Game of Life
By Kathleen Dennehy
Molly and Olivia embarked on their tiny plastic lives, blithely
hitting every milestone that I've somehow missed, Hannah was eager
to graduate as she nervously watched her younger sisters advance
towards Millionaire's Row. She was panicky about being left behind
and asked me if her stint in college would give her any kind of
advantage in her fake life. As a proud graduate of NYU with a very
expensive degree in Experimental Theater, I worried that Hannah
would graduate with honors only to land on a square that made her
a waitress in an East Village Turkish diner for five years until
she'd get fired for asking to get the day off for Thanksgiving.
happy to report that Milton Bradley has the presence of mind to
not scare little kids as they pretend to be grown ups. Thankfully,
there are no squares condemning children to a series of bread and
butter, soul-crushing minimum wage jobs that have no dignity, nor
cover the exorbitant rent on your dark, noisy, bug-ridden studio.
No one lands on squares that lead you into long, twisted relationships
with bisexual men who end up leaving you for your best female friend.
No squares have you divorced by thirty-four, where you lose your
dog in a custody battle, then condemn you to jump into the great
mirthless whirlpool of internet dating, which only makes you feel
more single than ever at 36, in an illegal sublet with a deaf cat
and no savings to speak of. No, the board game of Life is blessedly
about eight inches of colorful shiny cardboard, Molly had a great
career as a professional athlete, was married, had two cars and
owned a series of workout clubs, bringing her in an additional $20,000
bucks every four squares. Then she goes and has twins, while on
a world vacation with her little blue peg of a husband. I was jealous
of a seven-year-olds' toy life. When I automatically placed her
tiny blue husband in the driver's seat of her car, she asked me
why she had to be a passenger in the car she earned with her own
pink and yellow money. "How come we don't have two cars? Like
Mommy has the Suburban and Daddy has the red car we can't eat in?"
I respected her wishes, mindful that the days of one-car families
went out with my childhood. In fact, in Molly's game family, the
little blue dad's car followed her car, and he had the twins
in the back.
ashamed of my automatic regression to how we played as little girls,
where it wasn't so much about careers as it was about landing the
big, rich doctor and having lots of babies, and you sat shotgun,
and considered yourself lucky at that. My nieces are blissfully
ignorant of our not-so-distant roles as sweet seconds in command.
They are going to be their own safe harbors.
safe and practical Hannah became an accountant. I winced, not wanting
that for my gorgeous, creative, first niece, but then she collected
a tithe off every bank transaction we completed. Yeah, she wasn't
a computer programmer, or a star athlete, but she quickly and quietly
amassed more fake money than I have real. Olivia wanted to change
her career since she really didn't know what a computer programmer
was, and I was no help explaining it to her. She got to be sheriff
and that suited her just fine.
was the It girl of the Game of Life, fast becoming an international
diplomat and the editrix of Vogue, but she eventually hit
a rough patch. What seven-year-old that doesn't live in a plastic
bubble thinks she needs insurance? She had a major board game certified
car accident and lost everything. Her china blue, saucer-sized eyes
widened as I gently pulled her husband and kids from the extra car
and extracted a bunch of bills from her stacks of bank. She gulped
and looked around at all of us, and we held our breath, worried
that she might lose it and ruin the game.
shook off the blow, and slowly, deliberately shrugged. "Well,"
she said philosophically, "That's life." We all exhaled
and nodded ruefully. There but for the grace of God goes our brightly
colored game piece. Chin up, Molly moved on, only to land on a square
where she won a MacArthur genius grant for her work with ecologically
all ended up on Millionaire's row, in our little McMansions with
lovely painted cardboard gardens. Everyone was successful in this
game of Life.
My brother-in-law called from the hospital. My sister had a baby,
another girl. It felt as real as if it was another square that one
of us had landed on. I wiped a tear away, thinking of my baby sister
with four stunning, smart, able and wonderful daughters, and the
real, huge and scary world she was beholden to shepherd them through.
I sighed and smiled. "Anyone want to play again?" We collected
the money and the little colored pegs and started again, from scratch.
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