3
min

Arcade

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I fell in love with a girl in the arcade. A thin girl with her blond hair in a bob under a black hat, in a black dress and black boots, unlike the pretty girls in designer jean shorts and hightop sneakers, or the normal small town Ohio girls in tourist trap iridescent t-shirts and awkward glasses, all of us beneath the fly buzzed colored lights of the summertime kid trap. She, the only punk girl in the place, in the circle of the nearly phosphorescent white-violet glow from the air hockey table where I and my cousin and his cousin had been engaged in battles for alpha teen all week. Where had they gone for so long, giving me enough time to summon up my courage to go over to Punk Girl and talk to her, whom I’d noticed immediately and kept seeing all evening around every other corner like a punk phantom? In the instances when she did not appear around the corner as I hoped, I was crestfallen and a little relieved, thinking that I’d missed my chance after all and we’d never cross paths again, and also that no, she really wasn’t looking back at me as I was looking at her. To an outside observer was it pathetically obvious that we were circling one another? Or, more likely, was I the pathetically obvious teenage boy, too frightened to talk to an attractive girl? But they had gone off, somewhere, I don’t remember now, my cousin and his cousin, maybe to get food or more money from their parents, and I recall standing there in the ridiculous lights and noise from the coin-operated video games, still lingering near the scratched, dusty air hockey table, with my own hands probably gray with dirt from playing for hours, in a sweaty t-shirt that promoted a local radio station that played classic rock purchased for me by my mom, and Hawaiian shorts that were never in style, and a pair of beaten sneakers that were green from mowing lawns and no socks, and skinny legs, and my shaggy haircut, and my skinny impoverished self. Then, she appeared again, standing at the edge of the room and no closer. And there I was, facing her, and wanting to talk to her, but not knowing what to do or to say, and the whole situation built on a kind of teenaged plausible deniability—because she hadn’t committed to engaging me directly, nor I her, and I could act like I didn’t notice her, and hadn’t been following her indirectly all night, and walk past her and exit on the pretense of looking for my missing companions. But that is not what I wanted to do, and I stood there, kind of looking at her but possibly not really; and she, kind of looking at me, but probably not really. There is no bridge that can be built to span the void created in the endless moment of indecision. You can fall into it, and be engulfed. It’s a kind of ecstatic state, filled with an energy of its own that cannot be replicated by the chemistry of other situations. I wanted to do something—though I had no idea what—so at least I’d have something to remember. Or maybe I wanted to prove myself, or prove something to myself, or both, having crowed all evening with my male companions about meeting girls. By the time I was sixteen I had created an interior life around some hidden accomplishment, a secret, a poem, a gift I thought I had, a novel I imagined I had written, a sensitivity, an intelligence, something about me that may or may not have actually existed that made me worthy to join whatever club Punk Girl was a member of. At long last I crossed the floor in the room that seemed empty a moment ago, but filled with kids and noise once I finally started to move to stand beside Punk Girl and turn to Punk Girl and say god knows what. She told me her name, but not her phone number, and said she was from San Francisco and played drums, and perhaps something about the Dead Milkmen. I said something about Camper Van Beethoven and The Replacements, and perhaps wanting to be in a band. She asked me what I thought about peace, which I was not expecting from a punk girl in 1987, but speaking frankly, I was not prepared to converse about much of anything then, and I said something foolish-sounding, staggering through the hopeless mists of my own evaporating vocabulary about how we needed peace and human rights. And the conversation faded and we stopped haunting each other in the arcade, eventually walking away from one another into the summer night in the rocky tourist trap on the shore of Lake Erie, but still, I felt as though I had added a particularly devestating line to the secret nonexistent poem I was composing—elated, and even more so, never more so, in fact, than later when my cousin and his cousin confronted me, having seen me speaking to Punk Girl, and saying with absolute incredulity, who was that weird girl, why were you talking to her? Why that girl?

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