Recently, an interviewer and I were talking about But Our Princess, and she asked if I had any photos of myself playing video games.  I don’t, really, and I suppose the reason is fairly obvious:  someone playing a video game isn’t a terribly compelling photographic subject, especially compared to the sparkly things that are in the game itself.  Nonetheless, I managed to unearth the below treasure.


That’s me on the left; my best friend Rob is on the right.  We’re both 14.  My guess is that this is a “use up the end of the roll” candid taken by one of my parents.  Rob and I are on the porch of my house–it used to be screened-in porch back when the house was a cottage, and it had since been converted into an all-season living space (albeit a chilly one in winter).  Our computer and Nintendo lived out there.

One of the things I like about the photo is how clearly everything is rooted in 1991.  There are my awesome, awesome glasses, of course.  And the acid wash jeans.  But you can also see the dot matrix printer to my left, and the caddy of 5 1/4″ disks partially obscured by my left hand.  The TV at which Rob sits has knobs on the right to change its channels.  Cassette tapes are strewn on the pink tablecloth.

But what pleases me most is that I can identify the video games Rob and I are playing.  Rob is playing R.B.I. Baseball, and if that name doesn’t immediately pop its relentlessly chipper music into your head, ten minutes of this video will certainly do it.  I’m playing Don’t Go Alone, a relatively obscure RPG released by Accolade in 1989.  It’s labeled as a horror game, although none of the monsters are particularly scary.  Really the only unique aspect of the game is that rather than using magic spells to kill things, you use chemical formulae.  It’s the type of game that’s more of a slog than it is compelling–I think I knew that even in 1991–but for some reason it’s always stuck with me, and I was pleased to find this photograph because “Don’t Go Alone” is one of the poems from the book.

Ultimately, we must learn to own our experiences–all of them–because we are the only ones who can best use them going forward.

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Don’t Go Alone

Chemistry is for people who hate table salt, you first told me, and I had to agree, since all I remembered from that corrosive subject was how much I loved its sounds: molybdenum, ytterbium, Avogadro, Le Châtelier. But what lead has to do with plumbing or radiation with sleight of hand is anybody’s guess.

Those early years, our exotic new songs: saguaro, saltimbocca, Okoboji, pizzadilla. The scientists among us were astounded, calculators flummoxed with steam.

Then for a while I was crazy with fear. In my first house, the bedroom’s hardwood floors were gap-toothed as gravel. Weekday midnights we’d creak the bed around like a gasping four-wheeled ghost ship.

But too often I laid there for days and could not get out. I could not get out. I was trying to write the right lonely sound, but mostly it was trucks jostling down West Avenue and a radio I imagined just out of earshot. The long and something road.

Our home has grown deeper. Our language is beautiful: cat, garden, milk, table, school. I come home at two in the morning smelling like smoke and I say bar and you say sleep and it is good.

Good luck, were your father’s words, smiling, shaking my hand.