Note: For the back story to this post, please read this.
Back when Ryan’s problematic obsession with hockey had to do with typing standings over and over to the point they upset him, I asked him why he did it. I always want to understand the logic behind his behaviors to the extent he can explain it to me.
He couldn’t offer much more than “I just like the standings,” in this case, but he also told me something else: “The teams are my friends.”
That remark stuck with me. I believe he meant that he enjoyed knowing about all 30 NHL teams, their records, their geographic locations, etc. But the comment bothered me, because I would prefer Ryan had, you know, real human friends — something that has always been a struggle for him.
To put a positive spin on something that upset me, I tried to look at it another way. Hockey, with its ability to bring our family together, give us a common bond and glorious blocks of time spent together, was a friend to all of us.
It’s what makes this week’s development so upsetting. Hockey has turned on us. The last four nights have followed the same pattern. As time for the first puck drop nears, Ryan grows increasingly anxious. He doesn’t eat. He doesn’t want to watch. Last night, his San José Sharks had a rare 7 p.m. ET start, but Ryan did not watch. He fought the urge to check the game stats every couple of minutes. We made him stick to a once-every-15-minutes limit.
Though he struggled with the limits, it wasn’t as bad as it had been the last few nights. It was enough for us to call it progress. But I had to push a lot of dark thoughts away to see it as such. Ryan begged to go to bed early, not because he was tired, but because being asleep relieves him of worrying about numbers that he cannot control.
The Devils have a home game Friday night. We normally never miss a weekend home game, but we will not attend this one. To do so would be torture for Ryan. We asked Riley if she wanted to go alone with one of us but she doesn’t. Asked why, she said that hockey is our family activity and if it can’t be a family outing she doesn’t want to go. I hurt for her and am immensely proud of her at the same time.
Riley is taking all of this very hard. She worries about her brother. She hates to see him in a panicky state. I’m sure it affects her in other ways: seeing her parents visibly upset, not receiving the share of our attention she deserves, the loss of simple normalcy as each evening becomes a battle against this unseen demon.
Worse, it’s a demon that has attacked the very glue that holds our family together, our common bond and the thing that puts us all on an equal footing. Suddenly our decision to renew our Devils season tickets for next year looks like a foolish one. I find myself wishing the season would hurry up and end.
That’s the most painful aspect of this latest crisis. Though I believe that with the proper support this too shall pass, any happiness we have enjoyed as a family courtesy of hockey feels like it came an awful long time ago.
Hockey, which Ryan not long ago loved to the point of calling the teams his friends, has become an enemy. And it feels an awful lot like being stabbed in the back.