18 Jul Null
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Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
Shortly after turning 12 my family moved to a much larger, albeit older, house. I had my choice of 3 bedrooms (being oldest does have its perks) and resolved to bunker down in the basement. This decision was based on isolation and being able to hear my parents come downstairs. The walk-in closet was just an added bonus.
I developed the habit of leaving my bedroom spotless and inflicting all of my chaotic nature within the confines of the walk-in closet. Legos, action figures, even a small assortment of black and white 70’s pornography pamphlets became scattered in what I would describe as a pubescent fortress.
At one point my younger brother and I nearly burned down a barn. The consequences of this action were the removal and destruction of ALL toys we had. Naturally, some of the things found in my closet prompted a stern conversation and 3 months of being grounded to my room. The only time I was permitted to leave the house was with a parent or to attend school.
For someone that age to have their belongings stolen away and kept in a nearly empty room for extended periods of time… I can assure you it requires a great deal of medication and/or an imagination to remain sane. I had the luxury of both.
At some point my mother took pity on my hermit-like plight and brought me along for some yard sale adventures. I had no money and to be honest it was odd to be around people I did not know. I gave them ample space. At some point while performing this awkward dance my shin met a firm object jutting out slightly under one of the sale tables. It was a small computer, an ancient all-in-one apple. I pointed this find out and the shabby system fell into my possession courtesy of my mother. The system was accompanied by a small weathered box full of disks and cables most of which were not usable.
I took my time erecting a shrine in the closet to house my treasure. Milk cartons and overly discovered Where’s Waldo books served as the frame for my makeshift desk.
I paused to admire the system and jabbed my finger at the power button. A fan somewhere within it’s guts growled to life and gradually sank into a purr of white noise. The screen, however, remained blank. My heart sank and I waited anxiously for several minutes before giving up. My technical know-how was far from adequate to revive the patient so I left the hunched system humming to itself and embedded the rest of my evening with reading and homework. The sun gradually bled behind the mountains and disappeared, signaling it was time for bed. My parent’s sleep schedule was enforced heavily.
I’ve always slept well in the dark. The darkness has had a calming effect on me and I think part of that stems from being the eldest and not being terrorized. One thing that does upset my sleep in any situation is light. Perhaps I have thin eyelids, perhaps I open my eyes when I dream…regardless, I found my eyes flickering open towards the source of my unwanted illumination. Consciousness regained with increasing puzzlement at what I saw. The closet door was closed but a distinct green hue snuck out from under it. The brightness was increasing and decreasing at random intervals. Pandering to my curiosity I rose from bed and shuffled slowly towards the closet. I was barely conscious enough to evade the mess of books and homework debris. Before my hand touched the cold knob I knew what to suspect. The door opened to reveal a working computer with a monotone display. The screen-saver looked like pixels attempting to eat one another(I would later learn that it was called Life-the screensaver). That night I set aside the urge to sleep and explored the storage of my newfound source of entertainment.
One night of sleeplessness turned into several. I was excited every night to feign my slumber until the shuffling upstairs would die out to dive into my closet to entertain myself. Faceless floppies would yield games, books, papers, pictures, and even a few nudes. I was approaching 15 games and the box still had a large supply of disks to go. I found a word program that allowed me to keep a diary, a drawing tool to make simple sketches, and other useful things to occupy my time. For someone who had access to such a thing only during schooltime this was fantastic. School became a blur of daydreams and naps. I quickly adjusted to my new nocturnal obsession.
Five weeks into my three months of being grounded I slowly grew aware of a numb feeling. I no longer felt despair in secluding myself. I could go days without more than a few sentences uttered and found the void of communication being swallowed up by my diary and the pictures I drew.
Thursday night that week I plopped down in front of the green screen and fumbled in the dark for more disks inside the frail computer box. This disk was different from the rest in that it was marked NULL in large black permanent swatches. After about a minute of loading the screen began to shift and contort in ways I thought impossible. My mind noted the swirls and the title ARTICHOKE before a swift blackness fell over me. I could hear a high pitched squeal sounding from somewhere.
My initial thought was that the computer display had finally died. I stood on my feet, wobbled, and held the doorknob to the exit from my closet for a few moments. I found myself standing in a room filled with natural sunlight. The window-well allowed just enough sunlight to spill through my blinds and cast shadowy stripes over everything. Puzzled, I made my way upstairs and joined my family for dinner.
“Whats with the PJs?”
I blink up at my father and muster a weak shrug.
“Dinner is ready, go find your brother.”
“…Dinner?” I question, weakly.
He nods and returns his attention back to the news, rocking in his slick leather chair.
I turn to go upstairs and instead take a sleight right, heading back to my room. I push open the door and beeline to the ajar closet door and fling it open. The action required to throw open a door drains me significantly. I stand in the doorway staring down at an empty patch of carpet where the computer once sat. No box, no disks, no computer.
I later learned over dinner that I’ve somehow lost a month of awareness, both my dogs have died, and my grades are beyond salvage. I’ve asked my father about the computer on several occasions and every time he comments how I walked out with it one day and returned a couple hours later minus the system and barefoot.
Of course, I cannot recall a single bloody thing he claims.