Saturday nights, while I was in junior high, would often be spent surrounded by my family. We would gather at my uncle’s house. The coffee table would be cleared, snack bowls and pillows would surround it. We would arrive all together, smiling, laughing, and teasing. Then it was game time.
The deck would be laid out, cards dealt, places chosen around the table… our fates sealed.
It was UNO night.
We had our own set of rules and they were relentless. Philadelphia rules: If a draw two or four is played, the following player can play another draw two or four, and so on, until a poor unsuspecting soul without a draw to spare had to collect the sum of the draws.
I think I cried the first time I had to draw sixty-four cards.
“IT’S NOT FAIR!!!” I would wail.
“Life is not fair, Colie!” My mom’s green eyes would shimmer with delight. A big smile would stretch across her face as she watched me sort through my deck.
“Here, I’ll help you out, princess.” She would play a reverse card to allow me to go again.
“Mom! I don’t have any reverses OR green cards. How is this even possible?!” I would shuffle quickly through my plethora of cards, clumsily dumping a pile on the floor in a panic.
“Oops. I guess you should draw another card then…”
One of my mom’s major philosophies was that you always play to win. If not, why are you in the game at all?
This was something she reiterated frequently to me. As the shadow of my very competitive–ever graceful–always victorious older sister, Lettie, I would often conform to second place. That’s something, right?
“Colie, don’t give up so easily. Why can’t you win? What is the fun in playing at all if you know the outcome?”
“It is just the experience, Mami. I like to play just to play.”
“But the experience is better when you fight for it.” That same shimmer would cross her eyes.
Lettie would chime in, “Yeah, really, Colie. Stop being an easy target.”
Womp womp. But Lettie loved winning? So if I let her win, logically, she would be happier. She would be happy with me, if I docilely relinquished away the victory to her–as if her only chance at winning were my submission. It was the only equation that made sense to me.
It took me most of my life to have a change of heart, in fact, I am still learning. At work, school, in life… the easiest attitude was to do what pleased others. The problem being that I always felt inadequate to fulfill their desires. I could not finish a series of classes for any major. It felt like I was never enough. I could never live up to any goal. I just was not good enough, smart enough, fast enough, for what anyone else wanted. I lived in constant stress feeling like a failure or a fraud, never living up to anything I would say I wanted to live up to. Then, in March, my mom got her diagnosis.
A Stage IV diagnosis is not one that anyone is given or receives with much hope. We have such little information and resources to effectively cure it, that once it has metastasized the phrases “quality of life” and “a little more time” are thrown at you in threat.
No, life is not a game. It is real. It is emotional. It happens whether you expect it or want it. Regardless of the hope, or lack of, that we were sold, I wanted to fight to win. That was the only thing that made sense.
I wish I were writing this as a memoir of survival: How we fought the odds and tamed the beast. There are those out there that have done it and live on to tell their tales. This, however, is a recounting of how an amazing women fought through her disease the way she lived her life. To win. In the same way you can come up without a draw in UNO, with a daunting deck of cards ahead of you, life, in its mystery, brings you things you are not sure you can handle. You still play to win, even though you may not. You play to win because that gives you a fulfillment–an experience–you cannot get otherwise.
You play to win because, like it or not, you are in the game.