Friends You Can Rely On

Today, I wanted to make an appreciation post for two of my best friends.

Alya was basically born to be my best friend. Or maybe I was born to be hers. Either way, she’s my sister and my best friend. As many siblings might know, those terms can be mutually exclusive, and I am lucky that this is not the case with me and Alya.

Mia met me and Alya when she was entering Kindergarten, I was going into first grade, and Alya was going into third. We shared a bag of Skittles and played with wooden building blocks in my mom’s classroom. And that was it. We have been friends, the three of us, ever since.

We were never really into the same things that our classmates were into. All three of us liked to read, and we had a special obsession with The Lord of the Rings. We liked playing games of pretend, imagining we were on Middle-Earth slaying Orcs and trolls. (But never Balrogs. Since none of us were wizards, we would have been totally outclassed, even in our imaginations.)

Alya was (and still is) the leader of our games. She was the director of our adventures, the decider of our futures. To this day, Mia and I say we can’t make proper decisions without her. (Which kind of spells doom for our personal lives, but I think we’re fine with that.) When our games took a turn for the sci-fi, she was the Commander to my Navigator and Mia’s Engineer.

I have Alya to thank for helping me in all of my writing endeavors. She’s supported me in so many ways. Even more than I support myself. (Which, again, spells doom for my life if she ever decides to abandon me, but that would never happen.) She might have a terrible sense of direction, but she’s still the one who takes charge whenever she, Mia, and I get together.

One time, Alya decided we were going to pluck oranges from Mia’s grandmother’s orange tree. The ground was muddy, and our mother warned us that we were not to get dirty. She threatened us with never letting us see Mia again, which she would never have followed through with, but we were young. We believed our friendship was on the line.

Mia and I were reluctant, but Alya kept pointing out these super amazing oranges on the branches above us. These were like Tropicana-cover oranges. Just one more, Alya kept saying.

Alya had her eye on a perfect orange, but it was really high up. We couldn’t climb to it, and it was dangling right over a particularly muddy piece of ground. Alya said she was going to jump for it. Before she did, Mia tore off the slide from her plastic play-place and laid it over the mud just in case Alya fell.

Then Alya took the leap.

She hung in the air for one interminable second before the stem snapped off and she fell on the slide. Unfortunately, the slide slipped out from under her sneakers, and she landed smack on her bum in the middle of the mud. We spent the rest of our visit to Mia’s grandparents’ house learning how to use a washing machine.

Mia was (and is) the solid backbone of our group. She’s the level-headed one. When Alya comes up a crazy idea, Mia is the one who grounds it in practicality. She is the string to Alya’s kite. Mia is the strongest of us all, and also the kindest. Plus, she has an iron will and a delicious sense of justice.

One time, I had to do something humiliating for a group project in a college class. I won’t go into specifics because it really was embarrassing for me and out of my control. However, the humiliating task was typed up on a piece of paper, and Mia came up with the idea of burning it once the assignment was complete. It was a therapeutic notion, and we all thought it was a great idea.

But Mia went the extra mile. She actually placed the paper in a hollowed-out cinder block, in order to keep the fire from spreading anywhere else, lit the paper with some matches, and then declared she was going to salt what was left when the flames died down.

We looked at her confused for a moment, and then we laughed at the realization that she was talking about the ancient practice of salting the earth of conquered lands so nothing would ever grow there. Mia was symbolically planning to curse the assignment into oblivion.

So when the paper was just ashes, Mia stepped inside, then came out with a salt grinder and ground some cooking salt over the gray remains.

It was hilarious and put a fun spin on something that otherwise would have been a stain on my memory.

I don’t make new friends these days. I don’t really leave my place of residence to go out to places of socialization. Why would I when I have books, video games, and myself to keep me company?

That sounds like a pity statement, but IT’S NOT. (Capitalized letters to emphasize my seriousness.)

I don’t need a lot of people in my life to feel happy. I feel happy with the ones I have. And if I happen to stumble along some others by chance, then that’s great, too.

So here’s to my two best friends in the whole wide world. No matter where we go, when we see each other next, or what we do, I know I can rely on the two of you for all the years to come.

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Dungeons & Dragons & Dorks (Oh My)

I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons by my friend Mia’s father. We were young at the time, me, Mia, and my sister. That didn’t stop Mia’s dad from showing us the ropes.

The way D&D works is not as complex as you may think it is. For the longest time, D&D has been seen as this complicated game that only nerds in basements play. Let me tell you, anybody with a good sense of humor and an active imagination can play Dungeons & Dragons.

You create a character for yourself first, with a small backstory, flaws, preferences, and things like that. Your character also has a Class, which kind of means a job (like Wizard, Paladin, or Fighter). You have varying degrees of Intelligence, Strength, or Charisma, each of which will help or hinder you on your journey. (Kind of like in real life.)

Then you find a Dungeon Master, or DM, who will create the map, world, and story for your game to start in. After that, it’s all up to the players how the adventure goes.

The actual rules of the game might make D&D sound technical as shit, which is why I’m not bogging you down with stats and die rolls. Just trust me, the game is fun.

Mia’s dad led me, Mia, and my sister through a roaring good time. There were laughs, tears, and adventures. I still, to this day, can’t properly express my gratitude that Mia’s dad was willing to sit down with three little girls and teach them how to play Dungeons & Dragons. That was beyond cool. Mia’s dad was a great man.

These days, Mia and I have our own D&D group. We try to meet every Saturday night in order to slay some monsters and find some treasures. Players have come and gone from our group over time, but we still try and keep the game going strong.

(We actually have several games going on at the moment, each set in their own universe and with different characters. A single game is not enough for our adventuring appetites.)

In all honesty, we’re not the smartest group of adventurers to ever delve a dungeon. The only sensible and practical character in our group is Mia’s. The rest of us play as a gaggle of idiots. (Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.) We charge ahead into fights without considering the fact that we may be outclassed by our opponents. We jump into suspicious holes just because we’re curious what’s at the bottom. Some members of our group (*cough, cough* Sidney *cough, cough*) don’t even have a clear understanding of how a door works.

Throughout all of our (mis)adventures, we have tons of fun. Not a single gaming night has gone by when we haven’t bust a gut laughing. D&D allows us to get into (and hopefully out of) absurd situations. And the best thing is we have so much freedom in how we solve our problems. Our more charismatic characters try to talk their way out of their troubles, and our more…barbaric characters simply hack and slash their way to a solution.

D&D has given me a chance to form friendships with really cool people and has given me a taste of what it would be like to exist in a place like Middle-Earth. It’s imaginative and fun-filled. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening. If you’ve played the game before, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t played before, I hope you decide to give it a try.

I do plan on writing more about the foolhardy adventures my group has gotten into. (One of us really has to keep a log of our own stupidity.)

So, have you ever played Dungeons & Dragons before? Is it something you’d want to do in the future?

Totes Andreya…

As soon as you read about Slytherins, you know they’re the bad guys. First of all, Slytherin just sounds…evil. Second of all, most, if not all, of the villains freaking come from there. Voldemort was from Slytherin, and he’s a Dark Lord. Draco Malfoy was from Slytherin, and he’s a jerk. And the man who created Slytherin, good old Salazar Slytherin himself?

Yeah, he’s a not-so-subtle Muggle-hater.

(In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m referring to Hogwarts Houses from the Harry Potter series.)

So with that bad a rep, you wouldn’t think that a person who got sorted into Slytherin from the Pottermore Sorting Quiz could be a great friend.

Wrong.

They make the best of friends.

Andreya Martinez and I first met at film club. (Yeah, we’re kind of film nerds. Well, actually, if I’m being honest, Andreya is more passionate about film than I am. I joined the club in order to stay in contact with this totally awesome guy, but that’s another story for another time.) We didn’t talk much to each other while we were in the club. We just casually got to know each other. However, we were both left with favorable impressions.

After the film club ended (rather unceremoniously), Andreya and I decided to reach out to each other so we could hang out by ourselves.

Best decision ever.

Despite having completely different personalities, it’s like we suit each other really well. Who would have thought that a Hufflepuff like me and a Slytherin like Andreya could be so compatible?

(A lot of people, apparently. Slytherin/Hufflepuff friendships are uber common.)

Andreya is the funniest person I know. She’s mastered intentional and accidental humor. (I know you can’t really practice accidental humor, but you know what I mean.) Her occasional abrasiveness is totally unique to her, and I find it refreshing. Wit and candor met and had a baby in order to give her the best sense of humor.

She has her flaws, who doesn’t? (Especially a Slytherin.) But, unlike most people, she’s completely aware of them. Some people have this really bad habit of trying to hide their flaws. What gets even more annoying is when they admit to having flaws that aren’t really flaws.

For example, “I don’t know how to be selfish.”

Or “I’m too nice.”

Andreya doesn’t waste her time hiding her flaws. She’s loud and proud of them. She’s admitted to me that she’s selfish and only cares about herself. And I will take that kind of honesty any day over someone who pretends to be kind.

As per the usual Slytherin cunning, she is an expert in getting her way. She doesn’t let trivialities like rules stop her.

Despite what many would consider major character faults, Andreya is the most encouraging friend I have. I’m telling you, underneath the scaly exterior of every Slytherin is a loyal friend in the making. So while she’s quick to sing her own praises, she’s just as quick to sing mine.

It’s because of her that I have this blog. I was going through low times having lost some friendships, but Andreya was able to bring me back up. She told me to focus on the things that make me happy, and I honestly know I’m happier today because she’s in my life.

One of my favorite things that she’s ever told me (when I was being an equivocating, non-confrontational Hufflepuff) is this: “You can’t please everyone, so you might as well please yourself.”

She has a tremendous personality, so if you want to get to know her this is her blog.

I recommend her blog just as fervently as I recommend her.

What’s the Elvish Word for Friend?

I first met Mia Sara Moreno when I was six years old and she was five. Both of our parents were teachers at the same elementary school, so they thought it would be a great idea for their kids to hang out together. Mia’s mom brought Mia to my mom’s kinder classroom before the school year started in order to acquaint her with my sister and me ahead of time. Mia was shy at first, hiding behind her mother, but eventually, she was coaxed into playing with some building blocks with us.

Mia, my sister, and I became a trio that day.

We all had similar interests (Lord of the Rings nuts, the three of us), and if we could, we would spend hours together. We made up games of tag that involved throwing footballs at each other. We pretended to be wolves roaming Middle-Earth. We slept over at each others’ houses and watched scary movies. We picked oranges from Mia’s grandparents’ tree.

Alya (my sister) was the leader. Mia and I would follow her anywhere, while also trying to caution her against bad ideas. We called ourselves the Wright Brothers Organization. (Yes, we were aware that there were only two famous, flying Wright Brothers, but we meant it more in the spirit of adventure.)

To this day, there is no one who is more comforting or relaxing as a friend to me, than Mia.

Mia and I walking down a sidewalk

Mia is simultaneously the gentlest person I know and the most stubborn. She cares deeply about the people she is close to, almost to the point where she excuses any shortcomings they might have. (Loyal is an understatement when it comes to describing the kind of friend she is.) At the same time, she holds on to her ideals of fairness with an iron grip.

Alya, Mia, and I once categorized the strength of our respective levels of determination. Alya’s was rubber, elastic yet firm. Mia’s was steel. Mine was Play-Doh.

Mia is quiet when you first meet her, but a natural enthusiasm for her interests resides in her heart, and if you ignite it, she rises to the conversation like a flame. Her laugh is infectious. I’ve never heard her fake-laugh. It’s always a genuine, hearty chuckle.

Mia is an avid reader. She’s the only person I truly trust to lend one of my books to. She would protect it to the point of not even letting it get dusty. She never leaves her house without having a book on her; she carries one with her at all times.

You will never meet someone as logical or as reasonable as Mia. I think horror movies actively annoy her (bad decisions get under her skin). We once spent hours talking about how Anakin Skywalker is an idiot, and then we discussed all the ways he could have proceeded to solve his problems in Revenge of the Sith without ending up as Darth Vader.

When we play Dungeons & Dragons, she never lets loose with a goofy character. She always creates these sedate, practical characters. This ends badly for her since everyone else in our D&D group is an utter goofball when it comes to making a character (including me). Mia’s character always has to be the level-headed one who has to get the rest of us out of trouble.

It’s not often that a childhood friend remains in your life for so long, and I never wish to forget to appreciate Mia for being who she is. One of my greatest joys in life is to share a coffee with her in the early hours of the day while playing a friendly game of Scrabble, some original Star Trek episodes playing in the background.

Not only is she a good friend, she’s a good person. She’s one of the best persons I know.

She’s my mellon. 

Give Me Some of That Sweet Couch Co-op

I miss couch co-op games.

For those of you who don’t know what a couch co-op game is, let me explain. A couch co-op game is a video game that two friends can play amiably together (cooperatively, get it?) while sitting side by side on a couch. Well, theoretically sitting on a couch. Most of the “couch” co-op games I’ve played with my friends, I’ve played while sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor.

Saying that developers no longer make good couch co-op games has become a fairly common complaint these days. “Where are the couch co-op games? No one makes them anymore.” Let’s get one thing straight: couch co-op hasn’t vanished off the face of the earth. There are still oldies but goodies lying around. And let’s not forget the indie games that occasionally pop out from the woodwork and can tide us over until a better triple-A title comes along.

My all-time favorite couch co-op games are as follows:

  • Gears of War
  • Super Mario Bros. Wii
  • Battleblock Theater

I don’t mean to leave online multiplayer games out in the cold. Anyone who knows me knows that I adore Halo more than Romeo adored Juliet (hell, a lot more). But this is about couch co-op. I’ll write about Halo and my love of it some other time. (And when I do, it’ll be extensive.)

Playing some video games

My sister was given a copy of Super Mario Bros. Wii when she first got her Wii. We played that game religiously, only stopping until we had every golden coin from every world, including that insane 9th one. We became experts at that game. My sister was so pro. I think her favorite level was the one where Mario and friends can ride a skeleton roller coaster over spurting fountains of lava. She loved picking people up and throwing them off into the fiery abyss.

Battleblock Theater was recommended to me, and it was such a zany experience that I never regretted purchasing it. (Actually, it was a free game of the month, but you know what I mean.) Working together actually mattered in Battleblock Theater, which is what allowed it to carve out a spot in my gaming heart.

I was introduced to Gears of War by a friend of mine. We were ecstatic about playing Gears of War 4. In fact, we were so excited that we decided to make a huge deal about playing it the night it came out. The day it released, after we had purchased the game, we rushed to Wal-Mart and bought frosted animal crackers, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and glass-bottled (as opposed to plastic-bottled) Coca-Cola. Then we rushed back to his house, all aglow with our enthusiasm to play the game.

Innocent (and slightly stupid) souls that we were, we forgot about the downloading time that all new games take when you first insert the disc into your console. We spent two hours waiting for Gears of War 4 to fully load, sadly stuffing our faces with chips and cookies while we stared at the loading bar inch towards completion.

Those were good times.

I guess what I’m actually trying to say is I miss the couch co-op experience itself.

It’s not the gaming industry’s fault; it’s mine.

As I’ve gotten older, my supply of call-able friends has dwindled. (And I was never swimming in friends to begin with because I have the social grace of a flatulent elephant.) Nowadays, there are two people I could readily call up to come on over and play a game with me (a video game, not a Saw game).

I used to think that losing your friends when you grow up was a myth adults made up to try and convince you to not succumb to inevitable peer pressure. But holy shit, they were kind of right. Unless you make a giant, concerted effort, you lose touch with all those awesome high school friends you held so dear.

And honestly, I didn’t try hard enough to keep them.

What this means for my gaming is that I’ve had to rely on single-player experiences. I’ve replayed so many single-player video games, it almost (but not quite) compares to how often I reread favorite books. After playing Bioshock for the umpteenth time, I have a deeper appreciation for couch co-op. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Bioshock; that game is a goddamned masterpiece.)

So the final bit of wisdom (from my supremely unwise mind) that I’d like to offer to whoever is reading this is to hold onto your friends (if they’re good ones) and to play those couch co-op games with them as if there was no tomorrow. Because you never know. Couches may cease to exist in the near future.