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The GAme Of LIFE

On Friday afternoon, we went to a brewery for what passes, in the social studies department of Enka High, for a baby shower. I drank one beer on an empty stomach and knew I wouldn’t be driving home.

“Your mom’s drunk,” Don told the kids.

“Really, Momma?” they asked curiously. “On one beer? Daddy usually drinks more than that!”

At home, I throw together an impromptu dinner, marveling at how much less of a chore cooking feels when I’m wasted.

Meanwhile, Don’s setting out the new Life board for game night. There are only four little cars, so Don and I are a team. We lose our first job for bringing our cat to work, and our second for snoozing on the first day. We end up as dancers, making 60K every pay day.

The new Life— updated, I presume, for the 21st century— is just as woefully unrealistic as the one I remember from childhood. Dee Dee goes on a trip to Paris and gets fifty thousand from the bank. Seriously? In what alternate universe do you earn money on a vacation in Paris?

Then Sylvia writes a book for forty thousand, and I don’t even try to bite my tongue.

“More like pay forty thousand,” I grumble, thinking of the money I spent this week on advanced review copies of my book, the forty bucks I doled out for an ad-free website, the conference fee I’ll pay if I’m accepted to speak at a booksellers’ conference in the spring. Whoever wrote this game was clearly thinking of Ann Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver, not the likes of me.

I lean my head against the back of the couch and drink water while Don runs the game. He’s counting out a hundred and forty thousand dollars in twenties (and cursing) when Dee Dee ducks under our legs and comes up with the missing stack of 100 K bills and a lost cat toy, both furry with dog hair.

“That’s more like it!” Banker Don is suddenly in a much better mood, and so is the cat.

Before I know it, we are all getting married.

“But you and Daddy already are married,” Sylvia points out. (Yes, but we didn’t make 150 K at our first wedding.)

“I think I’ll be gay,” Dee Dee says cheerfully, picking out another pink peg to join her in her car. At least some things have changed since I last played this game.

“Who do you want to marry, a boy or a girl?” Don asks Clayton. Take that, heteronormativity. Now all they need to do is come up with genderfluid pegs.

An expensive sound system and a thirty thousand dollar swimming pool later, we get to choose whether to have kids. I am still tipsy and shake my head.

“No kids. Not this time. I want to be able to run without peeing my pants.”

“Is that the only thing you don’t like about having kids?” Dee Dee asks me.

“Pretty much,” I say. (That, and matching all the pairs of white socks in the laundry.)

A few minutes later and Sylvia, who is already the mother of a charming pink peg, is having twins. Like Chrissy Teigen, she gets to choose the gender of her offspring.

“I want two girls,” she says.

“Okay,” Don says, handing over the kids, “but that’s a lot of girls.”

“I have one boy,” she protests, pointing at the sole blue peg in her car.

“That’s not a boy!” Clayton points out. “That’s your husband!”

And so it goes. I get the farmhouse I’ve always dreamed of, and an eco house to boot. As we near the end of the game, Clayton starts to panic because he hasn’t bought a house yet, and all the house-buying squares are behind him. Then Don and I get to chose if we’ll sell one of ours.

“Here,” I say to Clayton. “You can buy this one.” I hand him the farmhouse. After all, it’s a lot to keep up with now that we’re old.

Don protests; that is not how the game goes! But— just like in real life— I can’t stand to see my children sad.

“We’re selling it,” I argue. “So why can’t he buy it?”

At last, Don relents and Clayton moves his family in.

“Now I’m the only one without a house!” Sylvia cries. This game is feeling more realistic by the minute. What if Sylvia doesn’t have a place to live? Will she move back in with us? What if . . . ?

My existential anxiety is finally quelled when Dee Dee, compassionate sister that she is, sells one of her houses to Sylvia. Sylvia hardly needs it, however, because on her next turn she reaches the end of the board and gets to retire at Countryside Acres. Even when she cashes in her assets at the end of the game, she refuses to sell her house.

It is the best game night ever. Despite all odds, Don and I keep our jobs as dancers until retirement, and everyone ends up a multimillionaire. My favorite part is when Don asks Alexa to play disco music so that Clayton can show off the dance moves that won him fifty thousand dollars at the disco contest. Soon we are all dancing around the living room. I’m getting down with the broom that I’m using to sweep up all the debris from the drunkenly prepared dinner.

“Look at Momma!” Clayton says. “She’s dancing!”

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