Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Zombie Sons

I love my zombie son.
When we arrived in Grantville  there were zombies all over the little town square. We knew very little about what to expect. Jason, Jack and I heard about the game two months ago when we visited our friends here. A long time ago, I lived in this town. Ten years ago to be exact. There were no zombies back then. There weren't that many among the living either. The town boasted a population of 1,200. Now it had grown to more than 5,000 residents—most of them human.

The last time I haunted Grantville's downtown, I was a new mom. I had never changed a diaper before Jack was born and motherhood did not come natural to me. Fortunately, there were some wonderful women in this town who knew a thing or two about infants, and I found expert help when I needed it. Returning here ten years later with my 12-year-old in tow reminded me just how far I'd come—and how far I had yet to go. Going through a divorce is not exactly the ideal circumstance for a kid. I worry all the time that I'm a terrible mom. Somes times my fears are validated. Suffice to say a lot has happened since I left this sleepy southern town.

Grantville was recently put on the map one when it was selected as a location for the AMC series, The Walking Dead (TWD). The producers scouted all over Georgia and deemed Grantville the perfect setting for their post-apocolyptic, zombie-fied world. I've never liked the idea of flesh eating anything, but when I discovered Grantville was one of the locations for the series, I started watching. After a few episodes, I was hooked.

For industrious Grantvillians, an entire zombie industry cropped up around those episodes. There are no fewer than three shops that sell TWD stuff and assorted zombie paraphenalia.  Zombie mania is a trend that won't last, but for now, merchants are riding the wave and so are other profiteers. The Zombie Soul Survivor Game was just the latest in the undead-themed attractions aimed at snagging some of the discretionary cash being spent by the living.The game provided fresh white t-shirts for the hopeful humans and, if tagged with a "bloody"(red paint) hand print or splatter, you were then deemed infected and eliminated from play. Simple enough. Jason and Jack decided to test their zombie apocalypse survival skills. To be honest, the idea of  paying $40 to be chased by zombies did not appeal to me much, but my guys were up for it and I went along to provide moral support and visit with my Grantville friends.

As we stood in line to get our t-shirts and sign release forms reliquishing any responsibility of the game maker should we really be harmed in the apocolyptic play, some quite convincingly made-up zombies approached us and began to make "I want to eat your brains" noises. They really were creepy—even at high noon on a very sunny Saturday. I decided to ignore them and not make eye contact.  I looked around, I discovered Jack cowering behind Jason. He wasn't playing; he was really stressed out. We inched forward in line and every step we took—bringing us closer to our zombie-bait fate—Jack became more anxious. Tears began to form in his eyes as we were handed t-shirts. He grabbed my arm and said, "Mom, I don't think I want to do this."

I looked at my pre-teen son and saw a child about to melt down. I wanted to say, "Hey c'mon! We've been planning this for months and you love the whole zombie thing! It will be fun! Lighten up! They're just people in costumes and make-up!" There was also a part of me that wanted to be pissed off because my plan for the day was being derailed. After all, we'd talked about this outing for weeks and spent money on fuel and tickets. Fortunately, I set that aside because I could tell that Jack was really scared. No amount of cajoling would encourage him to release the fear he felt, because at this point, his fear was real—even though the zombies weren't.

Fear is a complex emotion. It's one I've been studying a lot lately as I explore my own fears and how I react when faced with them. The thing about fear is that even though whatever it is I'm afraid of is rarely actually happening—my fearful thoughts are happening and, therefore, are quite real. It is hard to set aside those feelings once they are picked up. Finding a sense of humor is the easiest way to break the hold of fear. Laughter really does combat fear like nothing else I know, but it's hard to laugh when you're (literally) scared out of your wits.

Jack was shutting down. I've done this too. It happened decades ago when I began taking lessons to get my SCUBA diving certification. I attended the initial instructions at a local pool, but when it came time to practice the essentials, such as taking out your mouth piece while underwater and sharing it with another diver (a technique known as buddy breathing,) I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I froze, and refused to get back in the pool. After that night, I dropped the course. It wasn't that I tried and didn't accomplish the feat, or had a bad experience, got water in my nose or anything like that. The thought of being underwater and not being able to breathe scared the be-Jesus out of me. To this day, the idea of SCUBA diving has no appeal to me, and on a recent trip to Cabo, I found I didn't even like snorkeling so much.

So I understand this type of illogical, debilitating fear, and this is what I saw in Jack. He began to cry. Jason said, "Let's just go," but I wan't ready to give up just yet because I do know a thing or two about fear. 

Fear makes me feel as though I have no options. Within the cycle of my fear,  I begin to feel I have no recourse, so I panic and become more afraid, and the more afraid I become, the more my mind clouds and I can't think straight. The more I fear, the more cut off I am from reality and from making healthy decisions, and so I react in panic and (often) fall deeper into whatever hole I'm trying to escape. But not today. Today, Jack was in the hole. But since I wasn't, I could see another option: Go zombie. 

You see, players who were "infected" in the game got made up as zombies and were allowed to continue playing for "the other side."
Polite zombies win the day.

"Why don't you just start out as a zombie?" I said.

After seeing the zombies in person, Jack was retiscent to join their ranks, but our options were narrowing and time was running down. The game would begin soon. Jack agreed to give it a try. I led my boy over to the old train depot where the zombies were being created so I could ask the nice man with the airbrush and artificial scabs to kindly turn my beautiful son into a goon.

Inside the depot was dark. Jack hesitated and didn't want to follow me in. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw the make-up artist transforming humans into zombies with greenish spray paint and blood-red gashes. Jack hung back, eyeing the newly zombie-fied humans with distrust.

"I don't like it in here," he said. "I can't see."
"Let your eyes adjust," I said. "Give it a minute."

There was a group of zombie kids, about Jack's age, waiting for the game to begin. I asked a boy if he liked being a zombie.

"It's fun," he shrugged. "You just run after the people and try to tag them. They tell you what to do and who not to tag."

Jack hung back beside me, listening.

Three ghoulish teenage girls said they'd been here since 7 a.m. and they didn't seem traumatized in the least. (The first event was at 8 before the heat of the day set in. I was seeing the logic in that as the temperature rose past 90 degrees.) 

The make-up artist stopped to eat a slice of pizza, and I stepped up and asked him if he could put some paint on Jack next. He nodded.

"Soon as I'm done eating," he said.

While we waited, I turned to the young man standing next to me.

"Have you been here since this morning?" I asked.
"Yes mam," he said.
"Wow, what nice manners you have," I said.
"Yeah, you wouldn't think that to look at me," he said.

The young man had big plugs in his ear lobes. When I was his age, we'd call someone who looked like him a Punk Rocker, but I have no idea what the young and extremely pierced call themselves today.

"People look at kids like me with tattooes and earrings and they think we're weird, but they don't know what's in our hearts," he said.

You weren't there, but let me assure you that he didn't come off sounding defensive or rude. Quite the opposite. The young man assumed I was being judgmental of his looks—and I was, just a little, even though when I said it, I meant he had great manners for a zombie. But perhaps since I sported suburban Mom Bermuda shorts and a matching cotton top, he judged me too. His eyes were alive and filled with knowledge. Not at all typical of the undead—or of most 18-year-olds, for that matter.

"You're right," I said. "You are so right. Can't judge a book by its cover. But what I meant was for a zombie, you have nice manners."
He laughed.
"I'm from Louisiana," he said. "Part Creole, part French, part Southern. We were raised with good manners."
"That's great," I said. "I like my son to see older guys like you who still say yes mam."
The young man introduced himself as Zach. I asked him if he thought Jack would be okay as a zombie and he said yes, mam, he did.
"He's just 12, and he was going to be in the game, but he got freaked out," I said. "I'm trying to help him get over it."
And then Zach said something really unexpected. 
"You're a really good mom," he said. "My mom and dad died when I was little and I was raised by my grandmother and when she passed away, I didn't have anyone looking after me. So I never had a mom really. You're really cool to look after your son this way."

I was stunned and touched by his words. I wanted to hug him. I could easily have been his mother. Most of my girlfriends have children his age, even older. The thought of a child—any child—abandoned at such a tender age, made me want to cry. And yet, here he was now, this young man, seemingly at peace with the fact that his childhood sucked. His tone didn't convey the least bit of bitterness or anger. Why had he told me these intimate details of his life? He smiled and affirmed something very deep and real. In that moment, I felt something meaningful pass between us. A sense of warmth and well-being came over me. It felt like ... healing.

I'm not completely sure what happened. At may sound odd, but I can assure you was that the presence of something greater than me was with us in that moment. In an inkling, this complete stranger confided in me and then gave me the message I needed to hear. And I was given the opportunity to affirm in him that he was a great young man with beautiful manners and a good heart.  In that moment, I wondered if this exchange was the reason we had come all the way to Grantville that day.

"You're a very remarkable person," I said. "When the game starts, can Jack go with you?" 
"Sure," Zach said, without hesitation. 

Since you weren't there, it may be hard for you to imagine how I so quickly and willingly turned over the care of my son to an 18-year-old zombie with a hole in his ear the size of a quarter, but that's what I did. Not falling prey to fear, I followed a hunch, and it was a sound one. I introduced Jack to Zach.

"Do you want to be made into a zombie and hang out with Zach and his friends?" I asked.
"Sure!" Jack said, without hesitation.

The make-up artist transformed Jack and he joined Zach and his friends, who all had ear plugs and piercings and tattoos all over their bodies. I felt completely comfortable allowing my child to run off with them. And Jack felt comfortable, too—with the punk kids, and the zombies, and his fears. 

After Jack ran off with the zombie horde, I joined Jason and about a hundred or more hopeful survivors. The game began. Jason and I were infected (tagged out) at the third obstacle as were many of the other participants. Jack remained with Zach and his gang until the game was complete and had a blast.

Honestly, the game itself wasn't really worth the price tag, but to pay $80 to discover that I'm a decent mom after all was a bargain.  I also discovered that mending past wounds is very important work, and you never know when you'll get the opportunity to help heal someone else—or yourself. And finally, I learned even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse there's redemption to be found, if fear is abated. Years from now, if Jack turns up with a ring in his nose, you'll know the genesis of it. Blame it on me for being a "good" mom.

No comments:

Post a Comment