301 Moved Permanently

301 Moved Permanently


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The Grey

When I was just a girl, fifteen or sixteen, I played The Grey. It wasn’t the game I’d asked for, but after my other Christmas gifts broke or bored, I tried it out. Our family had a relatively new immersion bed for those first direct-to-brain sims. The Grey used all five senses, to extreme effect.
The Grey, since you’re much too young to remember, was the first and last realistic aging simulator. You’d play a 90-year-old version of yourself, a widow (or widower) living her (or his) life. It was massively unpopular. I can’t imagine it made any money. Most people didn’t even play long enough to find out there was a mystery to solve, because it just hurt so much to walk when it rained. And it always rained. Your knees ached as you shuffled out between the garbage bags. Your lungs didn’t fill completely and you didn’t really want them to, since everything smelled vaguely of mildew. Your own skin sagged and gathered like a baggy poncho. Visiting the optometrist for your cataract surgery was rendered in excruciating detail.
I started playing The Grey as a perverse thrill. An adventure. The other girls were reading magazines with gross-out stories of menstruations gone wrong and playing shooters with nightmarish face-eaters. I was in The Grey, every morning putting in my medicinal-stink dentures. Hobbling through the subway station, bifocals constantly slipping from my nose, pointedly ignored or pitied by all. Wrangling the loose swing of my stretch-streaked, gelatinous breasts.
Looking at it now, I realise it was a horror game, tailored personally to me.
The first time I logged out, I was nauseous and ran to the toilet, though I couldn’t vomit.
The second time after I logged out, I cried.
The third time, riding an adrenaline surf, I did a somersault.
That was the keeper. I started playing just to disconnect. I would endure the horrors of saggy arm-flaps, fungal-creviced bunions, and utter irrelevance to the public for a few hours, but then after a few seconds of nothingness, I’d be back in my genuinely rejuvenated body.  I felt (really felt) what sixteen was, in all its smooth grace and endless energy. My knees were joy. I could sprint down the street through the snow and pivot on my heel, breasts newly budded. Once, standing on the edge of a bridge over rushing white water, I kissed a boy as the sun rose, and the wind was golden as it combed my hair. I joined the track team, just for the physicality. I was exuberant, tenacious youth, in its fullest incarnation, and I felt utterly, eminently present.
I discovered that the longer I played, the sweeter the disconnect.
I played most nights and some mornings before school. I would play whenever I had ten minutes, just long enough to get immersed and then rip out again.
The addiction to The Grey lasted for a year or so, until it was banned for correlations to suicide. I finished high school, went to college, and didn’t think about it much. I went to college, met your father, nurtured my career and raised you all. You know how it is. All of you went to college, and then your children started getting ready to go to college too. Life went on.
Until a few years ago. When your father passed on, everything started feeling even more familiar. I started having strong deja vu, first every few months, then every few weeks.
The game wasn’t technologically accurate of course; they couldn’t have known how the world would change in seventy-odd years. Even so, they did their research on some details. My morning cleanser smells just like my denture-solution tasted. Garbage bags still rustle on the sidewalk. The arthritis pains are just the same, though more in my wrists. I guess The Grey taught me to take care of my knees, but something’s got to go.
They got the details bang-on, but the basics are fundamentally wrong. I don’t know if the game developers were all young people or extraordinarily bitter, but The Grey is almost willfully blind to the joys of being older. And before you roll your eyes, I’m not about to get sentimental. Seeing your grandchildren is very fulfilling, but it’s not what life’s about. Not mine anyway. Not by a long shot. And it’s not just that sometimes the sun shines.
No, The Grey was missing the build-up.
Everyone listens to songs more than once. Why do we do that?
Songs mean different things to us, the more times we hear them. The first, second, and five-hundredth times are different than the six-hundredth time. Everything means more when it has the time to build on itself. Every winter is informed by our memories of the winters before it, and the seasons in-between. This mug of coffee in my hand, warm and steaming, is the ur-coffee, embodying all of the thousands of coffees I’ve drunk, who I drank them with, and those years I went caffeine-free. Not just in sentiment; in actual truth. The 245th page of a book only matters because of the first 244 pages. Without the build-up, a climax is just high tension.
I know you are all debating putting me in a home, as if you could “put me” anywhere I didn’t want to be. At least one of you thinks I might be in danger of self-harm. As if maybe I thought disconnecting from this grey reality would tempt me, thinking I could just wake up and be sixteen again. Some of you worry that I play too many video games for my age.
Don’t be ridiculous. I’m still energy and vibrancy here, flaps and bunions and all, thank you very much. I’m still just as capable of kissing men while standing on a bridge as the sun rises, and I’ll have you know I did that just a few months ago. Your father would have approved. I may look like The Grey, but I’m still living the same life as that sixteen-year-old from years ago. I’m still here. I’m still me, unplugged.
If and when I need to become ashes in an urn, do scatter me over warm water and play loud music to celebrate my living. Until then, I will continue on, so worry about turning the pages of your own story. Do bring the children with you when you visit.

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