A young girl is forced to turn off her addiction, cold turkey.
|Kaycee, sporting a sloppy ponytail and old jeans, stepped into the apartment she shared with her older brother, who also played the role of guardian for the past few years. She slung her book bag off her shoulder and tossed it carelessly onto a wobbly chair. Contained inside were only about half the homework assignments she had been given that day and she figured she would be lucky if even half of those would be completed before the next day.
Being in eighth grade had its low points, but one of the perks, as Kaycee saw it, was that she didn't have to worry about her grades or her future nearly as much as the juniors and seniors in high school seemed to need. She disregarded her homework and made a beeline for the old living room desktop computer. She made the ten steps to the kitchen and fixed herself a snack while it booted, initiating her daily after-school routine.
Living with only her brother left her relying on whatever resources he brought in to pay for the tiny, dingy studio apartment. The internet connection had been a treat to her that Darren had finally been able to start fitting into the budget. The siblings had agreed that a television wasn't necessary, but Darren had obtained the old computer the previous year when a friend had decided to upgrade. Darren had provided a few hours of labor to the man doing whatever it was that he did during the odd hours he worked - what her brother did to earn his money, Kaycee honestly didn't know. Some kind of marketing, he'd always told her.
Kaycee sat down a minute later with a peanut butter and honey sandwich and an apple - which would probably end up being her dinner as usual lately, except in the odd case that Darren came home before she went to bed, making her turn off the computer and eat something more. Kaycee selected the icon on the old machine's desktop that opened the fantasy game her classmate and close friend Jeremy - or "Germy", as she had affectionately renamed him - had introduced her to early in the school year. He had been playing the game a few months when he learned that she was a fan of fantasy novels and hungry for more content than the school library's sad collection could sate, and turned her on to it immediately. She had grasped it gradually, especially struggling with her computer's slow speeds, but eventually became captivated by the strange lands and immersed in the fantasy culture.
Once the machine finally registered that Kaycee had clicked and managed to respond, the game client opened with an "ERROR" message. "Error: unable to connect to server. Please check your internet connection."
Kaycee stared in disbelief. She ran the internet connectivity troubleshooter, restarted the game client, and shut the machine down, all of which took a significant amount of time. Kaycee's knee bounced restlessly while she waited for the slow machine to complete each task, but no such luck was found in resolving the issue.
Kaycee jumped from her seat suddenly and searched the cluttered coffee table (which was really only a few overturned crates found behind a distributions building) and dug out the notebook the siblings used to communicate back and forth when they didn't have many opportunities for face-to-face conversations, and flipped to the last page. Following the inconsequential message she'd left to him before bed the previous day, Darren had scrawled something below her neat lettering.
There's a pot of stew for dinner, reheat on the stove (do not put your bowl on the burner this time). I'll be working late tonight so don't try to wait for me. Go to bed at a reasonable time.
I'm certain you'll have noticed by now that the internet is no longer connected. This is intentional. I received notice from your counsellor this morning informing me that you have not been turning in your assignments in more than one of your classes. I assume you have not been doing well on your tests, either, although I did not choose to ask for confirmation. I've decided that it's time for you to put away this game you've undoubtedly been choosing to spend your time on rather than the assignments your teachers give you. I am therefore removing the temptation to do so for you. I expect all of your homework to be finished before I return home, and I will be checking before you leave tomorrow morning.
Furthermore, I would like you to understand that I am not establishing a rewards system. The internet is gone and I will not be re-subscribing even if you manage to get caught up and pass the semester. You need to learn that the kind of game you've allowed yourself to get sucked into is only a black hole for your time, and you will not achieve your goals if you continue to prioritize the way you have been.
You're fourteen years old, and I shouldn't have to do this. Perhaps when you finish the year we'll buy a television.
Kaycee slammed the notebook back down on the crate-table and threw herself onto the ratty sofa. She stared at the wall ahead of her for two solid minutes, burning. The game hadn't just been a pastime to her. It was a power trip, an escape, a breath of fresh air.
She was consumed by the strength she felt taking down a great foe, submersed in the stunning reality of the unreal world - something she was good at! She had made friends! Friends with whom, aside from Germy who attended school with her, didn't know the part she was forced to play in her day-to-day life; friends with whom she could fully be herself. Those friends didn't know how poor she was in real life, or that she had virtually no family, aside from her brother. They didn't need to know how she felt having to go to school each day wearing the same thing she'd worn the week before, or using mostly pens and pencils she'd found in the hallway. They supported her, took care of her, and most importantly, they had fun together!
God, what would her friends do if she suddenly stopped playing? Would they think she had died? She couldn't take that. She couldn't bear to leave them hanging, but Darren had left her with nothing to do about it!
Kaycee suddenly bounced off the sofa and grabbed her book bag. She tore open the zipped and dumped the contents onto the floor. One by one, while kneeling on the floor, she took each class folder or loose paper and tore each sheet to bits, letting the pieces fall delicately around herself like confetti. She flipped the mathematics textbook open and ripped out fistfuls of pages at once. Crumpled balls of formulas and equations lay at her knees.
Before she could catch her breath she spun around and pulled the notebook from behind her. She flipped through each page and tore out each section of paper that Darren had written on and crumpled them with the rest of the math pages on the floor.
Kaycee crouched heaving on the living room floor. Slowly her breathing was overcome with heavy sobs.
"You don't know anything about my priorities!" she shouted to the empty room.
Darren had no idea what he'd just stripped from his sister's life.