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[personal profile] memorialrainbow
1st Stage

ARE YOU READY? Let’s Step!

The first time, I am sixteen, and my best friend online is posting on her LiveJournal about 8-footing songs at the arcade in New York City, and I don’t quite understand what she’s talking about.

So she shows me. I am in small town Ohio where nobody knows an up arrow from a down arrow, but this is 2004, and the Internet is wild with new ideas (updated manually, not automatically). She is a world away, and we don’t know yet that we’ll be friends forever, but in the midst of discovering my gaiety and uniqueness, she is power and light and color and love. She becomes my older sister, and she introduces me to Dance Dance Revolution.

She is my source of music (having also introduced me to Nittle Grasper, because, come on, Nittle Grasper) so she sends me a minute and a half long song called A Stupid Barber. Why is it called this? I wonder. But it is short, and catchy, and not unlike the European dance music I loved just a minute ago, before my first love headed for the hills. So she sends me everything she has, and I have at least an hour of DDR music on my iPod at all times, and I learn the classics - not by steps, but by color, the way I know how.

She then shows me a website full of PDF files, little boxes with arrows. I memorize where my feet might go, if I’m ever lucky enough to play. I look at the stepcharts while listening to the music. Some of them are hard to follow along, but there are a few that I can pick out exactly. I put pieces of paper on my bedroom floor and step on them, creating a perfect mess, muddy footprints.

And last, she shows me the 10K Commotion. It is exactly what a girl in the middle of nowhere needs: confirmation that this is a thing, that people really did go out into arcades and play for fun. The story of two rival teams headed to the 10K tournament in Hawaii isn’t perfect, but nobody cares, because it speaks our language. It proves to me that I’m not as alone as my surroundings try to tell me.

We go to the mall over Christmas break and I discover two things: that GameStop sold dance pads and PlayStation 2 versions of DDR mixes, and that our local Tilt arcade had a PIU machine. It’s not DDR, but it’s close enough, and I am higher than Armenia off Vicodin from a wisdom tooth surgery but I hop around on the pad and make a fool out of myself and have the best time.

I go to Ohayocon in January with my friend Sarah and finally set my feet on a DDR pad. The left arrow is broken, and beginner is much simpler than I planned for, but somewhere in my cyberspace I have a video of my feet pressing the arrows again and again, a little thing I’m proud of, I guess. Baby’s first DDR. We then go to Tilt back home, and there’s some sort of PIU competition going on, and I watch as people really play surrounded by crowds and think, I want to be like this.

I borrow MAX2 and a game pad from a friend, try it out, then commit. I go back to GameStop and get a plastic dance pad and DDR Extreme, the game version that has the most songs I know. And over the next four months -- and another cheap dance pad later -- I drive my family crazy. My music skills mean I can sight-read just about anything as long as my feet move fast enough. A Stupid Barber. Can’t Stop Fallin’ In Love Speed Mix. Scorching Moon. Bad Routine. And a song simply entitled “A” that goes twice as fast right in the middle. My brother learns all the beginner steps to Jet World. I try doubles once and decide it’s hard enough to keep one cloth pad in place on the ground. I watch the steps in practice mode. I get going.

And I create. I don’t have friends to play with, so I make up my own fictitious team of DDR players. There’s a tall, dark, and handsome one who doesn’t say anything but is so good everybody calls him On The Beat, and a tall girl and a short boy, and their leader is a guy who acts a lot like Ryuichi Sakuma named after Um Jammer Lammy. And of course he makes out with On The Beat, because this is early 2005 and my freak flag is still in hiding. Their last member, like me, loves Naoki, and is new to the game, so they call her Naoki Kid. I don’t make up stories about them, but the characters still exist in the back of my mind. It gives me an outlet.

And over the dark winter and spring months of 2005, I discover who I am. Not just as a rhythm game player, but as a person. And then, as quickly as I have found it, it is ripped away from me. And in the midst of the chaos that follows, I find God and roller coasters and something I don’t quite understand, and the pad is folded underneath my television, forgotten.


2nd Stage

ARE YOU READY? Here comes the beat!

The second time, it is my twenty-fourth birthday.

I don’t have many friends in NYC at this time, but there’s a girl from Miami U, my alma mater, that my SO used to live with. We hit the clubs without my SO because this particular SO has lost their wallet (and of course I have paid for their new MetroCard, which now that I look back is highly ironic). Then, this friend and I go out for Chinese food at three in the morning and both collapse in her bed.

And I dream.

I dream that 10K is still a thing. I dream it’s been published, and somewhere within its pages, I am there, as Naoki Kid. In the back of one of the faded books is a message: We’ll be like this forever, right? I think everybody on the Platinum Mark from 10K had signed it -- we had all been on the team together. A team of six, with licensing deals and promoting DDR and I was Naoki Kid and I remember, that was then, this is now. My world in 2012 is about as far away as I can ever get from 2004.

And I remember phone calls, and looking online to see that they still talked about me, and Jun, the manic pixie leader of 10K’s Platinum Mark team, meeting me in the rain under a streetlight. “Where have you been? Don’t you realize we’ve been looking for you?” There is a sad look in his eyes that I can’t place, a feeling that he and the whole team have been lost without me, and then he kisses me in the rain, and I wake up in a bed that isn’t my own, lost but found.

I look up cabinets and realize there is one in Toys R Us -- or at least, as of 2017, there used to be. I go, and I run my standard steps for “A”, and I still have it. And somewhere, deep in the back of my mind, a plan starts forming. For there is a tall girl in sweats with a ponytail, and a short boy in a trenchcoat, and On The Beat and Jammer and -- me. The name Hideaki has been floating around me for a while, but I like the translation -- a brilliant light. Even if it is a boy’s name.

I find my old music, and a little bit of new music as well, and I try to find translations that I couldn’t before. And the English lyric of one song, always so accented to me before, finally makes sense to me: “Where is your bright dream?” The name of the song is Aoi Shoudou. Blue Impulse.

I have a temp job now, and I’m not working a lot, so I go to Michael’s and I buy a skinny pad of paper and a few pencils. And I go to Central Park, because I can’t stay in my apartment and beat myself up forever about how I’m not a valid human being, and I draw. I sketch the characters I once knew. I draw Jammer, and On, and the newly christened Code Breaker and Cherry, just as I remember them. There’s an odd amount of detail that goes into each sketch, something I don’t usually do.

Then, in June, NaNoWriMo begins their Camp, and I hole up in Argo and go.

Blue Impulse is the story of me, but it’s also the story of not-me. It’s the story of two people -- a girl named Miranda and her alter-ego, Hideaki. Past Miranda is in high school and meets a group of rhythm game players called Blue Impulse. They play Rhythm Buster 200X, which is my version of DDR meets PNM, but the feel is the same. She joins them and goes by the name Hideaki, becoming something bigger than herself. Present Miranda is going to graduate school in NYC and comes across a memory of her past. Both stories are told in tandem as Miranda looks for what she left behind, chased down by her mother, who has more than a few screws loose.

That’s all I’ll tell you. You should read it. But not yet.

Back in 2012, though, Miranda’s mother is how I categorize the stress I myself am going through. She becomes a catch-all, which is horrible, but it works. My SO, whose name I will not mention (let the reader understand), stops letting me live my life. I can’t do anything without them. I have to be perfect. I stop writing music because I’m not allowed to let my feelings out, I can’t offend them. The rest of the world doesn’t help -- my parents want me home and my work situation is unacceptable at best.

But I don’t give up. My usual gusto ain’t dead yet. I write Blue Impulse in a month and a half, as a way to turn everything around. And as Miranda fought to find herself, so do I. I break up with my SO, but I still dedicate the book to them. I print two copies of the first draft through CreateSpace and meet them in Union Square to deliver it. They take one look and tell me it’s all wrong.

We once joked that we wanted to color, to create together, And we did -- in small increments. But they never end up creating as much as I can on a regular basis, and instead of them meeting my speed, I meet theirs. It is me taking care of them, reassuring them I will be there, to help, to do...whatever. My brain has blocked so much of it out at this point that it’s hard to recall, but there are physical reminders every single day, reminders that keep me in my place. And everything I do is no longer mine -- they want that power instead, lest it take me from them. They become the face of my art, and Blue Impulse, in a big way, is me circumventing that. It is my identity in a book, something they can’t touch.

Or so I think.

At some point in the first half of 2013, long after we have broken up and I have built a wall named Garo around me, I receive something in the mail. They have colored. They have created a thing, a thing which I dare not say what it is as it is too personal. But it’s the story of Blue Impulse, my release from what was holding me back, my freedom story. And the story they colored ends prematurely, at the height of the terror and the fear, with no resolution, no hope.

They take my freedom story and turn it into something I no longer recognize. And since I put my identity into it, my identity itself is gone. And I try everything -- writing books, going to NYCC, writing the Dvorak series, coming out with albums, riding as many roller coasters as I can -- to get it back, but no matter how hard I try, nothing clicks. My groove is off. I am a walking example of trauma, but I can’t let anybody else know for every reason under the sun. I’m aware from the beginning this is either something I’ll have to fix myself or suffer with for eternity.

So I suffer. They took my music first, and then my writing, and then my identity. And I don’t know it at the time, but I will have to get them back in that reverse order.


Final Stage

ARE YOU READY? Let’s reveal your soul!

The third time it happens, I am twenty-eight, and I am desperately searching for an anime store in Columbus because, gosh dangit, this city can’t be that boring.

I have found a place to get gyuudon and Pocky, but I wonder if there’s even something like Hot Topic that’s a little more niche. So I go looking, and I find an arcade I’ve heard of in passing before. And I’m not an arcade person, although my new pipe dream is to make it to Japan to play Aikatsu (which I know will never happen). That color and light is not something reserved for me. I am back in Columbus to get back to school, to have a future, not to waste my time.

And then I bite the bullet and take a look again, because there is literally no other place I can find to go, where is Mitsuwa when I need it. And their Facebook page has a MAX cabinet on it and I think to myself, okay, fine, I’m sold.

The Short North is Brooklyn, basically. I go there to write a lot. But two blocks over near 23 feels more like Queens’ industrial areas, the walk from my old apartment to Target in Marble HIll, places I wouldn’t be caught dead at during the night hours. I have massive, paralyzing anxiety about trying to find a parking space. I never had this anxiety before them.

The first good sign about this place is that they have a parking lot.

The side door is locked; I’m about to give up when I realize there is a front door (oops). I peek my head in and am immediately assaulted with anime posters, Love Live figures, and ACTUAL gachapon machines. I feel like if I mixed Kinokuniya’s second floor with Chinatown’s kitsch. I look around the store and don’t see any of my regular stuff, but that’s okay, this is still the broadest selection I’ve seen since crossing the Allegheny. The arcade is behind the store, and I ask if I can take a look around.

The second good sign about this place is that I run smack-dab into a real live Extreme cabinet when I turn the corner. Extreme cabinets weren’t ever released in America -- I’ve only ever seen MAX or SuperNova in the wild.

There’s another cabinet behind it, tricked out for 2013’s mix straight from Japan, and PIU in the corner. I pay five bucks for an hour and play all three. The GUI on 2013 is hard to read, and I spend some time trying to find songs I know, before -- stroke of luck -- finding Aoi Shoudou on the list, followed by “A.” All of the “favorite” songs are from Vocaloid and Touhou, a generation gap if I’ve ever seen one.

It’s after my second set on the 2013 machine that it beeps at me, asking for an e-amusement card, Konami’s version of IC that keeps your scores updated online. They have only been recently released in America with the new Ace edition of DDR, and only available at select Dave and Busters locations, including nine hours away in my city. I press enter anyway and am greeted with a high-score screen, somehow managing to score high enough on light mode to enter the score locally.

I would have picked her handle anyway if there were only three letters, like on the Extreme machine. But this time, there are eight spaces for letters, and I punch in her name and press enter. It’s the only name that makes sense.

I go back next week and, after stepping up and bungling my way through a couple of beginner songs, notice someone watching. I invite him up, play a few rounds with him, and we enter our names together into the machine. I wonder if he notices. We trade information, and I stutter, but become more sure of myself. “I’m Emily, but you can call me Hideaki.” It feels foreign, coming out of my mouth, but that’s what I put into the cabinet as my name. And suddenly, this starts making more sense.

Miranda isn’t really on the run from her mom any more than I am on the run from my own circumstances. Hers is a fight for freedom, for her own identity, much as mine is -- but I don’t realize that until just now. It’s not Miranda’s mother at fault, or my SO. Those are simply circumstances we run into, that we must overcome in order to remain ourselves. And I realize it is my identity that I have lost, and that it’s hidden in every step I make on these DDR machines.

I have to play to get it back.

I show up more often. Every time I do, it’s painful. I’m in a daze. I feel them here. Panic attacks are rampant. One of the nerves in my back got pinched a couple of years ago and gets aggravated every once in a while, so I don’t know if I can hit the expert levels. I don’t care. Everything is Aikatsu. If I keep trying, sooner or later something will make sense. The Bible talks about refined silver, and this girl is on fire.

I go back later that week despite pulling my sciatic nerve again, and run through some light step-charts. The disappointment of it all washes over me. You shouldn’t be here, wasting time. You have a portfolio to write. But it’s becoming clearer now. I can’t make a good portfolio if I don’t fix this. Being here is uncovering the missing pieces in my life. And so I do a non-stop light run on the Extreme machine, and somewhere in the middle of CANDY and Love Love Shine, I start finally seeing clearer again. My steps make sense. They are mine. I take a deep, conscious breath for the first time in five years.

I stay at the counter for a while and make small-talk with the people who work there. One of the guys is going on about something, I can’t even remember, when he brings up that they have e-amusement cards for sale, that they have a local server that works with them. He keeps talking, having not a dang clue what he’s just done. I don’t care how much it costs and basically throw money in his face. The card is white, but he shows me where he’s put stickers on his, and I’m already forming ideas for my new ID card. The next step in reclaiming my identity. It doesn’t work yet with the 2013 cabinet, but I set it up with pop’n’music, and they say it will work at DNB when I return to my city.

To have an e-amusement card with Blue Impulse’s image on it means more to me than I could ever explain to them.

I know in part what I have to do -- I have to rewrite Blue Impulse. I have to make it available. I have to make you buy it, to want it, to understand it. I have to be louder than what once was, to solidify it, to paint it on the side of the water tower in John Deere Green, as I’d always say. To get the “me” back that I lost, and to make it better. And once that’s done, to finish the story, once and for all.

I take a moment the next day and dig through my boxes -- I know which one out of three or four it should be in. And there it is, that skinny pad of paper I took to Central Park all those years ago. My Blue Impulse notes are still there, the smiling faces of the team, all I ever wanted and needed, the identity I reformed when the rest was stolen. And then I dig a little deeper into the box, and I find the picture they colored.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen it. It’s just as beautiful and as horrifying as I remember. Then I notice things about it that I didn’t before, and it starts to take a different shape. It slowly unfolds itself and changes, morphs into its final form that I didn’t even know existed. When it’s done, it’s sad and beautiful and there’s a knowing in my head that will never go away. But it confirms what I’ve known all along -- that this was created to destroy me, and it did, and now that I know, its power is gone. It simply exists, beautiful, horrible, sad, with an ending that is not mine to recreate.

And perhaps, someday, somebody will.

Tonight, I go back to my arcade, my safe space. My card is still clear, but it’s active. It lives, just as I do. And I will get back my identity, and my writing, and my music, in that order. Someday I’ll raise my bow, my baton, and I won’t just follow. I will lead. And I will do so by doing what I’ve always done: by coloring, by reclaiming the rainbow as my own. By lacing up my shoes, by being proud of my muddy footprints, and taking to the stage. And if you’re around, I invite you to dance with me, beginner to heavy, I don’t care.

And I don’t know what will happen next, but the future lays out like a stepchart in front of me, and if I follow everything as I’m supposed to, perhaps I’ll AAA this, marvelous on every step. And even if I don’t, I still danced, and that’s what’s most important. Where is your bright dream? It’s right here. Where it’s always been.

That Was Cool! I Won’t Forget Your Dancing.
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February 2017


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