The Hand You're Dealt

January 23, 2009
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The weather just cut through me. I felt weak, fragile and shaky as I walked up to the top of the hill. Aaron’s house stood like a huge mausoleum with the sight of heavy winter still hanging over for yet another season. I could see my friend opening his door from a distance gesturing to me, just as I felt a frigid breeze come over my skin, which made me clutch and embrace my jacket that much closer. I felt no confidence from the protection of the denim and noticed my strength was missing every stone step I ascended. Encountering him at the entrance, neither of us said a word to each other, so I just walked past. He forced the door shut, trying to block out the bad weather, then gestured to me to follow him. I knew what he was going after, no sooner he said, “Upstairs.” Already set out was the table and chairs with our deck of cards. I knew I’d be forced to play a hand. Looking at the cards, I was transported back a year ago.

The four of us were invincible, Aaron, Shasha, Brishti and me, stuck together stronger than glue. Aaron had been my best friend since I was one, which meant I had grown up alongside his two sisters, just as if we were siblings. When very small, we did everything together, sports, family events, and games… especially games. We would gather upstairs, on the second floor of their house and partake in many heated matches of card games with this one particularly old deck. It was our special deck and we wore it out leaving it tattered and crinkled while playing matches of poker, gin rummy, black-jack, etc… Since I have no siblings, these friends were special to me. Their home always had a wonderful smell of curry, cardamom and was usually loaded with relatives. With their Hindu culture, as their anchor, their home was always a wonderment of modern day American electronic gadgets mixed with eastern philosophy. However that day, it felt very lonely when I arrived, but I didn’t think much about it. The normal cheer didn’t abound.
I had a brief round or two of crazy eights with Aaron and everything seemed fine. The house was unusually quiet, except for Romeo’s nails, an eight year old husky, clicking on the marble floors. Aaron, the youngest of the three children, was his normal self. Not much ever fazed Aaron, one way or the other. Although Aaron was older, he always felt like a younger brother to me. We continued to play alone, while I assumed Brishti or Shasha would appear soon. I was looking forward to seeing Brishti, she would occasionally come home from college on the weekends. Although, I didn’t see her red coat in the hall closet I ignored it. She loved the color red, it made her feel warm and cheerful. On special occasions she would wear a bindi, which is a crimson dot made with vermilion, on her forehead. She was majoring in early childhood education because of her fondness for children. As I sat there I imagined her petite laugh, it always made me feel optimistic.
When Shasha walked out of her parent’s bedroom, I was fixed on my winning hand. Turning to greet her… she had tears in her eyes and she was shivering. At first glance, I didn’t know what to think. I thought she was playing a game or something. Often, Shasha and Brishti would play tricks on me, so that’s what I first assumed, because the words that came out of her mouth didn’t even pass as comprehensible. “Our sister Brishti died,” said Shasha.
I remember looking at her and waiting for the punch line, but it never came, this wasn’t a game. I turned to Aaron, he seemed to just stare off into the distance. I glanced back at Shasha who looked panic-stricken and I stood up and hugged her. “It’s ok, it’s ok,” I said quickly.
It seemed like a movie, but this wasn’t a movie. It was real. Later, I would learn that Brishti died of a cold. She had called to speak with her father, complaining that she didn’t feel well. Later that day, at the age of nineteen, she passed out in her dorm room during a card game with friends. Her father rushed to her side, but it was too late. I can’t imagine what her parents felt at that moment. Her father, a doctor, who was so capable at healing patients and her mother, so beautiful and gentle, were left powerless to save her. A virus, which couldn’t be cured by vaccines or antibiotics, took the light from their hearts. In their dark room, they prayed to console themselves.
I was dumbstruck. Brishti was a beautiful shy, skinny girl and was so full of life. In school, she was always surrounded by friends. This was her second year at a small private college, not far from her home. My mind was racing to understand what had happened. Although, I went through the death of my grandfather, this was the first time I had to deal with the death of a friend. What a low hand she was dealt. Why her, why now? At nineteen, you are barely starting your life. I think it is the shock of her age that had me so despondent. At sixteen, I was just beginning to understand what life is all about. There are thousands of young people that die everyday, yet this one life being extinguished touched me. My safe, constant, insular world had changed. In Hindu, Brishti means rain, this rain that has brought me to tears. Why is life so fragile? Why was she dealt such a bad hand? There were so many “why” questions and all were shuffling through my mind, like someone rapidly dealing out fifty-two cards. The randomness of the dealing was swirling and twirling in my head. I was overwhelmed and could hardly breathe, while the cards were coming so fast and so furious. Red queens, black jacks and aces were dancing in a row. Why did her ace have to be the lowest, rather than the highest card in the game?
In the following days, I learned how their family would deal with the death. Their religion would support them through the weeks and months to come. They believed that this was her fate and Brishti had gone to a better place. Her ashes eventually were placed in the Ganges, along with floating candles to light her way.

I suddenly snapped back into the daylight, feeling cards practically thrown into my lap. Everything had returned to me, the floor, the walls, the house, the empty chairs, the set table. A year had passed since I looked upon this table. Whenever I was asked to visit, I used some lame excuse to turn it down. Grief was still in the air. But now, I did what I could to gather the cards together. But when Aaron was done dealing and took up his pile, for some strange reason I couldn’t do the same. I didn’t want to look at them. I didn’t want to turn them over. Because every time I tried they made me shiver.





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