I'm in the Business of Reclaiming Card Games.
My family plays games. It’s a delicate dance; a seasonal practice. It felt like we played a lot of games when things were good or on the mend with our family. Fewer games were played when a dad was showing up later and later in the evening, or just not coming home at all. But, my family plays games - so card games and board games have always been a part of my life.
I remember playing Payday or the Game of Life between church services on Sundays. We played Shang-Hai at my Beppe’s kitchen table, keeping the scores of each round in a spiral bound notebook - I might be competitive, but I didn’t learn it from strangers. Rummikub was learned at that same kitchen table, always hoping for the sun face to pop up on my tile holder. Uno games with my sisters, where I was probably cheating a little. When we camped or travelled, playing a game was a genius way to stretch my bedtime just a little bit longer - I’m shocked no one caught onto that growing up.
One of the games we played pretty constantly was Skip-Bo.
It was an older version. It was well traveled, with frayed edges and an old Skip-Bo logo on the back of the cards. We played it in Florida - I picked up too many cards, and my mom & dad gleefully picked out a card to be put back in the deck as my punishment. I remember playing it while we camped - part of the bedtime stretch routine.
And I remember playing it in the winter of 2009.
I’m in Zambia - thousands of miles away from anything comfortable or routine for me. We tell everyone coming on this trip to bring games with them - card games probably, because they’re easy to pack. It’s to stave off jet-lag and also to build team chemistry, because nothing bonds people together like competitive screaming over a game of Dutch Blitz, but that’s just my opinion. There’s Dutch Blitz. Euchre. Wizard. And someone brings Skip-Bo.
I decide not to play. I’m doing something else - but I also feel grossed out and icky at the mere mention of the name Skip-Bo. I brush it off - I’ve had a long day, a hard day, I just need some introvert time, leading is hard, my brain won’t stop buzzing, no no. Not once do I stop to consider that my brain buzzing is because I’m irritated with the mere mention of a game I haven’t played in ten years.
Sub-conciously keeping busy, I grab Phase 10 - easy enough. No possible family memories to pop up during this game. All positive memories! We begin our game of Phase 10, giggling the whole way through — but all night, I hear the laughter from the Skip-Bo game. I catch pieces of the game instructions being explained, and I feel pieces of that winter 2009 game of Skip-Bo coming back.
Suddenly, I am in Zambia, playing Phase 10 — and I am in the kitchen of our old house on 2nd Concession, in the winter of 2009, playing Skip-Bo with my dad at the kitchen table. I’m seeing a 6 laid on top of a 7 in my discard pile. I’m hearing our friendly but competitive trash talk. I haven’t seen my dad’s face or heard his voice for the past two and a half years, but suddenly, I can see the exact look on my dad’s face and I can hear the exact cadence of his voice when he would pick up a wild card. I can hear him shuffling the deck, I can see and hear the way he would smugly lay his cards down.
I am in Zambia, trying to get through this phase, but I am also watching my 15 year old self play a game with her dad who would be arrested in a few weeks. I am watching my 15 year old self have another last experience with her dad. How is she supposed to know what I know - he lied, he’s going back to jail, she won’t talk to him for the next two years, this is the last game they will play for the next two years, this is the last memory she’ll have of him before he goes back to jail for the second time, and she’ll block it out for the next ten years until she’s in Zambia, watching others across the room play this game called Skip-Bo.
The subconscious is a funny thing.
I tire so easily that night. I take my journal and sit on my bed, encased in my mosquito net. I rail against every possible annoyance that day. I write down everything irritating to distract myself, before I finally write, “And dumb Skip-Bo!” in my journal. I briefly write my feelings - three lines of writing or less in the journal is the fool-proof method for pausing your feelings.
In my life, there’s a list I keep in the back of my head about things, memories, dates. people, and places that I have to reclaim: Valentine’s Day… or maybe all of February. And then the end of November. Backgammon. VIP Movie Theatres. Everything to do with money and shopping. After Zambia, I added Skip-Bo to the list - another thing to avoid and dance around because of my dad.
But toady, Skip-Bo is on the shelf and it is $15 at Indigo. Has it always been in the games section and I just never noticed? I don’t know. I look at the recommended player number — the box says 2-6 players and I already know from experience it works for two players. Dave and I look for games that are good to play with two players, so I pick it off the shelf. I carry it around the store for a while, thinking, “Do I really want to?”
Yes, I do.
Because I’m in the business of reclaiming the dark days, the bad memories, and the card games we played in a last good memory. I’m in the business of learning how to say, “This one shitty memory doesn’t get to dictate how I feel about this one game.” One shitty dad doesn’t get to dictate how I feel about my entire life.
These are not great memories to sift through, hard lessons to learn, and tough truths to cling through, but as I take the plastic off my fresh Skip-Bo cards and begin to shuffle them for the first time, I think I am taking a next step in this whole weird journey.