We hadn’t had a conversation in months. We spoke in small talk to each other every day, like any couple:
“How was your day? What do you want to do for dinner?”
Stuff like that.
But we hadn’t actually talked in a long time. As anyone could tell you, this poses a problem for those in a relationship. Especially when you live together.
So when we finally had a real conversation, everything that both of us kept bottled up was let out and laid plainly for all to view. It nearly broke us up. But only nearly.
Our relationship, we agreed, was mostly flawed in the communication side of things. The three-hour long, sobbing exchange we shared that night, we used as an example of smaller conversations we should have had earlier, broken down into smaller ones.
My girlfriend and I also agreed to work to do more together, rather than focus only on our own lives. Agreeing to share interests more readily became our focus.
Travel was a large part of that, and we now take small trips at least once a month to get away and spend time with just each other.
She and I also share a love of “marathoning,” whether it be marathons of movies or television show runs. We’d also had some success on controller swapping single-player games just to pass the time, so I suggested we try marathoning a video game together again, and see if we could focus on multiplayer.
She offered that she got into first-person shooters when playing with an ex in college, and expressed an interest in zombies because The Walking Dead was coming back on the air soon. I suggested Left 4 Dead 2, and took about ten minutes showing her how the controls worked.
We loaded up “Dead Center,” the first campaign the game offered. I offered the Easy difficulty because she was just starting out.
“Don’t take it easy on me,” she replied with a smirk.
So Normal it was, for us.
The Dead Center campaign took the better part of a week to get through, just as much due to her inexperience as my bravado in running ahead of the group and getting mauled. At first, we’d race each other to spare First Aid packs, both of us cursing as the other would heal up when not really needing it. I’d push her toward what I thought was the better weapon, and she’d wander off without me and find herself getting caught by a Smoker or trying to melee the Witch. It was slow going, in other words.
But that time we spent playing became a bright spot of my nights and weekends. I’d take out my frustration on the horde instead of yelling at her, and she’d feel closer to me because we were both enjoying the challenge of surviving as a couple. Slowly, we found a rhythm to the levels we played together: I’d take the melee side or a support style weapon, and she would pick up the longer range assault rifles or snipers.
After we’d get tired for the night or start to feel like doing something else, we’d talk. Really talk, but with our frustrations vented. We’d start off talking about how useless a frying pan would be as a melee weapon, and eventually talk about where we’d want to move to together once we were ready. We’d talk about how The Sugar Mill level is infuriating once the storm comes, and then turn to talking about how unhappy we actually were with other aspects of our lives and the effect it had on how we treated each other.
The one moment I realized all of this positive change largely was due to playing the game, was during our final run of Chapter 3 of the Blood Harvest campaign, appropriately titled, “The Bridge.” We had failed run after failed run, constantly getting separated and picked apart by the endless horde that descends upon you when you get the rail car to blow the bridge support.
But just before trying the level one last time before giving up for the night, I looked my girlfriend in the eyes and said softly, “Don’t lose me. We need to stick together on this.”
She picked up an ax; I picked up the silenced Sub-Machine Gun (playing Left 4 Dead levels with Left 4 Dead 2’s trimmings is awesome). We covered each other a record number of times in that level, protecting and rescuing each other as wave after wave of infected whittled our health down.
For what had to be the tenth time that night, I pulled the lever on the rail car to send it toward the bridge support. I took a flank position and went for wide shots while my girlfriend hacked away at any and all comers with the ax. As we got bottle-necked on the walkway toward the safe room, I backed off and tried to clear the road for her while she got up close and personal.
“Hey, this is a lot easier when you plow the road for me,” she said. We made it to the safe room, finally. Sitting back on the couch, we were barely able to keep our eyes open.
“I love you.”
“Love you too.”
We were talking again, and it felt great.