Intellivision broke.

D.B. Weiss, 2003