A 13-year-old Westport boy named Alex died in August. His obituary called him
a joyous, singular soul, fearless explorer, adventurous spirit, fiery and sensitive, impulsive tinkerer, brilliant mathematician, science Olympian, voracious fantasy reader, Clash of Clans addict, ocean lover, prodigious builder of all things, and reluctant paddle board champion…
His blazing smile lit the way. His death devastates those he touched, yet our hearts overflow with the utmost pride in his life – in his intelligence, his wit, his energy, his beauty, and his unwavering faith in his ideas.
His obituary did not reveal the cause of death. It was “the choking game” — an activity popular among 9- to 16-year-olds. They strangle themselves or each other to get high. The most common reported age of death is 13.
Many are just like Alex: intelligent, from loving families. They view “the choking game” as an alternative to alcohol or drugs.
But the “game” can be addictive. And — as with other addictions — kids can do it secretly, on their own.
That information — much of it new to me — came from a long story posted on Salon. Called “Death by the Choking Game,” it explores Alex’s life and death.
To increase awareness of this dangerous, insidious “game,” Alex’s family shared with the author — a writer from Virginia who is Alex’s mother’s best friend — intimate details of his secret life, and the harrowing story of the day he died.
It’s terrible, and awful. It’s also a must-read.
The story ends:
The thing that haunts Susan now is realizing that if she had known about the Choking Game, she might have realized Alex was in danger. The warning signs of the Choking Game include bloodshot eyes; frequent headaches; marks on the neck; ropes, scarves, and belts found knotted in kids’ rooms and bathrooms and the unexplained presence of things like dog leashes, choke collars and bungee cords.
Susan had noticed some these things in the six months or so prior to his death, but not knowing about the Choking Game, had dismissed them. Alex had headaches and a bloodshot eye, but what kid doesn’t? And during the summer, he’d had many broken blood vessels under the skin on his face, but wasn’t that just a side effect of acne? And she’d asked about the marks on the neck — a two-inch thin mark around his neck back in the spring and a scab mark earlier in the summer — but when Alex shrugged them off, she figured they must be byproducts of her sons’ frequent roughhousing.
(Click here to read the full Salon article. For more information on the Choking Game, visit www.gaspinfo.com and www.erikscause.org.)
Taken individually, each of these signs seemed innocuous, but taken together, if she’d heard of this game before, even in passing, she might have figured it out. She would have confronted him. Educated him of the dangers. Become one of those helicopter moms we all make fun of. Whatever it took to get him to stop….
It’s been two months since Alex died. Zach has started middle school, and when new friends ask him if he has any brothers or sisters, he doesn’t know how to answer. Susan can’t do laundry because she can’t go down to the basement, can’t even look at a spiral staircase in someone else’s house.
They’re looking for a new house — something smaller, with more kids on the neighborhood streets for Zach to play with. Susan worries about finding the right balance with Zach — if he’s out of eyesight, she panics about where he is, what he could be doing, but she also worries that she might end up smothering him if she doesn’t give him independence.
It’s hard for her to talk about this, to email and write Facebook posts to raise awareness over the Choking Game, to urge her friends to look up a Choking Game video and report it as dangerous and get it taken down. But she does, hoping that maybe she’ll reach one parent or teacher who’ll see the warning signs before it’s too late.