I remember back in the day Nick used to try to get to Heaven. Heaven was a glitched-out place in San Andreas where nothing made sense or seemed quite real, and Nick would come home most days, boot up the PS2, and try again to get into it. There was a specific building in San Andreas where, if you went inside and used a cheat code to spawn a jetpack, you could fly through a certain part of the ceiling that didn’t have proper clipping. There was just one spot where you could fly through, a place that the developers had overlooked. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. This wasn’t something you were ever supposed to be able to come across just walking and jumping around. But if you knew what to look for, and you did everything in just the right way, you could lift off and go through the ceiling. Fly right above the interior. From up there, I remember it looked like you had ripped the roof off a dollhouse and were looking down at its insides. And everywhere around the interior, where the outside world should’ve been, there was nothing but blank gray. Gray as far as you could see, in every direction. The way the game worked was that in order to save resources, only the exterior world or the interior world would ever be loaded at any given time, depending on what the character chose. The developers never intended for the player to see beyond the place that had been loaded for them, but Nick had found a way to clip through. He found a way to explore what shouldn’t be explored.
I remember every day he’d go straight back into that building and continue where he left off. You couldn’t save in Heaven, so he’d have to just repeat the glitch every time. There were no waypoints, no markers, so Nick would fly through gray nothing for what seemed like forever before coming across a new interior, some place he had never seen before. He’d go there and take mental notes of everything he saw, then fly back up through where the ceiling should’ve been and look for another place: a space explorer trying to chart new worlds. He’d find interiors you’d only see in passing in random cutscenes, abandoned test areas, and places you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the game. Many of these places were unfinished, so he’d land there and find himself able to walk through the walls, glide through props. It was like he was there but not at the same time.
And the wild thing is that he committed so much of that to memory. There was no real way to map all of that out. Once you were in the air, there were no landmarks to guide you, nothing but gray everywhere. If you checked your map in-game, it said that you were still at the building you’d originally entered. It was like you had never left. Like you were stuck, even though you weren’t.
I didn’t play San Andreas for years after Nick died. I had the game, had the old system, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do a lot of things after he died, but I definitely couldn’t play that game. It got so even if I saw it pop up in a video I was watching or something, I’d have to turn it off. I never really talked about that, but yeah. That’s how it was.
To have a brother gone is like how I imagine it when people describe phantom limb syndrome. It’s the times when you’re not fully conscious yet that it hits the hardest, when just for that tiny moment your brain tells you that it’s okay, that he’s still alive. Then you wake up a little more, and you remember that he’s gone. That he’s been dead now for five years, and that nothing’s going to change that. Sometimes I just wish I could sleep in. Just dream a little longer.
I booted up the old PS2 earlier today. It was too early, and the sun was in my eyes, and I still remembered how to set it all up. And the crazy thing is, Nick’s old save file still worked. I booted it up, and I went to that same old place, and I googled the jetpack cheat. I’m sure Nick would’ve had it committed to memory, but I needed a prompt. I got into that corner, this time from memory, and I flew. Straight up, away and past it all. Into the gray where the world you thought you knew wasn’t really there. And I went.