Tuesday, July 27, 2010
If you've been following my thrilling adventures (you shouldn't be - there must be things on your "To Do" list that have been languishing), you know that a good part of my day is spent playing cards with Mary, my mother-not-really-but-sort-of-in-law, who is living with Alzheimer's disease. It is one of the few activities that amuses her, and she really excels at this game. If I had more of a gambling spirit, I would pack an overnight bag, throw Mary in a car and hustle up to Vegas. She has lady luck in spades. I used to think I had to let Mary win in order to preserve her self-esteem. This, of course, is ridiculous, since Mary can't remember winning or losing. I soon realized that, with no effort on my part, Mary was winning more than she was losing, which started to affect my self-esteem. So I started developing a cut-throat, card shark attitude. I formulated strategies that I thought would ensure my winning. I counted cards and held back ones that would assist her victories. I kept chicken-scratch tallies of games won by each of us (I listed her as "Mean Mary" and myself as "Tearful Todd" since she, it turns out, was more successfully competitive than me). And then, one day, my ego suffered a crushing blow.
We were playing a rousing game, and I looked up from my handful of cards to find that Mary had just one card left to discard, which typically meant she would be out in the next turn or two. But the game continued, and I desperately grabbed cards in an effort to secure this most unlikely win over my fierce opponent. "Not so lucky now, are you Mary?" I muttered to her. She just smiled back, with a pitying look. Finally, I drew a card that depleted my hand. I grabbed the pencil and proudly marked another win under my name.
"That was amazing," I said. "I can't believe I won that hand. You always go out when you have one card left."
"Oh well," she said. "You did it!"
Something wasn't right. She didn't look convinced.
"What card did you have left, Mary? I can't believe you couldn't go out."
"Nothing," she said demurely, pulling her one card towards her chest. "I didn't have anything..."
"Let me see," I said, reaching across the breakfast bar and turning her one remaining card over.
It was a deuce! The wild card. A card she could have put down at any time during the course of the game. Mary had (and this is hard to admit) LET ME WIN. A woman with no memory had surmised that I needed a victory to maintain relevance in this life and had purposely let me win.
"I can't believe it, Mary," I whined. "You let me win?"
She hesitated, a hurt look spreading across her face. "Was that so terrible?" she said, consumed with the suspicion that she had done something wrong.
I looked up, suddenly aware that, in her eyes, I was criticizing her behavior. I went over my potential responses and their ramifications. Finally, and without irony, I responded:
"Yes, Mary. That is terrible."
And we both laughed.
The rules for Mary's Rummy game are provided in a sidebar on this blog.