I didn’t speak to Mom for a week after I got to Big Mama’s though she called every day. When we spoke the first time she sounded like her voice was as thin as a wire, she sounded tight. Big Mama said your Mom is going through a lot right now so you’re going to stay with me, and we are going to get you together. We are going to get you together, she keeps saying that, looking at me like I am barely hanging on, like Mom looked when I was in the hospital. Big Mama works too but only one job and she’s home much earlier than Mom ever was, and she cooks. She cooks and she cleans up and she makes me take my medicine and do my glucose test and she looks at my eyes like she can see something hidden in them. She looks at my eyes and my hands and asks me in the morning and the evening how do you feel? That’s what she asks me several times a day, how do you feel? How you feeling? Big Mama’s apartment is a little bigger than Mom’s, and I have my own room. It was Big Mama’s sewing room, she says, but because of her arthritis she doesn’t sew as much, so I got it and she cleared out most of her stuff by the time she brought me back from the airport. I unpacked my suitcase and backpack and my boxes arrived a week later and I unpacked them and now the room is mine. All my stuff is in the room which is smaller than my old bedroom was, but it’s mine, and Big Mama has her own bedroom on the other side of the wall. Sometimes before I go to bed she peeks her head into the bedroom and says, How you feeling? and I tell her I’m fine. I feel fine. I feel like I did before, I never felt bad, I just hated going to the old school just like I hate going to the new one, the kids don’t move as slowly but they’re still slow, but it’s smaller so they call Big Mama whenever I’m not there, and she calls the cell phone she bought me and is paying for to make sure I’m in school. I have to text her to say I’m in school, which is why I started gagging again sometimes, or throwing up. I would get out of bed and all of a sudden I had to throw up. I had to vomit and I would say Big Mama, I don’t feel that good today and she would say Are you sure, Baby? and I would ask to stay home so I could rest, and I’d tell her that this sometimes happened at home but I was okay. The first time she didn’t believe me and took me to a new doctor, who ran a bunch of tests, he had them test my blood and check my medicine. He had them check everything and he told Big Mama on the phone, he doesn’t seem to be any sicker, perhaps something didn’t agree with him, but keep an eye on him and don’t let him overexert himself. Don’t overexert yourself. I told Big Mama that if I had to be careful and had to miss a few days I should at least have a way to work on school projects, and asked her to buy me a computer. She said, Your mother said not to, no computer, absolutely not, and I begged her. She said, Your mother said that computer I got you got you into trouble but I begged her. I need it for school, I need to keep up. She said, Not now. After a while, after my throat got sore, my fingers and toes got sore, after I felt dizzy and had to miss school, to not overexert myself, they would be pushing me too hard in gym or on the playground, they would be pushing me and I would stumble and Big Mama was going to call an ambulance but I told her I would be fine, just let me take the day off, but I can always catch up, especially if I have a computer. Big Mama said I’ll get you a new computer but you have to promise me not to abuse it, okay? I promised her. You have to promise and I promised I wouldn’t abuse it, I wouldn’t misuse it, I promised her I wouldn’t do any of the things I’d done, I am going to school except when I’m sick, and she can always call my school to make sure I’m there when I’m supposed to be, because at this new school if I turned around in the vestibule like in Chicago as soon as I did someone would say, Excuse me, Shemar, what are you doing? and Shemar, aren’t you supposed to be in class? and Shemar, do you need us to call your grandmother, Mrs. Morris? The one security guard or the principal, who’s always in the hallways, or the assistant principal or one of the teachers who isn’t one of mine, or the hall monitors would say, Excuse me, Shemar, saying my name like they own it, and I’d get demerits and detention and they’d be on the phone in minutes with Big Mama, so I keep walking straight to my class and sit through the talking and the questions and reading aloud and sometimes stare at my notebook or scribble or write some code or things I’ve memorized online from one of the podcasts or free classes and before I know it the school day is over and I can walk to Big Mama’s house instead of taking a bus and I open the door and go to my room and there it is, waiting for me, the box with the new computer.
I’ve only managed to retrieve about half of all the stuff on the computer Mom threw away or hid, she won’t tell me what she did with it, and I talk to her every other day and she’s still tight but not about me, not with me, she’s lost her second job and she was behind in rent and helping Sherise pay for school, and Big Mama had to send her some rainy day money, she said she was feeling so desperate she might sign up for the army and go overseas, anything would be better than this, and I thought she was joking but Big Mama said, your mother doesn’t play, don’t you know that? Mom doesn’t play, I know that, and she won’t tell me what she did with my computer, and I want to tell her that all kinds of stuff was on there, stuff that probably shouldn’t get into other people’s hands, maybe even some bad stuff depending, but she won’t tell me what she did with it, and I can’t tell her what that bad stuff was, depending, I don’t even know what it all was, I had downloaded or torrented it and intended to get to it, until I got sent here. She says she’s coming to visit me when the summer comes, and maybe she’ll tell me then. She won’t tell me if I get to come live with her again, but Sherise’ll be back so the apartment will be full, like when I was smaller and Sherise was still in high school, and we shared a room, and she complained sometimes if I saw her in her bra and panties and I had to close my eyes. So maybe not. It’s okay, I like living with Big Mama. I like living with Big Mama, even though she checks up on me a lot, she asks me the same questions over and over, she makes me turn my music down and says over and over not to look at pictures of naked people online and to go to bed or at least turn out the light by 11 pm but I usually get up once I hear her snoring and play on the computer till 1 unless I’m tired. I like living with Big Mama, because a lot is just like at Mom’s except Big Mama never gets too angry and she never yells and she basically lets me do whatever I want so long as I take my medicine and do my tests and go to school and keep my music down, except when I tell her I’m not feeling well. I try to go to school most of the time and only plan on being sick every couple weeks. I planned out this schedule and I was worried she’d figure out what was going on but she hasn’t, she just says Don’t overexert yourself, and checks my results, and watches what I eat, lots of vegetables and no candy, and asks how I’m feeling, over and over again. Don’t overexert yourself.
On my new computer, which is better than the one Mom threw out or hid from me, I don’t know, I only have some of my music files, most new versions I downloaded since I got here, and some of my bookmarks that I remembered. I logged into all my old sites, my ICR channels, my SNS sites, the social media platforms, the forums and usergroups, 4Chan, my blog which I haven’t updated in a while, though I posted a few pictures of Howard University, which we’re not that far from, with captions in reverse Arabic, let’s see who on my follow lists figures that out first, everything had just been sitting silent for the entire time I didn’t have a computer. I don’t have any of my old text files, only new ones. On my new computer I don’t have any of my pictures, including the porno ones, I didn’t dare put any of that stuff on the cloud, and I haven’t downloaded any except a few I happened to come across surfing but mostly I haven’t thought about them that much. I don’t have any of the screens of code I practiced or wrote, any of the lists of passwords or secret directories, though I’ve found a few new ones. On the new computer, which Big Mama said cost less than the old one because she got a senior citizen’s discount but it’s more powerful, a lot more powerful, I’ve found a few new sites but I can’t remember all the old ones and some of the sites I used to go to are offline or maybe I didn’t memorize the URLs properly. I can access all the online games I used to so that’s not a problem. All the time I keep finding new ones, so I go between my old ones and my new ones. I can’t find some of the old ones, though, like the Austrian skinhead zombie one, maybe they took them offline. But I’m always finding new ones, and I try to play them either right when I get home, because when Big Mama gets home I have to do my homework while she watches TV or reads a book or talks on the telephone, she wants to watch me doing it, I have to show it to her. I show it to her and she tells Mom, Yes, Richelle, he’s doing it, and sometimes Mom asks, Are you doing your homework or just trying to fake your Big Mama out like you did me? Mom asks me that, and I tell her I’m doing it, I even read it aloud to her, and she doesn’t say anything, but I think she believes me. I’m coming to visit in June, she says, and I want to see all that homework in a pile. I’m not faking anybody, I say, I say it’ll be here, and it’ll be here, it’s all in one of the boxes she sent my stuff in, all in order so she could go through every single class, every single day, every single month. I also play the games once Big Mama’s gone to bed, but I have to stop around 1 am or I get too tired to wake up and then Big Mama says, I can tell you’ve been up all night and if that’s going to be the case then that computer will have to go in my room. This happened twice, I didn’t want to wake up and I didn’t act like I was sick, and Big Mama looked at my eyes and said You’ve been up till all hours, she could tell, and she threatened to move the computer to her bedroom, so I set my cutoff time at 1 am and even if I’m advancing to a new level, I make sure to stop and sign off, no matter what, so I can get enough sleep to wake up without a hitch when morning comes around.
By the time Big Mama comes into the room this morning to wake me, I’ve already opened my eyes. I’ve already opened my eyes and turned over several times, and slid back into the arms of sleep. A sleep so light, though, that all it takes is the touch of her finger on the edge of my comforter, and I sit up. She pulls the covers back, kisses me on the forehead, Big Mama doesn’t have her upper partials in yet, so she doesn’t say anything, no Good morning or Time to get up or Did you sleep well last night? Instead she’s humming an R&B song, something I heard Mom play when she used to have a CD player. Mom used to play this song and a lot of others like it, when she still had all her CDs and records and CD player and stereo set, she didn’t believe you could play music or listen to it on a computer, she still doesn’t, but this was before the flood waters took everything but our lives, this was a long time, the first time we lived in Chicago, where I was born, before New Orleans, she sold a bunch of those CDs and records when she lost her job at the store because my brother had gotten in trouble again and she had to take a lot of time off from work to go to court with him, and then they fired her. Without cause she would say, they fired me without cause, but the real cause is the trouble you kids bring me, you create all kinds of problems and you expect money to just fall from the clouds, do you think money falls from the clouds? I was still really little and at first I thought she’d said Money fell from the crowds, and would ask her why the crowds had so much money, and she’d laugh and said, Well, at least you’re not a problem, at least one of my children isn’t going to dig an early grave for me. That was before I had to go to kindergarten and sit there as the teacher tried to teach everyone their ABCs, which I already knew, and how to count to 20, which I already knew, and all kinds of other stuff that I already knew and didn’t feel like listening to again. Mom told Big Mama, I thought I was out of the pits with this one but I just don’t know. I just don’t know.
Big Mama’s humming that song and her face looks like she’s happy but also concerned, it’s always this mixture whenever she looks at me. She turns around and putters out of my room. She’s in her robe, which means she’s ahead of schedule, she’s showered, and now she’s heading back to her bedroom to do her hair and put on her makeup, which means the bathroom is mine. But I don’t feel like school today, and I’ve counted the calendar days and I’ve gone every day for over two weeks. I haven’t missed a single day for exactly 13 straight weekdays, it’s almost three weeks really, and I want to see if I can find and sign onto the game I saw sort of mentioned on one of the message boards last night before I went to bed. It was 1:22 am and I was starting to yawn and my eyes were closing like they were weighted with magnets, and I was 14 pages into one of the threads on the gaming message board I always check out. I used to only read a few pages in but then one day back when I was living with Mom I decided to read deeper into one of the threads and I started to find all these game URLs listed, and there were links to usernames and passwords, or I could find ways to access usernames and passwords, and there were also ways to get ahold of credit card accounts if the games required you to pay for them, all you had to do was figure out where to go. I never wrote down this stuff to use it at a store or to buy stuff like clothes or shoes, I could have bought Mom and myself and Sherise and Shannon, my older brother who’s in the penitentiary, all kinds of stuff, I could have bought shoes and suits and a house and a car and all kinds of stuff, some people did that. But I only used the credit card info to get into a game if it required it, that’s all I did. I copied some of those to a file I hid on my old computer’s server, I wish Mom would tell me what she did to it, I looked in her closet the day after it vanished. I looked outside, right below our window I looked, I looked in the Dumpsters behind the apartment building, I looked in the trash cans inside and out, I went to the basement of the building to see if she had put it down there thinking I would check. I didn’t find it anywhere, and I looked and looked. I looked at the garbage out back, I looked in the street in front of the building. Mom wouldn’t say anything, she didn’t speak to me till she was putting me on the plane, not in the morning, not when she got home from work, not a single word, not You have to go to school today or They said you can’t come back or Do you realize what you’ve done is worse than us losing everything in that flood or I don’t care if you run away now and I never see you again, it was total silence and I sat in the apartment for the entire time until she started packing my bags and boxes and got me ready to come live here with Big Mama.
It’s not that I don’t feel like going to school, the new school is better, but I much more want to hang out here at home today and do my computer stuff. I want to play on the computer today, all day, I want to see if I can find this game I saw, I want to try it out. I could do it when I get home from school but Big Mama will make me work on homework and then talk to her and then watch the news, you have to watch the news she says, like I don’t get it from online, like you can’t get everything online, and then we have dinner. Big Mama is always trying to prepare dinners that are part of my diet, You can’t be eating them chips, she says, You can’t have no more fast food, she says. You can’t be doing what these other kids are doing, she says, so she makes dinners that are really healthy, She’s a good cook, better than Mom, maybe not better than but as good as Mom, and she won’t let me cook. You shouldn’t have been cooking in the first place, she says, though that was better than sending you to pick up fast food every night, but who knows what could have happened on those streets or even in that kitchen, then she changes her voice and says, I’m not talking bad about your mother, I’m not talking my daughter down, don’t think that, she has gone through a lot, you all went through a lot, we all gone through a lot, but that’s a lot to ask of a child. After our dinners, if it’s my night to call Mom or her turn to call me, I’ll call her on the cell phone she gave me, that she’s paying for, today is the call day, yesterday wasn’t. When Mom asks I tell her the new school is better, I say that over and over. We’ll have to find you a school like this back here, she says, but she doesn’t say when or which one. Tonight I’ll talk to Mom and then I’ll watch shows with Big Mama till I say, I need to go practice my math or computer writing or essays on the computer, and Big Mama says, Okay, she’s wrapped up in her shows, she says, Now don’t be looking at nasty stuff on there, and I tell her I won’t. I usually don’t ever look at porno any more, I had some stuff on my old computer, but I hid it in case Mom figured out how to sign on. She wouldn’t have ever found the hidden folders, I don’t think, but someone else might. But they would have to know my tricks and I don’t think they will.
I go to the bathroom and wash my face, brush my teeth. I wash my face again after brushing my teeth, then I go to the kitchen where Big Mama has set out my breakfast, a bowl of granola cereal with soy milk, a glass of water, and an apple she cut up. I don’t tell her all I ate when I lived with Mom was a banana, or sometimes oatmeal with a banana in it in the winter, the kind you can put in the microwave, because it was cheap and Mom said you have to have something in your stomach, and she didn’t understand why I had got so sick because she wasn’t giving me doughnuts and Twinkies and potato chips and that much regular soda and fast food all the time, but Big Mama is very careful and she makes me eat salads and steamed vegetables. We have salads and lots of fruit and vegetables and even when she cooks greens or cornbread or turkey wings she says it’s the healthy kind, not the kind we would eat, she says, growing up. I sit down and don’t say anything about what I ate with Mom, I say, Big Mama, I’m not feeling great today, and she says, What do you mean, and I tell her that I just feel kind of tired and think I should get some rest today, and she stops eating her apple and sipping her coffee and says, Do you feel warm, do you have a headache, are your hands and feel sore or swollen? She asks me a whole train of questions, Do you have a sore throat, do you feel dizzy, you didn’t fall while you were going to the bathroom, and I say no, we had a real hard gym class yesterday, it was good, it made me feel good, but I’m just really feeling tired, and she looks at me. She looks at me really closely. I’m not feeling sick like hospital sick, I tell her, I don’t have a fever or anything, I tell her. I eat some more of my cereal, and then some of the apple, and say, Just tired, Big Mama, not sick, and she nods and comes and puts her arms around me. She’s got her partials in now and she kisses me on the cheek. Her cheek is on my cheek, I can smell the cocoa butter and makeup like peaches and coffee she was drinking. She says, Lord knows I worry so much about you, I can feel her words moving through my skin, I worry every single day about you, Lord knows, then she stops and says, You haven’t been out of school in a while, I think it’s been a month, and I nod, and she says, I’ll call the school in a minute and tell them, and I nod, and she says, You are going to have to stay inside and try not to spend all your time on the computer. I nod. I eat a little more of my cereal and try not to look too happy, I try not to smile or grin, I finish the apple, and say, I won’t, Big Mama, I have school work, and I won’t watch TV all day either, and she says, Watch CSPAN if you get bored, or read one of my books, read my Bible, and I nod. I get my kit which is in the bowl in the middle of the table, I do the test and she watches me, we wait, and she watches the indicator showing everything’s okay, then she hugs me again and gets up to get dressed, and I go take my shower and put on my house clothes, not the ones for school, so Big Mama doesn’t have to spend extra money washing them.
When she’s dressed and I’m dressed and I’ve taken my medicine, in front of her, and she’s about to leave, she says, You keep your phone on like always, okay, but turn the ringer on since you’re not in school. I’ll keep it on, I say, it’ll be on, and I turn the ringer on in front of her, she sees me flip it. It’s charged up, I say, and she pats her purse and says, Mine is on too, and you have my number at work, so if you start to feel sick or anything you call Big Mama right away. You call me right away, call my cell phone first, if you start to feel warm or dizzy or you start throwing up, and if you really feel sick you call an ambulance. I’ll be feeling better later, Big Mama, I say, I don’t want to be sick and miss school anymore. She looks at me. She runs her hand across my forehead and says, You be good today, okay, don’t let anybody in here, Big Mama ain’t expecting anybody, and I nod. Nobody, I nod. Don’t stay on that computer all day, she says again, and she looks at me. I nod. She looks at me and starts to shake her head but doesn’t, and I nod. I watch her close the door behind her, I turn the lock, and I go straight to my room and my computer, which I turned on as soon as I was out of the shower.
I don’t even surf or check my emails or Facebook or ICR channels or newsgroups or torrents. I don’t text my new friend Arinze who’s the only one at school who understands half of what I’m thinking or saying and doesn’t slap my cap off from behind and call me “ILL-inois.” I skip all that and flip on the Tor, go straight to one of my message groups, on the Zone-Z site, which is based in Japan and linked to new games. On this message board I’ve found links to many new games, or references to game sites that I had to search hard for, or references to game sites I’d never found. I’ve searched sometimes for hours and not found anything, from the time I walked in the door after busting out from my old school to the time I started to make dinner, before Mom came home, it was epic fail. Not a single new game. Nada. I’d bookmarked page 14 of this message board, I go right to the thread that I know includes a link that talked about a new game that’s up, it’s free, you didn’t even need to give a lot of info, but I have files full of dummy info anyways, and the posters hardly say anything about it, not what sort of game it is or what sort of levels it has, what it looks like or the music or the animation. They don’t say who wrote the code and what skill levels you needed, they didn’t say anything, which usually means that it’s the toughest, the less anybody says the better, because most people would just overlook it. Most people listen to the hype, they don’t think things through, they skate on the surface is how Mom would put it, they skate on the ice and don’t ever look down and see what’s beneath. I was skating on the ice when I was your age, Mom said, I was skating on the ice when I met your father, she said. When your brothers were born, when your sisters were born, I was skating on the ice. I was skating when we lived in New Orleans, Mom said, and then I had to look down, we all had to. I went through the page and couldn’t find the link at first. I combed through the thread, I couldn’t find it. I went back through again, I looked down hard, and then I saw it and clicked on it.
The only thing that comes up is: “Browser cannot find the server or server proxy at http://www.–.com,” telling me to check the address, a typical DNS error, so I click the back button, and instead, a new message comes up, saying “Browser cannot display the webpage,” meaning the original thread on the Zone-Z site, with a lot of warnings about how the computer was blocking spyware and my need to download an antispyware program. So I try to go back again, I click the back button and the screen says, “Browser is currently in offline mode and can’t find the site you are looking for,” and I notice that instead of my browser telling me that the page has totally loaded, instead of a complete, white error screen, the scrollbar is visible at the right. I’ve never seen this before, so I scroll down. I scroll and scroll, and finally at the very bottom I see a link, suspended just above the bottom of the page. I’ve never seen this before either. None of the games I’ve ever tried, nothing I’ve ever linked to looks like this. I click on the hyperlink and the entire screen goes white. It starts to pulsate, like a strobe light, like someone is turning a light behind it on and off, my entire screen, and I try to stop it but it won’t. I left click my mouse, I right-click it. I try several key combos and even hit the reboot button but the screen keeps pulsating, white white white white white whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite. It’s like someone has put a thousand neon lights, a million, behind the screen, a zillion lights behind it. It’s so bright I can barely look at it, it’s like looking into the sun, directly into the sun. My eyes start to hurt so I close them for a minute and when I open them again the screen is quiet, it’s no longer white. It’s a deep purple, so dark bluish-purple it’s almost black. It’s a color I’ve never seen before, a color I think that’s sort of like if you combined html colors #461B7E and #151B54 and #000000 together, almost #150517 or #250517, but the other colors are still in there too. It isn’t just #000000, it isn’t just the dark grays that are almost black, but the other blue and the purple too. The screen is completely still, it isn’t making any noise, no more pulsing, just this dark bluish-purplish-black like the inside of my eyelids when I fall asleep, and at the very bottom I see a single little white dot, it’s smaller than my pinky nail, and when I look closer I can see it’s Chinese characters or something, or maybe Japanese, and they’re just floating there, , I have to squint to see them, I lean in real close, so close my nose is brushing the screen, I’ve glimpsed this symbol or one very close to it before on threads, no explanation, and once I saw it on a page with strange lines of code I forgot to copy and paste and couldn’t find again no matter how many times I searched, someone must have deleted and taken them down, what does it mean, and before I know it the characters shift to Russian, and then to Arabic script, and then to a hundred others, most I’ve never seen before, maybe imaginary scripts and languages, it’s like it’s an animated gif file or something. It’s moving so fast I can’t really make it out and the Chinese characters or Japanese ones don’t come back and then for a splitsplitsecond I see an English word in tiny white letters on that bluish-purplish-black, letters so small I can barely read them, though I think they say MONEY and start smiling, or maybe it says BLOOD, or maybe ABYSS, or maybe VOIDS, or maybe WOUND….
And then it’s gone and the icon keeps changing so quickly my eyes hurt and I try to run the cursor over it and fail and try again and try until finally it hyperlinks, and I click, and then I’m in what looks like a green tunnel, all colors of green, until I realize it’s red, a red tunnel, a red hole, a red kaleidoscope, a red abyss, I’ve never seen a game background like this, it’s racing in front of me, pulling in front of me, pulling me into it. The tunnel is disappearing into a red void in itself, a bloody vacuum pulling itself inside of itself, it’s suctioning my eyes into its viscousness, it’s suctioning the screen into it, it’s an optical illusion I know but it’s almost making me dizzy it’s moving so fast, the colors are changing inside it so fast, inside of each other so fast though it looks like it’s a thousand red or a million ones, a trillion ones or a zillion ones, every color inside of red turning into every other color, the swiftest animation I’ve ever seen, I’ve never seen a game like this before, it’s the best because I don’t even get what the point is, I don’t know how to get in or get out or stop it, and I decide I’m going shut it off, I’m going to unplug the computer because my head hurts and I feel like I’m going to puke and I don’t know what’s going on, I really do feel dizzy and on the verge of puking, I feel like I could fall right out of this chair right now, and think maybe I should eat something, maybe my sugar’s low, maybe I should just get up and eat something, drink some water or have a diet soda or throw up and call Big Mama, I am really starting to spin, and then I see a small white dot, I see a dozen of them, I seen hundreds, then it’s only ten or so, then just one, they are appearing all over the screen, in different places, very tiny but big enough that my cursor could touch them, and I move the mouse and the cursor’s moving again, it’s all over that red void that keeps zooming into itself, that keeps collapsing into itself like a red throat or cave or mouth or vein or void, a red black red-black hole opening into countless other ones, like a black hole made up of a trillion different reds, like a trillion red stars in this hole, a galaxy of red stars disappearing in into this red-black hole, and I wonder whether the point is to touch one of the white dots, to zap one with my cursor, to zip the cursor over to one and click but it disappears, and another, and another, and another and another and another, a white patch of them, an island or islands of them form, white clouds of them form, colonies of them form like fungi or corals, constellations, for a second the screen goes white again before returning to the red-black holing and the dots which keep slipping away, the dots I’m missing, I keep missing, I keep failing, I keep missing and missing them, a total fail, and I concentrate as hard as I can though I’m dizzy and want to throw up, my stomach surges but I focus, I go deeper, deeper into my head like I always do when I’m playing, my stomach is turning over but I go into the inside of the inside, the place beneath the place, my fingers on the trackpad are moving so quickly I can’t even feel them anymore, the cursor jets as it nears one dot disappearing and reappearing, glides away from my control near another and another, and then right before one appears somehow the cursor arrow is on it, the cursor is on it, my weapon is on it, my whole body is quaking and frozen at the same time on it, I’m on it and I click and fire and all of a sudden the screen goes white white white white white white white white whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite: BOOM!