運命 My hair was long and black, just like my mother’s and I absolutely hated it. The other girls at school all had either brown…
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My hair was long and black, just like my mother’s and I absolutely hated it. The other girls at school all had either brown or blonde hair, or some color in-between so I stuck out like a sore thumb. I remember coming home from my first day of high school and telling my mother I wanted to try something new with my hair, that I felt like I didn’t fit in. She told me I should be proud of my long black hair and that it was proof of my rich Japanese heritage. Clearly she could never relate to my situation, and she never saw our being Asian as anything less than something to celebrate. But then again, she didn’t have to get those weird looks in the cafeteria when you opened up a bento with sushi and eel in it while the other kids were getting pizza in the lunch line. Part of me debated using my New Year’s allowance from my grandparents to eat something without fish in it at lunch for a change.
We moved to Pasadena over the summer and I still wasn’t used to it. My father told me I would acclimate quickly, that I always did. I’m sure it looked that way from the outside looking in, but the fact of the matter is that I never had a choice. He was optimistic that the one month summer program my parents had signed me up for in junior high a few years ago had prepared me for this change. An international economics course in New York City for four weeks was nothing like living in California though. Of course, you couldn’t tell him that. When we lived in Japan he had enrolled me in after school English cram classes. A year before we made the transition from Nagoya to Mexico City the classes stopped and I started learning Spanish.
He was convinced my brain was just like the computers at his job, and it was able to retain everything. My mother parroted this sentiment, and would rely on me for all of her English and Spanish needs. At fifteen I was all of a sudden responsible for being her personal translator when my father wasn’t around (which was most of the time). Everywhere from the grocery store to the bus stop, from the doctor’s office to the bank. I didn’t even know what most of the words I was learning meant because I didn’t know them in Japanese either, so this got us into hot water more than a handful of times. My mother would always smile and tell me she understood what I was explaining to her but most of the time I was guessing at half of what I was saying.
Video games were the only escape I had from everything in life. I was an excellent student, and even though it was hard having to constantly practice three languages, part of me was thankful I had started juggling these at a younger age. My mother and father hadn’t completely missed the mark when they assessed that I was a fast learner either so that certainly came in handy. The real problem was that I rarely got to feel like myself, and I had no friends. In Mexico I had tried making friends with the other girls my age but it was if their culture was completely alien to me. Boy bands and teen magazines seemed to be the only things on their mind, and I just wasn’t into those sorts of things. I found it strange I was the only kid, let alone girl, was into video games it seemed in all of Mexico. When I was in elementary school and early junior high school in Nagoya, it felt like every kid had a Tamagotchi and just about everyone owned at least one video game console.
When we had boarded the airplane to California I took my seat and sat looking out the window while my father read the New York Times and my mother negotiated a steady stream of pinot grigio from the airline stewardess, plugging away on her laptop. I was fourteen and there was so much uncertainty about my future. Needless to say, it weighed heavily on my mind and it must have shown on my face.
“Hiromi” my father casually gestured to me with a small tap on my arm rest. I looked and his finger was pointing down under my seat. “Can you grab that for me?” He was speaking to me in English, which I took as meaning two things: one, he wanted me to start practicing again, and two, he didn’t want my mother to know what we were talking about. Puzzled, I wiped the look of melancholy off my face and reached down under the chair. It was a gift box, with a ribbon on it. I held it in my hands and peered curiously at the hydrangea print wrapping paper. He must have picked this up on his recent business trip back to Japan. There was a tag attached with my name on it in kanji.
“Can I open it?” He nodded, continuing to read on the latest stock market exchange information. Gently the crisp wrapping paper was removed at the corners and I slipped the pretty paper into a folded pile and set it to the side against the window. I pulled the top off of the box to reveal a note inside on top of more wrapping paper which guarded the gift inside. I picked up the note and read it out loud in a low voice.
“I hope you still play games Hiromi-chan. This seems to be popular with the other children in Japan right now. I hope you enjoy it, and good luck at your new school. Let’s play together next time you come to visit.” It was signed by my grandfather. My disappointment and uncertainty turned to excitement as I quickly unwrapped the gift inside. A smile beamed across my face and my father was peeking at me with a grin of his own from behind his newspaper. I opened the box and ran my fingers across the smooth plastic of a brand new Gameboy Color. I had seen them advertised in magazines but I wasn’t aware they were out yet. Attached with it was a pack of triple A batteries and a copy of a video game called Pocket Monsters: Gold.
“Make sure you write your grandfather and tell him thank you.” my father murmured. I nodded silently, acknowledging that I had heard him speak. His words were lost on me though because I was already thumbing through the manual and learning more about the game that would change me forever. Catching monsters and making them battle each other, from dragons who breathe fire to mice who shot electricity from their cheeks. The game was so Japanese it wasn’t even funny and I remember thinking to myself “This will never be popular with people outside of Japan.” My instinct was going to receive its own jolt of culture shock in the months that would follow.
Fast forward six months it was time for “Thanksgiving Break” and I had no idea what that even meant. My mother clearly didn’t either because when I asked at the grocery store when she proceeded to plop a turkey into her shopping cart she explained that it was a time they give thanks to the gods in America for a profitable fiscal quarter. That night she prepared a large meal of hotpot to celebrate the American holiday and I remember her being on the telephone with her sister telling her all about her American holiday dinner that night. Something tells me the other kids from school weren’t picking their turkey and potatoes up with chopsticks or washing their cranberry sauce down with miso soup.
When I returned to school after the break I felt more out of place than ever before. Not only was I the only student curiously seen playing ‘Pokémon’ (as they called it in America I learned), but when I was called on by my English teacher to share what I did for Thanksgiving I was laughed at until my cheeks turned red. This was how I learned the turkey god was not responsible for an increase in the Dow and no one at Pasadena High had any idea what the hell ‘hotpot’ was. To make matters worse, my teacher must have thought I was making a drug reference and sent me to the nurse’s office where she interrogated me for half an hour asking if I was high. I told her I didn’t feel well and she let me lay down for the rest of the class. My feelings seemed to well up until tears burst and streamed down my eyes.
A week later my teachers sent students home with assignments for the Christmas break and began their mid-year testing. When the report card came in, my mother proudly hung it on the refrigerator with a magnet and wrote “Good job!” on it. Her company had started paying for her to take night classes to learn English at the local community college. Each day she began practicing more with me as her guinea pig, eager to learn more. I dreaded this idea because it meant she would start taking my father’s place at parent-teacher conferences if she succeeded. Nevertheless I begrudgingly helped her practice and in exchange we struck a deal for me to have my own Blockbuster membership card so I could play more video games.
This opened up an entirely new world for me, as there weren’t really that many people who played games when we lived in Mexico and even though I lived in Japan from elementary school through early junior high I didn’t have memories of much more than arcade gaming. At the Blockbuster however, a social experience awaited me which I was not prepared for. At home we owned a Super Famicom, or Super Nintendo as they called it in the states, and a Sony Playstation. Advertisements plastered the walls at the video store heralding a new age of high definition gaming, the Playstation 2 was coming and if you put a one hundred dollar deposit down they would let you rent a console and three games of your choice for an entire month. I remember proudly kissing my New Year’s allowance goodbye as I handed it to the store clerk thinking my grandfather would have approved.
At school the material was becoming increasingly difficult in all of my classes, but I managed to stay afloat with ease. Well, that is in all of my classes except for English. We had been assigned a research essay in which we had to explain what our career goals were and put down actual citations to published works detailing the research we had completed to explain the steps necessary to make our dreams come true. My teacher called it the “Dreams to Reality” project, and immediately after announcing and explaining it he went around the room asking people to shout their career choice out so he could write it down on a piece of paper for the class record. I could feel a lump in my throat cutting off my breath and my neck began to sweat. Sure I had thought about what I would do with my life before, but it was always in a conversation with my parents where they talked and I listened to what they told me was the best path for my future. My input was rarely asked for or implied to be necessary. What did I want to do with my life? The question began to rumble like thunder in my brain as the ominous countdown to when I would be called on continued in the background.
Mr. Nelson wrote down that Miguel Vasquez wanted to be an accountant, and that Susan Miller intended on becoming a news broadcaster. Jimmy enthusiastically declared he was gunning for a career in law enforcement, Monica was destined for horse training, and so on and so forth. Suddenly it was my turn as Mr. Nelson finished jotting down another excited answer and looked up cautiously at me “...and, let’s see...Hiromi Ishida?” I felt like the entire class was staring at me and I avoided eye contact with the teacher, staring at my desk so hard I almost bore holes into it. My father said I was to be an engineer, that I had a quick mind for taking things apart and putting them back together. My mother said my future was in finance and I would assume a position at her company someday when we returned to Japan. Both of these seemed like sensible options, and financially secure of course.
“Hiromi? You got something for me?” Mr. Nelson chimed again. Okay, everyone was definitely looking at me because I could hear the grinding of chairs turning on the classroom floor. My mind was racing and spinning...what did I want to do? What career did I want in the future? Who am I, and what am I going to do with my life? I had never thought about things like this before and the peer pressure of everyone’s stares was too much to bear. I thought about getting up and running to the bathroom pretending to be sick, I wanted to avoid the question altogether. But there was nothing I could do…
“All right Hiromi, we don’t have all day here. I understand you’re shy, but come on there’s other people in the class too. Just pick something so we can-”
“V-video games!” I shouted. Why the hell did I say that?!
“I’m sorry, did you say video games? Okay Hiromi….” he scribbled the words ‘video games’ down next to my name on his list looking slightly surprised but slightly intrigued. “Well, what about video games Hiromi? Can you tell me more?” I could feel my cheeks burning and my throat tightening. Why did he have to ask me of all people to elaborate?
“Video games...um….I-I want to make video games.” He nodded in comprehension and simply muttered “Okay, video games…” under his breath one more time before moving on to the rest of the class. My brain was completely on fire as I sat at my desk, pulse racing, searching my head for answers. “Why the hell did I say that?” I thought again. Part of me felt liberated in saying it, the other part of me was terrified of the unknown I had just plunged myself into. My thoughts circled themselves over and over again…
In the lunchroom, I was in a daze and I still couldn’t think straight. My body had instinctively wandered in file with everyone else from class when we took our break, and before I snapped to it I found myself in the cafeteria line of all places. I completely forgot the daily lunch from mom always packed for me back in the classroom. Should I go get it?
“Next!” a woman’s voice barked at me. I embarrassingly grabbed a tray from the stack and entered the line, mimicking the other students in front of me. I had no idea what to do so I just stared at the food behind the glass as my knuckles brushed against the cold steel of the lunch line. “What can I get ya?” a burly woman covered in a sweaty apron impatiently asked. No, I wasn’t going back to get the bento from mom. I glanced shyly to the side and nearly whispered “...pizza…” The lunch lady was not amused and curled her fingers into a fist at her side. “Come on kid, you gotta speak up. I’m not exactly a spring chicken you know!”
“A...a pizza!” I shouted. The lunch lady rolled her eyes and put her hand out for my tray, I handed it to her and received a large slice of pepperoni pizza with cheese dripping off the paper plate. I followed the other kids in line and continued down the choices. Before I paid, I had assembled an American food army on my tray that was ready to go to war on my stomach. A bag of Lays potato chips, a carton of chocolate milk, and a mixed fruit cup swimming in intensely sweet preservative juice. Handing the cashier a twenty dollar bill I sheepishly took my change and walked into the cafeteria slightly horrified at what I was about to consume.
“Hey! You sitting with anyone?” a girl’s voice said to me. I looked up to see a girl slightly taller than me with frizzy red hair tied into a ponytail and a face littered with freckles staring at me. She was wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt and blue jeans that looked a little too long on her. I saw her faded white sneakers had dirt marks on them and she had a black converse backpack slung over one shoulder. I shook my head in reply and she smiled showing her wide mouth full of teeth. They were a faded yellow and had a slight shine to them, and she was missing one of her bottom right teeth. Her breath smelled of spearmint when she talked, and I got a good whiff of it as she continued.
“Cool! Well like, we have an open seat at our table if you wanna chill with us.” She pointed to a round table in the corner next to the exit doors in the back of the cafeteria next to a gigantic window which faced out into the school courtyard. Not wanting to be rude, and feeling weird enough as it was I followed her over to the table full of similar misfits. A short boy wearing an oversized black stained hoodie was spinning a quarter on the tabletop to entertain the others. I have no idea how he was able to see it though, since his matted dark hair under his striped beanie completely seemed to cover his eyes. The girl pointed to him and began to introduce her friends one after the other.
“That’s Jacob but everyone calls him Jake-O.” Jake-O looked up and brushed his bangs to the side revealing green snakelike eyes. He lifted his head quickly “Sup” before returning his attention to the quarter’s rotations. An extremely long-legged girl with thick black-framed glasses sat in the corner wearing a hot pink spaghetti strap top and denim short shorts, only making her pale legs appear even longer. I blinked in disbelief at her lime green pixie cut and what seemed like countless piercings. She had her feet on the table and was staring intently at a large hardcover copy of George Orwell’s 1984. “And that’s Steph. She’s pretty cool, just don’t piss her off or talk to her when she’s reading.” the girl explained. Immediately however she displayed her familiarity with Steph as she proceeded to parade right up to her and smack the book out of her hand “What’s up bitch?! Say HI.” Steph looked like she wanted to punch a hole in the wall, but instead she looked up at me and gave a closed eye smile and leaned into the table like a card shark. “Hey” she looked me up and down “you’re cute.” She winked at me and I felt a shiver run down my spine as she bent over and grabbed her book shooting my red haired host a nasty look.
The girl sat down next to her and pulled out the open seat. It was between her and a muscular looking guy with shaggy dirty blonde surfer hair. He was entranced with the quarter Jake-O was spinning and didn’t seem to notice my presence as I quietly slipped into place. The girl saw me looking at his muscular arms barreling out of his tank top and introduced him.
“The beefcake’s Tony. He’s not big in the brains or the looks department but he gets us good weed so we keep him around. The girl lowered her head to be level with the table and blew a big breath of air at it, sending it flying into the wall. Tony looked up with a distraught expression “Dude, what the fuck Melissa! We wanted to see how long it’d go!” He proceeded to bend over to grab the quarter that had landed behind my chair. I scooted my chair forward under the table, turning my neck behind me making sure not to bump him. He plopped back in the chair with the quarter successfully retrieved and Tony turned to me, flashing me a flirtatious grin.
“Sup. I think we have math class together...you’re uh...Ling, right?” The red haired girl rolled her eyes at him. “Jesus Christ Tony, they don’t even look alike.” He shrugged his shoulders and gave the quarter another powerful spin on the table sending it into orbit with a slight bounce.
“Don’t get pissed at me, I don’t fuckin know man...they look alike or something…” his voice trailed off. Shaking her head at Tony, Melissa turned to me. She took out a pack of Juicy Fruit from her pocket and offered me a stick. “Want some gum? The lunch sucks ass so I usually just skip it.” I shook my head not wanting to give up my first slice of American pizza I had so victoriously came into possession of simply for the sake of looking cool. She took about four pieces into her mouth and began chewing. “Suit yourself…” she muttered before blowing a large bubble and popping it in the air.
My stomach started to growl so I cautiously gripped the pizza between my fingers and raised it up to my face, looking the beast in the eye as they say. Or in this case, I looked it right in the pepperoni. I closed my eyes and took a bite, expecting the worst. We had never had pizza in our house, my mother always warning me “It’s bad for you, don’t eat it. Makes kids fat.” Would I swell up into a balloon? Would my pants still fit at the end of the day? I wondered these things as I tasted pepperoni for the first time and began to chew my first bite. It was pure heaven and I felt like a sinner in church for thinking so.
I must have looked really weird to my new acquaintances because I suddenly realized they were all looking at me as I ravished the entire slice and patted my mouth with a napkin. Jake-O laughed at my newfound ecstasy and asked “They feeding you at home, or what? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone THAT excited over pizza. Especially this shit.” He chuckled heartily and nudged Tony in the elbow. He nodded in agreement and Melissa said “Hey, don’t make fun of her man. She’s cool okay? She like, makes video games and shit.” My eyes opened large at the sentence and my fingers froze over the bag of chips. The boys looked up at me in shock like they couldn’t believe it. I had caught Steph’s attention as well, and she shut her copy of “1984” with a loud thud and slid it onto the table, all business-like.
“Video games huh? I think I see where you’re going with this Mel. Think she can hang?” I didn’t know what the phrase meant, but I didn’t like the sound of it. Melissa looked over at Steph and smiled mischievously. “Only one way to find out.” Steph nodded in agreement. “Wanna go now? I can go grab the wagon.” She took a pair of car keys out her pocket and twirled them around on her pointer finger.
Melissa stood up and everyone else followed suit as I stared at them in confusion, opening the chips on autopilot. Before I had time to experience another American palate sensation however, she grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out from the chair. “Let’s go,” she eagerly encouraged “we’re ditching this hellhole.” At this point I think I understood when my mother had warned me before going to American high school about “the wrong crowd”, a phrase she had used loosely but sternly warned me not to fall into one. Part of me was running on the rush of dopamine all these new experiences were inducing, and if my mother took me to court I would argue I was under the influence of foreign brain chemicals I decided. Steph’s beat up station wagon peeled around the back edge of the student parking lot and I just stood on the corner with the rest of them feeling out of place as a flower in the sidewalk.
A cigarette was hanging out of Steph’s lip as she yelled “Get in assholes!” and waved us into the vehicle as she checked her rearview mirror for school staff. I could barely hear her over the sounds of Green Day blaring from her speakers but Melissa laughed loudly and she shoved me into the back seat and piled in next to me. “Safety first bitches, buckle up.” Steph joked and you could hear the simultaneous sounds of everyone clicking their belts in as she hit the gas. My head whipped back and smacked the plastic leather seat in whiplash and she began attempting to argue the case of socialism in America while everyone else ignored her. Melissa stared out at the road while Tony packed a glass pipe full of weed he had taken from a plastic baggie in his back pocket. Jake-O offered him a lighter from the front passenger seat and drummed to the beat of Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy” on the dashboard.
I just wanted to eat my chips and grasp what the hell was going on around me, but as I reached for the bag Tony coughed and handed me the pipe with eyes that indicated pain. “Take it man, keep the rotation going.” Fumbling with the lighter and pipe I received the pass and feared for my life. “Drugs?” I thought. Skipping school and pizza was terrifying enough, I felt like I was going to pass out. I saw no way out of it and my hands were shaking as I pressed the mouthpiece to my lips. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to worry about it because at that moment Steph yelled “Yo, hide the shit. Cop’s around the corner.” and Melissa instinctively pressed a flat palm to the pipe I was holding signaling for me to lower it. Steph looked into the rearview mirror with paranoia as she lowered her speed and kept her cool.
“Did you get a hit?” Melissa asked. I nodded, lying in response.
“Whoah, I didn’t even hear you cough. You must be a heavyweight” she exclaimed as she reached for the pipe and I passed it to her. She inhaled deep in an effort to impress me, and I remember feeling terrified at her lionlike bravery. She tapped Steph on the shoulder, who proceeded to complete the cycle while driving before handing it back to Jake-O who would finish it off. Her car jerked into a bumpy parking lot in front of a large rundown building that resembled a warehouse and she reached into her glovebox, pulling out a felt bag full of jingling metal. It was completely full of quarters I saw as she peered inside, inspecting her stash.
“Should probably be good. You guys ready?” she impatiently asked. Tony was attempting to pack another round in the pipe but she motioned for him to cut it. “Let’s go man, I wanna get back before fifth period.” Peering back at me Steph must have noticed the dumbstruck face I was making. “You good?” she mused. I nodded in reply “Good, let’s fuckin go then.” We opened the doors to the car and hopped out one by one and stepped into the lot, feeling the warm breeze on us. Melissa tossed my backpack in the backseat and I suddenly found myself leaving academia behind as we headed toward the ominous dark double doors of the mystery building’s entrance.
Tony held the door open for everyone and I brought the back of the line up looking timid and hesitant. “After you, my lady” he gratuitously bowed before me looking very much so like a fairy tale gentleman. I smiled politely and slowly walked through the doors as he gave a loud stoner’s cough, ruining his dignified persona. My eyeballs just about jumped out of my head as I stepped through the dark entryway into what was one of the most brightly lit neon clubhouses I would ever see in my life. Everyway I looked, as far as the eye could see, were video games. My mouth must have been hanging open because I could hear Melissa laughing as she remarked
“Pretty cool right? Let’s see what you got man!” as she jogged over to the quarter machine, taking a wad of bills out of her jean pocket. Tony had already filled an empty weed bag full of quarters and was hunching over Jake-O’s shoulder watching him murder aliens in ‘Metroid’. Steph was snug inside of a loud race car simulator, swearing loudly and gripping a steering wheel like she was possessed. And me? I could feel my knees buckling as I stood frozen at the entrance completely overwhelmed by the noise and lights surrounding me.
There was no going back.
A man with a large mustache and an orange vest was walking around the arcade with a scrutinous look on his face, watching the teens scattered throughout the place. We weren’t the only ones taking a personal day I saw, as every few machines seemed to have someone standing in front of it with the widest range of emotions I had ever seen in one building. I found myself walking around the machines, looking for something I recognized. Most of the games I had played before were Japanese import puzzle games like ‘Puyo Puyo’ or role playing games like ‘Dragon Quest’ or ‘Final Fantasy’. This was a totally different crowd of gamers and the games that they played felt fast paced, loud, and hyper aggressive. My senses were being attacked on all sides by what felt like American youth culture on overload.
Strolling along the arcade’s purple triangles and yellow dash marks that looked like confetti sprinkled the fuzzy mint green carpet, crunching under my shoes. I stopped in front of a body length mirror and inspected myself. I was wearing a white button-up blouse with a plain lavender shirt underneath and tan khaki dress pants. My shoes were black dress slip-ons, and I remember thinking I looked like I was going to a business meeting. I felt totally out of place, surrounded by trend savvy rebel teenagers. Melissa ran up behind me out of breath, sweat beading on her forehead.
“Hey! What’s up? You get in there yet?” she pointed to the arcade’s seemingly endless options. I shook my head and she grabbed my hand once again. “Come on! Let’s go give this one a whack.” She winked at me and we ran up to an area that featured boxing games and about ten back-to-back copies of ‘Street Fighter’. She sat me down on a beat-up stool and threw two quarters into the machine as she hurried over to the one across from me slamming her butt down before firing up her own experience. A rush of confusion hit me as I hesitated to grab the joystick before me, and saw that the game’s adrenaline pumping music and voiceover was encouraging me to pick a fighter. A fighting game? I’d seen them in magazines but I’d never played one. I saw the game had two buttons labeled ‘A’ and ‘B’. Only two command buttons? How hard could it be?
An opponent’s fighter selection box appeared on my screen and moved between the possible choices at lightning speed before slamming into a confirmed fighter selection. A muscular green monster man appeared on the right side of my screen as the game’s announcer yelled “Blanka!!” and the words ‘Select Your Fighter’ began to impatiently blink on my side of the character selection screen. My eyes shifted and my brain shifted modes as I ran through the choices. I settled on a Chinese girl fighter and the voice yelled her name “Chun Li!!” My character was suddenly transported to what looked like a traditional Japanese bathhouse, with an over-the-top rising sun painted on the walls and everything.
The words “Fight!!” suddenly rang into my ears, and I attempted to maneuver my fighter, feeling the controls. Before I knew it my health bar faded into empty as the opponent sprang into action and pummeled my poor fighter into collapse. Melissa yelled from her machine “Hell yeah!” in excitement. Clearly, she felt right at home on her machine. Determined to do better, I gritted my teeth and focused. The next round was beginning, and I hovered two fingers over the buttons on the right side of the machine. The results weren’t any better, but at least this time I had figured out how to throw a punch and a kick. I had lost two rounds and the match was over, just like that. Melissa whipped her head around at me and raised a confused eyebrow.
“Uhh...you don’t have to hold back. I know how to place this game. Let’s go again! Like, actually try this time though, okay?” she shook her head and we both placed two quarters in our machines. I stared at the character selection screen in disbelief as it clicked in my head. I was fighting against her. An actual person was my opponent! I suddenly became far more nervous than I was originally and my brain went into hyper focus. They were far from being upstanding members of society, but they had been nice to me. They had talked to me. I had always seen video games as an escape from an unwelcoming society, but now it was becoming my gateway into making friends. I guess I was sick of feeling isolated by society, and at this point I was willing to take whatever friends I could get. Once again I selected Chun Li and this time found the stage was a street market in what looked like Brazil or some other South American country. Melissa proceeded to wipe the floor with me even faster this time. She stood and threw her hands up and walked over to me, slamming them onto my screen.
“What’s the matter, are we not cool enough or something?” I could feel Melissa’s heated stare on me, melting my stomach into the floor. I had tried. I really tried, I swear. I averted her gaze, overwhelmed with an awkward anxiety. She shook her head and walked away toward Tony and Jake-O. I sat there on the stool, feeling incredibly stupid. I got up and walked toward the exit, wanting to run. I suddenly stopped when I saw the mirror again. Looking intently at myself, something welled up inside of me and I wanted to change what I saw. Making an irritated face, I stared at the girl in the reflection. My mother and father’s pride, who was destined for a life of slavery to society in either the finance or technology sectors of the economy. I thought about how I had yelled ‘video games’ in English class earlier. My cheeks visibly reddened and I was sweating my ass off. Looking around the arcade I saw Melissa in the corner. She had her hair up, and her overshirt was tied loosely around her waist in a bunch.
At that moment I snapped. I began to unbutton my blouse and trying not to make it obvious I was staring at her, I attempted copying her technique. Reaching into my pocket I pulled out a rubber band I normally used to hold my pens and pencils together in my backpack and tied my hair up into an amateur ponytail that was slightly lopsided. Looking into the mirror I thought I was a hot mess, but it was enough of an improvement for me to loosen up a little bit. I marched to the change machine and filled my pockets with quarters. I sat back at the machine I had been playing at, determined to learn how to play. The game booted up in one player mode, and I frustratingly lost over and over again. I noticed I was making some sort of progress against the computer opponent however, as I was lowering their heath bar more and more. The feeling of visible progress was intoxicating, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Everything disappeared and for the next two hours I emptied my personal money into that machine. Sitting in wide-eyed amazement as Chun Li suddenly became a kicking machine, legs moving so fast my eyes could barely keep up. I had learned my first combo, and with it came my first victory. I watched the computer fighter collapse and occupy the floor Chun Li had been so busy cleaning with her face during all these fights. I nearly screamed in excitement over my victory, and was determined to repeat my special move. Reaching into my pockets I only grasped cloth however, and immediately fell into despair.
“Need money?” I heard a familiar voice say from behind. I turned around to see a twenty dollar bill at my face and as I grabbed it my head tilted up to thank my benefactor. My heart sank to despair in my chest and my expression turned to complete and utter horror however as I saw the face of my father smiling and chuckling, looking down at me.
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