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How Happy Computers Destroy Lives.
“Hey there,” says a voice from the computer store. The boy in question looks up and sees his father entering through the front door with three grocery bags of groceries clutched against his chest, wearing a look on his face that is not quite one of joy or peace of mind. He seems to have just woken up; his hair is sticking up at odd angles as if he had been running his fingers through it while sleeping.
“You got it?”
The boy nods and holds out one of the three boxes he purchased, which his father gratefully takes from him. “Good job! I’m proud of you!” His son beams with pride, and even if they had no interaction before this moment, that alone would already fill the boy with happiness. He watches his father make his way up the stairs into their apartment and then return with several grocery bags. They are stuffed full of the things the boy had asked for. The boy grabs one and follows after him.
Their home is small by any standard but they are happy. Both of them are content. They have each other and everything they need is within reach. There is nothing to fear. Everything could turn out well. If anything goes wrong, though… Well. That’s all right too. This isn’t the end yet. There is still hope to hold onto.
As they head back to the living room together, the man stops abruptly and places down his food on the coffee table. He pulls something from underneath his shirt and presents it to his son with a smile. It’s a CD in a case, with the title ‘Lights Out!’ written across the top in large red letters.
“Oh no, Dad!”
His father laughs and continues forward, taking hold of the young man’s shoulder and guiding him towards the couch. “Come on! You’re going to love this one!”
“You didn’t have to do that!” the boy exclaims, watching as his father sits him down on the couch and opens the case on the CD player. He presses play and the speakers fill the air with the familiar sounds of an acoustic guitar and drums. The boy feels some of the tension leave his shoulders as he relaxes slightly, allowing himself to feel comfortable. Even in times like these he has always felt safe, with these people whom he has grown so close to.
They listen to the first few beats of ‘Lights Out’ and the song fades out with the guitar. After a few moments his father begins singing along quietly with the lyrics, and the boy joins him easily. He knows exactly what song is playing. He remembers being six years old and hiding from one of his cousins under the bed when he heard the song for the first time. He can almost taste his mother’s disapproval of her son’s behavior, can almost see how disappointed she must have felt. But it’s alright now because his family is whole again.
His father finishes the song and pauses it as he places the CD back in the case. “What do you think about it?”
“It’s okay, I guess,” he admits. “I kind of liked it, but it was too much for my ears. I wish you’d have chosen more classical music.”
“I thought it suited your age better.” The man shrugs. “I thought that, if we were listening to an older album, it might give us some ideas about where you want to be in life. And then I remembered how much you love musicals and movies – I figured maybe an acoustic version of those songs would be good for you.”
“That’s really thoughtful! Thanks, Dad.”
“No problem.” His father smiles warmly at him.
They spend a few minutes eating their respective meals, until they hear something that draws both of their attention away. The sound of keys clacking together echoes in their ears and they both glance towards the television, where a news anchor is talking on live TV. It’s hard to hear the words over the sound of traffic outside, but the man’s eyes widen in horror when he catches sight of the screen.
“Honey, I think we should go somewhere else tonight,” says his wife suddenly. Her eyes flicker between the two of them, worry clear upon her expression. She turns her gaze to her daughter, who is lying on the floor, pretending to be busy with her toys. A frown appears on her face, like she’s trying to puzzle something out.
“But… why?” the girl asks, finally raising her head and looking at her parents. “We haven’t had our favorite movie marathon today yet. And it’s not fair to miss this.”
“Well, your mom and I just thought it was best if we went to a different place. We thought it would help us remember things a little easier. And besides,” his wife adds softly, “your father doesn’t like the news that often anyway. Why don’t you take some of the leftover food to the kitchen and set it out for tomorrow, okay sweetie?”
The girl’s expression softens as she gets up from the floor and makes her way over to the fridge. When she comes back, however, she is not carrying the food containers nor does she look happy. In fact, she looks like she wants to cry.
“Is something wrong, honey?” his father asks, placing his hand upon his daughter’s back.
She shakes her head slowly and bites her lip. Then, after a deep breath and another brief hesitation, she answers. “Mom and I talked for a long time yesterday. And… I know you said you loved me, but I… um… I think I forgot some stuff too.”
Her statement causes him to let out a quiet sigh. It had been a rough couple of weeks for them, as they had discovered just how many memories of his wife’s childhood they had forgotten. The last thing either of them needed to deal with was more grief than they already had to contend with. As for the child herself… it was obvious that she had lost track of some of the details in a recent conversation, but he had hoped that, just like all her other memories had gone missing, the ones concerning her grandmother and her parents as well.
He reaches out for her, and she hugs him tightly as soon as he picks her up. “It will be okay, sweetheart. Your parents will get your memory back and you and I will go on our next date tomorrow night. I promise.” She nods and rests her head on her father’s shoulder. For a moment, there is silence save for the sound of their breathing and the hum of the refrigerator. Suddenly, the boy speaks up again, causing them to both look up.
“Can I come too? Mommy told me I can come.”
Both of them stare at him in shock, and then turn to look at the ceiling in unison. What are they supposed to tell him? How do they tell someone that they had forgotten how to sing and dance and talk and laugh again? How do they explain that they don’t care to share their time with him because he will never be able to share his own? How are they supposed to say that they love him and only him?
“Uh… Sure, buddy. Whatever Mommy and Daddy decide,” his dad eventually replies, smiling as best as he can manage. “If that’s okay with you, honey?”
The little boy smiles and hugs him tighter. “Yeah! I’m sure Mommy and Daddy can figure something out.”
The woman lets out a sigh as she glances between her husband and the son, knowing they will most likely never fully recover from all of this. At least they have gotten past this phase now, at least they are making progress in their recovery. The only thing left now is to wait and see.
“Okay, this is what I’ve learned,” the man tells the children in front of him. They are sitting on the floor of his office, the door open as they listen to him lecture about various subjects. Each of them has been assigned different areas within the store while they learn to control their abilities. So far, none of them have had to learn to control theirs. They are all doing exceptionally well, especially since they each have found a role that suits them most perfectly, whether it is helping others, learning new skills or just having fun with whatever.
“So, if someone calls you on the phone to ask about one of their products, what do you do?”
There are four children seated around him. One of them is a girl, one of them a boy and two boys. There are only eight months left before they graduate from high school. This year is no exception.
“I usually tell them I haven’t seen anything like the item they are asking about, and to try coming by later. Sometimes, I’ll even give them some advice on how to improve their product. But mostly, I just keep on helping customers. If they still call a few days later though, I can give them a discount on their purchase.”
He turns to face the girl. “Now, this is usually the part where I ask you to name the type of gift that you bought for your boyfriend and his friends this year. That way I can help you figure out which items you should buy and which items they should get. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir. Can I choose what I bought for Alex?” she asks, holding up her present for him to see.
He glances briefly over the small box before shaking his head. “This will be the same as your last present, sweetie. No special favors.”
“Oh… okay,” she nods and sets the small wrapped present back down. “Do you guys know what presents I got this year?” she asks, turning to the boys sitting across from her, “because if you haven’t already, I’m going to pick mine.”
They shake their heads in answer. “I think Alex got something for you, though,” one of the boys points out. The other two boys nod in agreement.
“And what did he get you?” She stares intently at the boy who answered first.
“Some books,” the boy admits quietly. “You know how he likes to read, so I picked up a few copies for him. He really likes it, don’t you Alex?”
The young man blushes lightly. “Um… yeah. They’re pretty interesting actually. You could put some of them in a bookcase at home. Maybe a couple of them could stand side by side on the shelf near the window, or you could put them on the coffee table if you want. They look like you need something to read sometimes.”
The boy grins brightly and nods his head enthusiastically. “Really? Thank you Alex!” He jumps off his chair and runs toward the living room before anyone can say anything else.
The little girl turns around and studies the small wrapped present once more. “I hope it’s alright if I wrap this next time.