Once when I was seventeen, there came a knock at my bedroom door. I was playing Kill Shot online, and when I turned around, I saw my father.
“You’ve got my tape measure,” he said. I’d borrowed it for art purposes. He looked at my computer. “What’s going on there?”
I explained that we were insurgents fighting counter-insurgents, that next round we’d be counter-insurgents fighting insurgents. My father asked if he could try.
I arranged the headset on his head, which required a bit of tightening. I showed him how to reload the handgun and how to aim and time a grenade’s toss. While he swiveled and ducked, I picked up stray socks and underwear to stash under my comforter. I noticed a sour smell that I could do nothing about.
He swore, louder than he had intended. The screen had gone red. He turned to me. “The horror.”
“You re-spawn in ten seconds,” I said.
“Re-spawn,” he said. “Your mouse sensitivity is calibrated too high. Has anyone ever told you that?”
He was born again and died again. He pushed away from the desk and took off the headphones. I hadn’t found the tape measure.
“Leave it on the kitchen table,” he said. “Your mother wants a desk that’s too big and she no longer takes my word for things.”
A decade later, I found that Kill Shot could be purchased on a website for less than two dollars. I bought it and enjoyed it more than I thought I would; it took care of those evening hours when the risk of sober self-evaluation ran high.
One night, I was scavenging for ammunition and health packs—a solitary job that I enjoy for its slower pace and lack of glamor—when a single shot made my screen go red. After I re-spawned, I went back and, with the help of Thermal Goggles, found the sniper lying flat on his stomach in a partially burnt tree house. When I held my cursor over him, his Player ID, 42BlueMeadowLane, as well as his whole aspect—patient, prone, far from the action—confirmed that this was my father.
Next to his name was a blue symbol, the Survivor’s Badge, which meant that he’d killed at least one enemy per game and never, not once, been killed himself.
I typed, “Pop, do you have a headset?” We connected via LiveChat.
“How’d you know it was me?” he asked. We hadn’t spoken since Easter, when I’d brought a $32 bottle of cabernet to his new widower’s apartment, which had a television so large it seemed like a declaration against the capriciousness of fate.
“Your ID is your home address,” I said.
“Your ID should not be your home address, Pop.”
“I know that now,” he said. “But I typed the wrong thing in the wrong field, so here we are.” Then, after a pause: “Some mistakes you cannot fix.”