Winning Deals

I guess I have what you might call a chronic cough at this point, even though I hope that when the stupid tumor pushing on my airway shrinks, it will be a thing of the past. But when I am in public–say, on the train–I become particularly aware of my coughing, and the more I try to suppress it, the worse it gets. Some people give me sympathetic looks, and during the evening commute, sometimes middle-aged women offer me cough drops. But plenty of people give me dirty looks and others have even gotten up and moved away from me.

Just being on the train a lot has made me spend extra time on my iPhone, which lead me to a wonderful discovery… I can distract myself out of most coughing fits by playing games.  Thank you, Solitaire. Focusing on the fake cards is usually enough to calm my coughing and probably bring my public heath-hazard estimate down from “probably the plague” to “maybe a cold.”

Solitaire is a good distraction. This particular version looks like the one that used to come standard with Windows so you’d have something to do while you waited for the internet to dial. I don’t remember if this was possible with the old computer version, but my iPhone Solitaire allows you to adjust the percentage of winning deals. Did you catch that? The cards can be dealt randomly, or they can be dealt to ensure it is possible to win. When I discovered this, I went ahead and cranked “winning deals” to 100%. I also changed the deck of cards to one that features a kitten.

Turns out, I’m not that good at Solitaire, because sometimes I still don’t win and I re-deal the cards without even trying to finish the hand I started. I thought about that for a while. Am I the kind of person that quits, just so I can start over and come out ahead and watch the animated cards dance? Am I so lazy that even when I know I can win a game, I would rather quit and start over than figure out how to win the hand I’ve been dealt?

I thought about this for a while, influenced no doubt by a few of my overly-competitive loved ones. A friend once told me that even if I wanted to just play horseshoes or go bowling for the fun of it, it was an insult to him, as my competitor, if I wasn’t trying my hardest. My darling husband, when I first proposed the idea that maybe sports was more about having fun than winning, countered that “it’s not fun if you lose all the time.” I was once accused of having “no mental fortitude” for giving up on one of those metal puzzles that are hard to take apart and asking how to do it before I left. This is why I thought so much about changing the odds of Solitaire and what that said about me.

I argued, with myself, that if Solitare is a metaphor for life, you should not be allowed to set it to winning deals. That you should not expect to be set up for success, and that some hands are just not winnable, and a random deal is much more reflective of the world around us. But then I realized that there is no real consequence for hitting “new game” on iPhone cards. I can afford to lose, and I can afford to win the easy way, and all I’m really trying to do is distract myself from coughing.

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Home

Part of my story is set at a small boarding school where my husband worked. It was his first job out of college, and he was quickly thrown into adulthood by becoming a teacher, coach, tutor, student adviser, and the head dorm parent for a building of twenty or so high school boys.

Ryan graduated a year ahead of me, and the summer after I finished school, we got married and I moved into his apartment. We had a spacious and very drafty one on the first floor of a boy’s dorm. It never quite felt like home, though, no matter how long we lived there or how many times we rearranged our collection of hand-me-down furniture.

Most of the problem was that home, for Ryan, was also work. The small community, so cherished by the school, had its drawbacks. The kids were nosy. They knew our cars, and they therefore knew when we were home and when we were out. We could hear them pounding up the stairs behind our apartment and, unfortunately, many of their conversations in the bathroom below our living room.

Ryan coached two seasons of sports, and there were classes and games on Saturdays. When we had a rare full weekend or a chance to get away, we always felt like we were escaping. School just didn’t feel like home. In fact, if  you called “Home” from my cell phone, you still got my parent’s house.

That all changed. I finished graduate school, and in the midst of a major recession, was trying to find a job. We wanted to move to the Boston area, but teacher jobs have a pretty set hiring season, so our plan was for me to find a job and move first, so that at least one of us would have a job, and we would be able to move to Boston. To my surprise, I was offered a job almost right away, at an environmental consulting firm in Lowell. We decided to go for it. I was going to move, and Pat would join me ten months later. It wasn’t ideal, but we would work it out.

I was going to start my new job on a Monday. I had moved into my first real apartment; I was going to pay rent; I was going to be more independent. Just first, I had my 4.5-year check up appointment in Boston the Friday before. My cancer had been gone so long that it was very unlikely for it to return, but they were also going to do an MRI of my hip, which had been bothering me. I’d even already had a clean x-ray of my hip, so I was not that worried.

But the MRI showed that the pain in my hip was being caused by a large mass that was hitting nerves. We didn’t find out that day what the “mass” was, since we would have to wait for a biopsy, but it was probably Ewing’s sarcoma. I was probably going to need chemotherapy again.

Too upset to call my new boss, I sent an email explaining that something was wrong and I didn’t know what yet, and could I please move my start date? His response was, “I hope it’s nothing serious; sure, we can move your start date.” About a week later, I got an email from a woman in HR that said they were rescinding my offer because I had asked to move my start date and they needed someone to begin immediately. I had been told earlier they were not waiting for me to start on any specific projects.

I am not sure how legal action would have turned out, and I never got any further responses from the company. This experience deeply shook my faith in humanity. It was not helped when my requests to cancel the lease on my new apartment were completely ignored. And so, before I was even sure I had cancer again, I was unemployed and owed rent on an empty apartment. Also, I probably had cancer. It was a definite low point.

The next weekend, my parents came to stay with me as I recovered from port-placement surgery–it’s really a minor surgery, but my parents told me that moving was not an activity in which I was allowed to participate. I didn’t fight that one.

Meanwhile, I lay on the couch, and my parents cleaned my apartment, happy for a way to help. Ryan and two of our faculty friends drove the three hours from school to my apartment. His uncle met them there, and they took down the photos we had just hung, broke down the bed we had just bought, and packed and wrapped everything carefully back into boxes. Then they drove the three hours back and helped unload everything on the other end. And as they carried my things back into our apartment, I followed them into my home.

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