I purchased a Playstation 4 gaming console shortly after it was released, in late 2013. At the time, Barack Obama was still president, and I worked a newly appointed desk job that was mundane and repetitive but not without its joys. The console purchase had been like many of my other adult purchases: a desire to fulfill that which I didn’t have access to as a child. My family acquired gaming consoles as they went out of style and were replaced by newer models, and so my relationship with video games was always a generation behind that of my peers. With a “real” job and the means to spend money on unnecessary flourishes, I talked myself into getting in line with the current generation of gaming, once and for all.

The main function of the system was to provide a small respite from the monotony of working a nine-to-five job—at the time, something I felt like I was destined to do forever. It seems foolish in retrospect, but my comfort with my station in life told me I would need the brief and thrilling escape that entering a world of video games could provide, the way it did when I would spend boring summer days biking over to the house of whichever friend had the newest game or the newest console and leaving the world behind for a couple hours.

Gaming was a way for me to populate my mind with something other than the minutiae of living.

And this worked, largely. I would come home from my job, settle in for an hour with a book or take a walk to the park, and then immerse myself in video games for a little while. I was always a moderate gamer at best. I rarely wanted to play for more than two hours at a time, and it never pushed me to neglect other tasks. It was a way for me to populate my mind with something other than the minutiae of living. To exist in a space where my failure had no real consequences to anything or anyone real.

When I moved two months ago, the layer of dust upon the black surface of my Playstation 4 was so thick that when I blew it off, it covered an entire corner of a room. I couldn’t find the controllers I had recently purchased. When I bought them, I was sure they would inspire me to play more, but they fell in between the couch cushions once, and then underneath the couch another time, and then they vanished. Occasionally this year I would turn the console on, just to see what new games were out, and every now and then I would buy one, thinking it would be the one to drag me back, to give me a reason to return to the simpler escape that was attached to my simpler life.

I had moved on from my nine-to-five routine and begun working from home, building my own schedule, which was governed almost entirely by deadlines, calls, and remote meetings. I simply didn’t have the time to maintain a routine with video games. But even if I did, the brief call of the virtual space was no longer enough to serve as a satisfying distraction. The world itself had changed.

All of my escapes began to revolve around building memories instead of engineering brief exits.

I wasn’t foolish enough to think the world was exclusively a vehicle for joy until the fall of 2016, but because so many of the spaces I occupied became fixated on the world’s failings after the election, the tone of every conversation, or every interaction, or every poem felt like higher stakes. I remember the protests in the moments immediately after the inauguration and the vigor with which people took to the streets, or the airports, or any place they could find others willing to collectively push their shoulders against a weak and crumbling door. It feels like ages ago, but there was something healing in those moments. It was enough for me to crave that type of collective community instead of the isolation of my couch. The idea of an escape began to shift from what I could do for myself to how, together, we might be able to turn the world away from all the evils it had been racing toward for years before the last election.

To escape into that community, even if it was half a lie, even if it was rooted in some flimsy ideals, was to build a bubble to fall into for a few hours. A real world inside the real world, with no virtual strings.

I was never really one for extreme violence in video games, but the last game I felt myself drawn to was Mafia III, a story-driven game revolving around a black war veteran who returned home in the late 1960s to a racist Louisiana and a white mafia organization killing his loved ones. It was released in October 2016 and won rave reviews for how it handled its complex storyline overrun with racism and revenge. A player could infiltrate a Klan meeting and kill members, or enact harm on villains who hurled racial slurs at them, or enrich impoverished and neglected black communities through ill-gained power. I was fascinated by the reckless lawlessness of it — a black antihero who was driven by his own sense of justice.

I had no desire to live out the actions of the game in my personal life, of course. But it was a place I could immerse myself in for a couple of months: one month before the election, and then one month after. In the real world, the sun stopped coming out for a while. People began telling the great lie that love would “save” us — and they told this lie without defining the “us” and, therefore, without defining what “saving” meant. I exhausted myself with fighting racists along the digital landscape of Louisiana. It all felt foolish. I couldn’t unsee the world on fire from my window.

In the years before the election, I had spent time organizing and protesting and acting in service of the various communities I’d considered myself a part of. The drive to do so, and the ability to do so, came from a place of eager joy, and not entirely from desperation or anger. Yes, I was angry at times, but I could always manage my way toward an idea of hope, even if I understood that the idea was hollow.

Later, when organizing and activism became driven by only anger and only urgency for me — most notably at the end of last summer — an escape into a digital world wasn’t enough. I still organized and engaged in activism, but the shifting needs of the communities I was a part of became more glaring and more at risk. There was less time for the blending of social needs with political needs. Everything was political.

To rebuild my idea of escape, I began to focus on the social. I needed something I could hold in my hands and step into, maybe with someone I loved.

So, to rebuild my idea of escape, I began to focus on the social. I needed something I could hold in my hands and step into, maybe with someone I loved, who knew that their next moments weren’t assured, just as mine weren’t. I needed to get out of the house and find ice cream with a friend, or go on a long run toward a park where the sunset looked perfect. All of my escapes began to revolve around building memories instead of engineering brief exits. This presented a different kind of escape, one that doesn’t involve jumping from a digital reality to an alternate reality. One where, if a person works at it, they can build a bank of joys to return to when the anger or grief of a moment becomes too overwhelming.

Sometime in the process of moving apartments, I found my controllers. And there’s a baseball game I’ve been trying to play lately when I’m home for a small stretch of time. It’s largely mindless, as sports games can be sometimes. It requires pushing two, maybe three buttons, tops. Your player hits the ball and then runs to base, or fields a ball and then throws it. The lie I tell myself is that it grants me some great satisfaction because it pulls me away from the news. Still, I turn on the game just for a moment, because I feel like I should. And then I turn it off.

The Supreme Court upheld the travel ban on the day my friend Sarah was celebrating her 30th birthday in New York with a poetry reading and a dance party, and so I went to New York, seething on the airplane and scrolling feverishly through the tweets of my peers, also frustrated with the news of the development and its far-reaching global impacts. I’ve gotten used to this — going to read in a room where many of the attendees are in the same dark and hovering cloud as I am. It isn’t quite like healing. The memory that one is not alone in their sadness doesn’t make the sadness smaller, but it does present more possible ways for it to escape the body.

And so it was. We read poems, heard songs, and celebrated a dear friend living another year, in the hopes that we all might survive another. At the end of the reading, I skipped out before the dance party with my pals Sam and Ron, who took me to get ice cream down the block. The midsummer evening sent the ice cream melting down my cone and then down my hand as we arrived back at the reading venue. And through the window, with my hands becoming stickier by the moment, there was Sarah, arms in the air and dancing with the people who loved her.

None of this made me forget my rage. I am no longer in the business of what an escape can allow me to forget. I am in the business of my emotional landmarks not only being sadness or anger. That even on a day or a month or a lifetime that I will remember for its relentless potential for harm, I can also hold close a memory of a friend asking me to help remind them that they are loved.