Penny Arcade

I put my hair up in a purple headscarf. The metronome of the water droplets from the faucet in the bathtub stopped me from drifting off during my bath. The ends of my curls were wet and my heart felt like a million bubbles exploding every time I heard an outside sound.

Shivering, but not from the cold. The feeling of my pulse in my throat, closing in from the steam, surrounded by warmth and security. Lavender fills my senses, stinging my eyes and nose and forcing my brain to think. Epsom salt scratched my legs and back with every movement of the water. One thought still roamed my mind: the thought that maybe being mad with everything is unnecessary; why be mad with everything when you could figure out how to express what’s making you be in an emotionally hollow mood in the first place? Calm down, take a deep breath; you are in your happy place.

In the summer of 2021, my mother had the brilliant idea to haul our family from Missouri to Colorado Springs for a family vacation. The heat in Missouri was brutal, and together we agreed that we had had enough of it. I was personally done with summer already, and some of the last trees in the forest near my house still held their lifeless color from the winter, yet it was so already unbearably hot that it would make sense that some of the trees looked as if they hadn’t had a drop of water in years.

I worked at a locally-owned sub Shop called, Sub-Shop. It was a nasty little old building that, “used to be a Taco John’s back before you were born,” said every older adult that set foot at the register before ordering their over-complicated sandwich. 

Now I want that double toasted. Not toasted once, not toasted three times, toasted twice. Oh! And extra mayo.

But instead of at the register, I engage in a rebellious act by lying down in the back seat without a seatbelt. Now before you care to judge, we had made it to the back roads amongst the many highways in Colorado for some “educational scenery.” Which in reality were piles of dirt, trailers, Trump signs, and the reflection of my Jackson 5 nostrils in the minivan window.

Are we there yet?”

The thing about Colorado is it’s kind of the opposite of what it promises to be. Potheads aren’t on each corner sharing a joint amongst new strangers. Weed doesn’t grow on the side of the highway, and as many mountains, as there are, not many people seem to live in the mountains. At least where we were. Just expensive, unseasoned food, middle-aged liberal white people, and weirdly enough, more mountains. Our hotel was right down the street from a penny arcade. The typical tourist attraction. I had felt particularly lonely that summer, so I decided to branch out and try dating apps. I was unsuccessful in Missouri, for my standards were too high to be able to date a country boy. I had already dated one in my life, and that was enough. During all the commotion, through all of the bitter conversations between my mom and Nana, I met a boy named Ben. 

You know the typical online dating routine. Match with a random person, send a flirtatious “hey” and wait. Ben and I eventually swapped numbers after matching and began talking every day of my vacation. By the time I had gotten comfortable enough with the situation, we decided to hang out the night before I was going back home. I introduced the idea of going to the penny arcade down the street from the hotel. He agreed and it was set. I was going to meet this boy at an old arcade in the middle of colorado. 

I could tell that he was a shy person from when he got out of his car. But when he saw me, some of the awkwardness went away. He held the back of his neck with his right hand and stuck the other in his pocket. We exchanged some awkward “hellos.” At first, he barely looked at me, and I occasionally caught him staring out of the corner of my eye. The feature that drew my attention was his eyes. So captivating that once I stared into them, the world around me disappeared. Chestnut brown I remember. Rich like chocolate and soft as bear fur. They were so full of warmth and safety, yet looked so tired. We didn’t play many games that night. I had already spent a majority of the quarters my mother had given me and tickets to cash in for a crappy prize. We just walked and talked, while I carried the bulky box of my toy police light that my pet rabbit ended up chewing the cord to, on the first day we got back home. 

“Is it hot in Missouri?” Ben said. 

“Oh absolutely!” I exclaimed. “ It’s the reason why we came here.”

“You didn’t come here to hike the mountain? That’s what everyone is here to do.”

I was surprised to hear that he had thought I came to Colorado to hike Pikes Peak. After all, I was a chubby brown girl, who specifically made her personality surrounding the fact that she didn’t exercise, and with absolutely no athletic bones in her body. 

“I never enjoyed hiking,” I grinned.

Ben walked tall, but not proud. He didn’t interrupt, or judge, so the conversations escalated to many different topics, such as how it wasn’t possible that my teeth were so straight without getting braces, how we both played instruments consecutively in high school, and the troubles of Ben’s current open relationship. 

“She never lets me do anything, but she can DO anything.” He said this a lot. 

“Why don’t you break up with her?” 

Ben thought that she wouldn’t be good by herself. She consistently held him emotionally hostage by threatening to end her life and only seemed to want Ben around as a shoulder to cry on. I had never been in a situation like this before, and couldn’t seem to figure out what advice was called for.

“I love her.”

“Love her? LOVE HER?” I thought to myself. How could you love someone that treats you so poorly? I mean really? Did I miss something? Has the status of relationship norms swapped without me knowing? I didn’t realize that it is a new trend to continue dating someone that doesn’t deserve you.  It baffled me. If anything, I felt jealous. Jealous because such a kind and considerate soul was in love with someone not as genuine as I am. I automatically wanted to protect him from the cruelness of the world, and it was interfering with my judgment. 

After a few hours, it was time for me to go back to the hotel. It took a lot to hide all the emotions going on inside, and I genuinely had a good time. Except for one part. “I love her.”

He walked me home and asked me about my experience in Colorado.

“I think I would have to give it a seven out of ten.”

“I don’t blame you,” he said. “I personally give it a four.”

Before he left to go back to his car, I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. He looked at me and smiled. 

“Goodbye Mia.”

“See you in another lifetime, Ben Solo,” and we parted. 

I couldn’t sleep that night. Too much was on my mind and the guilt of not being able to help Ben burdened my heart. His personality was endless. He was a sympathetic and empathetic soul with vast reservoirs of love and understanding. He was stubborn but devotedly protective, his morals were devoted and he had a loving disposition. It was as if he had a strong emotional connection to people. He made me feel valid for the first time in a long time. 

On the ride home, I felt miserable and the drive wasn’t any better. Every tree or field we passed in my mother’s minivan meant I was a tree and a field away from him. I wish I had gotten more time to meet him. I wish the people back home were like Ben. By the time we got home, it was too late to take a bubble bath, so instead, I fell asleep immediately when my head hit the pillow.

I sat in my room a lot thinking about him. I always found him roaming my mind as if something wanted me to feel his pain for him. But I wanted to protect him and show him the experience that his lover wasn’t giving. I didn’t know it then, but the signs were there, like when he wouldn’t message me for hours, and I was in deep fear that he would abandon me like others before him, and he did. He wasn’t supposed to love me back. That wasn’t the deal. My feelings tried to vanish along with him, but the memories of the penny arcade shut me down to make me feel what I once felt. I promised myself that I would not drop another tear for this being. His love was like a bath. So suffocating to the point where you feel like you are drowning, but at the same time, the bliss of happiness that flows smoothly like the currents of water.


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