Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Grand Adventure

April 14, 2015

Michael is coming to live with me in June. Everyone thinks I'm crazy, and maybe I am, but it just feels right. I love Michael, but not in the way you think, not romantically, after all he is 34 and I am 67, but more the way you love a soul mate. And Michael needs help and I may be the only one who can help him.

I am the Guild Master, or leader and founder of a guild in the online game of World of Warcraft. A guild is a group of like minded people who come together to play together. There are about 90 people in the guild, each with a number of toons, or characters they play. I recruited nearly everyone in the guild, and all of us, strangers initially, have become good friends. I met Michael in October, 2014 . He is one of my guildies. To say I have met him is not strictly true, I have never seen him face to face, but we have spent many, many hours talking on Skype. He is funny, brilliant, articulate, perceptive and probably one of the best players I have ever seen. He is also severely depressed, suffers from anxiety and for all intents and purposes a shut in. He lives in Minnesota with his cousin who supports and takes care of him. So how has it gotten to the point where I am going to drive to MN, pick him up, and bring him back here to live with me? Damned if I know, but I do know I need to do this and that it is Michael's only chance for a normal life – or as normal as it can get for him.

Michael has suffered from depression for most of his life. He has never had any treatment for it, taken no medication, and suffers from lows that would drive most people to suicide. But he slowly climbs out of those black depths, back up to what he considers a good place, and tries to survive until the next bad bout. That he is still alive is a testament to his strength of will and determination to beat this some day. And I am determined to help him beat it. He has a huge heart, a boundless capacity for love, a desire to help people and is in all respects a wonderful person. At present he is surrounded by two types of people: One group tells him to get his head out of his ass and pull himself together; the other treats him like he is helpless. Neither side has made any attempt to get him the help he desperately needs and so he continues to be so depressed that he drinks himself into insensibility just so he can be social enough to talk to people in game.

I first started talking to Michael on Skype when I came back to the game after some surgery and a heart attack. One of the other guildies had brought him into the guild while I was away and then, when I returned, told him to go introduce himself to me because I had been very ill and I was a nice person and he should get to know me. I don't know if Ker knew what he had started, and I think he was just trying to help me because he knew I like to know all the guildies, but Michael did as asked and introduced himself to me.

At first I was a little put off by him, his favorite word starts with fuck and he uses it liberally. I'm not a prude, but it was almost too much. Also he was drunk, but I have come to realize that is nearly a constant state for him. But he is a happy drunk and he says he drinks to release his inhibitions so he can be social. Soon after we met, he confessed to me about his depression and anxiety and the fact that he lives in his cousin's house and seldom leaves. But, because of my background as a special education teacher, it struck a chord with me and I came to like him a lot. Apparently he feels the same way because talking together has become something we do frequently. Some days it is through messaging in game only, when he isn't feeling chatty, and other times it is in Skype where we have, on several occasions, talked all night and well into the next day. Obviously I get very tired and want to go to bed, but he asks me to stay a little longer, he doesn't want to be alone.

As our conversations have evolved and we have gotten to know each other, we have become the president of each others fan club, so to speak. He spends hours, literally, extolling my virtues and trying to tell me how special I am, and I do the same for him. We can talk about anything. He knows about my sex life, such as it is, and I have intimate details about his, both successes and failures. He is like a girlfriend, or that gay friend of yours, but he isn't gay. To him I have become the person he is most comfortable with, the one he can tell anything to, and the one who, he says, has given him the strength to reach out to others.

Michael is not a stranger to many of the people in the guild. He was on a different server with one of my officers who has known him for 4 years. The game is so large, with over 8 million people playing that if everyone tried playing on the same server, it would be chaos. So there are different servers, like parallel universes, where the game is identical, but with not so many people there the game is much less crowded. Vari said the other day that before he joined my guild Michael was very withdrawn, took a long time to get to the point where he could talk to people, never talked to anyone one on one, but always in our voice chat program called Ventrillo or “vent” in a small group. He didn't raid, but leveled toon after toon and did old dungeons and raids by himself, and generally played alone most of the time.

After he joined my guild he started talking with me one on one, first in vent, then we transferred to Skype. He started raiding with us and shocked everyone by doing incredible damage to the computer generated enemies, called bosses, as well as his incredible strength of personality. It gets him in trouble sometimes, I won't lie about that, but just today a guildie told me that he brings laughter and life to the raid and makes the raids fun. I haven't told him what Bacon said yet, but he will be pleased about it when I do.

Eventually he got courage enough to start to reach out to other people. We had a guildie named SharkTaco, a lovely French Canadian woman, and Michael started flirting with her. She reciprocated and he fell in love. However, she was mostly playing with him and they went up and down for quite a while until Michael eventually broke it off. It isn't the first time he has had this type of virtual romance, but, according to him, it will be the last. He then started talking to others in the guild, mostly the women, but not exclusively. The other day he told me he thinks he is better alone, not paired up with anyone, so he is free to give his love to his “harem” as I call it; the women he has reached out to and who have found a special friendship with him. All of them married so “safe,” but all offering him the attention and opportunity to feel normal that he craves.

So, back to how it happens I am driving to MN to collect him. Well, I need to have some additional surgery on my shoulder. I have a massive tear to my rotator cuff and it was the initial repair of that which was the surgery that cause me to have a heart attack. A small one, but still a shock. In the course of physical therapy I re-injured my shoulder, tearing it completely again. The doctor says shoulder replacement is my best option. As unthrilling as this is, I don't like the pain, so I agreed. I said something to Michael, in a joke, that he should come take care of me. Much to my surprise, a few days later he brought it up and said he thinks he would like to, because, first, he loves me and wants to help me, and second, it will make him feel as if he is paying his own way. At first I was thinking in terms of just a couple of weeks, but as we talked it became clear that what he needed was a complete change and a new start. He says he needs to get away from everyone who holds him down and be with someone who “gives a damn” about him. As I write this, I realize it is hard to truly convey the process both of us went through to arrive at this, but it wasn't a short one. Michael wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing, what kind of person he was, how he is, and what his failures and most horrible moments have been. I have spent time telling him this is not an altruistic act on my part, that I will be getting a companion that I truly enjoy and won't be lonely anymore, or at least as long as Michael is with me.

I went on to tell him what I wanted to do is to get him on Medi-cal so he has some health insurance, take him to a shrink and get a proper diagnosis of his illness. Then I want to get him on Social Security disability so he has an income and can become a contributing member of society. He saw that as ironic, actually, taking from society just to be able to give it back, but he agreed it was probably necessary. He has never gotten any monetary help from the state, never asked for it. He finds the process embarrassing and demeaning. I will have to help him every step of the way, but that is something I am willing to do. Once we got that out of the way the discussions turned to how to get him out here. Initially I was going to fly him. He agreed, but I soon found out he was terrified of flying, even though he never had. But he said he would. I decided not to put him through that, and so the easiest way for him would be if I drove back to MN and picked him up and brought him to CA. The entire prospect terrifies him, I can hear it in his voice when he talks, but again, drawing on the strength of will he has, he is willing to start a new life in a new place. He realizes it is his only chance. He can't do it alone, but if I am with him, step by step, he can do it.

That is a brief summary of where we are today. I may go back and add things, but even if I don't the basics are there. I thought about writing this the other day, and then, ironically, I was telling a friend what we are doing and he said I should write a book. So, I decided to do it. My plan is to write this as a diary, keeping a log of our ups and downs, charting Michael's progress. If we are successful, maybe this story can be an inspiration to others to reach out to help someone who desperately needs it. So hold on, this could be a bumpy ride.

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