For as long as he could remember, dating back to earlier elementary school, Chance had a problem with obsession. He had, for a time, called it addiction, but although that term provided a fairly accurate sense of the behaviors that his issues entailed, he didn’t like the drug-use connotations associated with it.
It had begun in the second grade, when someone had introduced him to collecting rocks. Upon later reflection the hobby seemed mundane and boring. Chance could not see how he had become so enamored with it. Nevertheless, on the playground every recess he found himself combing through piles of rocks he had gathered from around the school grounds, searching for the perfect one to add to his collection.
He picked only the best rock to take home with him each day. His sense of what made the best shape and color were very particular, when narrowed down to what he sought on a particular day, but his taste varied widely when expanded to the span of even a week.
His rock collection grew until it covered all of the surfaces in his room. After all, a rock every school day for six months, plus those he found on the weekends in his own yard and in the park, and those he insisted he be allowed to collect on family excursions, plus the few he’d snuck out in the night to find in the neighbor’s yards — well, it all began to add up.
He asked his father to build him a shelf, at which point he became aware that he had a problem. Or rather, it might be more accurate to say that he became aware that his parents saw his rock-collecting as problematic, because his dad became angry when Chance made this request. This surprised Chance, because his dad loved to build things: beds, tables, chairs, bookcases — a shelf for Chance’s rocks seemed like a simple, reasonable request for a birthday gift.
As it turned out, Chance’s mother had become frustrated and annoyed with Chance’s compulsive rock collecting. His parents approached him about this, and told him that, while they were glad that he had developed a hobby, and they had appreciated it at first as something mundane, he had taken it too far.
When they took him to the park on the weekend, they wished he would play with the other kids, rather wandering around looking for rocks. They appreciated that he would finish his homework quickly so that he could go outside to look for rocks, but then they had a hard time getting him to come back inside for dinner.
More than anything, though, the sheer volume of rocks was becoming a problem, and if he continued to add to the collection, it would only get worse. Thus it was that, when he asked for something for his birthday that would specifically enable his collecting, they refused it to him.
They also decided to put an end to his rock collecting. They told him he was not allowed to search for rocks at the park anymore, or to go outside to collect rocks at home. He was to find something else to do to entertain himself.
This upset him, and Chance tried to argue, but they were his parents. Their minds had been made up, and there was no compromise to be had. They had, at least, allowed him to keep his rock collection, until he made a mistake.
The first night he’d snuck out in the dark to collect rocks, Chance had been nervous, sweaty, and shaky. Over the weeks since he’d first done it, he’d grown more accustomed to it. The anxiety faded, and he grew comfortable with the idea that his parents would sleep through his sneaking and wouldn’t catch him.
One night, as he walked confidently back into the house after gathering a rock, he glanced at the chair to see a dark shadow sitting there, watching him. He yelped, but it was his father, who turned on the lamp. Somehow, he became even more frightening in the light.
Chance’s parents threw his rock collection away the next day, and they got special child locks on the doors which they installed high up on the frames, where he couldn’t reach them. Chance wept and screamed over the loss, but his parents were unaffected. With time, his mourning ended, and he moved on to a new obsession.
That was the way of his obsessions: they lasted for a while, then either something ended them, or something new came along with which Chance became obsessed. After the rocks came a series of books about young kids on an adventure the save the world. His parents actually appreciated this, because they linked reading with learning.
There were 24 books in the series when Chance started. They came out monthly, and sometimes even twice per month, if there was a special. He read through the first twenty-four as fast as he was able. His parents would buy him one book every week.
By the end of five months, he’d caught up with the series. He had even, in his eager periods of waiting between getting a new book, read most of the books several times. The first and seventeenth books, which were his favorite, he had read over ten times each. He had read all of them at least three times.
The book series carried through as an obsession up to its completion at 63 total books. It had, at least, a positive impact on his life, for he continued to love reading even after the series had finished, though he never quite went at it with the same obsessive fervor he had shown with that first series.
The pattern of obsession continued through middle school and high school, though it transitioned to a more interactive media: games. He found that, when he began a game which he liked, he played it obsessively until he completed it. He would even get up an hour before school each morning, before the sun had even risen, to play a game which he hadn’t yet completed.
This was not so bad when applied to games that he could finish: story-based games with a finale, or puzzle games which had a finite number of levels. Unfortunately, when Chance discovered the unending world of competitive online games, his obsession became as problematic as his rock-collecting had in elementary school.
He could play such games tirelessly. The amount of time he put into them affected his health and productivity all the way up through college and beyond. His parents never stopped him from playing the games, because while he often left it to the last minute, he did complete his schoolwork, and he never performed horribly enough that they felt the need to intervene.
Unfortunately, his vast amount of sedentary time led to him becoming weak and out-of-shape, at least by his own estimation. He began to do exercises between matches. Then he researched how to work out more efficiently. He went to a gym, and found someone to be his personal trainer. Video games fell by the wayside, replaced by an endless need to work out and refine his body.
By the time this latest obsession had begun to peter out, Chance had long since recognized his pattern of discovering, coming to like, and then becoming enamored with things until he used up all of his interest in them. He knew that it affected his life, and he recognized all of the cycles he’d been through as a result.
Still, until the age of 26, just as he was starting to think he should stop working out quite so much, he had only been obsessed with things, whether those things be media or behaviors. Never before had he been obsessed with a person.
That changed when he met Marjori.
Chance had never considered himself as being very interested in women in the past. He hadn’t been interested in men, either. He honestly hadn’t thought about his own romantic interests all that much, nor had he taken any of his romances very seriously. He had dated a few girls in high school, but if he was honest, they hadn’t meant much to him, and he had only dated them because it seemed like it was what he was supposed to do.
She worked at the coffee shop to which he often went after his morning yoga and before he had to go into work. She was new, that first day he saw her, and she made his drink wrong. He couldn’t bring himself to be upset with her, because he was immediately taken by her beauty.
She had brown eyes the color of light chocolate which had a hint of gold in them that flared up in the sunlight. They were quite round, with voluminous lashes, which gave her an innocent, doll-like appearance that made Chance’s heart flutter in his chest. Marjori’s thick brown hair, cut short, fell in curls around her ears. It bounced whenever she moved.
All of that was superficial, and while Chance appreciated it, it wasn’t what drew him to be enamored with her. She had smiled at him while she’d taken his order, and when she’d handed it to him, and her smile had been the most beautiful and genuine smile he’d ever seen.
At first he’d thought she found him attractive, and that his face — which was passable, in his estimation — and his body had drawn out that smile. He’d smiled back, of course, but his own smile, though it had been genuine for her, was nothing special.
Then he’d watched her, from his table, as she’d helped other customers. He realized that she had that same wonderfully real smile for everyone she spoke to. He had liked the thought that her smile had been just for him, but somehow, he liked it even more when he came to realize that it was just a part of her being which she shared with everyone.
He got her name from her nametag, and since it had a unique spelling, he was easily able to find her online. They had mutual friends, even, which didn’t surprise him too much. Every city grew smaller with time if you lived there long enough.
From her profile, he found out that she hadn’t gone to school with him. That gave him an odd sense of relief. It meant that he hadn’t missed out on some chance, earlier in life, to see that smile. He also found out that she was single, and that all of her photos were visible without having to friend her.
He spent a detestable amount of time at work looking through her pictures. His boss never caught him, but at the end of the day, he pointed out that Chance’s productivity had been abnormally low that day. He asked if Chance wasn’t feeling well, but no, Chance was feeling great.
For the first time in several years, Chance had a hard time motivating himself for his post-work gym workout. He wanted nothing more than to go back home and see if he could find more pictures of Marjori, or perhaps return to the coffee shop for another beverage in hopes that she was still there.
In the end, he reduced all of his reps to three-quarters of their normal length so that he could swing back by the coffee shop. He felt oddly guilty about it, as though only one day of slacking on his workout would see him returning to the flabby, inflexible self he had been throughout college.
He tried to tamp down his disappointment when he realized Marjori had gone home for the day, which should have been easy, because he hadn’t really expected to find her there after he had been at work for nine hours. Nevertheless, he felt defeated. He had hoped to see her miraculous smile once more before returning home for the evening.
Chance had to make due with seeing it only in pictures. He fixed his high-protein, low-carb dinner, but found it unsatisfying. His bedtime yoga was not nearly as relaxing and satisfying as normal, because Marjori kept stepping into his thoughts.
He even dreamt about her that night, and when Chance woke up with hope that she was working at the coffee shop again that morning, when he felt the excitement at the idea of seeing her again descend upon him, he knew that he had a problem.
Only once. He had only seen her once, and their interaction, during their meeting, had been limited to the regular pleasantries of a customer and person employed in customer service. He didn’t know her. He knew nothing about her, other than what he’d gleaned from her online profile and the pictures of her that he’d combed through obsessively the day before.
Obsessively. That was the keyword, here. Chance knew himself well enough, by now, that he recognized the onset of a new obsession. He was still in the midst of his latest one — working out —but he now realized the signs that he had come to its end upon that first vision of Marjori.
Had he not experienced these same symptoms when playing games? Had he not, after the first session of an RPG, dreamt about the characters and spent hours thinking about what happened next? Had he not, after his first win in a fighting game, dreamt of getting better and better, learning every little nuance of the characters, researching them online until he felt sure he was an authority on their abilities and quirks? Had he not, upon being introduced to a trading card game by a friend, come back to that next session with a deck he had researched and obsessed over, taking his friend aback with his fervor?
He did not want to feel this way toward a person. A person was not a hobby or an object. He reflected on his behavior from the day before, and he felt disgusted with himself. If he was actually interested in her as a person, and not as the two-dimensional construct that he’d painted in his mind using the media scraped from her internet presence, he needed to make a change.
His repetitive pattern of obsession and moving on to something new in a mercurial fashion could not be applied to a real, live human being. The result, he felt, would be disastrous both for himself and for Marjori, or, if he let him continue along on that path, for any other person toward whom he allowed himself to behave that way.
He struggled with desire and with what one small part of him said was the logical thing to do all through his morning yoga that day, which was unfocused and unbalanced as a result. By the end of it, he had reached a decision. Enacting it was one of the hardest things he had ever done.
Chance went to a different coffee shop that morning, and he never went back to the one at which he had seen Marjori. He never forgot her, and the image of her smile never faded from his mind, but at least he hadn’t… what? He didn’t know. But at least he hadn’t.