It's 2001. I boot up my PS2 again, but I don't know why. I push myself to see this story through to its end; but the nightmares, they have already started. I can't go to sleep without having the television on mute, the dim light dancing across my face as I try to forget the image of that being with the pyramid for a head. Why? Why do I keep playing you when you are already having such a disturbing effect on me? I want to be able to have a good night's sleep, but I need to finish you. I need to know what happens to James, to Eddie, to Angela. So I soldier on. I keep going deeper and deeper into this rabbit hole, this descent into madness. I guess I feel that when I reach Silent Hill 2's conclusion, it will all be alright. I'll be satisfied and content. I'll be able to sleep in the dark again, and dream pleasant dreams.
How utterly wrong I was.
Even after knowing everything about James and his demons, scenes like the one up above are etched into my brain; and like a film projector, it loves to play it every night right as I close my eyes. Nothing has stopped. If anything, things have gotten worse since I have beaten Silent Hill 2. I try to have some fun with subsequent playthroughs by using new weapons like the chainsaw, but I am still disturbed. Months have gone by, yet the television light stays on. I reflect on my experiences and remember something that chills me to the bone: I was walking around with Maria at my heels, and decided that it was late and that I really should stop playing and get some sleep. I wanted to see if the game would let me kill her, so I revved up my chainsaw and felled her in one swipe (why was I even thinking this way?). After getting the Game Over screen, I reloaded my last save for the hell of it, and almost dropped my controller. The concrete streets of Silent Hill had been replaced with flesh; at least, that is what it looked like to me. There I was controlling James, Maria running around with me, on streets made out of skin. Did the game get corrupted somehow? Was this only a glitch? Was the game punishing me for my horrible deed? I remember calling my cousin and calmly explaining what had happened. His response? "Dude, you have been playing for too many hours. Just shut it off and get some rest; your mind is playing tricks on you."
Was he right? Was there something wrong with me? Had I really seen what I had seen?
My cousin, he knew about Silent Hill 2 and its effect on my mind; in fact, he had seen it firsthand. I remembered: it was late in the game, I was over his dad's house, and I played from the end of the hospital all the way to the game's completion (Silent Hill 2 engrosses you so much that you don't want to put it down, no matter how scared you are or how many hours you have been playing). At one point, I was in a prison courtyard, but could proceed no further. The second I had gone outside, I heard a horrible noise. What was it? It sounded like heavy breathing from something that was vaguely human, and hooves galloping across the grass. I could not see anything in front of me, only utter darkness. For the life of me, I could not bring myself to push the analog stick forward and have James move even one inch. It was late, I had been playing for quite some time, and I was absolutely terrified. What would happen if I even took one step? Would the beast rip me to shreds instantly? Could I even defend myself? What the hell did it even look like? I was so paralyzed with fear, that I called my cousin in from the other room. "Please, please take the controller and move James forward. I can't deal with the sounds and the darkness. I'm freaking out." My cousin took the controller from my shaking hands, proceeded forward, and found that there was nothing in the courtyard except a horseshoe I needed to collect to advance further.
I have been in that courtyard on subsequent playthroughs, and I hesitated before going forward. Every time.
It is 2013, and still I remember feeling such terrible knots in my stomach at various points throughout Silent Hill 2. I remember getting off the boat that takes you to the hotel where James and Mary used to stay, opening up my inventory, seeing the letter she wrote to him at the beginning of the game was just a blank piece of paper, and needing to take five minutes to breathe because my whole world was torn asunder. I remember my heart leaping from my chest hearing a woman scream in a bathroom stall. I recall being in a prison and being able to shoot an unseen prisoner in a cell, hearing him cry out in pain as James lowered his pistol with each shot, knowing the man was on the floor and desperately trying to put him out of his misery. I screamed bloody murder when I found two Pyramid Heads walking around the sewers. I can still hear the radio going off in the elevator, a quiz show host asking me questions for a prize, hearing him laugh maniacally over what would happen if I was wrong; I took extra time making sure I was right with my answers, because I couldn't bare to see what would happen to James if I got it wrong (my imagination left me with many grisly outcomes).
The most damaging scars of them all, however, are my memories of the characters and the fates of each and every one of them.
These recollections, how could one ever truly push them out of their heads? How could I ever forget Angela, a woman who was sexually abused by her father and constantly looking for her mama, staring at that knife so intently, knowing what she wanted to do with it? How could I block the image of her family picture from my brain, with her father violently torn out of it? The memory of James and Angela killing her father, who James himself sees as a monster, the pain that Angela remembers; that won't ever go away. And the fires that eventually consume Angela, seeing this woman succumb to her dark intentions, hearing James say that yes, he feels the heat from it, too, for what he did to his wife...God...
That image of Angela climbing those stairs is burned into my retinas.
I was always deeply frightened of Eddie. I knew he was a murderer the second I saw the dead man in the fridge and found him throwing up in the next room. I remember the messages scrawled in blood in his room. Scenes like the one above just made me more and more nervous about what would eventually happen between him and James (and that poor, defenseless dog being killed hit me right in my very soul). And yet I felt a little sorry for Eddie because he never trusted anybody and felt the whole world was out to get him; that he needed to kill everyone he interacted with that "looked at him funny." I knew eventually I would have to kill Eddie; yet I always wondered: why did James not see him as a monster like he saw Angela's dad? Looking back and remembering the scene where James laments over "killing another human being" after shooting Eddie, I think it's because deep down in his subconscious, James views Eddie as an equal, because he knows he himself is a murderer.
I can't watch that scene without getting goosebumps. The scenes between James and Maria always got to me. Finding out she was just James' image of his wife not sick and dying, seeing her die over and over again at the hands of Pyramid Head, who was James' manifestation of himself as a murderer, and watching her take pills and constantly cough, knowing she will eventually succumb to the same illness that befell James' beloved Mary (this is heavily implied in one of the endings)...
It depresses me.
Most of the endings are depressing or disturbing in some way. Either James leaves Silent Hill with Maria coughing up a lung, he leaves with his wife's corpse in his arms and sinks himself in his car with her so they can be together forever, or he resurrects Mary from the dead to be with her on Earth once more. The only truly happy ending (besides the silly Shiba Inu one) is the one where he lets go of Mary and Maria and leaves with Laura; the orphaned girl who Mary took in as her own daughter who is the only person who sees Silent Hill as it truly is: a deserted town without any of the monsters that the others imagine. I wish I could only keep the image of James and Laura being happy together in my brain, but the scars Silent Hill 2 left on me never healed. Perhaps I can focus on this image of innocence:
...and be alright. Maybe I just need to replay Silent Hill 2 and go for the best ending again to be truly at peace with myself. We shall see. But just in case things go horribly wrong...