Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Of Humble Thanks, Otakon, and a Really Dumb Decision by Smash Boards

Hey. How's it going?

I guess I'm doing okay. It's been nearly three weeks, and I'm..well, I guess it's starting to sink in more. Once again, I just stopped and kept thinking, "I'm really going to miss him." It's beginning to feel real. My only brother is dead. That's...yeah. You probably won't be seeing any other tributes, since I put my all into the behemoth from the other week. Nonetheless, Michael will be mentioned if he was involved with a game in some sort, so you can keep on the lookout for those cameos.

Before I move on, I have to give a big shoutout to the massive response to my tribute. Aside from the comments, I had a bunch of heartfelt replies on Facebook and tales from my parents of coworkers who were incredibly moved. It should go without saying that I'm incredibly thankful for all of you being there for us during this time.

In any case, you can think of this as a quick "What's going on in my life" post. In other words, some of the things I might have promised on my very first post. Plus, I really gotta get these things out there. Let's get this thing rolling.

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You might've been wondering if, after everything that's happened, I'm going to end up writing about this year's Otakon. In truth, it's still up in the air. On one hand, obviously having to deal with the death of my only brother is going to take away my enthusiasm of a convention. Plus, I'm starting my first year of college next week, so I'm not really sure if I have the time for it. On the other hand, there are so many things I really want to go over and share with people that I can't just let it go to waste.

Unfortunately, things might suffer on the aesthetic side. Very shortly after the convention, I realized that I had taken all the photos AND the videos sideways, which I was really cheesed about. I can fix the photos, but I'm getting the sense I can't do the same for the videos. Even worse, this all depends if I can salvage my phone,which I broke the other day and had stored said photos/videos. It's a stressful time, to be sure.

I'm thinking that in the event in case everything is safe, I might end up writing up a seperate entry showing off all the cosplay/wacky fire alarm hijinks on tape/awesome swag (the posters I got kick ass! I gotta hang them up soon). As for the con itself, I think in this situation a brief overview might do the trick:

-Of course, the whole con was a blast. Didn't have the same shock value as last year did, but I think I ended up having more fun this year.



-Cosplaying as Lloyd Irving (the character up above) was a pain in terms of getting dressed, but it was worth it seeing people recognize my costume. To the Raine Sage who ran up to me with a Monster Book in hand, you're still in my nightmares!

-Of all the famous anime guest stars that came this year, I only got to meet Maile Flanagan (voice of Naruto Uzumaki). I'll be honest in saying I'm not really into Naruto anymore, but as someone who had his first taste for the series from the dub (a fact that surprised her), it was really cool meeting up one of the dub actors I used to read about. I got her to yell a quote my Mom made up when she watched the first fifty episodes with me ("Mommy Hug Jutsu!"), and I recorded it on my now deceased phone.

If there is anything I can salvage from it, please let it be that.

-The Dealer Room was as huge as ever, but I didn't end up spending a lot like I thought I would. It was kind of more of the same from last year. Still had a really good selection, though. Come to think of it, they had these really neat dragon figurines I wanted to get. Maybe next year..

-On the brighter side, the Artist's Alley was MUCH better then last year. They had everything from awesome posters to the softest plushies ever. If only I had more dollar bills with me...yeah, heads up to you newbies. Most of the guys there don't use cards, and they really don't like it when you take pictures.

In any case, to whoever won the giant Shadow of the Colossus piece in the bidding area...you have my jealously until the end of time. At least I found a Mother 3 poster.

-I met several friends that I knew online at the convention! I'll be referring to them by their net names. I met Baka (Of fellow amateur gaming blog, Insert Disc), who I met at the absolutely huge Barnes and Noble down the harbor and we joked over how much the "Manga Cows" had ripped through the manga aisle. Then there was lwelyk (also of Insert Disc), who proved to be my superior in Mario Kart. Lastly, there was Shyguy, a fellow One Piece fanatic. Still wish we got to play Brawl together. Nice meeting all of you!

*Manga cows are a term for readers who simply plop down in the manga aisle and read through the volumes while not buying them and simultaneously obstructing broswing space. Many people complain about this online, but surprisingly enough I've never encountered them in the bookstores I shop in. Was I in for a rude awakening in Baltimore...*

-I went into the video game room and played Super Smash Bros. Brawl. This is something I'm going to get into much detail later, but I really do not care at all for the competitive scene for the series. Maybe it's different in real life, but I absolutely cannot stand the pretentious mindset that I've seen online. Man, those freaking Melee fanatics...

Not here. All of the guys I've battled with both of my years at Otakon are incredibly friendly and have amazing sportsmanship, one of who told me that handing him a ticket I had purchased earlier was "the nicest thing ever anyone ever did for me." Best match by far this year was a really close match (In the Pictochat stage, of all places!) with the last two players being me (as Olimar) and a guy wearing a Sonic the Hedgehog hoodie (guess who he was playing as?) I lost, anyway, but man...super fun match.

Browsing around the room, I also sat down and played the eccentric Battle Stadium D.O.N, a goofy Japanese crossover fighting game featuring the cast of Dragon Ball, Naruto, and (my favorite!) One Piece. And then lwelyk and I sat down to play Mario Kart: Double Dash!! along with a girl who believed Ness was from Paperboy. I'll be seeing her in a dark corner later.

-Much of the cosplay was great this year, aside from a rising increase in male crossdressing. Highlights include a pack of Pikmin, a 2D cutout of the walking Chozo statue from Super Metroid, and astoundingly enough, Usopp's Chopperman alter ego, Usobadaba, from One Piece.

-I attended two panels. Bad, Anime, Bad!!, of which the goal is to present obscure, horrendous anime, was a huge hit with the audience. Our dose of comedy was some godawful adaptation of Frankenstein that featured hilarious commentary by the host. We enjoyed it so much that I wished he had showed more pieces of torture, but time constraints wouldn't allow it. Hope he'll be back next year!

Then there was Ten Things You Didn't Know About Dragon Ball, hosted by veteran Dragon Ball fansite Daizenshuu EX. It was a super fun panel that actually touched upon certain issues I was wondering about (mainly the "Budhiyasa" character and a certain tidbit about Android 17). A particularly cool moment was that one of the hosts, Meri, was the webmaster of "Temple O'Trunks." On that site were the infamous, "Trunks Feature Films", of which were screenshots depicting the lives of Dragon Ball action figures. These little skits actually had a huge impact on the games my friends and I used to play down in my basement in terms of, what else, humor! So essentially, someone who had influenced my life was right there on stage. Wish I got the chance to say something.

And while I'm at it, the way they went about the "Dragon Ball AF" rumor can only be described as genius.

Thanks to them, I've been on a huge Dragon Ball kick. Just what I needed...Budokai 3, here I come!

-Someone pulled the Fire Alarm. The crowds were huge. I can only imagine the reactions of drivers in traffic witnessing people in fairy costumes prancing along the street. Super crazy stuff.

So yeah, really fun time.

I'll have a big writeup next year, promise.

-------

So I found out something the other day that really pissed me off.

Smash World Forums, a once beautiful place now ravaged by douchebag tournyfags, had the brilliant idea of archiving every post and topic prior to 2007 as of last month. In other words, if it existed before that period of time, you can't view it anymore.

Ugh.

I understand the issues of space, but holy shit, did they really have to resort to doing that? Man, I remember back when Smash Boards was actually tolerable to mingle in, was populated by some really charismatic personalities and had an awesome sense of humor. Now it's just a haven for discussing competitive Smash, not to mention it's filled with douchebag tournyfags frothing at the mouth at how much Brawl was an insult to all of humanity.

No matter what anyone there now would tell you, the true highlight of Smash Boards were the miscellaneous ones. I don't think I'm ready to discusss just about every one of them, but did I love the Creative Minds board or what? This was back when, as far as I knew, fanfiction wasn't used to craft fangirls' effing disturbing fantasies. The Endless SSBM Story. Kirby's Quest. Academy of Smash. Not to mention all the ones my friends and I made. Now most of those fanfiction are locked away, and it would've been all of them if one of them hadn't been bumped up by a stray poster two years back.

While reading through the Academy of Smash, I found that while there was an obvious childish tone in the writing, I still found myself enjoying it. A harsh contrast to what I thought I had learned over time. It's true that except for our true passions, many of the things we enjoy as children often lose their effectiveness as we grow older. We can never really play with toys again, and we can't be expected to just plop down and enjoy an episode of Sesame Street. Yet here I was, engrossing myself in a piece of fanfiction I used to read when I was eleven years old. Twelve years old. And it faded into disuse after that.

The author's living it up as a well-known artist on DeviantArt. I hope he's doing well. It's been a while since we talked.

I think what I'm trying to get across here is that though much of what we enjoyed as children might not entertain us the way they used to, I'd still like to keep them around. I'd like to look back on them, just point and say, "Hey, I used to really love that. It inspired this piece of my life." I mean, granted, The Endless SSBM Story was a really funky piece of work (If it ever sees the light of day again, oh the joy I'll have discussing its virtues) but damn I remember how I looked forward to reading to reading a new entry every morning. The value of patience!

In any case, there's a ray of hope. The announcement regarding this states, "I hope as technology progresses/our server farm expands/and mainly VB improves itself to restore it at some point." Somehow, I get the feeling they're not really going to care whether or not these posts remain archived, but one can only pray.

Childhood was the greatest. It's best, however, that we move on with the feelings and memories we can craft today.

------

So, what's gonna happen next?

I'm not too sure, at this point. I can can confirm that the long-awaited Kirby's Adventure will be making its debut on here next month, and I'd like to write a review for that neat Tales of Vesperia game I've been playing through. I think what I really need at this point is a more consistent schedule, both on here and in real life. I don't want to be stuck talking about just one game all the time!

So I guess what I'd like to say is that I'd like to update more.

Sounds good to me. See you later.

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Brother Michael

It was Friday.

I remember I was somewhat upset at the condition of the basement. There was some sort of leak with the air conditioner or whatever and it got onto the floor, so we had to pull back the carpets and crowd all of my game consoles and furniture onto one side of the room. There wasn't much space after it was done.

"I can't play video games in this condition," I mumbled. It had been a stressful week, and I intended to play Tales of Symphonia and Kirby's Adventure for the rest of the day to let it all out. After pacing back and forth, I realized there wasn't much point in fretting over this. There'd be plenty of time to play games. I'd just have to find something else to do.

It was an entertaining morning. A friend and I were texting inside jokes from our visit the day before, and I was chatting with another friend about the glory days of the Super Nintendo. It's so surreal how I wasn't around for it during its time, yet I still believe it's the greatest console ever made. I thought back to how my brother Michael used to play Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. "He sure used to love games," I commented, thinking back to how we played Goldeneye, WWF Warzone and Mario Party together. The technican guy came over later and took a look at our dilemma. It turned out he had a misinformed report, but he still had the necessary tools in order to the job done. Real friendly guy. All in all, it was a fun day.

Then Dad called.

There was something in his voice. I couldn't tell...he was just asking me if the guy came over. If I took Carlo out. He was weary with sighs. He hung up. I didn't really think much about it.

I was hanging around downstairs with the dog when Mom arrived home. She was staring at her phone. The moment I said hello, she told me to have a seat on the couch.

I recognized that tone instantly.

As I took a seat down on the ottomen, my mind raced with possiblities. Was everything okay? Did someone die? Was a grandparent in the hospital?

My mom took a deep breath and looked at me. "You know about your brother's drug problem..."

I flinched, then closed my eyes solemnly and my head drooped. It was just like the time when I was told back in May he had relapsed. I waited, preparing once again for the flood of details. Back to rehab, some douchebag friend sold him drugs, he committed some sort of backstabbing act. I was ready.

"He had an overdose."

My eyes shot back open and I stared back at her, unbelieving. It was so silent. I could feel it in my throat. Was he alrig-

"He's dead."

It was then I noticed how red her eyes were.

Then I took in what she just said to me.

I could feel my head shaking. I just stared at her face. My mind was repeating that over and over. He was dead.

Michael was dead.

"Let me look into your eyes," I begged her.

She choked up. "I wouldn't lie about this, Anthony..."

I wanted to say it. I wanted to say that I did believe her. I just wanted comfort. I didn't get it out.

I sighed. My eyes darted up and down and back to her. Then I just accepted it. Just like that. Michael's dead. All of a sudden, everything didn't matter anymore. I told Mom that I would live every day in his memory. I'd do it for him. We hugged so hard. I went upstairs to inform the world.

My brother is dead.

------------------

It's been seven days since Michael's death.

A whole week. And it has gone by so fast since then. And life will go on. It will go on tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and so on.

In all of this, I keep thinking of back to when I was nine years old. I was an excited little boy, hyped up in preparation for the Gamecube console, recently introduced to the wonders of Cartoon Network, and had begun reading the newspaper. Thanks to two of those elements, there were a couple of thoughts that raced across my mind, of which I silently assumed would come true: I would play Super Smash Bros. Melee every day after it came out, and I will cry every single day after a family member dies.

I was wrong about both things. I haven't genuinely had fun with Melee in over six years, and it took me three days to shed tears over my brother's death.

It's weird. Through so many forms of media, whether it be the news or movies or books or games or television, it's been expressed so many times that losing a family member can be the worst thing to happen to you. And you know something? Until the viewing the other day, I was very composed about this situation, despite that this is the first death I've experienced in the close cluster of my family tree.

The fact that my first experience with death is my older brother is heartbreaking enough. I'm going to have to start my first year in college with this hanging over my shoulders, and my first job, and my first date, and throughout the rest of my life. And yet, I'm just sitting here. As of this writing, I'm sure it still hasn't really sunken in. Maybe it has to do with my brother being in and out of the house over the past five years. Maybe I'm just resilient and refuse to go down. All I know is that my brother is dead, I'm probably more in denial then I think, and everyone in my family, particulary my parents and those over fifty, are devastated.

I've decided to live in his memory every single day for the rest of my life. But that's not good enough for me. I can't just go on living and not forge some sort of tribute for someone who was in my life for eighteen years.

This is a tribute to my brother Michael. Someone who I thought would be with me my entire life.

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I remember a ton of facts about Michael when we were younger, and they're still sprouting up one by one. Batman was his childhood hero. He held a brief fascination with Wallace and Gromit. He played with Legos. He liked watching The Simpsons until "kids started watching it". He used to read Calvin and Hobbes. We both agreed watching The Spanish Channel was the highest class of entertainment.

And, of course, staying true to his title as a big brother, he teased the crap out of me.

I remember when I was planning up my imaginary video game, Anthony Pelone 64. I drew a poster for it and when no one was looking, he put "Rated R" on it. He warned me that the fire alarm in the basement would blow up the house. He imitated the creepy death notice from Oregon Trail. He'd sneak into my room late at night and say, "Hey, Anthony. It's me, Jonathan. I live in the attic."

Then he drew a picture of a robot stating, "Anthony is cool!" It's hanging up on the stairwell heading down to the basement. I still think it's a trick.

Michael never stopped at just pestering me. He would take jabs at virtually everyone else in the family. He delighted in mimicking my father's mannerisms ("HEAVEN ALMIGHTY GOD FORBID NEVER IN ALLLL MMYYYY LIFFEEE") and found it particularly hilarious when I would copy his every move during church. He liked to imitate voices of our grandparents, and our mom commanding us to "Sit on the step!" He wasted no time into twisting something around and reverting it to toilet humor. He even picked up on some of my own traits, taking part in the "Morning Dad/Evening Mom" gag, and of course the "Smelling Noise". He was the typical jack-of-all-trades smartass.

And yet, Michael would always be willing to lend a hand. He'd assist me with math he himself had done years earlier. He helped me get my amateur webcomic site up on Geocities. Every now and then, he'd help me get through a tough stage in a game. He'd always be serious about helping me, being honest and even blunt about what we could and couldn't do.


I think looking back, that was what I admired most about Michael. I've always felt insecure about voicing my concerns in fear of being criticized. I would always cower in an argument. Very rarely did I ever stick up for myself. That wasn't Mike. If he had a problem with something, he'd let it be known. He was headstrong about his beliefs, and yet at the same time he would feel guilty about his mistakes. He could admit he did things wrong.

..Most of the time.

I noticed Michael grew a lot more serious in his teens. It was weird. He could still joke around, but everything seemed to be serious business for him after his first brush with drugs. As the years passed by, his tone grew deeper, his speech slurred. The only things that really seemed to matter to him were going out with friends and listen to music. Maybe that's why it became hard to approach him over time.

But even then, there was a certain warmth to Mike. He wasn't always around for me, but I knew he loved me. He cared deeply for his parents. He had a large number of friends, many of which I know he had fallen out with. Being around Michael, one could be themselves and laugh and be happy.

I could. It felt nice to hug him.

-------

There's a song I've been listening to over the past week. It has, for some ungodly reason, helped me more than any other song in dealing with Michael.

And here it is.




The theme song to the cartoon adaption of Pokemon.

Yeah.

I have a large history with this song. When I was seven years old, I was an absolutely rabid fan of Pokemon. The games, the toys, the show, the movies, the card game, I loved it all. I pretty much ate, slept, and breathed Pokemon. My brother held a neutral interest in the series, sitting comfortably at the sidelines only dabbling into the card game every now and then. Of course, his smartass nature wasted no time in making fun of the anime origins of the show (and yes, you too, Dad), but thanks to a certain practice of mine, it was taken to the next level.

My grandmother gave me a radio one Christmas, and I think around the same time I received a CD that was based off of elements from the Pokemon cartoon. Track numero uno was the full version of the theme song. Every day, I'd turn it on full blast, and listened to that one song for hours on end. In no time at all, everyone in the house had memorized the lyrics. This, of course, included Michael.

And then he started singing it. It would drive me insane! Not only was it embarassing, it was supposed to be my song! He would receive a quick smack in the gut or on the back in retaliation. That never stopped him, though. It became a well-known running joke. Long after I outgrew the cartoon, he wouldn't stop. The song had grown into an abomination in my eyes, and he knew it. Mom told me the other day he'd crack up to himself before heading off to perform it, no doubt foreseeing my reaction beforehand.

When I visited him in rehab back five years ago, he said he drew a card for me. When I took a look at it, it was a crudely drawn picture of series protagonist Ash Ketchum, who sported a dopey look I'll never forget, telling me we had to go on an adventure. I'm pretty sure he belted out the song lyrics, too.

Looking back, that was probably my favorite moment of Michael. He was going through a period of suffering and even then he still found the time to poke fun at his younger brother. Classic.

I listened to this song for the first time in ages a few days ago on Youtube and surprisingly enough on iTunes, and no sooner did Mewtwo leap across space I was taken back to the days of 1999. Back when the only things that mattered to me were Nintendo, Pokemon and Nickelodeon. Back when Michael was still a troublemaker but was still a valuable member of the family. Back when everything was just right.

Back when Michael still liked wrestling.


-----

You know something? Once upon a time, Michael had a hobby other then music. It's an activity that's phased out over the years. It was wrestling.
The room I'm sitting in right now was filled to the brim with wrestling memoribillia. Posters of Steve Austin plastered the walls, various magazines made their home in Mike's growing closet, and I think maybe he even put some of the action figures on display. He was just as hardcore about wrestling as he was about his eventual permenant hobby, I'm dead serious.
Oh, and by the way, it was back when it was still called WWF.

Aforementioned "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was Mike's favorite wrestler. I still don't see the appeal, he looks like every other muscular guy out there. Now Kane, there was a badass. Anyone who is decked out in complete red and black and wears a mask has my approval. Naturally, those were who we played as in the Nintendo 64 wrestling games. He'd always beat me. In one of them, Warzone, there was a Create a Wrestler mode I spent a lot of time with. Another thing that amused Mike was that I'd always end up making obese black guys dressed up in a gaudy white outfit with glasses and high heels.

Michael would talk about wrestling all day. I remember while scanning through one of his magazines, he'd tell me how you can actually send fan mail to the wrestlers and they might even write back. I wanted to send one to Kane. I still might want to. I'd say, "Hey, back when my brother was really into wrestling, I thought you were the coolest guy ever. If you see Steve Austin, tell him how much my brother Michael admired him. He was his favorite."



One special memory I have with Michael and wrestling was about twelve years ago. We headed out with Dad to watch a WCW match, and I still remember being in awe of the size of the stadium. We could barely see the wrestlers from our seats, they were like ants. There is one, and only one thing I remember about this match. Goldberg, who I always thought had an uncanny resemblance to Austin, had performed an upset that sent the crowd wild. Cheers quickly arose, "Goldberg rules! Goldberg rules! Goldberg rules! Goldberg rules!"

I didn't like Goldberg, either. Before I knew it, I yelled out, "Goldberg STINKS!!!!"
We joke about that every now and then. Wrestling, good times.
And then ten years ago, all of that disappeared. Posters were in the trash, the magazines were gone, and I never saw those N64 games ever again. I asked him, "Why don't you like wrestling anymore?"
"Because it's fake," he replied. And that was the end of that. I don't think I heard him mention wrestling ever since.
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Everyone who knew Michael in real life shared some sort of connection to his one and only hobby: Music.
Michael loved music just as much as I love video games, and that is a hell of a thing to say. After his obsession with wrestling ended, Michael started picking up various bands like he had known them his entire life. The Get Up Kids. Jimmy Eat World. Alkaline Trio. Wheezer. Green Day. He even inherited our folks' love of Bruce Springsteen and started a band.
And you know what? I can't tell you a thing about any of them.
I largely ignored Michael's passion, and I could tell the feeling was mutual. He liked music, I liked video games. We were interested in each others hobby in one way or another (He preferred retro games, I like video game music), but we never made an attempt to dive into each others world. And we were cool about with that. We didn't try to force our hobbies onto one another.
When my brother was lodging in my uncle's apartment four years back, he took me out to see a concert for what I believe was for Saves the Day. It was an interesting experience. Michael got to take a photo with Chris Conley and later commented how stupid his face looked. I didn't see what the fuss was about, he looked like the same old Michael to me. Kind of like Mom and her reaction to my bed hair.

I've talked to quite a few of Michael's friends since the viewing and read the consistent stream of mourning on his Facebook wall, and they've told me how much of an influence Michael had on them with their music experience. Through this one hobby, Michael had touched so many people I never knew about. My cousin Joe, who had grown up with Michael, told me the very same thing.
It is for this reason that I am so proud of him. Thank you all for being there for my brother.

-----

I suppose considering that this is a blog about video games, I'd have to include them as well.
One of my very first memories is playing with Michael's Super Nintendo. We had Super Mario World. Donkey Kong Country. Earthworm Jim. Super James Pond (Yes, Pond). Mario's Early Years: Fun With Letters. Back then, he was always the one playing games. He played Mario World and Country daily. I wasn't very serious about them. Video games were just another toy to me.
Then he received a Nintendo 64 for his birthday in 1998. Everything changed. Before I knew it, the console gripped me into its clutches and I converted into a Nintendo freak for life. Michael began ordering from Nintendo Power magazine. The very first issue we ever received is lying shredded somewhere in the basement. Many issues from that era are, actually. I've begun replacing them.
Michael was big on the 64 during its first year in the household. We both played Bomberman 64 together, and he always beat me as the White Bomberman. Then we played Mario Kart 64. I stunk at it, I'd always end up at last place in Yoshi's dust. I'd always throw a hissyfit when I lost in the luck-based Mario Party. "It's just a game," he'd tell me.
"YEAH, BUT I LOST!!!" I'd scream back.
I think something changed after Super Smash Bros. came out. Kirby was his character of choice, but he was no match for Ness. I could beat him in a video game for once! Then Michael stopped playing.
Michael slowly lent the reigns for the console to me, and it was pretty much just myself playing for a while. When the Gamecube came out, video games had become a thing in the past for him. He did participate in Animal Crossing, in which he created a girl character named "anthony" and his sole purpose was to piss off a grumpy bird neighbor by the name of Admiral. During the Gamecube/PS2 era, he watched me play a couple of games and made sparse comments on them, on which my personal favorite was on Donkey Konga ("Look at Diddy Kong, doing his gay little dance down there"). He seemed fascinated with the Wii, commenting on how cool it was you could download old games.
On August 4th, he spent the night at our house. He texted me at night, saying that he was playing Goldeneye downstairs and asking me to tell him when I got off the computer so he can do his business. I replied saying I was just about done, and he came back up. Before I went to bed, I told him he could use my computer as long as he wanted. "Thank you, good night," he told me.
I went back downstairs the next morning and saw that his favorite video game was still inside the Nintendo 64. The volume was turned down, just the way he liked it. It was the last video game he ever played.
And that was the last time I ever saw him.
---------------------

The day after Michael died, I walked downstairs and Mom was waiting for me with his laptop.
"I think he'd want you to have this."
Amazingly enough, it had been one of the few precious items he hadn't sold off.

I took it upstairs into my room. One of the first things I noticed was that he was still active on his Facebook. I logged him out for the last time. It runs okay. The web browser repeatedly freezes, and it's a pain. It could be a virus, his Norton service expired. We're thinking we should wipe the data off of it, but I'm not so sure.

His wallpaper is pure white, except for a photo in the middle of an ocean, baked in sunlight and accompanied by a cursive subtitle, "I want to remember how this feels". I wonder who took that photo, if my brother had a history with that picture. If you look it up on Google, it's on there. I'll never know.

I looked through his documents. There is a plethora of music tracks. His iTunes has played at least 15,919 songs. Joe tells me he has listened to so much more then that. Many of them aren't saved and don't play. Looking closely, there's still a CD inside: "The Best Of" by the Gin Blossoms. I listen to it for a bit, it's nice.
There's quite a few written notes and excerpts for school. One of them documents "Substance Abuse" and I shuddered when I read it. In it, Mike writes about a chapter in his textbook that covers the use of drugs. He rarely mentions his own addiction. He states the various categories of drugs, warning signs, the relative ease of locating drugs, and the supposed harmlessness of marijuana in comparasion to other drugs, a subject he once talked to me about before.

It was written five months before he took me on vacation.

--------

I've said this over and over again. There's a lot about Michael I don't know. I don't know all of the bands he listened to. I'll never know the true meaning behind his computer wallpaper. I'll never know why he did drugs.
But there's a bigger, more universal question that I've been asking all of my life.
Why do people use drugs?

To the younger generation out there, do you recall the D.A.R.E officials that would come over to your school? I remember them. They would carefully detail the effects of drugs. drunk driving, and smoking. The big three hazards. They'd write on the board, show (admittedly incredibly trippy) videos, and have us act out skits. Drugs, alcohol, and smoking. Don't use them, they'd say.

And I listened to every word.

To this day, I remain clean. I've never bothered with a cigarette, never even been near a harmful substance, and tested out beer under the watch of my father only to spit it out immediately and declare it to be the worst thing I've ever tasted. I'd like to think I'm still right. And yet, a lot of people out there didn't listen. People are ruining their lungs and gaining absolutely nothing while smoking, teenagers host drinking parties without supervision, and human lives are warped by drugs in the worst ways possible.

I want to focus on why teenagers abuse these hazards. I've asked the same question over and over to friends, acquaintances and family members: Why do kids do drugs?

"To be cool," they'd answer back. The lone exception was Mom, who'd say it was to relieve stress. It was the same answers for smoking. It was the same answers for drinking. I still don't get it.

I'm not going to pretend I know how drugs work. I'm not interested in looking the effects up, and I sure as hell don't want to find out for myself. But it all seems to be centered around in the pleasurable feelings these poisons provide. Knowing this detail, I gotta ask you drug addicts a question: Was your normal life not good enough for you?

I'm talking about your interests, your hobbies, friends and family. The things that mattered and were actually productive and made you feel good and have fun without hurting yourself. Instead, you abandoned all of that and decided to engage in substances that damage your body and kill you. Is this a joke? Are people so desperate to fit in that they'd resort to using drugs despite knowing the danger?

Being cool. I laugh. I want to tell you all a story.

I'll let you on to a little secret: I was one of the most popular kids in the 6th grade, and the one reason for that was I was a great storyteller. I could make my classmates howl into laughter by producing wacky voices, making rapid movements and create some really fantastic characters. It was one of the funnest periods of my life, and some of my finest school memories are erected in that era.

Then I stopped. I realized that popularity and being cool didn't mean shit. I slowly began to catch on how kids my age were treating me as if I was a preschooler, and then I caught the rumor that there was the belief I was mentally retarded. I stopped talking, I moved to the back of the classroom. Just about everyone forgot about the glory days of Anthony, and you know what? I was fine with that. If my middle school only saw me as the little kid who's sole worth was to act like a buffoon and not for who Anthony Pelone really is, then there really was no point. I never bothered to reenter my student body until 12th grade.

Being popular, while fun, did nothing for me. In fact, it hurt me. And I never once thought of using drugs to get me back on track or to relieve pressure.

The fact that teenagers are throwing away their well being by using drugs and cigarettes for the prospect of something so worthless pisses me off more than nearly anything else.

I don't know why Michael decided to use drugs. Did he think he'd fit in? Did he feel it'd ease the pressures of college? Did he do it for the sake of trying it? Whatever it was, it was a horrible miscalculation that sent him on a road of false bliss, deceit, guilt, and finally to his death.

If I see a drug dealer on the street, I am going to beat the living shit out of him.

-------
I celebrated my 18th birthday last year on November 12. How did I feel? Like a piece of shit.
My senior year was not turning out the way I thought it would. I clashed with members of my IEP team regularly, whom I had difficulty working with and I'm sure they found me tough to deal with as well. Looking back, only in a time of grief do I accept that half of them were new at their job and were probably just as scared as I was. Relationships gradually turned sour with certain friends online, and after some unusually insensitive arguments that really hurt my feelings (not to mention made me feel incredibly inadequate about myself for months), I realized it wasn't worth it anymore and I stopped hanging out with most of them. People, I thought, weren't taking me seriously.
Mom told me that Michael heard about the rough times I was going through and felt bad about it, so he proposed taking me out to New York City around a week after my coming of age. I jumped at the possibility. NYC is up there with Sea Isle City as my top favorite vacation spot, and while I'm someone who prefers the tranquility of the countryside, I feel like I can never get enough of that fresh city atmosphere. Most of all, I got to spend quality time with the brother who had been absent for several months. We could get to connect again.
He arrived the day before. We discussed our game plan and got up early. We arrived downtown via train and he started cursing out some bus driver, I smiled, knowing that he was the same old Michael.
New York City was just as big and frantic since my last visit three years ago. We once again nabbed a quaint hotel suite. The pretzel stands were as delicious as ever. I stared intensely at how tall the buildings were. I soaked in so much of the atmosphere.
I had so much fun when we set out on our seven-hour trek. We visited, where else, the Nintendo World Store and I ravaged everything in sight. We noticed a set of Mario wall decals we absolutely had to purchase, and that was the highlight of our day. We visited various Japanese-oriented stores and I browsed/bought anime DVDs/manga volumes. He bought me a calendar. I watched my brother enforce his street smarts numerous times to beggars. I loved it.
It was night when we got back. Michael told me he needed to get some rest, so he lent me his laptop and wandered off to his room. Not a problem, I thought, I had all of my new things to keep me company. I started watching Gurren Lagann and everything was okay for a little while.
It then became eerily quiet inside that apartment.
Abruptly, the room became hot. I didn't feel well. None of what I had bought satisfied me, for I had suddenly become incredibly lonely. I couldn't read, I couldn't watch, I couldn't play, and I couldn't browse. All I could think about was Michael. I had to check on him.
He was just lying there. Not moving. I was scared. I raced back to my room and called my parents and exclaimed how frightened I was. They told me to go wake him up. After several attempts, he swiftly rose up and panted like he had seen a ghost. After a brief talk with Dad, he informed me I should talk to him instead if there was a problem. He went back to sleep.
The rest of the trip went by uneventfully.
------------------

What happened after that absolutely broke me.

Michael went up to my parents a week later and admitted he had relapsed and used drugs behind my back. Off he ventured once again to rehab, and I sat in my room, thinking of another problem. I had been checking through my gaming library recently, and titles were mysteriously absent. It was something I had begun noticing in the summer, and it was only then I had realized a disturbing pattern had begun. A third, if not nearly half, of my Wii library vanished; three of my DS games had gone missing; and even Pikmin 2 (GC) and Tales of the Abyss (PS2) disappeared as well.

It was then I realized a couple of the missing titles hadn't been touched since I had beaten them over two years prior. Games like that don't just slip away. They aren't taken to a friend's house. They aren't placed into a backpack somewhere, and they aren't shoved underneath a couch. I had kept them on display and they were gone. Someone was stealing my games, and I was intent on finding out who.

My parents weren't so sure about my deduction, and my brother was unbelieving when I told of him of my suspicions. "Who could have stolen them?"

But I knew. I took the games closest to my heart and hid them in a bag. I took pictures with my phone of my shelves, so I'll remember their exact order. I shuffled through my memory, trying to figure out who could possibly have done such a thing. Then it hit me.

It couldn't be him. It couldn't be. I spent a month and a half trying to convince myself it wasn't him. My life had become total hell. My school life still sucked, the echoes of the arguments repeated in my mind over and over, my brother was in rehab, and now the sources of entertainment that kept me close and comforted me during rough times and were just there were being taken one by one.

It was two days after the new year that Mom told me the newfound truth.

A week before he took me out on vacation, right after my birthday, and I'm sure even before then, my brother barged into my rooms and nabbed roughly 15 of my games and sold them off at Gamestop.

I was shocked. I was mortified. I was crushed. I...was heartbroken. The brother I had loved and trusted and stood by used my favorite things in the whole world as tools to further his addiction. All I did was lie in bed that day. I talked with Michael on the phone later. He talked, and talked, and talked, and talked, and he didn't let me have a word in. Not once.

The next morning, Dad called me. He had a talk with Mike about our chat, and he said that he "got a lot of things off of his chest". I reacted in rage. HE was the one who got to vent? HE was the one who had to get it out of his mind? HE was the victim now? I screamed. I cried so hard and screamed and pounded on my bed.

I began to go back. Michael first began using drugs back in 2005, which I'll always remember as the worst year of my life. The days where I spent withdrawn in my room, never interacting with the outside world, slowly made their way back to me.

It was like that for a whole month.

---------

I don't think I ever forgave him.

I tried to avoid him, long after he apologized to me in person and sat down and I finally got to speak from my side of the story. I asked him, "Did you really think I wouldn't notice?" "Did you think about the consequences this would bring?" Even when he answered me honestly, even when I told him I wanted him home, I still couldn't forgive him.

Michael slowly drifted out of our lives after that. He lived in an apartment nearby a rehab center, and he looked okay, he seemed happy. But I still held a grudge. I didn't want to be near him.

It was only after our last family night out together, going out to see Toy Story 3 last month, did we all truly enjoy being together. Maybe this could work. Maybe I can just move on and improve our relationship.

I'll never get that chance.
-----------------


Tuesday was the viewing.

I'll never forget when I saw his body. It was just lying there, looking so thin. I calmly made my way over and took a good look. His eyes were closed. Guitar picks were cradled into his hands. He felt cold. He looked like he was sleeping. This couldn't be my brother, I thought. It looked like someone had made a wax mannequin of him.

I felt tears come to my eyes. But I sent them away. "Not yet."

It still didn't feel real.

Cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles filled the rooms. Some of them were crying, others silently looked on. I only just stared. Before I knew it, dozens of neighbors, family friends and so many people I didn't know were sitting down. The decon gave a sermon. He told us that we shouldn't be thinking of this as a time of Michael's death, but more of as if God had a special job for him to do. His speech ended quickly, the viewing went on. So many friends came by.

I stared at Michael's body. I looked back at the crowd of total strangers. I singled out people I knew. I gazed at the pictures of Mike, of his days as a child, teenager and young adult. I was looking at pictures of my dead brother. I couldn't take it anymore, I had to get some fresh air.

Joe and his girlfriend escorted me out. We took in the evening air and walked around to the curb. We sat down, I was in the middle. No one said anything. My head dropped and I stared at the ground.

"It only feels worse," I said.

"Yeah?"

It was the truth.

It was still silent. People walked by and gave me their condolences. As an aunt walked off, I remembered something.

I took out my phone, entered my messages folder and handed it over to Joe.

"Look."
-----

Six days ago.

It was August 4th, and I was worried.

I had decided to go visit a friend's house, and since my parents weren't available to drive me over, they thought it'd be a good opportunity for me to take the bus by myself for the first time. I was educated on where to wait, how much money I should have, and scheduling. Even then, I couldn't help but worry.

Michael walked in on our conversation and showed me a neat gadget on my new phone. If I typed in an address, I could actually find out bus times heading out to that location. It was definitely a great help.

The next morning, I sat at the bus stop and waited. And waited. It was ten minutes late, and I was beginning to worry it'd never come until it suddenly appeared in view. It was a fun experience, and unlike how I was told, there was hardly anyone aboard and I had plenty of room.

Later that night, I texted Michael about it. This was his reply.

"Good I'm glad it was successful. And remember you can always find out bus times on your captivate like I showed you!"
------



Joe studied that message with keen eyes.

"That was the last thing he ever said to me," I told him.

"Oh, really?"

I started shaking. The tears were coming, I couldn't stop. "Even..even until the very end..."

He hugged me.

"Even until the very end...he was still looking out for me. He loved me."

Even after all of the horrible things Michael had done to me and my family, even after all of the suffering and guilt and pain he went through, he still loved me. He was looking out for me. Like a big brother should.
-----

I've been told so many times throughout my life that when someone goes to heaven, everything is automatically okay. They're at peace, they are no longer suffering, and are in the warm embrace of God watching over us.

I don't know. It's one thing if someone knew they were going to die, but what if you died in an accident? What if you didn't want to die?

I know Michael. When he went to heaven, the gravity of the situation must have hit him. I'm sure he was scared. He cried, cursed at himself, and realized he wouldn't be able to see me or his parents or anyone else he knew for a long, long time.

One of the things that Dad told me about this stuck to me. He felt that God realized Mike had suffered too much on Earth. He was embedded too much in his addiction, suffered so much guilt and shame that it was time for him to go. Maybe that decon was on to something. Michael was unable to continue living with us in life, but maybe up in Heaven he'd find his true purpose. I know that right now, he's looking down at us, just watching. He's helping God and the angels listen to the proper music, and guiding every one of us to the right path in our lives.

Michael once confided to Mom that he felt as if he never had a proper relationship with me. He won't be able to get the chance to improve it. I won't be able to introduce him to Video Games Live. I won't be able to show him the new Donkey Kong Country. I won't be seeing him for an extraodinary long time. But Michael's suffering is over. And he can watch over me. And that's what counts.

Mike, I just want you to know that even after everything you did...I still considered you my brother. I still thought of you as part of my life. And even when I tried to avoid you, I sincerely wanted you to get better. While you might not be here with us..as my uncle said, in our hearts you will live forever.


Thank you for being part of my life.