Her arms felt cold and hollow as they lit on my shoulders. Perfume and the ache of tobacco. The suggestion of her chest. The creek of the floor beneath her. She pressed her fingers into mine, locking them onto a chord on the guitar.

“That’s a C,” she said. “And this … is a G.”

I was sitting indian-style on the floor of a college apartment, at the end of an uncomfortable party. As the event thinned out, I’d grabbed a guitar to keep myself company. She saw her chance to get close and took it. Anna was really direct that way; the kind of girl who would stare at you from across the room until your skin started to burn. She must have killed a lot of ants as a kid, with those magnifying glass eyes of hers. “Thanks,” I choked out. “Umm …”

“And here’s … an A.” Pause. “I don’t really play the guitar, actually.”

“Well, you play more than me,” I said with confidence. I was wearing a leather jacket, trying to figure out who I was. Anna had an idea. Continuing: “I mean, this is the first time I’ve ever even held one.”

“You’ve got natural aptitude,” she said, and pressed her smile into the back of my head. Her hands were still on mine, and my heart was jackhammering its way out of my chest.


I struggled to get rid of the guitar. Anna made it difficult. Finally, she pulled away and offered to help me up.

For such a small girl, she had a lot of strength. Though I was a head taller than her, Anna had me standing in a second, and then she had me standing too close. Her tiny hand gripped mine like the reaper. She wasn’t going to let go. She walked outside with my hand, and then down the street with it, too. Luckily, I stayed attached to it.

I asked her out to coffee, and we jump-cut to the table of an overcrowded Evanston cafe. She wore too much lipstick. We started dating. I came out to my parents a month later, and then six years after that, went back in.

“What do you do?” she asked.

“Umm … I guess I play video games. I just got the new Mario for N64. Do you play?”

“No, but I’d love to learn.”

We walked back to my dorm-room. It was a single with a walk-in-closet and a bathroom, which was happily unfair. In front of my bed, I had a GXTV on a milk-crate, with a stereo and a Playstation rounding out my mini-entertainment system. I had lined my ceiling with ivy and christmas lights, because it was really important to me.

Anna popped onto the bed, and studied the controller that I unwound and handed to her. Like most, she ignored the analog stick, and so the second time I played Mario64 was with my hands atop hers. She drove Mario like a drunk animal, crashing him into trees and grinding him along the ground on his belly.

“I’m not very good at this,” she groaned.

“It’s unfamiliar for everyone. Don’t worry about it!”

“I’m never going to get it.”

To be honest, I didn’t understand how anyone could be so bad at Mario. Press the control-stick in the direction you want to move seemed pretty straight-forward. Anna complained, “He’s not doing what I want him to do,” but I couldn’t figure out what she wanted him to do, either. Finally, she tossed the controller aside and kissed me.


She was trying not to learn.