Rejoining the Game

photo from Chelsea Little

I’ve looked out these windows for almost 20 years now, looking down the same neighborly road, lined with homes and yards. I’ve listened to the same garbage route go by at 9 am, and the same school bus drops off kids at 4. I’ve seen the same cars pull in and out of driveways, watched the same “For Sale” signs erected and removed from yards, helped the same evergreens in the backyard grow. Sitting back at my parent’s home on a snowy day, my mouth raw from surgery and my head heavy from medication, the only change I can really physically find is the extra few inches on my brother’s shoulders and my missing wisdom teeth. And yet, this house has never been more different; the usual creaky cues of the floorboards sound so hollow compared to when I used to run across them no more than 10 years ago.

If the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that change is inevitable and to be expected. Life is the biggest set of shuffled cards, the most deadpan dealer, and you are only a player. Rummy or Blackjack doesn’t matter; you must take your deck in stride, hope that only good cards find their backs on the table, but manage when the bad ones also find their way into your hand. You learn the strategies, play your cards, try not to cheat when it doesn’t matter, and the game goes on until your back is on the table instead of the cards. I know this, and I’ve learned this; I’ve spent all my college years trying to understand, expecting them to change and waver, and learning to appreciate the new hands they bring my way. But I always thought there was a separation to it. I never wanted to play this game at my parent’s house. 

The problem with playing cards all your life is that those cards are your life. If an ace is played, you must adjust. If a jack is played, you must adjust. If a joker is played, god forbid, you must pick yourself up and adjust. Everything is in succession to the cards, and you are the second person to always play. And that is fine, to an extent. A card telling you that you hate your major is hard, sure, but you can adjust. It is far enough away from the heart that logic can help with strategies for the next play, but at home it’s different. When I was tiny, these halls were a playground and a fortress. That corner of my bedroom was always where the pillow forts went, and that step on the stairs was my favorite place to read. I don’t want to play cards here, to expect and adjust, but now that corner is filled with paintings listed on eBay, and the stairs are having their carpet removed. And it is all small things. It is always small things, but I’ve brought my cards here and you can’t stop playing once you start.

Some things never change. Still, at 22, my parents bring me soup to help the pain in the back of my mouth from the surgery, and I guess the walls in my room are still blue, and the fan on my ceiling still spins. If I really closed my eyes hard enough, I could probably ignore everything of the game for a few hours, a few days, and be as I was reading on the stairs and hiding in pillow forts, and eating Campbell’s soup from the pot. The game, though, doesn’t like waiting. It doesn’t pause for nostalgia or pillow forts. It is cold and calculating, and the dealer only gets paid when he deals the cards, not when you sit quietly and think. Get to 21, don’t pass 21. Higher or lower. Higher or lower. Pick up your cards and play.

It has been a quiet few days of recovery. My bed is as comfy as ever, and the lamp in my room still shines through the night, even though I stopped having nightmares years ago. I am still groggy from pain and tranquilized on Advil, but I can hear the game calling me now, even safe under my blanket. Life is a deck of cards, and I signed up to play. I pick up my hand and adjust.

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