Obsessions long before Go

I NARROWLY made it into the 80s. I was born in November, 1989. So I become aware of my surroundings by the time the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze ended.

But my favourite game was Power Rangers. This is how I played:

-Arrive at a public playground.

-Size up the other kids; boys and girls.

– Start fighting them with my Power Ranger moves.

-Kick her down the slide

Mum was embarrassed. So she banned me from Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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A STRANGE new game had begun at my catholic primary school, involving imaginary creatures.

“You’re challenging the gym,” one of my friends told me. “I’m the gym leader. And you,” he pointed. “Are fighting for a badge.”

“Okay.”

“You’ve got Magikarp.”

The creature sounded cool, it sounded like it had magical powers. “Fly and kick its butt!” I yelled, but apparently my Magikarp couldn’t do that.

“Use psychic powers!” I said.

But apparently my Magikarp couldn’t do that either.

All it knew was splash. My friend’s Starmie killed my Magikarp easily. I lost. I didn’t get a badge.

“This is bullshit!” I screamed, and ran away.

The year was 1999. The craze on the playground was beginning to change from marbles to Pokemon.I was slow to the discovery because I didn’t own video games, and my family didn’t have aerial on our TV.

Every Wednesday I would stay at the postman’s house. It’s not as weird as it sounds. He was a family friend and lived 40 minutes closer to my school. I watched cartoons on Cheez TV every Thursday morning including Pokemon and I learned the rules. My imaginary Magikarp was shit house. But it could evolve to Gyradoes, and that tough, scaly bastard could rule the gym near the drain, and even take on the next gym at the giant pine tree too.

The first time I was at another friend’s house he showed me his collection of Pokemon cards. “Here,” he said, giving me his spare ones. The best one I got was a Machoke. So began the obsession.

I chased the cards. Any I could get even if I didn’t have pocket money. My younger brother Keith and I scrounged for them. Once I stole my brother’s favourite card and hid it in my room and he used a tomahawk like in The Shining through the wooden door to get it back. Only instead of “here’s Johnny!” it was “give me back my fucking Pikachu!”

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I figured that since Keith wrecked my door I was allowed to wreck his. So we spent the next 20 minutes breaking them down as our Mum fled the house sobbing.

 

Keith and I worked out a game combining my marbles collection and our spare Pokemon cards, and we played for keeps. But one of us cheated, so we got angry and rolled around the floor trying to strangulate each other.

Our three year old brother Sam was watching and as I pushed them out the room I slammed the locked door.

Sam’s toe was caught in the hinge end of the door. He screamed. It was a high pitched bellow that echoed through the house. The door was locked and I couldn’t get in to unlock it. The spare key was on the other side of the house, on top of a cupboard I had to reach by a chair.

His toe. It was definitely broken. Mum bundled us in the car and she drove as fast as possible to the hospital. It took 40 minutes and Sam was sobbing the whole way. Sometimes he was too tired to cry.

He was carried into the emergency ward and the doors shut behind us in the waiting room but even then we heard the screaming. As the doctor checked his toe my little brother screamed at the doctor and nurses, “you blasted animal!”

Guilt. I’ve had it before and since. But not like that moment. Not like in the aftermath.

 

The Department of Communities  (DOCS) social workers began to monitor our family, but it had nothing or little to do with the smashed toe incident. No. This was about other reasons including expulsion, running away, breaking into another school to raid the kitchen and use the computer and read the Tintin collection in the library.

The DOCS manager figured the best way to get me to behave was through a rewards system. For every week I behaved I received a pack of Pokemon cards.

But when they failed to be delivered I grew impatient. Finally, I told them, “where’s my Pokemon cards?” and when I didn’t get them I swung my belt buckle at the glass door and it smashed. So I threw rocks through every other glass window.

It wasn’t long after that I was in a foster home. I earned pocket money, and I used it to fuel my collection.

 

But this isn’t about Pokemon. This isn’t about childhood. This is about obsession. Sure, there were other lesser interests through the years, such as Animorphs, and Harry Potter, and Halo, and then Jesus.

But…but, I suppose the next major obsession was before I turned 17. It was two years after baptism, and two months before graduating high school.

I was walking through the arcade one day with a friend when we saw a new store had opened up. They sold and played Dungeons and Dragons, Pokemon, Yugioh, but the game that grabbed me was Magic the Gathering. It was like Pokemon cards but more strategic. I understood the game quickly. I didn’t have much money – I was on Centrelink and didn’t have a job and my family lived on the other side of the country. I lived with my math teacher and his family. But I spent what I had on these cards, concentrated on value, and began to set up a deck of cards that focused on resurrection and light  and angels.

I was there four or five evenings a week, and all day Saturdays. But one day I lost one of my rare cards. I searched my deck three times in case it had stuck to the back of another card. I freaked out at school the next day and when I went home I prayed to find the card – because that’s what I did. I prayed for everything. And I prayed again and then searched the deck again.

I found the card the next morning.

And I felt relief. It filled my mind and chest. And then I knew what a hold the game had on me. It was dominating my thoughts, my time, my feelings.

“This is a sign,” I thought. “You will not go back to the store after school today. You’ve spent too much time there.”

Anyway, when I was at the store that afternoon I bought a new pack of cards. I opened it to find the best card ever. A ‘Wrath of God’ which basically wiped out every monster on  the field. Everyone in the store was jealous. I was offered more cards, more money for it, but I wouldn’t take it.

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Later that night I felt guilty. I felt that the Wrath of God was commercialising something sacred. It felt blasphemous. I felt if I was going to continue playing the game I had to get rid of the card.

So I ripped it up.

And funny enough, after that, I never felt obsessed with the game again. I enjoyed it, but even then that joy was blunt, faded somehow. The Saturday tournaments were a little stale. But one of my friends found out I ripped up the card, and he told someone, and he told the owner, and the owner of the store was angry at me. “I could have traded you four packs of cards for it,” he said.

Every Magic the Gathering player in town knew me as the Wrath of God Killer.

 

RUNESCAPE.

This multi-player online game in which you wander, complete quests, train your skills up, and talk to your friends around the world. There were almost 30 skills including combat, magic, archery, fishing, firemaking, woodcutting, mining, smithing, and so on. There were also the paid members skills. Members had so much more quests and skills and a bigger world to explore.

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I ended up joining. I played for several years, but by 19 I was a miner. I would spend days at a time picking a digital vein of coal just to level up. Eventually I was restless. I wanted to quit but at the same time I felt that the more time I spent on it, the more of a waste it would be to quit.

Eventually I moved to Melbourne to work with the homeless. The Salvation Army program I was in didn’t allow any time, or any internet reception, to play such a game. I quit cold turkey. When I left Melbourne after a year and had better internet and more time, I tried to play Runescape again. I had no interest. It bored me.

 

AS OF last week I own two phones. My work phone. And my Pokemon GO phone.

I’m a journalist in an outback city and I managed to write a few news articles on Pokemon Go. It was well read. Our city is going mad on Pokemon. So am I. It took two days after the game was released before I had a chance to play. My girlfriend and I went on a date to chase Pokemon and within a few hours she noticed a change in me. I was irritable and at one stage I ignored what she said because I was engrossed in catching an Ekans.

I couldn’t concentrate on work. I couldn’t concentrate on conversations that weren’t Pokemon. Every sentence I spoke was about Pokemon.

I don’t know why it’s sending me this way. I’m becoming what I was.

 

THIS morning I decided to quit Pokemon GO for four days. I turned my Pokemon phone off and hid it in the undies drawer, and then I went to work.

Three hours later I found an Aerodactyl on the street I was in. Within a minute I stumbled into this rare Pokemon – the one I was chasing specifically. And I tried catching it. As the Pokeball caught the Aerodactyl, the phone glitched. It froze.

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I had to turn the phone on again but the Pokemon wasn’t in my collection, and it was no longer on the street.

Yes. I was upset. Then I realised. This game was a game. Yet it was influencing my moods. It was controlling me.

It shouldn’t have had this power.

“Let it go,” I thought, not even thinking of the Frozen song. But I still felt like shit, at least until half an hour later when I caught a Clefairy.

I turned the phone off, and I left it off the rest of the day, and I went back home and put the phone in my sock drawer.

And I really think it will remain in my drawer the rest of the week.

But even if I’m deprived of Pokemon Go, I somehow feel better. I can think clearer.

I don’t know why I’m writing this, why I’m sharing this, but I suppose there’s a message in here somewhere in my experience, so if there is I’ll let you find it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome back, buddy!

I’m back and it’s been bloody ages, I know.

And I wasn’t sure I was going to come back to this blog. I’m here because I need a friend to talk to and I think it’s you. Don’t feel pressured. You don’t have to do anything except read what I’ve channeled.

There’s so much on my mind right now and I don’t know where to begin. But I suppose we should keep it relevant. See. The theme of the blog was to explore the small stories from my days in foster care. The days I thought I’d left so far behind that I thought I could open them up for public examination.

Vulnerability bruises but I’d go back to write another blog post, and another blog post, and another. It was courage, in a way. I’d write to make sure I had at least 12 blog posts scheduled.

I was caught up by the instant gratification of a couple of WordPress or Facebook likes. But it was getting in the way. I’m a journalist. I wrote for a living. So I had just enough energy for another project. It had to be the blog, or a book.

I chose the book.

There was a woman who wrote me a letter. And in it she said “I love you”. A grand gesture that I related to and had done to others myself. So I knew the energy and courage that went behind the words.

So what did I do to help her?

Nothing. I ignored the letter.

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Shut up Doctor Evil! I already know.

It terrified me and I didn’t know how to answer. I wanted to say I love her too but I knew it was only because I just wanted to make someone happy. Someone deserves to be with who they want. Yet although she was a great friend I didn’t feel that way. “Why not?” I considered. “Why don’t you love her back? What’s wrong with you?”

I procrastinated a day to gather my thoughts, and then another day, and another day, and another day, and another day. And then it must have been two weeks and I still hadn’t acknowledged the letter to her.

Her friend facebook messaged me and blasted me for my rudeness and about how, basically, she was too good for me and that I needed to get over my past and focus on my present and future.

The friend assumed that I felt all this self pity by my foster care blogs. That wasn’t why I was blogging. It wasn’t about showing off that I had a hard background. I didn’t have a hard background! Not really.

So this was the first example in which it felt like publishing my past was being used against me. And I suppose it was an incentive to cut it off. No more blogs.

But here I am.

A few Sundays ago I got really drunk with a hot friend in Brisbane and we were about to pass out on her couch. And she muttered, “tell me a story.”

It could have been any story. But my mind was blank. Blank. Blank.

A terrible moment for someone who feels his only purpose is as a storyteller. I said what was on my heart.

“Tomorrow I’m driving down to New South Wales,” I said. “A place called Kempsey. I’m going to catch up with my foster mother. I haven’t seen her in eight years. I haven’t lived with her in 15.”

Silence.

sleepy|awkward.

“You’re telling me what you’re doing,” she said. “That’s not a story of what happened.” A polite way maybe of saying ‘chill, dude. Way too heavy.’

Maybe.

I guess.

I suppose.

It took days to work out why I was troubled by that moment, which felt like a metaphor or life lesson to take hold of.

I’m a collection of stories.

Not a gatherer of future stories.

I have the past. Why do I need to hold off and concentrate on the future for more stories when I already have what I need. When I haven’t shared all that I can give.

I suppose maybe I feel I need to prove myself from the moment I blanked. For a scary drunken moment I thought maybe I didn’t have anything.

But I do.

Hello =) My name is Chris.

I write not for pity. I write because what happens to me seems to make bloody sense once the actions are channeled through my fingers onto this.

 

 

I must see new nutters

POPCORN chicken was new on the KFC menu when the social worker broke up with me.

The Big, Fat, Hairy Man and I waited in his government car as part of the drive-thru queue when he made the speech. “It’s not you, it’s me,” the man said as he turned the wheel slightly round the first curve.

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We drove to the Kempsey riverside park as we munched fried chicken. “I’ve been moved to another office,” the social worker said. “There are other children I need to look after who need me as much as you used to.

“Chris,” he said. “You’ve come such a long way since I’ve known you. You know that right?”

Maybe.

The first time we met I was on my house roof. I threw rotten pumpkins at him when he came to visit. Then while he tried to wash the pulp from his salt-and-pepper bushman beard I asked if he could help me off. “I have no pumpkins and it’s been raining and I can’t get off,” I said.

He blinked as if to say “you’ve got to be kidding” but he did it.

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Later though.

When I was put in my foster home I ran away, was picked up by the police, jabbed with a needle and held down by nurses. Listen to the song Bullet with Butterfly Wings and you might know how I feel. I woke up in a hospital in nothing but a plastic dressing gown, a plastic band around my wrist which I believed may have been a secret tracer.

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When I returned to the foster home I was faced with lethargy and loneliness. I tried starving myself, and then the big, fat, hairy man came over. He took me to the beach. We flew a Pokemon kite. The weight of the kite on my finger, the smell of the salty breeze, hearing the sound of the burly chuckles of the man who refused to have a turn.

A happy moment. A transformation of my life. He was my friend. The man in my life. The hero. The one I shared my first subway with.

There were so many social workers, so many psychologists and teachers and parents who gained my trust and over time moved on and found another project. They sanitised themselves – I wasn’t their responsibility – they moved on.

“I will come to visit when I can,” he promised, as if knowing what I was thinking. But I was stuck on the part where he said I’d changed. Because I knew he meant it. I knew then. I was a different boy than the 10-year-old who banged his head on the bedroom wall over and over for the fun of scaring his elderly foster mother.

I was nearly 12, I was nearly in high school, I was the best speller in my year. We sat in the car, watching a few kids run along the rickety bridge on the playground. “Want to play?” he said. The big, fat, hairy man knew how much I loved climbing up the curly slide, getting in the way of everyone, pretending the slide was a giant worm with its teeth at the bottom.

“Nah,” I said, seeing an advantage in this break-up. “Let’s get ice-cream.” And he said okay and we moved on.

Ms Gameboy

ALTERNATIVELY named Ms Gameboy and the Awkies Trio.

Ms Gameboy would often say, “I will keep an eye on you, Chris.” Most of the time she said that because I was a bit of a delinquent and she trusted me like a traditional owner would with a mining company.

But once my school councillor meant it in a nice way. I think. Assuming she didn’t assume I would be a serial killer or a Wall Street predator. She added; “You will be on the bestseller list and I will read your book.”

Well, I hope she never reads this. And she probably won’t because you’re pretty much my sole readership. Also, I’ve changed my name.

And I’ve changed her name. It’s not really Ms Gameboy. It was the nickname the Awkies Trio gave her because her real name was a few vowels off Gameboy and it’s fun to destroy a teacher’s self esteem.

For example, Mr Stone the substitute teacher was Mr Stoner.

And our high school science sub was Ms Pike. “What’s a dyke?” I asked her once after I heard the word whispered far too many times around the Bunsen burner.

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Anyway.

I’m not actually sure Gameboy was the school councillor. She was sort of like a remedial officer who took on the Awkies Trio. The trio were the more anti-social of the Year 6 loners. There was Finchy, the ADHD kleptomaniac/compulsive liar. There was Whitey – this kid who often sat away from everyone and drew dragons. And there was me.

I was trying to fit in the school system,so that my crush Ellie would want me. Witchcraft wasn’t working, I needed to be in on the cool crowd.  Gameboy’s interest told the class I was a weirdo no matter how normal I acted.

I was hot and cold with this poor lady.

Because at least I could get out of class for excursions or get ice-cream.

Yowies and Rams

I USED to play soccer for a team called Upper Macleay Yowies.

Go Yowies!

Great name. With patriotic colours of green and gold.

Shit team. Although a few of our players were great; especially Tom and Jessie. We all had fun together.

But that was the old days. When girls could play in our teams. Before Tom’s car accident.

Before Mum gave away my soccer boots for running away and hiding in the school library.

A year later, my foster mother Hazel decided I should pay soccer again. She bought boots and made sure I got a lift to try-outs. The nearest team to my school was the Fredo Rams. My school mates played in a higher year for some reason.

Hazel didn’t have her own car. But her sister did. So she made an effort to see my home games. And I’d get a lift with the team’s mothers when we had to travel a distance.

I wish I had a moral to wrap this post in a cute conclusion. The truth is I don’t. All I wanted to say was that I loved soccer, and that despite my complaints I wasn’t stuck on my foster home property when I wasn’t at school. And that Hazel did try to make me happy.

And to say that chocolate Yowies were the best. They were like Kinder Surprises, but the toys inside were of endangered and rare animals.

 

Why sell the cow?

♦SOME kids had their own Nintendo. My little brother Abe and I each had our own calf.

Mum organised for us both to buy our own baby calves for $40 each. We would each raise them and after a number of years sell them back at the market price. It was a great idea actually, to teach us good business sense.

Abe named his calf ‘Princess’. I named mine ‘Coal.’ That’s probably why she hated me.

I didn’t have much to do with Coal when I was put in foster care. I saw her when I was on home visits but for brief, disinterested moments.

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Abe and I got sick of waiting for the cash return and we sold our juvenile cows to the postman with a profit of about $150. Actually, the profit might have been $110. I can’t remember if I considered the original $40.

$150 is a lot of money for an 11-year-old. Except I can’t remember what I spent it on.

For almost a year Abe watched jealously as I brought home my Game Boy Colour and played Pokemon Silver during access visits. As soon as he got his money he made Mum take him to Big W. He bought a new Game Boy and Pokemon Gold.

I decided I was going to buy Pokemon Crystal. ‘You can’t!’ Mum said. ‘Just when Abe bought all this.’ To compete with you, is what she didn’t say.

I bought Pokemon Crystal anyway because Abe needed to be taught a lesson, and it was awesome because although it was just an upgraded Pokemon Silver, I could choose to be a boy OR a GIRL character.

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Life was sweet, but I felt unsettled. I’d traded a cow I didn’t care about, but it was still a life. A life worth more if I’d waited for better cattle prices.

 

 

Ch-ch-changing

ONCE I ran away from my foster home, was caught by the police, locked in their van, escorted to hospital, injected with a needle and held down by nurses until I was drugged out.

That’s my worst memory. I’m proud that I can write it down in one sentence.

There was a man who made the decision to treat me like this. Col was the office manager of the Department of Communities.

I think he felt guilty about what he did. Because once he passed on a light hearted remark to my foster mother. “Still can’t get the farmers friends out of my socks”, referring to the time he chased me through a forest to negotiate with me. Farmers friends are black thin seeds that attach themselves to clothing.

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Col resigns from his job. I say “resign” but I’m not entirely sure. He is replaced by a man named Tony – someone I intended to introduce in another blog post.

About a year later my foster mother Hazel and I are on our weekly shopping trip and we’re walking the main street. We’re at that part where I’ve spent my money on Pokemon cards and resorting to window shopping. And then we see Col walking to us.

I stand there, coldly. He says hello, talks about the weather, asks us what we’re doing, how I’m enjoying my holidays, and so on. He leaves.

Good.

Later Hazel said he had been impressed with my “change”.

“He was amazed you just stood there. He was expecting you to attack him or at least stomp on his shoe,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

The tooth fairy is dead

 

ONE night, when I was 12, I put one of my baby teeth into a glass of water and went to sleep.

I woke with the door creaking, as the sun rose. I watched my foster mother tip toe across the room to the glass to replace the tooth with a $2 coin. Hazel was a short woman with some fragility and a bad back, having been paraplegic at one point in her life. And seeing her tip-toe was a rare sight.

I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

“I saw that,” I said.

“Fine then, I won’t be doing this again,” she said.

I thought she was joking.

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Months later I pulled out my last baby tooth. It was hidden at the back and had a hole through the middle like a doughnut.

I was with my real family’s postman – who had become a family friend. He said “I’ll give you 50 cents for that, and you should count yourself lucky.” I said nah, knowing the going rate for the tooth fairy.

And when I went back home I followed the same ritual. I put the tooth in the same glass, on the same dresser, and went to sleep.

To my disappointment, the tooth remained. There was no gold coin. Maybe the tooth fairy didn’t know.

“Wow!” I said loudly at dinner in the ad between Veronica’s Closet. “This gap between my teeth feels weird.”

Everybody ignored me.

The next morning, I woke for school. The tooth remained. I kept it there the next day, the next, the next, the next, the next week. I threw the tooth and the slimy water out.

Because the tooth fairy was dead.

 

A kid’s backstory

♠EVERY kid in Year 6 had a stereotype or a back story, rumors passed on by their friends or the occasional guest to their house.

I was the psycho who tried to blow up the school.

And then there was Al.

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He awkwardly wore a brown cap outside to hide his platinum blond hair. He had big teeth but did not smile much. And he was part of the Pokemon crowd.

So was I. But there became a time where to impress the cool crowd I renounced such nerdy items in public.

Al had a little brother, and a mother. Although single mothers were not rare back then, it was left to our school friend to justify their father’s absence. Al never did.

“His father killed himself! Locked himself in his room and shot himself in the mouth,” Other-Chris, the guy who always had the desk next to me whispered. I looked at Al, four seats to my right.

“Probably couldn’t stand Al and wanted to do anything he could to get away from him,” I said.

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And Al said, sullenly, quietly, almost calmly, “I heard that.”

When you think about it, it’s amazing that he invited me to his birthday party.

To kill King K Rool

♠ONE of my early unsupervised access visits with Mum and the siblings didn’t go so well.

It was because I was selfish, but any time I used words like “selfish” and “useless” and “pathetic” aloud my foster family would be sympathetic.

In fact I used the words like an incantation if I felt I didn’t get enough attention.

After a while my foster mother and her daughter, and the daughter’s daughter, would snap “you know you’re not.”

I had enough Christmas money to buy Donkey Kong Country for the Game Boy Colour.

For the low, low price of $50 I could control an ape and make it jump into cannons. And stomp on giant lizards. And ride in treacherous mine carts.

Best game ever. Not counting Pokemon Silver. Or Super Mario World. Or any Commander Keen.

I bought DK early on in an access visit. Mum suggested we then go to the town pool. We were there a little while but I decided I wanted to play Donkey Kong as soon as possible.

I told her I wanted to go back home because I was sick.

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The visit was short and pointless. Just like this blog post. Ha ha ha.