The summer before high school, I fell in love. First of all, with Benny’s; it was a card shop on Torresdale Ave, half a block from where Jonathan had by then moved. It was the first public place where I wasn’t nervous. He and I spent much of our days talking to the shop’s owner–a benevolent old white man with a strong mustache–who’d probably been in the card game before we were born. He’d trafficked in athletic cards at first, mostly baseball, and they were plastered over the walls in the tiny space, with more valuable ones in the glass cases that circled the room. Jonathan and I weren’t collecting sports cards though; Pokemon was the game. Well, at least collecting was because no one actually battled with them correctly. There was just this vague dominance one could achieve by having the Pokemon with the most hit points, or ones that were more rare.
I, personally, was obsessed with dragon Pokemon, of which there were too few in the first 150; I’ve held on bitterly to that critique of the franchise for quite some time. One day after Jonathan and I had gathered some money, either from twenty dollar weekly allowances or from mowing the grass at Lustrik Corp., enough to buy a few packs, I opened my first one to find a holographic Dragonite. I had never been that happy, and as that fat little dragon sparkled in the sunlight from the windows I considered I might not ever be that happy again. The crowd of nerds whispering to each other perked up and rejoiced. It was the equivalent of scoring a touchdown in the real world, or hitting the game winning shot. And then a Black boy who’d been skulking by the door snatched the card and bolted.
I was angry at myself first. Why hadn’t I guessed it? I’d had bikes and shit stolen before, money snatched, trick-or-treat bags grabbed, wrapped presents transported to the pawn shop. If I’d have been able to read that kid–the only other Black kid in the shop–I might have held onto that card. Instead, I froze. Jonathan swung the door open after them, until he looked at me. Standing there stiff and about to cry. I was sure the other kids in the store found me pathetic. I was the inverse of all the assumptions about being big and Black, especially when plastered against a White background. This moment of weakness would hold me back later, when learning how to play basketball. Even though I might have been intimidating a second ago, I began weeping as if I would die. It wasn’t even about the card itself anymore, I just wanted something that no one else could take. Benny himself tried to comfort me, but I shrugged him off. I fled the shop and ran home. Sprinted. I was furious and I couldn’t figure out what else to do.
The first working definition I had of insanity was doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result and there I was. Even though I had been in this situation a thousand times before, it never really hit me though until that day. Groundhog Day. Crying at some sleight from the outside world and I’d come home for comfort. Why? I knew every possible outcome, none of them favorable: sissy, faggot, punk, stop crying amidst a flurry of other epithets–none of which I found very original–so what was the point? If I’d learned to read into these situations sooner, and better, I wouldn’t even be dealing with it then. I decided not to say anything; my problems were my business from then on.
I wiped my tears and went to play Zelda: Ocarina of Time; last I remembered, I was stuck at the bottom of that god damn Water Temple, and Navi was telling me a bunch of useless shit, so I ignored her. On my first try, without really thinking about it, I pulled the temple’s levers in the right order to manipulate the water level and make it to the boss. Sure, the fight was an adrenaline rush, but it wasn’t much of a challenge. The only reason my heart raced was because I didn’t want to do the Water Temple platforming again. When it was over, and the goofy amoeba thing shriveled up and drained the pool, I was awarded a water medallion. That’s it. Link looked excited but I was kind of like, meh. What was I supposed to do with it?