23 Days with Tam

Wednesday, April 22, 2020 / 11:59 AM

Tuesday, March 31, 4:03 p.m.

"Look at my child!"

In a group chat with my friends, I send a video of the pixelated little blob moving around the screen.

"What a lovely blob," someone replies. "You must be very proud."

I was. I had kept this Tamagotchi in its box since Kristen gave it to me in December for Christmas. I was too anxious to commit to hatching it and letting it begin its life. What if I didn't have time? What if it, like every plant I've ever owned, died in 2 days? 

According to the user manual for this "Gen 2" Tamagotchi, the little blob will no longer die. It grows into an alien form and then eventually goes home: "Tamagotchi character will always return to its home planet. How well you care for it helps determine how long Tamagotchi character will stay on Earth."

Kristen names it Tam. We decide it is gender neutral.

* * * * *

The next day, Tam got sick for the first time. You have to administer medicine to them when that happens. When they're hungry, you feed them what looks like little burgers. There's a cake option too for a dessert, but that doesn't affect their hunger level. When Tam is unhappy, there's a little numbers game you can play with them. You also have the options to "flush" when you need to clean up and to turn off the lights when they sleep. The sleep cycle for a Tamagotchi is typically 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. (but as an infant and small child, Tam would go to bed at 8:30 p.m., and then eventually at 9).

It was pretty easy to tend to Tam's needs. Between the ages of 0 until about 4, Tam was very needy. From 5 til about 16, Tam was fairly independent. But then after 16, it felt like Tam needed me every 60-90 minutes. After 20, they beeped every 30-45 minutes.

But it's not like I was doing anything else.

* * * * *

Wednesday, April 22, 11:01 a.m.


This was a beeping I hadn't heard before. Normally when Tam needs something, there's a series of quick beeps – three sets of three in a row – and then they quiet. Tam had been doing it all morning as I neglected them. I had made the choice a couple days before that I would let them reach the age of 23 because anything that was 23 or above was what the user manual identified as an "amazing" job.

The truth is: I had grown tired of Tam. The only reason they were surviving was because I've been in quarantine, and so every need they've had, I've been able to fill immediately because I'm not really living my own life right now. I go from my bedroom to the dining table to the couch and life has kind of just been repetitive like that.

So when Tam beeps, I have nothing but time.

It was starting to get depressing because as Tam aged (a day is equivalent to a year for them), I became more and more aware of how little I've been doing with my own life. As Tam sought food and playtime, I found myself sinking deeper and deeper into habits that felt a little pointless. No matter how much I was tending to my own needs, it didn't feel like anything in my life was changing. I was static, as was the world, and it no longer made sense to keep trying to pretend like things were "normal."

Beeeeeep. Beeeeeep. Beeeeeep.

The beeping was slowing down. It was mimicking a heart monitor, and suddenly, I didn't want Tam to go. Tam's neediness was giving me purpose, and as the contract at my current job comes to an end, what if nobody needs anything from me ever again? What if Tam is the only reason for me to get up and not stay in bed all day?

I press buttons frantically, trying to see if I can stop or reverse what's happening.

Beeeeeeeep. Beeeeeeeep.

And then it stops. And then Tam is gone. There's a little alien in a UFO now on the screen, floating away, up to the stars.

The user manual tells me I can hatch a new one. But something about that feels wrong. If I started again and kept them alive through the quarantine, would I continue to only feel I had purpose if they were alive and doing well? How much more needy would they get as the days stretched on? Would I become resentful and then go through this cycle of wondering all over again?

I'm OK with keeping Tam's screen in space. It feels aspirational, in a way: Tam got out of this world, this situation. I guess it's kind of nice to feel like we'll all get there someday too.

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