Sometimes we find ourselves playing games in love.
I played Jenga with a stranger one day not knowing that a game could reveal so much. Not knowing that I could learn to play games with love. And that sometimes games are okay.
1. Because you learn so much about a person when you are playing a game.
Blocks are set atop a firm bench. From hand to hand they move in teetering stress to land back firmly, discriminately one on another. They’ve become the center of our attention, the Red Square of our modern invention, sans the color. We move from bottom to top, poking and prodding at places that are loose, that will give, that move with slight nudges. Pushing and pulling we build something new. Taller. Weaker. Unsteady even. We wait for it to topple. To add blame. We wait to laugh and stack again and again. Then we tire and move on.
Looking for the places where I would give without crumbling, where I would move without much force. I would slide gracefully into his grasp and fit firmly into the spot of his choosing. I made it hard on some moves. Saying, not there. I refuse to budge. Other times I gave, with ease. Opening spaces for him to move through, with thought and curiosity. In his hands I’d linger, eager to be placed again on firmer ground. Returned to the familiar I knew where the blocks were stacked in my favor and the outcome as resolute as my being, the creation of my own choosing. My edges hard and heavy then were visible with just a few moves.
Jenga were his words.
I would set about to speak in riddles the poems from the ancients but he would find something new to say in an exaggerated way. He’d simply seek the space between the metaphors to pull through until there was no other way to be but languishing in hyperbole.
Jenga was he.
Let’s see. My play.
I watched his ripped jeans move as he walked. The hollowed spaces in my heart recognized the tear. The difference was intention crafted as art. I saw his hands fold in consternation, thought provoking like concentration. I watched him watching me; a curious, palpable place to be.
I sat close enough to move into his shoulder. A bolder that would go from court to field. I knew this arm and to slightly lean into the give. I’d pause. No budge.
I don’t know how this hand will play but I’m steady.
He asks me for a brownie. I give. A dark, moist, rich satiation, the sweetness of mother and sugar and heart and tender loving hands. I’d offer up this too easy of a move. He seems surprised and smiles.
You wanted to carry the table. With the glass centered. I wanted to move it off. I didn’t trust you but I concede.
It didn’t shatter. I didn’t shatter.
You sat on a stoop and peered. I knew you were peering without even knowing the spot you were gazing. Peering in souls, in bowls, on words, on places your eyes didn’t belong. I don’t know who you are. But everyone else seems to. I don’t ask questions. I don’t speak into the unknowing. Besides I don’t know Russian.
It’s on you.
You look this time and don’t know which way to go. You tap gently. I can’t give this soon. I swoon under the colors of amaretto, the smell of rice. The likes of you.
You keep picking up the bill. The voice in my head, reads. Paid in full.
Not fair. You cheat.
I keep tapping. Looking for the place where you give. It’s not easy like me. I must be still, study, and find how to keep me on kilter although I want you to wobble too. Not topple. But give me the chance to steady you again. If only to know that I can. If only to take your hand and reply. I’ve got you. And who has you? Who has played this game and won?
2. And then you realize, no one has to lose for you to win.
I saw you at the top of the stairs, after watching the door for some time for you to arrive. You had beat me again. I wanted you to find the hard to reach places and tug. But I shrugged it off with conceit and defeat.
Too young a crowd, too harsh a beat. My ungrounded feet always move when music pulls. It creeps between the spaces and thumps until like broken dishes on floors from quakes on once sound ground, my earth gives. And what was once ornate and lined up on shelves is shattered and hard landing for soft souls.
You find this quickening more an opening, an invitation and move into it. And the pieces topple.
I am on the dance floor in the hands I have been given. The game dissolves into the feel of your fingerprint taking form on the flesh of my dress at the small of my back where I bend.
And you win. And I win.
My clothes feel less like cover, more like caress. And your ear where I speak feels less like talk to and more like the place where my breathe goes to rest. And there is masculine energy coursing about you. My womanhood knows its name. I call to it softly, if just to remember that I have a voice still not wanting to be heard. It is too soon to tell you more.
And I feel tended to. If even just to confirm my walk home from the bar. And on that walk I do not know my destination. I roam into a space of even pace and even keel. Heel to ground and suddenly lips on mine, my feet leave the ground and I step over a crack, in the planet.
On the rooftop I speak of my grandmother, of longing. I grieve. I give to you my ocean. It drips from small hidden places in the corners of my eyes. And you give me something back. I can’t recognize it yet. It’s truth. It shields itself under humility and grace. I let it linger between my fingers. I open my hands and there is my heart.
How did that get there?
I want to put that piece back and I can’t. It is speaking to yours in a language I don’t know yet. And I want you to want me. But not from the 90 degree angle I’ve crumpled into on the floor. Not from the press of the wall on my back. Yes, I want that. But I want the place where the mending needs to be done. The place that is left on continents whose shores know your name. The places you can’t yet retrieve knowing from. Where you’ve come undone. And bruised a bit. But, not just those places. From the top of your world. From the place where your name on their lips called you home.
3. And you understand why games have rules, and why sometimes rules can be broken and why sometimes playing again and again is the only way the game will end.
Sitting across from me you paused in that chair to Jenga me once again. I hadn’t set this up, didn’t know I had a turn. You moved a final piece. A piece that held space for listening and being and breathing. And when the piece was pulled I could see through to you. Eye to eye. Bare. We sat as two strangers. Two places of peace and pain without name or reflection of worth. And sensing there was more to this living than accolades or dreaming we gave up on it all. We held up to the light that small hole in us, where a block was now gone. But Jenga in Swahili means build. It revealed in itself the brilliant place of wow. And from this opening we were clear of who we are, where we were and what we were to do.
So love, you see, I didn’t mean to Jenga you.
In fact, I lie.
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Assistant Ed: Judith Andersson/Ed: Sara Crolick