The Match

(6-30 January 1991) for Kathryn after Eugene Field

You are eight and I, your stepfather, am thirty-eight, and while your mother combs and braids your hair we entertain ourselves with crazy eights. We can’t lose. When I go out first, you learn to be a good sport. You rub your hands and say you’ll get me next time. When you go out first, you learn that it’s more fun to win than to lose. But first we argue about what to play, and you won’t agree to any game unless you can beat me at it. I want a game of strategy; you want a game of chance. There’s no game in the book of games that you know better than I know, so, while your mother untangles the rats in your hair, we play crazy eights, hand after hand, and argue about who deals, and who goes first. You demand that your mother divorce me and remarry your father. In the same tone of voice, you demand that I play with you. When I make you draw for a heart, you pretend to be angry. When, after I have dealt the cards, you want to switch to crazy jacks, I pretend to teach you to play fairly. If you want to quit, you won’t concede, and I won’t lose just to please you. We play to the end of the deck. Like dreamers, we hardly know why we have done what we have done. But, as we dream together, I become you and you become me.