She wanted attention.
“Play a game with me,” she pleaded tugging at my sleeve as I tried to read a text for class. She also had to read the same text but it was literature analysis and it was easy for her. She had been doing gender study and litcrit for a long time and was far better read in the classics than I was.
“I need to read this.”
“You can read it later, play a game with me.” I am willful at times, but for a person I’m head-over-heels for, I will do anything. It is my weak point. Love is my kryptonite.
“Okay, okay, what do you want to play?”
It was a dumb question. There was only one game she wanted to play. Well, three… Trivial Pursuit,Scrabble and Speed, but she knew I carried playing cards in my book bag so Speed was the game. If you’ve never played Speed, the rules can seem a bit complex.
Each player is dealt five cards. Two stacks of fifteen cards are dealt face down in front of each player and two stacks of five cards are dealt face down between the players. Simultaneously the two players flip a card off of the two decks. Play starts. From their hands the players play out cards onto the cards that were flipped over. If the face up card on the table is a 7, then a 6 or 8 may be played. As the players lay down their cards, they refill their hands to five from the pile in front of them. That’s the essence of the game. There are minor rules, like what to do when neither player can play but those don’t matter. Actual the rules don’t matter to this story at all but I felt like I had to write them down.
It is a fast game, thus the name. She was good at it. Good at it and a poor loser. She never was competitive in general things, but when it came to these specific games, it was as if her entire self was on the line. Maybe it was. Because of her I truly learned just how fragile we all are inside. The strongest person can be shattered like a wine glass accidentally tipped on a granite counter top.
Yes, I know this says more about me than her, but I loved her because of her combination of strength and fragility. When she brought me into her darkened dorm room and pulled her sleeves up on her long shirt and had me feel her scars, I struggled to comprehend. I didn’t have context for this and couldn’t fathom that a person would do this to themselves. Obviously it was something someone did to her. I hated that person instantly. Whoever had abused her was going to pay. Finding out she had done this to herself caused considerable cognitive dissonance in me.
That is my complex way of saying, I reeled. I was flummoxed. I was shocked.
She wasn’t my first love. She was my second. I was ready to do anything for her. I wanted to make this right. I wanted to heal her.
Sometimes people can’t be healed. Sometimes people bump along the rocky road of life doing what they can to keep on keeping on. The best we can do for them is when they get caught in a rut or pothole to lift them out, helping them take another step, go another yard down the road.
She loved to ask me questions and listen to me make up answers. That was always my special talent. I can put together long strings of words and make them seem like they are answering any question. She didn’t care if the answer was correct or not, she only cared that there was an answer. It was another kind of game.
“Why do the stores downtown close at 4?”
“I believe it had something to do with a zoning law passed back in the 70s. See the city father’s feared vampires and felt anything that kept people on the streets after dark would attract the vampires.”
“But why 4, why not sunset?”
“The people working in the store need to be able to get home in time.”
“That makes sense.”
I feared the worse for her. I couldn’t fix her, I couldn’t heal her, all I did was play games with her and tell her stories. We’d cry together sometimes. Sometimes get drunk together. Decades later, she still was bumping along, sometimes doing great, sometimes not. She’s engaged and has someone else to play games with her, someone else to tell her stories. I’m happy for her.
A human being is too complex to fix with duct tape and paperclips. It is also the height of hubris to think people need to be fixed. Who am I to think I know how another person should behave, how she should live her life? Who am I to make these judgments? Everyone needs to find their own life balance and that is a messy, scary process that involves pain and humiliation. The absolute best we can do sometimes is to respond to a simple plea, “Play a game with me.”