My 8th Birthday was one of the best days of my life. Not to say that my life has been lackluster since, but April 15th, 1996 sticks in my mind as one of the best days EVER.
I was a typical 8 year old boy. I was in the Third Grade, and it was Gym Class. Our gym teacher was, incidentally, father to the 5th grader that every boy from the 3rd Grade and up had a crush on, even if we didn’t know it yet. Still, Gym class wasn’t really my favorite. We got to play cool games sometimes, but I preferred the wide open spaces of the concrete and grass playground. The soccer field, that weird wooden thing that somebody probably died on, and the big grassy field that I had most of my childhood adventures on were where my mind was, cooped up and sitting in shorts on the cold floor of the gym. That is to say, the jungle gym was my favorite gym.
Not only that, it was my 8th birthday, and I had been fidgeting in class all day, wondering what my mother had planned after the school day was over. My mother was a master of deception when it came to birthdays and Christmas. I never knew what was going to happen, especially in those early days, and I didn’t want to. My mothers surprises, handmade, bought, or event-based, were always made with the utmost love and care, and I think the anticipation my mother could create about the most banal events was almost more fun than the thing itself.
We were all sitting on the floor in lines, waiting for class to start. I was wearing my KC Royals shorts (the team I only liked because I liked RC Cola and the color blue, and I somehow equated the two), and didn’t really care much about what the teacher was saying. The room was massive to a kid my size, and it was where we had lunch, and even assemblies on the stage near the end of the room. It smelled like leftover sloppy-joe meat, sneakers, and the soft rolls we used to throw at each other during lunch.
Suddenly, a door creaked on the other end of the room, and the old gray haired office aide stuck her head in the door. All attention turned away from our Gym teacher and towards the door. The arrival of an office aide was either a boon or a curse, creating the kind of extreme mix of excitement and fear that even the mere presence of an office aide could create. It could mean that one lucky kid was getting called out of class early. However, as children none of us ever knew if we had done something wrong (or so we said). The death knell of being brought to the office could ring at any time, and our butts would be grass.
The tension was palpable as the aide looked around the room, as if to scan us for infirmity. Her mouth opened slowly.
“Is Allen Jenkins here?”
My name. The moment of truth. I raised my hand slowly, and I felt excitement build. The aide smiled.
“Your mother is here to pick you up.”
The next moments were a blur as I stood up and ran out of the gym, smiling. The pinnacle of awesomeness for a child was getting out of school early – even if it meant getting a fever. That day, I was getting out of school early for no other reason than the fact that I had been born on that day in 1989. I burst into the office where my mother was waiting, smiling mischievously. I hugged her and held her hand as we walked out to the car.
The sun was bright and glinted off our old green Pontiac. I could see something in the backseat behind the window tint. A large square shape. Could it be? I held my breath.
“Sit in the backseat, okay?” Mom said. I opened the door, and there it was –
A brand new SEGA Genesis.
It’s cardboard box was bright red and black, and a small picture of Sonic and Tails (already my favorite, before Ihad even touched the machine) was on the bottom right corner, looking back at me as if to say “we’ve been waiting for you, buddy.”
I got into the car, sitting the box on my lap and staring at it, reading all of the specifications, wanting to rip the box open right then and there, although my mother wouldn’t let me. The bright colors of the screen-shots on the back of the box dazzled me, giving snapshots of the adventures that awaited.
“Well, we’ve got a little time,” my mother said coyly. “Let’s go to Wal-Mart.”
I wasn’t a fan of Wal-Mart. She knew this – but it was my Birthday, and nothing could destroy the glow of that Sega Genesis sitting in my lap, waiting to be played. I submitted, without so much as a protest.
“You can pick any one you want,” my mother said. My jaw dropped. I hadn’t realized it, but something COULD have made my already unfiltered ecstasy even better. An action figure of my choice, of course. There was one I had been eying, as well. He was a little 4 and 3/4 inch tall Batman called “Lightning Strike Batman.” He had a sweet rifle, a fold out hanglider cape, and awesome lightning bolts all over his suit. It wasn’t the best stealth uniform, but it looked badass. I picked him off the shelf with no hesitation. The day could not have possibly gotten any better. My little 8 year old brain might have exploded.
But get better it did.
As we drove away from Wal-Mart, I clutching, hugging even, the treasures my Mother had won for me, we drew closer to that magical childhood wonderland.
When I was eight, I was having a bit of trouble. We had just moved to Mansfield street, and I hadn’t made too many friends. In fact, I had met my best friend Kyle that year, and he was brought to the party. My oldest and best female friend, Megan, had been brought to the party as well. My mother knew the issues I was having at school. She knew I had been picked on, and beaten up for being the new kid. Still, she knew exactly what would fix it. My mom is the best mom ever.
It was what set me on my path to become a gamer. I still have that old Genesis. It sits in my apartment, waiting for me to get a new RF switch to play it with. I keep it dusted and ready though. You never know when the urge to play Sonic 2 will come out and bite again.