Margaret Emma Brandl
It was the summer of 2005 that my brothers and I spent in Noopy, our Animal Crossing town. I had only just moved in—one room, a simple bed, in debt to Noopy’s raccoon proprietor, Tom Nook—when Mom and I had to drive up to the band room in the middle of the night to make sure it was unlocked for the drum corps. The night air was hot and we waited in the car for the tour buses to get in. In Noopy I fished and caught bugs at night, listening to changes in the music with the chime of each new hour. The insect room of the Noopy museum sounded like a Louisiana summer night. When the Bluecoats finally pulled up, they split—the corps took the floor of the gym; the bus drivers slept in practice rooms.
We didn’t know much about drum corps then, other than what we’d watched on the big screen in the band room, but I at least knew about sleeping on tour buses and wondered how the corps members ever got any rest. For a day we were in and out of the house, so tired and so confused as we switched between the bright daylight and fluorescent lights as the professional marching band stretched in the band room, marched the same drill back and forth, lined up for lunch at the food truck—and alternately, the dark upstairs bedroom (I closed my blinds and pulled down the shade) with, just across the hallway, the yellow light of my brothers’ room and the characters who were running around doing errands for neighbors or hitting neighbors on the heads with their bug-catching nets. My brothers had gotten a full night’s rest, and Liesl—that was what I’d named my Noopy-self—slept all hours of the night and day: when I was ready to leave her world, I’d walk her up the stairs to rest. I couldn’t mimic her schedule in the real world; soon enough the noise from my brothers’ room or the dog downstairs was enough to rouse me from my bed.
That was the summer I was learning how to operate a motor vehicle in the most backwards way—Driver’s Ed tests took place on roads, not in parking lots, even if we’d never driven before. It was simpler in Noopy—no cars, just running shoes, plus the occasional bus or boat. Unlike the unfamiliar neighborhoods I had to traverse in my Driver’s Ed car, the Noopy landmarks were straightforward and easy to map: Tom Nook’s place. Able Sisters. The town hall. The dump. The museum. Neighbors’ houses, the river, the bridges, the cliff, the sea. My mother had to drive me back and forth up to the band room already that summer because I was a newly-appointed drum major. She probably didn’t appreciate that I had volunteered us for the drum corps thing on top of the Driver’s Ed thing. Mostly my brothers protested because they couldn’t be at home exploring Noopy, competing to see who could pay off their house loans first.
At the drum corps show, we learned that cheering for the Bluecoats sounded like booing—“Bluuuuuue!”—and in the evening light the Carolina Crown color guard raised giant white flags like wings. That was the summer the Boston Crusaders played “Ode to Joy.” That was the summer Jason Cameron died. My brothers and I traded off time in Noopy every second we could get: the soft pat of our footsteps in digital midday sun was preferable to sandals on hot concrete, the air conditioning to our hometown heat and humidity. We wrote gibberish letters to leave in each other’s mailboxes, checked up constantly on our virtual neighbors. In the basement coffee shop where K. K. Slider placidly “oh-wee-oh-way-way”-ed us Saturday nights we could almost forget how the sixteen-year-old trombone section leader had died in a car wreck on the interstate. As I spun Liesl around, slingshot in hand, searching for that red-balloon surprise gift in the Noopy sky I could almost forget the phone call that came as I stood drying dishes, how my mother walked away to take it, how she came back: I was so shocked I forgot the word for “trombone.” As I hoped for the millionth time that the oblong shadow tugging on my fishing line was anything but a Sea Bass, I could almost wipe from my mind the image of Jason’s best friends—all upperclassmen, all seniors—when I saw them at the funeral. The video that played on the projector screens. The cheap, waxy rosary that snapped accidentally in my hands. The open casket. I took Liesl to the Able Sisters and painstakingly doodled a design for an umbrella. I bought impossible chests of drawers to store my extra wallpapers, my gyroids, my furniture that looked like fruit. I was terrified of driving.