Out Of My Mind
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Kelly Colchin
I don’t need anyone to tell me to go outside.
I know how important it is. I need it for my vitamin D, my inspiration, my happiness, and most of all, my sanity. I get cagey when I’m stuck indoors. When we have a bout of inclement weather, I bundle up and brave it —screw the treadmill. When it’s hot as Hades in the summer, I go outside in the wee dark hours of morning. I like to hike, walk, run, and generally just be outside. I even like the rain, with some exceptions made for freezing rain and definitely made for wind. Wind tops my Fear List, along with sharks, serial killers, clowns, blue cheese, and geese. I prefer my coffee (and my wine) on the screened-in porch by the trees. I love picnics and always agreed with my grandmother that food tastes better outside. It annoys me to take a shower that isn’t preceded by a sweat. Being outside has a smell, a combination of grass and sweat and sunshine and earth, and you can smell it on your forearm and in your hair, and especially right when the shower spray hits your body for the first time. Am I right? When I have writer’s block, I do not sit at my desk and stare at my computer screen. I go outside and move and breathe. Something usually turns up, even if it’s only my attitude. When I have lots of reading to do for graduate school, I take a stack of textbooks to the chaise lounges if it’s nice out. I even have sunglasses with built-in readers so I don’t have to squint. If I’m outside, I never feel as though I’m working, even when I am.
With my unbridled affinity for the outdoors you can imagine the issue I have with my son’s recent addiction: “Fortnite.”
If you have never heard of this nemesis, thank God for his goodness and go outside and play. If you have, then come sit with me (outside) and let’s pour a glass of rosé and talk some smack. We need a strategy.
“Fortnite” is some game on Xbox, probably on other systems as well, who knows. I don’t want to know any more than I have to. I don’t know exactly when it came out, but at some point, it abducted my son. I had all these hopes and visions for what the spring semester of his senior year would be like. College visits, grilling dinner for him and his buddies, weekends at the ranch or the coast, mother-son dinner dates at Bartlett’s.OK, I had some fears too — mostly involving skipping school, spring break, spring fever, prom night, and cheap beer. Those fears are nothing to me anymore.
There are other people who have had it with ‘Fortnite.’ Parents are raging. Girlfriends are breaking up. I bet college campuses are forced to quarantine the infected.”
It might be a spectacular day outside and Luke’s shades are closed to the beauty of nature. His bedroom door is shut and the AC is cranked to the icy temperature of a meat locker. His sisters are frozen. If I knock on the door to his Lair, he is unresponsive, shut off from the world by a giant pair of headphones with a microphone attached. He doesn’t even notice when I walk in. I hear the sounds of guns firing and “colorful” banter back and forth with his friends, who apparently have been abducted by “Fortnite” also. Our dog, Stella, is his main (only) companion, curled up beside him on a sofa cushion, watching his game strategy with a similar glazed expression on her face. I wonder if she has been out to pee anytime in recent history, or has had water, or food. I wonder the same thing about Luke.
Occasionally he texts me to let me know he’s alive and is hungry. This pisses me off to no end. It reminds me of Will Ferrell in “Wedding Crashers”: “Hey, Ma, MEATLOAF!” Seriously? Once, I was in a hurry and made myself late by cooking him eggs and sausage. It was sitting on the counter, cold, when I got home. Don’t. Even. Get. Me. Started. I sent him a text with a photo of his eggs, before I fed them to the other dog. The one who still lives downstairs, I mean.
One Friday evening I came home to see the front yard littered with pickup trucks, parked askew on the driveway and across the front lawn. This is nothing new, and I was actually happy to see evidence of my favorite boys. I walked inside and it was silent. Eerily silent. I walked upstairs to the Lair. Knocked. No response. Shocker. Walked in. They were all in there. Furniture was crammed in from other areas in the house. They had brought over other Xbox systems and computer monitors. They were all wearing headphones. The room was hot and stuffy and smelled like overheating electronics, testosterone-sweat, Favored food remains, and the sickly sweet rank odor of Red Bull. I screamed something (likely obscene) that no one heard and left the house again. I wished for beer to bitch about, or some girls to kick out, or anything teenagery and real.
There are other people who have had it with “Fortnite.” Parents are raging. Girlfriends are breaking up. I bet college campuses are forced to quarantine the infected. The World Health Organization, the CDC, someone (!) needs to create a vaccine before it’s too late and we lose all our young men to this epidemic. Or the military could covertly drop it down into terrorist training camps, and all their soldiers would be rendered comatose and useless.
Meanwhile, I try to look at the bright side, even if it requires opening up Luke’s blinds against his will. At least this premature departure will make it easier on me when Luke leaves for real this summer.