I've put off writing this blog for a while now for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, because it's a sad story. Secondly, because I feel like I've written this story in some capacity several times over the last few years. But I think I need to write this now because it's both tied to videogames and because it'll be therapeutic for me. I'm going to Tarantino things here for a bit, giving you the middle, then I'll back up, and then take it home.
In October, it will mark the 7-year anniversary of my best friend's passing. It's one of those things that seems like it was forever ago, but I still remember like it happened yesterday. His name was Cole Gray, and he had a respiratory disease called cystic fibrosis. People with CF aren't expected to live past the age of 30, Cole was 22 at the time. I had lost people that I loved before, but all when I was at a very young age. This was the first time where I realized just how hard it is to deal with the death of a loved one, and videogames were one of the ways I did it.
I had known Cole since I was in elementary school, as we both played in the same youth basketball league, but it wasn't until our sophomore year of high school that we became buds. We noticed that we had a lot of similar interests: sports, professional wrestling, The Simpsons, etc. But it was our love of video games that really bonded us. Cole was primarily a sports gamer, although he preferred the over-the-top titles like NFL Street and NBA Jam to their more sim-like brethren. Not to say that we didn't get plenty of hours of gaming together in the forms of Madden and NBA Live, because we definitely did. But the one series that really made us close was Mortal Kombat.
The first time I ever went to his house, he showed me a VHS tape that he had made (this was 2001, so DVD players weren't as prevalent), and on this tape he had put the Mortal Kombat film, followed by Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, followed by the animated Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins, followed by manual recordings of every fatality in the series. He loved the series so much that he devoted an entire 8-hour VHS tape to it. I remember that tape playing in the background while we did other things on several occasions.
Yes, I'm doing the John Cena "Word Life" gesture in our prom picture. Shut up.
Over the course of our friendship, we would see the release of three Mortal Kombat games: Deadly Alliance, Deception, and Shaolin Monks. God only knows how much time we sunk into those games. We would spend hours playing each other, fighting the computer, unlocking items in the Krypt, and discovering new things in Deception's Konquest mode. There was little, if anything, in those games that we didn't see.
Cole had to do a lot of treatments, and his illness caused him a lot of pain, but the great thing about him is that unless you were one of his close friends or family, you never would have known. The guy was all smiles when he was around people, always the first to crack jokes, and had one of those very unique sense of humors. Although it pained me to see it, I was honored that he felt close enough to me to let his guard down once in a while.
In the summer of 2006, his illness became increasingly worse, and the next two months were all kind of a blur. It's hard to mentally accept it when you know your friend is near the end of his life, and I was in denial right up to the end. On October 4th, 2006, he was admitted into the hospital. I went to visit him, and he seemed as lively as ever, but everyone around him seemed very somber, and that caused my warning flags to go up. I knew something was wrong.
Two days later, at around 4 a.m., I received a call from his step-mother. Cole was on life support and wasn't going to recover, but they wanted to wait to take him off until myself and our close group of friends could get there to say goodbye. I don't know if you've ever had to call one of your best friends to tell them that your other best friend is dying, but it was by far the hardest phone call I've ever had to make. We arrived at the hospital, and when we walked into his room and saw him hooked up to a bunch of machines, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach, all of the air was sucked out of my body. I stood there, not even trying to hold back tears, said goodbye to my brother, and then went to the lobby while his family stayed with him until he was gone.
Cole had Mortal Kombat: Armageddon pre-ordered, and I couldn't put into words how excited he was for it. Even though I didn't think very highly of the game once I actually played it, I know he would have loved it. Every character from the series in one game? When he first heard that he nearly lost his mind. Unfortunately, he passed away only a few days before the game was released. His funeral actually coincided with the game's launch, and his fiance went to GameStop to pick up his copy when they opened. Cole was buried with Mortal Kombat: Armageddon in his casket, and I also decided to leave an action figure of Scorpion (his favorite character) in there with him as well.
We had a very tight-knit group of friends (4 of us total), and on the day of his passing, we got together and spent the evening playing Armageddon, stuffing our guts full of pizza, and downing a 12-pack of Pepsi, his drink of choice. It was bittersweet, but it was one of the best ways for us to honor our fallen brother and to cope with our loss, as we had spent several weekends together doing that exact same thing.
I remember when the announcement of the series reboot was made, I immediately thought of him. I never played it, not because it would have been too difficult for me, but because my interest in fighting games had waned over the years, but there's no doubt in my mind that he would have been there on day one, picking up the special edition, the arcade stick, the season pass, the strategy guide, the whole-nine-yards. I don't have much of an interest in the series anymore, but I feel like every gamer has that one game that's extra special to them that no one else will understand the reasoning for. For me, Mortal Kombat is one of those games.