The Cards You’re Dealt

I have a scary story for you.

You’re alone in your house. It’s got a living room, study, bathroom on the first floor and three bedrooms and a bathroom on the second, but no one is in any of them. Your furniture is poised on its legs, balanced and made of wood, ready for something, anything, but its unclear as to what, it’s just taut and on the verge.

You’re in a cushioned chair in a living room, you’re watching the window – cars go by, but it’s quiet. You’re not expecting anyone. You’re alone, and you’re going to be alone, and you’re braced and motionless, held petrified by the fact that no matter what might happen tomorrow or the next week or the next month or next year – you’re going to be alone.

That’s it.

It gives me the creepy crawlies. When I think about it, it makes my hair stand on end and my blood run cold. When I read a scary story, or watch a jump-at-you movie on television, it’s the same feeling.

I don’t want it to be this way, but I learned from the poker games I used to play with my cousins; you play the hand you’re dealt. It seems simple, obvious even, but every time you’re dealt your cards, it’s hard not to imagine what it might be like if you had one different card, or two – if those cards changed, you’d have a straight. A full house.

But those aren’t the cards I have. That’s not the hand I’ve been dealt. I’m dealt an ace and a bunch of nothing, because I’m going to be alone, because I love someone who won’t – can’t – love me back.

I remember when I met him – back in high school, in biology, dealing with dominant and recessive genes, the class tittering with repressed sexuality when our teacher (a pervert in his own right) announced the class was going to have “sex”with one another. Our notecards acted as our dominant and recessed avatars.

“Me and Henry are having sex,” a strange boy announced. The class roared with laughter. Maybe they didn’t exactly roar. My memory has probably turned up the volume, but as soon as we figured out together that our kids would have blue eyes and straight hair, we were friends. You can fast forward through the hanging out at lunch, getting our licenses together, dealing with our girlfriends. I didn’t know back then, really, what cards I had. I didn’t know the cards I’d been dealt.

Or maybe I did know. There was an air of electricity when we were playing truth or dare with our friends and jokingly, our friends dared us to kiss. We both renounced the possibility immediately, he ran naked around the neighborhood instead, and now I play that night over and over in my head like a television network that only plays reruns.

I’ve been told to feel empowered, or at least not to feel disenfranchised. To hold my own and to feel like thecards in my pocket are worthwhile. Sometimes I feel like the people who tell me that are playing a different game of poker than me. I’m playing five card, they’re playing Texas Hold ‘Em, because their life holds more possibility than mine.

I don’t want to kiss anybody else. I want to kiss him. When we came back from college to re-evaluate, live in our parents’ houses, regroup, save money, we drank whiskey together at his parents’ and talked about what could have happened back then and what would happen now, now that we were educated and the world was supposed to be our oyster. Something should have happened then, I thought – but somehow, along the way, he made his money and I made mine and he got his wife and I got my furniture. My nice furniture and my nice job, and my nice friends who all clap me on the back and parties and tell me I should date. Their hairdresser is single, they say.

Perhaps there’s a note of melodrama, and perhaps I should date that hairdresser. Maybe we’d have sex in his apartment and he’d make french press coffee the next morning, but I would have to look into his eyes and tell him that it was nothing, even if we like the same bottom-of-the-bargain bin movie and think french press coffee is the only way to drink it. It’s nothing. I still hold the same cards, and I can’t change a single one.

I’ve got a deck of cards that I carry around with me in my pocket. I shuffle it and re-shuffle it and randomness says that someday it will reshuffle itself back into perfect order. After X amount of times, that should happen. I cut the deck and shuffle, I make a rainbow of cards and check, and then run through it again. The cards are well-thumbed, the plastic shows its age. I sit in waiting rooms or airport gates or subway platforms. Only recently I noticed a queen was missing – so I’m not even playing my non-game with a full deck. I can never put it back in order. I can never play the game right.

I think about him and his wife and his family when I’m alone in the house – my house, so empty, that I meant to fill with so much, that should be filled with him. I think about her, away on a business trip, or with the kids at her sister’s house. It’s the only thing that can smooth my skin from goose bumps, strengthen my resolve to look in the mirror while I wash my face – that maybe, somewhere along the line he wonders what it would have been like to kiss me that night of truth or dare. It’s not the sort of thing that makes any sense – but like I said. I’m one card short of a full deck.


5 thoughts

  1. I love the writing. When we were small in Alaska, during the long dark winters, we played five-card draw a lot. Those card games taught me patterns, probabilities, and who knows what. Your writing does help me feel I belong to the human race.

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