We Are All Hikikomori… Again

Dearest Rachel –

We acknowledged it between the two of us, but rarely spoke of it outside of the home. The convocation when he first enrolled at Judson spoke of their mascot, the eagle, and how the adults made their nest less and less comfortable over time, so as to encourage their eaglets, as they grew to juvenile maturity, to leave the nest on their own and spread their wings, so to speak. It was an inspiring message (albeit probably one the faculty have reused and recycled year after year with their incoming freshmen and transfer students, I shouldn’t wonder), but one we could never figure out how to emulate. As far as we could tell, the world wasn’t ready for Daniel, and to be honest, he didn’t seem ready for the world. And it wasn’t like he needed to earn his keep just yet. So we kept the nest comfortable for him, should he decide to return. And he did, virtually every weekend – much to my dismay. After all, the whole reason for setting him up in the dorms was to get him used to life outside of the home – if he was just going to come home every weekend, he’d never figure out how to live on his own. Not to mention, why plump for the whole room-and-board thing? Might as well have done the whole ‘commuter student’ rigmarole instead.

And as you know, things didn’t change all that much once he graduated. It’s not like he had a career path planned for himself, much less a job lined up after graduation. And of course, once the lockdowns began only a couple months later, well…

The Japanese have a word for it his situation – actually, they have several. The main one would be ‘hikikomori,’ loosely translated as ‘social recluse.’ And while he doesn’t go to the extremes of some documented cases of hikikomori, wherein he doesn’t even leave his room (heck, he almost never is in his room, although that was partly because both the landing and the room – until just this past month – was so messy he couldn’t have gotten in there if he wanted to), I would submit that the designation fits him pretty well. This is, after all, the boy who gloried in the fact that he didn’t leave the house for five weeks straight. He was actually proud of that, in a perverse sort of way.

Of course, there’s a reason for that then I’ll get into an a moment, but by and large, this is not an ideal situation. This is not what a parent dreams of their child becoming. Robin Williams spoke about his thoughts about his child’s future, both in terms of dreams (“I’d like to thank the Nobel committee”) and nightmares (“Do you want fries with that?”), but in either case, his child is saying something, and speaking something to someone. It could be argued that raising a hikikomori is a level or two worse then his nightmare. At least the dude slinging french fries was considered an ‘essential worker’ last year.

There is another word that the Japanese use to denote Daniel’s lifestyle: the acronym NEET, describing someone who is Not involved in Education, Employment or Training. Such a designation is clearly not a desirable outcome, and a step or two below the hikikomori label in terms of its connotations, I believe. And again, it describes him to a T.

Now in fairness, it’s not like he’s a drain upon society for the most part. He may not be making any contributions to speak of, but he can live independently – or at least the two of us can live without assistance from others (by which I mean government ‘assistance’ in particular). He doesn’t need me around him holding his hand, in order to make sure he does those daily necessities in order to mean his existence. But that’s about all that can be said for it.

That’s basically the story, none of which you weren’t already painfully aware of before you had to leave. So why am I telling you all this, when this was common – if basically unspoken – knowledge between the two of us?

The thing is, in this topsy-turvy world we now live in, that pride he exhibited during those five weeks of complete isolation, of being hermetically sealed within the house, was almost justified. It was as if society was actually leading him toward that pride; it became one’s patriotic duty to seal oneself off from the rest of the world, lest he infect and be infected by others with the dreaded coronavirus. What was, until barely a year ago, a truly undesirable, stigmatized way of life was now all but celebrated and mandated.

Of course, nothing last forever, and the virus began to mutate such that it would spread faster, but also be more likely to leave its host alive – all the better to maintain its own existence, as well as propagation. This has become known as the Delta variant, since apparently it is now considered racist to describe a virus by its country or place of origin anymore. I wonder if that will be retroactively applied to the Spanish flu – indeed, it would be more appropriate if they did considering that Spain was one of the first countries to actually just come clean about the caseload they were dealing with; they certainly weren’t the origination point.

Be that as it may, Sunday was our last official day of freedom for the foreseeable future here in Illinois – or at least, in the Chicago area. Mayor Chewsherfoot had already clamped down in the city proper as of Friday, with the surrounding area to require masks in all public spaces effective yesterday.

At least that was what we were told; when Jan and I went into Walmart yesterday, in order to pick up the last of the undeveloped photos (and I wish I could say better about them, but the pictures are dreadfully sunwashed, so they’re not really all that great. They do appear to be from one of our trips to the island, when your folks accompanied us to the current cottage, so somewhere between 2007 and 2012, I’d say), the sign outside indicated that masks were ‘recommended,’ not ‘required,’ so it’s possible that they may not yet have gotten the memo, or things aren’t actually as strict here yet. I don’t know. But I dare say it’s only going to be a matter of time before we’re clamped down on yet again, and we won’t be allowed anywhere without a mask, regardless of vaccination status.

And as you probably know – or would expect – Daniel’s vaccination status would render him a pariah no matter what. Compound that with the fact that he considers masks a form of draconian crowd control, and you can just guess that he won’t be allowed in society until this blows over.

Which I can barely imagine happening; I hear talk of a Lambda variant brewing out of South America. And some alleged doctor wrote a paper about an entirely new hypothetical strain that he refers to as Covid-22 that could be infinitely worse, both in terms of infectiousness and mortality (Which seems counterintuitive, but you gotta ‘follow the science,’ right?). Again, bear in mind that it’s an entirely hypothetical conjecture, but it’s what these minds come up with. Basically – and this is why you considered me a pessimist – I think they’ll just keep milking this. If Delta ceases to be a threat, there will be a Lambda. Once that goes away, maybe there’ll be some talk about this Covid-22 again, or we’ll continue through the Greek alphabet. And they’ll have to figure out what to do once they get past Omega.

Meanwhile, Daniel thanks this will all be exposed at some kind of scam before the end of the year. I’m not buying it. It doesn’t help that there are actually people dying of this, including one of our former worship pastors. He’s not gone yet, but I should at least let you know that you might want to get ready to greet Charlie should he decline much further. To be sure, it’s the pneumonia at this point that’s leaving in virtually unable to breathe, but it seems that the coronavirus is somehow part of the equation.

So… yeah. I don’t see it going away. And in the meantime, it forces us to stay away from each other, and turns his all – to one degree or another – into hikikomori.

Wish us all luck, darling. It seems that we’re all going to need it.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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