funny, the little things that stick in your mind;
the little mnemonic devices that your memory uses
to index and catalogue your past experience. Proust
wrote a couple thousand pages brought on merely by
the taste of madelines. My memory is so patchy and
unworkable that I can be taken completely by surprise
at the onslaught of some repressed horror that lay
buried. And so, when I booted up my Nintendo emulator,
started a game of Castlevania and broke out
into tears over the keyboard, I wasn't even all that
It was 1987. I had been going to the genius school
for a couple of years now, and when your grade level
consists of eight people, you're probably not going
to make a whole lot of friends if you're a poverty-level
Salvation Army-clad kid amidst a bunch of rich WASPS.
I was a weird, bus-taking, dandruffy mess, locked
with my finger in my nose.
course, when you get a bunch of smart kids together,
there's going to be some camaraderie simply in the
combined force of all of that social rejection, so
it's not a surprise that there were a few sallow,
sad kids that would be friends.
it's no surprise that a twelve-year-old girl would
walk into the library, up to an unsuspecting twelve-year-old
boy, and ask him if he wanted to "go with her."
The only surprise was if that boy was me.
long did it take me to tell her yes? How many days
spent in my basement room, trying to figure out what
it meant, trying to place this within the previously
available context of girls making fun of me, beating
me up, and spitting on me? I think about a week, and
by then, of course, it didn't matter. I told her yes,
walked up to her and said yes, not even knowing what
the hell I was saying.
was the year of Dirty Dancing, the year that
(I've Had) The Time Of My Life was on the radio all
year, the year that Brian Nilson grew the first hairy
wisps of a mustache on his upper lip. People were
changing left and right around me, changing into something
grotesque and adult, with motivations far beyond anything
I could conceive of. The bizarre, comforting unisexuality
of childhood was evaporating, dissolving, into something
grew into women, right in front of me, and my strange,
lost world of library books and Transformers was being
replaced all around me, LEGO brick by LEGO brick,
with a hideous kind of junior adulthood, a grim parody
of being a grown-up, as the web of rules that accompany
that life were tightening around our sorry necks.
few weeks went by with absoultely nothing different
in my life for all of the lead-in. I went through
my daily routine as normal, and so did she, I guess.
I never understood exactly what motivated her to ask
me. I'd like to think it was some kind of abstract
pity, but that's probably simplifying the issue. Maybe
somewhere there's a black and blue website that tells
then it was over - we weren't "going together"
anymore, and we'd never gone anywhere in the first
place. It ended without any discussion, without any
arguments; we were "going together," then
we weren't. And life went on.
and later, her birthday rolled around and the first
birthday party I'd ever been invited to. Unsurprising,
when you think about it. And, of course, my mother,
elated that I was interacting with girls, started
to pour on the pressure, and I showed up to a room
full of people, most of whom hated me, and sat off
in a corner, drinking Sprite and watching people do
awkwardness began to get to me, so I gravitated to
the object in the room that offered the most comfort;
her brother's NES, plugged into the TV but pushed
off to the corner. The other kids shot glances out
of the corners of their eyes as I retreated, retreated
again into a pixilated world of two-dimensional simplicity,
a world where nothing ever changes.
the song that had been on the radio all year came
on the radio again, and as if by unspoken signal girls
and boys paired up, one had clasped and one on the
hips, the suddenly darkened living room gained a strange
psychic charge; as if the entire party had been nothing
more than a prelude for this very strange moment,
as boys and girls paired off like they were reading
instructions. And, slowly, the birthday girl's blue
shadow behind me, standing there, mute.
had never danced with anybody or anything, never even
moved my hips to the radio in the privacy of my own
room; you might have well asked me to perform open
heart surgery. I could not, would not stand up and
dance with this girl, the only girl to ever show romantic
interest in me. I couldn't.
sat there stubbornly, facing the television, the flimsy
Nintendo controller gripped in my hands, the first
salty tears beginning to drip down my cheeks.