We only part to meet again.
-- John Gay
I’ve held on to a ghost for the better part of a decade. Confined sometimes to a dank closet, at other times displayed proudly on a mantle, the shell of my battered SNES clinged to waning relevance. For too long it sat silently, dreaming of a finality that was long in coming, reminding me of a crippling inability to act.
It had moved with me several times. Once to a dorm, then back with my parents. Once to an apartment, then to a home in San Diego where it was all but certain that this move would see its end. When I relocated to Los Angeles last year, some sense of pity made me hold onto it, made me bear the weight of one more piece of scrap. And so, it moved with me once more, hauntingly.
It’s hard to say why I held onto it for so long. Age had left it mostly devoid of live and functionality. Its clean lavender-grey plastic had warped into beige. Cracks and scorch-marks dotted its underbelly. But as I studied its dusty frame from across the living room, all sense of sentimentality seemed to drain from me. It was no longer a matter of how or why, but simply when I would throw it away.
Of all the consoles I have owned, the SNES was my most loved and the one that was the most worn-down. As I child, I used scented cloths to lovingly erase dirt from the SNES’s upper frame. Once a week, I would clean the machine’s external creases, wipe the grease from the buttons, and erase the dirt from its surface. In doing so, I likely unleashed some horrible chemical reaction that jaundiced its exterior. The poor thing survived trips across the border, but was no match for the active ingredient in an average babywipe.
But I had done more than just mar its face. The first time the machine broke, I went through the proper channels, located a Nintendo approved repair shop, and promptly wept at the price. The next time, I visited the corner TV repair shop, a hole-in-the-wall space that had previously housed a barber and now had paintings of televisions and one not-quite legitimate rendition of Mario and an NES over their entrance. One repair shop was as good as another, I figured. The cost of repairs ($20) should have tipped me off, but I was too busy bothering my parents for the money to weigh the possible outcomes.
When the machine was returned to me, parts of the exterior had cracked. Deep burns were present on the underside – apparently where the “technician” used a small torch to cut through the proprietary screws that held the machine shut. Without these screws, the SNES’s top popped off whenever I went to eject a game.
I got my money’s worth, in other words.
It died again a short while after. In fits, it would temperamentally choose when to let me play my old games. By then, I had moved on to the 32-bit generation and PC gaming. I discovered emulation shortly afterwards and henceforth had no need of clunky consoles and their carts. All the games I had ever owned on my SNES (and even a couple that I hadn’t) sat in a tidy corner of my hard drive.
But it wasn’t enough to force me to throw away my old system. There was something in its physicality that was alluring, something about owning a relic of history that appealed (and continues to appeal) to me. It’s not as if I would lose memories of my childhood without the poor console. But there was definitely recognition, a tangible recognition of events that came with the touch and click of an old possession. And for this reason, I carried it with me.
I knew I had to say goodbye when, month after month, my SNES remained perched on top of an old desktop. Watching it out of the corner of my eye, day after day, warmed me to the idea of it just being another thing. Its constant presence reminded me of how diminished it was. Then came the What If, the curious feeling that I had already lost a part of it when it was repaired, the paranoid question of whether my old system had been switched for a lemon. Even if that weren’t the case, there wasn’t much stopping me from just buying a replacement console. The musing eventually broke me down.
One day, I unassumingly popped off the top half and peered into its guts. I poked and prodded, removing the thin, flat strip that connected the controller ports to the main board. I took apart the connector dock, detached the sound engine, and extracted the on/off toggle switch. I laid its pieces out before me, examining the construction, looking at the numbers and names stamped across its many parts. As I turned the pieces in my hand, I came across an odd scrawl. Etched into one of the interior walls were my initials. I wondered how many times I really did take it to be fixed, how much I might have feared the repair shop would swap my machine, how it might have occurred to me to use a soldering iron to mark it as my own.
I had stripped it bare and discovered one last secret. I placed everything, save for the sound module, back into the cracked container and threw it away, listening as it clanked and tinked against a stained garbage chute. At long last came a distant thud.
No feelings of remorse, of emptiness, of guilt, sadness or regret. There was only the knowledge that I held on to a piece of junk for far longer than I should have, and the sight of an empty spot in my living room.