Illustration by Popularium. Source images Bethesda Softworks
I can’t hear the rain anymore, but I feel it splashing off the filthy New York sidewalk onto my face. I want to launch this chubby punk of a bouncer who is driving his forearm into my chest off of me and into the stratosphere. It should take a lot more than making a phone call in a doorway on a cold rainy night to get tackled to the ground.
This was supposed to be a pretty chill night hanging with some colleagues. We’d barely even finished one rum fishbowl. I’m not exactly sure what pissed off the bouncer, but I think I know why I’m on the ground: I’m the excuse, the scapegoat, the free pass for hateful expression.
What’s the right thing to do?
It should take a lot more than making a phone call in a doorway on a cold rainy night to get tackled to the ground.
Growing up in South Carolina, where all praise be to crooked politicians and men who killed in the name of war, I collected four real heroes: MLK, Malcolm X, Gandhi, and Fredrick Douglass. None of them would have me pummel this kid, but how do I teach him a lesson?
“Oh my god! Get off of him!” My colleagues rush out in frantic confusion, pleading with the four fat guys running this place that are staring at me lying on the ground. I’m grateful for their support, but there’s no way I’ll ever get promoted now. This is the story people will share when I’m not around. My reputation.
A cop car pulls up. They called the cops? Over this? I didn’t even put up a fight. Two of them, one old, one young, walk past me with little more than a glance. Sad, angry, black man outside of bar; he doesn’t need our help, they assume. They think everything is fine. I’m not in trouble. I’m irrelevant.
I’m losing. This is a game, and I’m losing. Has my whole life led to this point? No. Some good has to come with the bad. I’m losing, but the game’s not over.
How do I win?
Sad, angry, black man outside of bar, he doesn’t need our help, they assume.
I should have just stayed home. Xbox One is sounding really good right now. Elder Scrolls: Tamriel Unlimited… that’s where I’d rather be. Online in an artistically-rendered wonderland where I’m free to carve my own path to ascension, free to grow in ways that make me a better version of myself, and free to strike the fuck back!
In Tamriel, a war rages between three opposing factions vying for control over one territory. Momentum sways in favor of the organized, which translates to the gamers with the best leaders. A player named DaisyRose led our faction to victory after victory without saying a word. Everyone just followed because they knew DaisyRose would protect them. Our leader.
I wanted to be like DaisyRose, a leader worth following. I needed to recreate my character. Am I the tip-of-the-spear hero? Am I the strategic sneak attack hero? Or am I the hero who empowers his fellow soldiers? I created a Destructo/Resto Templar Tank. Translation: I lead the attack, I heal my teammates, and I’m hard to kill. I think that makes me all three.
Now, how do I apply those abilities to this shitty situation? It’s not Tamriel; it’s the real world. I’ve been wronged, thrown to the ground, treated like a second-class citizen. Now the cops are here. What can I do but exercise my rights?
“I want to press charges on this racist establishment!” I shout. Stage set. No turning back now.
I’m standing in front of the cop car, their lights glaring in my face. I clench my fist, threatening to put a serious dent in the hood of their car while I demand badge numbers, promise phone calls, and express a willingness to fill out an obscene amount of paperwork.
“Back away from the vehicle, right now!”
Big bark… Is he reaching for his gun? Bigger bark… This could get me shot… I’m yelling at the police and they’re yelling back. My life isn’t flashing before my eyes; others’ lives are. L.A. riots, old black and white news footage of kids getting yelled at in restaurants and attacked in the streets, scenes from movies of slaves getting whipped. A trail of lost tears triangled over the Atlantic and all the deaths that have led to this. We’re not finished.
Veins are popping out of necks. All eyes turn red. Voices escalate. Of my colleagues, only the brave ones try to hold me back. I’m under their skin. Am I winning?
“Get in the car, now!” The older cop yells to the younger one. The young one obeys, his icy glare attempting to maintain an air of dominance. I’m winning? The older, calmer cop approaches, speaking with me calmly. The white flag. I am winning. The young cop pouts in his passenger seat. They drive off.
I’m still standing. I stood up for myself and survived. My colleagues give me hugs. “That was awesome!” “That was insane!” Was it? My voice cracks. I breathe for what feels like the first time in five minutes. I’m justified. I’m overwhelmed. I’ve run out of control. I’m… crying?
Everyone’s attention is focused on her. She’s wearing a white and silver tracksuit, black Adidas, and a big, luxurious fur.
A few hours later, I finally get to the underground vape lounge where patrons call each other by their gamertags and play videogames all hours of the day. I notice a crowd of the people around a young woman. She seems to be holding court, everyone’s attention is focused on her. She’s wearing a white and silver tracksuit, black Adidas, and a big, luxurious fur. A long braid trails down her back.
I walk closer, eager to find out who she is. As I draw near, I overhear someone refer to the young woman as DaisyRose. The DaisyRose?
I want to go up and talk to her. I want to tell her about what happened to me tonight — getting tackled to the ground, confronting the cops, sticking up for myself. I want to tell her how proud I am. I want to know if she’d be proud of me too. I hope she would.
But I’m too shy to tell her anything.