Against Leaving Him
“. . . [Ric] Hoogestraat was never much of a game enthusiast before he discovered Second Life. But since February, he’s been spending six hours a night and often 14 hours at a stretch on weekends as Dutch Hoorenbeek, his six-foot-nine, muscular, motorcycle-riding cyber-self . . . marital counselors say they’re seeing a growing number of marriages dissolve over virtual infidelity.”
—The Wall Street Journal, August 10, 2007
He’s not really cheating on me. He’s cheating himself. I mean it’s two in the afternoon and he hasn’t even noticed the breakfast pockets I set next to his computer at eight. Everything is next to Ric’s computer now. He says, It’s only a game, as though it takes some kind of luck or skill to live in a virtual world, as though fantasies can somehow be winnable. Or as though I’m the crazy one for being jealous of the online marriage of Dutch and Tenaj—which is Janet spelled backwards. You know, if you spell love backwards, you get evol, which happens to look like evil, but sounds more like the beginning of evolving, and these days, I think technology is evolving a hell of a lot faster than people are, piling on more and more tools so that our brains can really screw things up. I wish there was a way to stop thinking about the chat room where Ric and I first met, the irony of it all, how chatting (IYKWIM) is so much easier than talking (if you know what I mean), how people want a second life despite all the trouble they have in the first one. When Ric and I got married, I thought he was interesting, educated, someone stable for a change. I couldn’t have guessed that, three years later, he would be designing pixilated bikinis and lingerie, that he’d own a dance club, a strip club, a mall, all worth 1.5 million lindens—the online currency he uses to pay 25 employees, avatars operated by other players. And I couldn’t have guessed that when Ric came home from the hospital this summer, after his gall bladder surgery, he would be greeted with messages from fifty cyber-friends, and with a gift— a private island that Janet bought for 480 dollars, or 120,000 lindens, because she wanted Tenaj Jackelope to cheer Ric up—I mean to cheer Dutch up. Dutch, too, cost money, because Ric outfitted him with six-pack abs, a furry chest, and special hair that sways when he walks. I wonder if it sways when he has sex, and what it’s like to shop for animated genitals. Oh sure, I could buy myself an avatar and find out. Ric even tried to talk me into it. That was before Tenaj, before their long motorcycle rides, their mortgage for a three-story house on the ocean, their dog, before Ric started sleeping in the computer chair. Dutch and Tenaj look like they’re twenty-five. Ric is fifty-three, Janet thirty-eight, divorced and slim. I’ve seen a photo, and I can picture her, somewhere in Alberta, her fingers zipping across the keyboard, asking her husband what he wants to do next. Maybe they’re walking on the beach or dancing at his club. I haven’t danced with Ric since our wedding, and Phoenix is damn far from the ocean. Maybe they’re just lounging around in their make-believe home. I saw their living room once, shining from the screen. Tenaj was playing with the dog, a pug, commanding it to beg, to fetch a toy, and Dutch was drinking a beer at his desk—which means that Ric was sitting at his computer, staring at his cartoon-self sitting at his computer. And I stood watching both of them, craving the old Ric, his old grin, something beyond the stupid ponytail he’s grown. Yesterday he built furniture for a coffee shop at his mall, created a logo for the cups. His wrist and fingers ache from working the mouse. His back hurts. And I hurt because he doesn’t say anything. He just sighs and rubs his hand, or plugs in the heating pad. Ric’s busy pretending there is no pain, no grieving, that it’s a coincidence he got hooked on Second Life right after losing his mother. Now he’s lost his way. I’ll wait for him to find it again. In the meantime, I’ve joined an online support group—EverQuest Widows, which has some gaming widowers too. It’s such a comforting community—you can’t imagine. Or, well, maybe you can.