Most of the time we spent away from Dad's condo, so I don't understand why he even bothered getting the Nintendo. We never went because of the distance. We would go to closer places. Sometimes we would visit Dad's friend Andy who drove a Peggy Lawton Bakery truck and had a nautical themed bar in his basement complete with a tropical fish tank, portholes, a ship's wheel, and other nonsense. It looked more like a bad seafood restaurant than a bachelor pad. Other times Dad would bring me to work and let me play with the office supplies and terrorize the empty executive offices while he caught up on something.
Early on it was clear that one of the visits to the island condo was different. He had someone that I absolutely had to meet. We stood outside as the sea air cut through the meat of my hands. He contemplated how to break into his new place. He hadn't consolidated his key rings yet and had locked the keys inside.
"I need you to climb inside through the bathroom window there and open the door from the inside. We need to do it fast before the alarm goes off."
"Okay." I only had a vague idea about the layout of the place. I became anxious at the thought of an alarm. Maybe this wasn't even his house. It was the same feeling I got when the strange men Mom was seeing came by our house and I wasn't sure if they would rape her and my little sister and murder us all.
The window was a small rectangle at least ten feet above the porch. He lifted me above his head. I steadied my feet on his shoulders, grabbed onto the poof of his curly black hair, and walked my hands up the salty gray wall until I stood up. The height was dizzying.
"Just yank the screen out."
"I'm trying - I don't see where to yank."
"Just right there in the corner and push opposite."
"I'm -" not scared, "don't drop me."
"I would never drop you."
Every yank on the screen, and dad's skin and muscles under his shoulders shifted. I was definitely going to fall.
There was a pop. The screen came loose and flew into a seaside evergreen bush.
"Good. Now, crawl in."
He pushed me up and shoved me into the mouth of the house. My mind spun. The momentum carried me in; my hip caught, scraped the skin, my eyes darted for something to grab for leverage, the world turned upside down, and I fell through a dark bathroom in a house I had barely seen before. My knee hit the toilet hard, my shoulder into the corner of the sink, and I landed onto the floor on my back, a mangled mannequin.
Pins and needles and heat radiated from the contact points. There was no alarm even though I had just broken into his house. There was silence. Pain. Away from Dad. Alone, I laid in the dim room.
"You okay?" I heard from outside.
"Fine," I answered with reluctance, "I just hurt myself. I need a sec." My shoulder throbbed, but it was okay in the silence. The gift of this silent solitude.
"Well, we need to get in before Alisa comes, buddy."
Who was Lisa?
I pulled myself up and found my way through the labyrinth to the front door. The alarm screamed. He deactivated it. It was his house.
He brought my bag in and placed it next to the new sofa on the new carpet next to the new tiles.
"Alisa's on her way over, and you'll meet her tonight. We'll get pizza and watch that movie you brought." His eyes looked for an answer.
"Lawnmower Man." His brows raised. "It's my favorite."
"Okay! Why don't you play your Nintendo tape until then?"
He turned on the TV, and the projection meandered and hummed to life. I turned on the Nintendo expecting the Super Mario 3 theme, but there was an electric, snowy crackle on the television.
I looked up and nodded at him. I would figure it out. He walked away.
I removed the gray cartridge. I turned it upside down and blew. A light blow. I inserted it. Nothing. I removed it and blew a hearty gust. Inserted it with a little more force. Nothing. Reseat, refresh, reset. Nothing. I did a dance with my fingers, trying to get the cartridge to catch. In times like these, a little repetition and dedication to obsessive regesturing can take a guy off his troubles. It was like working on a car, trying to get it to start, ignoring your relationship with your father.
I switched cartridge to Excitebike. I switched back. Blow, blow, back and forth, seat and reseat, and the refresh frustration was more calming than the weight of trying to find something to fill the air with.
Still, I would occasionally glance around the room looking for Dad. The open floor plan and high ceiling allowed for a glance into the raised kitchen, the staircase to the second floor, the breakfast nook. Hardly any furniture, white on white, an occasional pole and divider, and David Bowie would be perfectly at home walking upside down from the ceiling in a feathery spandex jumpsuit. But there was no Bowie, no Dad. Just me and my gently used, preowned Want Ads Nintendo.
Eventually, the Nintendo licensing screen came on and Excitebike started. It didn't matter how much time went by; it worked now and I wasn't about to shut it off.
The front door opened.
I started a race with the little blocky man.
Dad came in and stood in front of the television with a pizza in his hand.
"Shut off the Nintendo. There's someone here who is really excited to meet you!" There was a lyrical lilt and a two-octave modification to his voice.
"But I just - I've hardly played."
"That's okay. We are going to meet now, and I have meat pizza. Shut it off."
I hit the power button on the console, unsure if I would be able to get it to work again. I felt defeated and reluctant.
Dad held a hand out to help me up, and my bones creaked to life.
"This is Alisa."
"Hi." Her accent was difficult to place. She smelled sweet. She was skinny with gigantic breasts. She was prettier than Mom, but in a way that didn't make sense for something that someone would want... Like Sarah Jessica Parker in that witches movie, except in your fantasy of Sarah Jessica Parker in that witches movie she looked like herself and she was into ten-year-old boys. Learning about things like breasts. Except she was also a dumb witch in that movie, so who knows?
And it was weird, because I never thought I would ever say it and I thought only people on television said it. The first thing I wanted to say when she hugged me was, 'you're not my mom and you never will be.'
I burnt my mouth on the pizza, but the movie was good.
When I watched the movie again as an adult, I hated my prepubescent self. He didn't like the movie, he just liked the idea of justice.