When the culmination of all your fears finally sinks in.
You have no idea what to do. That is how I felt on the days before my birthday when my mother announced that she had been diagnosed with an early but potentially aggressive form of breast cancer. I was in the middle of helping out with lunch at the pre-school/kindergarten I had been working at that day. Consequently, it was also the place where my mother was the administrative assistant. Luckily for me, I got to hear the news of cancer first. My heart sank; I was terrified. I excused myself for a moment to run a quick Google check on what exactly she had told me. How do you continue working, with children no less, when that bomb had unexpectedly detonated?
The news initially had been that “something” showed up in her mammogram. What followed shortly after was a biopsy and a diagnosis. It was definitely cancer, and it had appeared to spread into a few of her lymph nodes. Shortly thereafter, she underwent an operation to remove the cancer and affected lymph nodes to see how far the cancer had spread. It was a blessing to learn that the cancer had not gone more than a few nodes in.
But, dammit, it was my first taste of devastation to see my mother, camouflaged with the hospital bed sheets, looking far more dead than I’d ever imagined possible. She could hardly open her eyes. Over the course of that year, my life became filled with hopeless prayers to an entity I wasn’t sure existed. How could I begin to believe? My mother had never hurt a soul in her life. The growing sense of bitterness toward those who couldn’t understand my situation, and my learning to obsess over the dark and grisly tales–I lost myself in trying to escape.
Not even a month after the diagnosis, I remember I watching Jacob’s Ladder for the first time at my friend’s house. I could strangely relate to the sheer insanity Jacob experienced in his downward spiral after experiencing a traumatic injury during Vietnam. Was it PTSD? Was it guilt? What was it, exactly? And when the curtains closed on the finale, and the credits began to roll, I nodded, knowing.
Around that same time, Silent Hill: Downpour and the Silent Hill HD Collection released for the PlayStation 3. I had already been a longtime fan of the series, but I was never able to actually get my hands on a working copy of Silent Hill 3, which happened to be my favorite. Ironically, I had also played this game in high school at the same friend’s house. What you have in Silent Hill is a collection of stories built upon a tragedy that each character caused, experienced, regretted, etc. In Silent Hill 2, the creatures that James battles were all symbols of his immense guilt, the king being Pyramid Head. The final showdown between the two Pyramid Heads saw James conquering his guilt to remember just what it was that he had done.
Silent Hill: Downpour saw Murphy, a convict, survive his way through a thick corruption for an ultimate showdown with the Bogeyman, the symbol of hatred. He’s a monster that Murphy wants to blame for the tragedy in his and all life. Interestingly enough, the Bogeyman appears as a different being in the eyes of each character, furthering the idea that he is just a representation of each characters’ perception of what evil is. The embodiment of revenge for each the characters is in the town of Silent Hill because they have successfully sought or presently seek revenge. To say the least, Silent Hill and Jacob’s Ladder were visceral, creative, and thought provoking.
Now, I’ve always wanted to write and publish a novel. I’ve worked on a countless number of drafts and ideas since I was in middle school. I’ve always been plagued with an inability to finish. I’ve become disgusted with my writing skills at inception, or I can’t decide how to progress through my story. People change over the course of time, and I am no different. Sometimes those changes kill my stories. However, I had been blessed to have college professors encourage me to keep writing. So, I have never given up.
When the cancer diagnosis slammed me into the starkest reality I’ve never cared to be a part of, I sought refuge in the form of film, games, and the creation of fiction. I had been pondering the outcome of Jacob’s Ladder and Silent Hill: Downpour, and I allowed myself to get lost in a dark world:
“The sky, serene, hung purple above him; the color of plums, should you peel off the skin. The juices would, on occasion, seep out from the cut, though the rain came in waves instead of droplets.
It had been this way since he buried her.”
I had created my own personal hell fueled by the demons, the hate, and the fear that ruled my every day. I projected myself as a piece of Mason Winters, the protagonist, and lurched him into a scene of ultimate despair. Within, Mason must struggle through a clinic where he is taken after being struck by lightning following an accident. Trying to understand what is truly real, he must make his way through a twisted series of trials from a sadistic voice only heard through a PA system. I wrote the first chapter and stopped for a lengthy period of time. I found myself drained from the emotion I had siphoned into my writing and quickly snuffed it in a place where I sought escape, but I found that I was recreating reality.
It took me four years to finish my novel, all 50,000ish words. For those who do not know, 50,000 words is not a significant number for a novel. But regardless, I had finished, and I published the novel myself. And it even ranked within the top 1,000 horror/thriller stories on Amazon during its first month.
But I could not have done it without the constant reminding of the importance of what I was doing, which usually came in the form of Silent Hill or Jacob’s Ladder. The content and purpose of those two pieces of literature fueled the remainder of my strength enough to finish writing. The power of art is contagious.
It has been four months since the book was published and three years my mother has been living cancer free. I am proud to have completed my novel, and I would love feedback on my journey. I could not have done it without tragedy nor without the help of my passion for gaming. Most importantly, the experience has given me room to grow, with the maturity and appreciation of life to better myself and help those I come in contact with.