Why Super Mario Bros. brought me to tears.
One evening, a few weeks ago, at 8 p.m., my husband and I put our young daughter to bed as usual. At 8:01 p.m., I was scheduled to begin the crying hour, in which I burst into tears from the stress and headlines and death toll stats of the day.
My scheduled activity was disrupted by noisy rummaging sounds coming from our den closet; a minute later, my husband emerged holding our old Nintendo Entertainment System console, its black wires and controllers dangling like tentacles.
It is a wonderfully junky, circa 1986 set, a prize scored in a fierce eBay battle against nine other aggressive bidders; the cartridges have to be jiggled into the deck at a weird angle to work at all. I ran into our kitchen, and returned with a bottle of Cutty Sark and two tumblers.
If you saw me on the street, you likely wouldn’t peg me for a Nintendo aficionado, but I am, under all the eyeliner. My family bought our first Nintendo when I was in middle school; we all became addicted. I was especially obsessed with The Goonies II. My brother was a Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! man. My mother — then balancing law school with raising three unruly offspring — used to disappear into Dr. Mario late at night. It was better than meditation, she swore.
Super Mario Bros. was my husband’s game choice on the evening in question. We opted for a one-player game, and passed the only working controller back and forth between us. I usually have a memory like a sieve, but somehow my brain has, for three decades, dutifully stored the location of every Super Mario Bros. hidden cloud world, warp zone and secret green-mushroom-extra-life in that whole damn game. Every note of the game music was pure familiarity. It too must have been coursing along in my blood stream all of these years.
At some point, as we played, I realized that tears were rolling down my face after all, but this time out of sheer happiness. I’d been completely transported back to my 12-year-old self in what we later called the Nintendo Summer.
Our family games then were interspersed with pool swimming until our lungs hurt; making string friendship bracelets that turned chlorine-green by the end of the summer; scorching marshmallows over a charcoal grill — an especially tasty carcinogenic 1980s treat; making mix tapes on a candy-pink double-deck cassette player.
My husband has continued to administer Nintendo doses to me on bad-news days. It’s always a curative diversion, not least of all because your hands are occupied, rendering you temporarily incapable of scrolling through the latest ghastly news developments on Twitter.
It’s ironic that, back in that Nintendo Summer, all I had wanted to do was grow up. And now, one of my greatest comforts comes from being that braces-wearing, dorky girl again, leaping triumphantly past fire-breathing dragons and hammer-throwing turtles.