May 8th, 2014


Please be aware that this story contains brief harsh language.

I used to hate playing Jenga. That stupid, stupid game drove me insane; probably because my sister was so damn good at it that she would beat me every single time we played. I would even practice, like I was training for a chess tournament or for the Olympics or something. I swore to my sister that I’d never play her at Jenga again, and then proceeded to invite my friends over, so that they could play against me, too. That was, perhaps, when I realized that maybe it wasn’t just my sister who was so damn good, but maybe it was me who was so damn terrible at that game.

It’s a balancing act. A tricky, seductive balancing act that makes you think you can pull it off and just add one more level to the top.

“What could it hurt?” It asks you, cleverly spinning. “Just one step higher.”

And so you go for it – You pull out the trickiest piece and lay it on top ever so slowly so that the whole structure balances, but it only lasts a second.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that too much of something inevitably gives way to it’s opposite, like a Jenga tower that when built too high eventually and inevitably tumbles down and spills across the kitchen table where it waits to be picked up again. But that wasn’t the only place where I found that out.

My wife was the only person I ever could beat at the game. When it came to Jenga, she was even more reckless than I was. She would start poking and prodding and picking at one of the pieces – one of the one’s that was doomed from the start, I’m sure you know what I mean.

“Whoa, honey, don’t go for that one, you’ll fuck everything up-“

To which she would reply:

“Don’t say the F-word, honey, it’s just a game.”

I probably should have listened, but my sister’s competitive nature had engrained in me.

Aside from competitive Jenga playing, my wife was perfect, and that’s why I loved her. She trusted me like nothing else. When I asked her if I could leave my job in Charlotte, and if she would leave her job, and we could move to the city, she didn’t think twice about it. Moving out was difficult, and I think I disturbed her with my fair share of F-words. But no matter how many boxes we taped up and no matter how many hours we spent boxing them, she just nodded and said:

“Don’t say the f-word, honey, it’s just a game”

She was everything to me, and I made sure she knew it. She patiently waited as I interviewed dozens of times for the job that I wanted, and then patiently listened as I told her how it wasn’t what I’d expected. And she valiantly carried our first child, through the hot Astoria summer until a week past her due date on the first week of September. And with every new challenge that I accepted, she added on another promise, just like another Jenga piece, and laid it on top ever so slowly so that our marriage balanced.

When she needed a night away from the kids, I was there, because I needed her support. When she needed me to pick up the kids after work, or leave work early, or give up that time off that I’d saved up for a year, I was there, because I needed her support, and she needed mine. She was everything to me.

With every month, she just laid a new promise on top of the old one, like a terrifying tower of blocks.

It’s a balancing act. A tricky, seductive balancing act that makes you think you can pull it off and just keep adding one more level to the top.

So when she stepped in to my office late that night in the Astoria summer and told me that she was leaving, once and for all, I got the most terrifying dose of that feeling you get when your Jenga tower is teetering on the edge, right before it falls. And the only words that I knew for that kind of feelings spilled out of my mouth, like blocks falling onto the kitchen table, where they waited to be picked up again.

She kept her calm better than she kept her promises, and said to me in a soft voice:

“Don’t say the f-word, honey, it’s just a game.”

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