5 Death In The Family
Before we begin, I would like to clarify something. I would not be here right now if I didn't feel it was necessary. I'm not one of those people who takes to the internet to rant and rave at the slightest inconvenience.
Although the likelihood of anyone believing this is slim, hopefully someone out there will heed my words. My name is Emily, and my son Daniel has been killing people. Now I know what you might be thinking, "why come out with it like this? Why not unburden your soul with a confession or perhaps tell the police?"
It's not exactly that simple. Daniel lost his battle with muscular dystrophy six months ago.
You're probably scratching your head in confusion right now. I don't blame you. If it didn't happen to me I probably wouldn't believe it, but I promise you, every word is true. It all began years ago when my son was just a small boy.
Due to his health, he could never really play sports, so he made up for it by playing video games. I can still remember the look on his face that Christmas when I got him a Super Nintendo. At that point he wasn't in a wheelchair yet.
He must have tripped at least five or six times sprinting as best he could over to the Christmas tree, clutching onto the box as if it were made of pure gold. His favorite game at the time was Super Mario Brothers.
He would come home from school, get his homework done as fast as he could and rush into his room, eager to get lost in the world of the game. Maybe he played a little too much, but I knew he was safe in his room, and it kept him occupied while I made dinner or did some other menial housework. The only real trouble he gave me was when it was time to eat. "Just five more minutes mommy!" he would beg.
As Daniel matured, so did his taste in video games. By the time he was in his teens, gone were the days of Super Mario. He had upgraded to Xbox and PlayStation. When he was younger, I played with him from time to time, but our co-op adventures faded into a distant memory.
These new consoles were a bit too complex for me to fully grasp. Super Nintendo was simple, a power switch, a reset button and a simple controller. There was so much more to it now! It wasn't just that though, I could deal with the learning curve if it weren't for the fact that the level of violence in some of the newer games was downright repulsive.
That Grand Theft Auto game was probably the worst. I'll never understand the satisfaction one gets from sleeping with a prostitute, only to beat her to a pulp and take back your money a mere few seconds later. Really bizarre!
Unfortunately for Daniel, the older he got the worse his muscular dystrophy got. In more severe cases like his, those affected by it will experience a greatly shortened lifespan, often not living past their late teens to early twenties.
When he finally lost the use of his legs and was confined to a wheelchair, he started sleeping down in the den as to avoid using the stairs. We moved all of his video games down stairs and I made up a nice bed for him in there. I would never let him know it, but this killed me inside!
I can't begin to tell you how many mornings I dreaded coming downstairs. There was one recurring nightmare I'd have all the time, I'd come downstairs to make breakfast and find Daniel dead. It was a nightmare that I'd sadly have to live out sooner rather than later.
As much as I didn't want to leave my boys side, desperate to spend every last minute with him until the bitter end, it was important to maintain normalcy as much as humanly possible, and that meant keeping him enrolled in school. Looking back on it, I'm sad to say that may have hurt him more than it helped him.
They say kids can be cruel, but they got it all wrong. Angry, bitter teenagers are far worse. Daniel, standing out from the rest of his classmates because of his wheelchair, fell casualty to the school tough guys. Oh, how I loathed them. There was one in particular though, one worse than the others, Nick Herter. He wasn't like the rest of them, he wasn't afraid to get physical.
He didn't care at all that Daniel was in a wheelchair, that just made him a slower target. When I realized what was going on, my first instinct as a mother was to raise some serious hell. The school advised against that though, insisting that the more noise I made would only paint a bigger target across Daniel's back.
So, against my emotions and my better judgement, I held my tongue and did my best to extinguish the rage that burned inside me. There may not have been much I could do, but at least Daniel had his friend Kevin to watch over him during the school day.
Kevin was on the school football team and was familiar with a few of Daniel's bullies. Usually, he'd step in before things got out of hand. The pair had been friends since about the fourth or fifth grade. I always referred to the boy as the gentle giant, probably the only thing I ever saw him hit was nails with a hammer that time he helped me build a ramp for the house to accommodate Daniel's wheelchair.
For a while it seemed as if the boys were inseparable Whenever Daniel seemed to be having an extra hard time, Kevin would come over and spend entire beautiful Saturday afternoons with him playing video games, just to keep him company and make him feel better.
Over time though, their gaming sessions grew a bit farther apart, with Daniel just excusing his absences because of having to go to the gym, or some other activity to stay in shape for sports. It was the inevitability of time, people change, circumstances change.
One day after coming home from school, Daniel was particularly distraught, and he was covered in bruises on his face and arms. Something must have happened at school. I tried to get it out of him but he just kept giving me the same blanket statement. "I forgot to set the brakes on my chair, and I fell."
"Honey, it's ok", I explained. "If something happened to you at school, you can tell me." I pried for more information, anything I could get out of him. "Was it the same guys bothering you again?" He sat there motionless, as if he was already dead. "Well fine", I huffed "I guess I'll just call Kevin's parents and get him on the phone, I want answers and I'm gonna get them! I'm sure he saw what happened.
"Oh Goddamn it mom", he snapped back "I don't want to talk about Kevin!" Daniel was never much of a swearer. I think he was a little shocked to hear it come out of his mouth. He quickly began to apologize, "I…I'm sorry mom, I didn't mean it, just… could we not talk about it please!" I worked my way over to him and lifted him up, cradling his head on my shoulder like I did when he was small.
"Relax honey, I know you didn't mean it!" I assured him. I could sense him holding back tears. "I'm sorry, I really am. If there was a way I could take away all your pain, I promise I would." We ate dinner in silence that night.
At one point, Daniel got a text on his phone, it didn't seem to be anything urgent though, he just glanced at his phone and went back to eating, as if it never happened.
At bed time, I tucked him neatly into his bed and gave him a kiss on his forehead. "Good night honey", I said. "Just try and get some sleep ok, tomorrow is a better day."
"I know." He replied in an ominous monotone voice. At least, it was creepier looking back on it now.
The next morning, I stumbled downstairs and into the kitchen to prepare breakfast. The TV was still turned on from the night before. The vexing sound of static wreaked havoc on my ears. Perhaps Daniel had fallen asleep with the television on. "Wake up sleepy head", I called. "I'll have breakfast ready in a couple of minutes."
While I was getting breakfast ready, I happened to notice that the silverware drawer was left open. Did Daniel roll in here during the night to get something to eat? "Hey don't we close drawers around here!?" Still no answer. I entered the den to wake him up. He was really knocked out this morning. I tenderly shook him, "Come on sweetie get up!"
Nothing. I rolled him over. He laid there flat on his back. His skin was eerily cold. I noticed there happened to be a substantially dark and sticky stain on his blanket. Growing more apprehensive by the second, I tore through his sheets to investigate the cause. As I pulled him atop the bed, my eyes grew broad with terror. There was blood, lots of it, flooding from Daniel's wrists.
A small knife snuck out of the blankets and plummeted onto the floor. So, that was what he had taken from the drawer? I scrambled to call 9-11. Daniel's phone happened to be on the table. I grabbed it and slid it open to call the police. That was when I saw the message he seemingly ignored before. It read, "YOU'RE A PATHETIC WASTE OF OXYGEN YOU SICK FREAK."
I tried to see who it was that was tormenting him, but the number wasn't logged into his phone. Tears began to rain down my face as I shouted to the heavens, my scream and the ongoing TV static forming a demented harmony. What had he done? Not only had I lost my baby from a disease, but he had forfeited the battle ahead of time.
I was a complete mess during Daniel's wake. I sat there in the front row, eyes welled up with tears, viewing the world through my sable tinted spectacles, alert enough to know I was surrounded among people paying their respects but doped up enough not to care. The services were just about wrap up for the evening when Kevin surprised me.
I took my sunglasses off. Peering into my tumid eyes, he embraced me and for one moment, the memories came rushing back. All the play-dates, all the sleepovers… as we hugged, it felt like one tiny part of Daniel lived on through his dear old buddy. "I… I don't know what to say ma'am", he uttered. "He was like a brother to me."
"He adored you!", I assured him. "You really were a guardian angel, probably the only reason he still wanted to go to school in the first place." He slouched over and, in an instant, went from concerned to despondent.
"I should have been there more. Maybe I could have seen this coming." His deep, drawn out breaths bore the weight of the guilt entombing his soul.
"Don't ever blame yourself sweetie! No one could have seen this coming!"
He leaned over and whispered as if he was being watched. "If you'd been in school, you could have probably seen it coming a mile away."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
He began, "That day in school, before he died. I took off early for football practice. We were doing laps in the field, that's when I found him. His wheelchair was flipped over and he was covered in bruises and dragging himself across the ground."
What the hell? What kind of a sick animal would do such a thing? My shock had turned to rage. "Who did this?" I demanded to know. "Was it those same miserable bastards always bothering him?"
"If I had to guess", explained Kevin. "But no one was around when I found him though, and he refused to talk about it. He demanded I get him back into his chair and send him on his way." This explained a lot. If only Daniel had opened up to me about it, we may not have been laying him to rest now.
The first couple of months after he died was probably the worst time of my life. I was a complete shell of my former self. If I ate anything, it was purely for nourishment to keep me going. I dropped about 15 lbs in the span of a month.
I had completely emotionally isolated myself from the rest of the world, avoiding all contact possible. As much as I didn't wanna deal with people, locking myself in the house wasn't an option either.
Whoever said silence is deadly knew their stuff, it's amazing, the things you pick up on in an empty nest. There was just something weird about the house. It was this bad feeling that you just couldn't shake.
I started having these horrible nightmares. It was the same dream each time, incredibly vivid. The television downstairs would be blasting static. I'd stumble out of bed to investigate, and there'd be these messy footprints heading down the stairs, they were composed of dirt and leaves and other elements.
They'd serve as my guide, leading me into the den where I'd be almost blinded by the bright snowy static of the TV. Beneath the set, knelt a decomposing Daniel, gleefully rubbing his slashed wrist across the television, spelling out "I MISS YOU MOM" in blood on the screen. He would turn around and we would lock eyes.
They weren't my precious baby's eyes though. They were cold, emotionless black holes where his eyes should be. He would flash me the most sinister ear to ear grin and I'd finally regain consciousness, drenched in sweat and almost dead of a heart attack.
My nightmares were getting so bad that it got to the point where I'd do anything to avoid going to sleep. I'd usually down a whole pot of coffee if I could help it, caffeine could only get me so far though, then came the tears and I'd wind up crying myself back to sleep.
Being a mother was my whole life, my identity. I had this insatiable lust to be in someone's life, to be needed again. It would be another couple of months before I got that chance again.
One night, after coming home late from work, I sat on the sofa, blindly surfing through channels and nursing a glass of wine. I don't know what came over me, but I just took a good long look at myself.
Take-out boxes were scattered across the floor where my beautiful clean carpet once was. A mess of wires and game consoles were still canopied beneath the television serving as a painful reminder of Daniel's presence.
On the 6-month anniversary of his passing, it was time. I had to move on with life to some degree, and if I kept everything of Daniel's as it was, as a shrine, that was never going to happen. I held a small garage sale and got rid of most of his clothes and shoes, holding onto a few miscellaneous items from his infancy.
Mostly everything sold apart from one of his game consoles and a couple of his old games. Figuring maybe Kevin would want them, I set them aside for him. He came by later that night after I had called his parents. We hadn't seen each other since Daniel's wake.
"How are you doing?" I asked.
"Doing ok", he responded. "How are you holding up?"
"I'm going along I suppose", there was a certain awkwardness in the room, neither one of us knew what to say to one another. I motioned for him to go sit at the kitchen table and I brought the games in for Kevin to inspect.
There wasn't quite the same glee in his eye as Daniel had when getting a new video game, but I could tell he knew his stuff when it came to this sort of thing. He sifted through some cables and plugs and asked, "Mind if I plug this in?"
It was a reasonable request, the console hadn't been played with in so long, and it was full of dust. For all I knew, it was as good as scrap. We took it into the den and sat down next to each other. After a couple minutes of fidgeting with some cables, the game console was up and running. Kevin selected a game and inspected it closely.
"This one looks like it's scratched a little, he observed. I wonder if it'll play."
"Only one way to find out." He slid this disc in, after a couple of seconds, a loading screen appeared. His eyes lit up as the game had started. I probably hadn't seen a smile like that since Daniel first got the game.
Even though this was supposed to be a temporary test run, he seemed to be getting engrossed in the game. I offered to make him a sandwich while he tried the game out, but he declined.
"It's ok ma'am really, don't trouble yourself", he insisted. "As a matter of fact, wile you're sitting here, do you wanna see something cool?"
"Ok… sure, I suppose," I answered. He pulled out a headset from amongst Daniel's thing's and handed it to me.
"This game has online multiplayer, he explained. Daniel always bragged about how good he was at this one." I saw right through him, he could tell I was still upset and was trying to cheer me by bringing back a pleasant memory.
"I was gonna save up money and get it myself, so we could play together… unfortunately it didn't workout like that." He continued before I could interrupt, "Come on why don't you play a game? Daniel once said you used to play it'll be fun!"
Me, play a video game? The last time I did that you still blew in the cartridges to make them work. I grabbed the controller with anticipation. "…Ok, so what do I do?" I stared ahead at the screen, my character was some kind of soldier in a field, at least I'll call him a soldier, who else carries a big machine gun?
He explained, "Well, you're red team, anyone who has a red name over their heads is on your side, you gotta kill the blue team. You press x to fire the gun." In the beginning, I didn't think I was gong to enjoy it much but about 20 minutes into, I could understand why this might be addicting to some.
Playing the game myself really shed some light onto Daniel's obsession. In reality he was stuck in a wheelchair and in constant agony. In the world of this game, none of that mattered, you could run and jump in and out of explosions, shoot bad guys. It was quite a break from the mundane. Apart from the pre teen boys shouting at each other, this wasn't half bad.
Suddenly, a voice coming from the headset startled me. This time the swearing seemed to be directed towards me. "Hey asshole, I thought you were dead?"
"E---excuse me?" I stammered. "I'm just doing good at the game I guess. Beginners luck."
"They just had a funeral for you not too long ago!" He continued. "I'm sure of it." His username flashed across the upper right section of the screen each time he spoke, BRINGTH3H3RT2K18. Kevin removed the headset from over me and exchanged some unpleasantries with this mystery man.
Kevin apologized, "Sorry you had to hear that, that was…. A friend of Daniel and mine… he just wasn't expecting to see the gamertag again, he didn't know who he was talking to." Something was fishy, he wouldn't look me in the eyes. Within an instant he went from friendly and playful, enjoying the game with me, to clammy and pale, quiet as a mouse.
I thought to myself for a moment, "BRINGONTH3H3RT2K18? Bring on the hurt? The Hert? That's Nick Herter on the end isn't it!?" I screeched. He must've heard me through the headset.
"You know who it is baby, sup?" Oh how I wished at that moment I could've pulled the smug little bastard through the television. I was ready to smash the game system, just to turn it off and not hear from that kid ever again, when suddenly another voice chimed in. It was a voice that for some reason only I could hear.
"Just five more minutes mommy, come on just five more minutes." That… That was Daniel's voice. His voice as a child. It was the same high-pitched pleading I used to hear when he was a small boy and I had to pry him away from these damn video games.
"I'm so sorry about this. I really am, Kevin apologized. You know what, It's getting late, thanks very much. I'll just pack this up and take off."
"Don't worry about it honey, it's fine." I desperately tried to keep calm, if I wasn't stuck to my seat before, I was now. That was my baby's voice coming from that headset and I had to try and hear it again.
Kevin breathed a sigh of relief, "O---ok. If you say so, but I really do have to take off now."
"You know what, just give me five more mins," oh God, I was starting to sound like my son now. "I'm not gonna yell at the young man or anything. No drama, I promise. Let's just finish the game."
He glanced at his cell phone, "You know what, you just go nuts and enjoy the game. I'll pick it up from you tomorrow. Thank you for letting me have it."
"No problem sweetie." I stood up and gave him a hug. "Thanks for showing me how this thing works." He let himself out while I returned to the game. I called out to Daniel, trying to get him to speak again. "Sweetie, talk to me…are you there?"
"Yeah I'm here baby, what you need?" His honeyed words made me sick. He thought I was talking to him.
"Joke all you want", I snapped back at him. I saw your text to my son, had you chosen your words a little bit differently I'd be pressing charges against you right now, not playing games"
"What are you talking about?" his sarcastic chuckle was broken up by a deep cough. "I couldn't stand to be round him during the day, you really think I'd waste my data messaging him?" His coughing became profounder.
Suddenly, his character stopped moving. I was actually able to land a couple of kills to his character. His coughing was still not letting up. Now it was even more guttural. Suddenly, I could hear screaming coming through the headset.
"Honey what's wrong? Is everything ok? Oh my god, get in here quick!"----- dead silence. A notice popped up on the TV screen. YOU WERE KICKED FROM THE SESSION BECAUSE THE HOST HAS LEFT THE GAME.
I sat there bemused, what the heck happened? Did I break the game? I flipped the switch and looked at the time, another 2 hours had gone by. Geeze, time really does fly when you're wrapped up in these things.
That night, the nightmares resumed in their regularly scheduled time slot. This time something was different about it. When Daniel and me locked eyes, he actually spoke to me, that never happened in the dream before.
"Thanks mommy", he said in that same high pitched sound I could've sworn I heard on the game. I jolted up in bed. How much longer could this go on? I felt like I was loosing my mind. If I had two or three hours of sleep that night that'd be saying something.
The following morning, I dragged myself out of bed and down the stairs. Thank God it was the weekend and there was nowhere to go. I hoggishly downed a pot of coffee and tried to wake myself up. I was flipping through the tv channels when a news bulletin caught my eye.
"17 year old Nicholas Herter has passed away after a late night gaming binge gone horribly wrong. The victims parents say they were getting ready for bed yesterday evening, when they heard strange noises coming from their sons bedroom.
The boy's mother had entered the room to check on him when she found him unresponsive on the floor, clutching his video game controller in his hand. Authorities are currently calling his death accidental, saying he appeared to have been choking on something, though no food or drinks were found in his room. An autopsy is scheduled for later this week."
My coffee cup plummeted to the floor. A tiny mushroom cloud of broken glass enveloped my slippers. He was fine just last night. I heard this kid myself, even played a game with him, he was there one minute and gone the next.
A wave of guilt rushed over me, but I couldn't understand why? It wasn't my fault, the kid was in his own house just playing video games, and he started choking. It could've happened to anyone.
Later that night, Kevin came back to pick up the console. Almost as if our minds were in sync, we both brought up the incident. He was at the gym when he found out what had happened.
"How crazy is that?" He rhetorically questioned. "And you were still playing when it happened?"
"Yeah, I confirmed. He was being a smart ass one minute and the next minute it threw me out of the game. I thought it was broken at first or something."
He pressed on with questions "And it just happened all the sudden? He didn't seem sick or upset or something?"
"Not at all, I explained. If we would've turned the game off that first time you wanted to leave, I would've never caught it. What a difference that few extra minutes made huh?" The memory of Daniel's voice coming through on the headset suddenly came flooding back to me.
"Just five more minutes mommy."
I became very shaky and short of breath all the sudden. A concerned gaze overcame Kevin's face. "Is something wrong? You ok?"
"Oh yes, I assured him. I'm just tired, haven't been sleeping too well."
"Nightmares?" He asked. That was certainly a lucky guess.
"Well, actually yes. What makes you say that?" I asked as I stood up to go retrieve my phone in the other room.
"I didn't sleep too well last night myself, to tell you the truth I was thinking about Daniel."
"Well it's been a while since you've been around, I said from the other room. Maybe coming back just triggered some old memories." I was about to enter the kitchen when I caught a quick glance at the clock in the den. It was just about dinner time.
"Are you hungry, have you eaten? Why don't you stay a little while I'll order something." Accidentally, I pressed the send button on the phone. It began to ring, and miraculously, Kevin's phone began ringing almost at the same time.
"Hello? Hello?" Kevin's voice began echoing both from the kitchen and from the phone. I never had Kevin's number in my phone, not his cellphone anyway. I turned it over when I realized I was holding Daniel's phone, not mine.
I must have grabbed it off the table by mistake. I still kept it running so I could hear him talk through his voicemail. He never left me any voice messages, only texts. I went to hang up the phone when I stopped dead in my tracks. I had accidentally opened one of Daniel's old text messages, and it must have dialed the number.
YOU'RE A PATHETIC WASTE OF OXYGEN YOU SICK FREAK.
I entered the kitchen and Kevin and Me locked eyes. I suddenly heard a familiar voice again, "Just five more minutes mommy!" The next thing I knew everything went black and here I am now writing this letter. Looking at all this blood I have on my shirt, I'm afraid of what I'll find if I go downstairs. Just five more minutes and I'll go check, that's all. Just five more---- just... five more minutes mommy.