Something about the way he sat in front of the television day in and day out turned her stomach. Her little boy, nine years old, hadn’t spent more than three hours away from his games when you don’t include sleep. If he slept. He was so good at turning down the volume to just the right notch that his mother couldn’t hear the heads of bad guys being blown off or the constant cursing of the protagonist. Sometimes, though, she would stand in the doorway when he accidentally left it cracked and peak in at his game. Everything about it terrified her. His character, whom she could not see as the game was in first person, used a shotgun and spat swears every other word. Her little boy, on the floor, controller in hand, repeating them. “I’m gonna blow your mother fucking head off!” He’d whisper at the TV. What could she do? She tried to take his games away. He always found the place she hid them and took them back when she wasn’t around.
On his twelvth birthday, Daddy bought him four video games along with a new gaming system. It wasn’t the one that he wanted. “What the hell, Dad? I told you I wanted an XBox 1, not a damn PlayStation 4!”
“Don’t use those words,” he tells his son, who doesn’t listen. Everything mom and dad say goes in one ear and out the other. There’s no point scolding him anymore. No amount of trips to the psychologist or the guidance counselor will work. “He’ll grow out of it,” Mom tries to console her husband. “It’s just a phase.” She knows what has always been going on behind their son’s door, and what always will, but she keeps her hope. He storms upstairs to his room and hooks up his new system anyways. The old system stopped working two days ago, and he was starting to feel withdrawal. His hands shook when he went to bed at night and he experienced anxiety over every little thing. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t want anyone to know.
Christmas day, four years later, he locks himself in his room. His wireless controller has died five times. He plugs it in until it’s charged but he never stops playing. Nobody even knows what he’s playing anymore. “Honey,” his mother hesitates to try and speak to him. “We’re leaving your gift in front of your door. We think you’ll really love it. Goodnight.”
Most of the time his parents pretend to walk away so they can see his face again. This time they didn’t. He still waits until sometime around 3:00 A.M. the next day to open his door. A shoebox sized gift wrapped in blue paper with smiling snowmen on it sits in front of him. He looks around, picks it up, and shuts his door. He doesn’t expect to find what it’s contents are. An instructional packet, a small black earpiece, an adjustable headband, some strange circular pads with wires connected to them, and a long rectangular bar with cushion on one side all sit in the box. He picks up the instructional packet and thumbs though it, half reading the whole thing. By 6:00 A.M. he has it all set up. At 9:00 A.M. he is playing his video games while eating breakfast with his parents. There is no screen in front of him, except for the black bar across his eyes. “So, you like your gift?” Dad asks. “We figured it would be fun to have at lunch when you go back to school,” His son says nothing. He quickly eats his eggs and returns to his room. The next morning, his mother pours salt on his cereal. He doesn’t notice and scarfs it down. He even drinks all the milk.
It isn’t a holiday and a holiday neither has come or will come. Not because the calendar says so, but because he has been lying in bed in three days straight and they didn’t know until now. It wasn’t unusual for him to skip breakfast and dinner as they always kept snacks in the house and assumed he’d eat when he was hungry. He didn’t this time. But the starvation didn’t cause his death. He never even felt the tightness in his chest. His mother blames herself for convincing her husband to buy him that game and all the games before it. Her husband is relieved. They no longer carry the burden that was their son.