Our theme for the month of September is Alphabet Soup. Each writer was assigned a letter and will title their post “___ is for ___.”

—the guy from the mid-late aughts’ “IT’S OVER 9000!!!” meme. Many of you would recognize him, or at least recognize the line. You may have even quoted him without knowing the source—I certainly have. That’s where most people’s connection to Vegeta, understandably, begins and ends. 

I was in Reitsma’s living room late one night in the mid-late aughts, playing Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, a 2D Street Fighter– or Mortal Kombat-esque fighting game for the PS2. I don’t remember how or why. Ritz and I were friends, but we had little in common that I can recall. We shared few interests, participated in none of the same sports or extracurriculars, ran in mostly different circles at school, had crushes on entirely different girls, and were, ourselves, quite different from each other. We had grown up in the same neighborhood, but we weren’t really closer to each other than we were to our other neighborhood friends. In fact, I tended to side with the other guys in making fun of him for liking Dragon Ball Z.

So I was, I suppose justly, getting humiliated in this game. But I will say this was probably only the second or third time I had picked up a PS2 controller, and I will say that I was probably limited by the fact that I knew nothing about Dragon Ball Z and no sort of imagination for what these characters were capable of doing to each other—I had no idea which characters were even powerful. I at least knew Goku—the main protagonist of the franchise. Everybody knows Goku. But I couldn’t be Goku because Reitsma was Goku. He’s optimistic, hard-working, social, heroic. I figured, judging by proximity on the character-select screen, that Vegeta would be the next best thing. Reitsma laughed in the way I suppose one would laugh when you picked a notoriously troublesome player in a sports game or fantasy draft. Vegeta, it turns out, is snotty, entitled, hot-headed, easily manipulated by evil influences, and ultimately, just less powerful than Goku (not to say that’s why I was losing). I felt the same way I imagine Vegeta did, time and time again, losing to Goku. It wasn’t much fun. Feeling, really without good reason, that you should have won. 

So it wasn’t so much because of the game itself that I was so excited when Reitsma told me that Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 3 was coming out. I think I was mostly excited to have a reason, when we didn’t seem to have many only a few months before, to keep hanging out just the two of us. Admittedly, BT3 is exponentially more fun than its predecessor, mostly because instead of advancing and retreating on small 2D stage, you got to fly around and destroy massive 3D environments as you hunted each other; and admittedly, I did purchase the Wii version of the game very shortly after I played it for the first time on Reitsma’s PS2, a shrewd acquisition, if I do say so myself, because in the Wii version, you use the system’s motion controls to recreate the movements that unleash the character’s explosive attacks, which is just so ridiculously damn fun. This turned the tables a bit. Working with controls I was more familiar with, I became a serious threat.

But mostly, this game was the thing that neither Reitsma nor I shared with any of our other friends, and it was basically the reason we spent so many days, long into the night, hanging out. And it was basically the reason his family invited me to go camping with them for a week in three different summers (when I say camping, I mean staying in the air-conditioned pastor’s cottage at the Christian Reformed Conference Grounds where Mr. Mpindi was invited to preach for the week, playing DBZ: BT3 while the other families ate beans in their RVs).

Freshman year of college, when people would ask the classic icebreaker of who you were rooming with, they would often be shocked that I even knew Reitsma. Or rather, that he knew me. Everybody knows Ritz. To say we were rivals in the way that Goku and Vegeta were would be a little extreme, given that weren’t trying to defeat each other on a cosmic battlefield, but we did squabble with each other, and we were constantly trying to appear cooler than the other, he in his natural optimistic, social way, and I in my “Kakarot’s not that impressive” way. 

I haven’t played the game, nor have Ritz and I talked much, in the past several years. It’s not that we really grew apart, and rooming together didn’t ruin our friendship the way so many high schoolers are warned it will. Even second semester, there were times we would stay up into the darkest hours of the night talking about the same stuff we had been for six years. After graduation, he moved to DC and then to New York, and now he’s saving the world working with some nonprofit. I’m just here in Grand Rapids with a cartoonish widow’s peak that drops into a severe V. I’ll make sure to catch up with him this time when he’s in town for the holidays, and I bet I’ll kick his ass in BT3.

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