The Game

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“Rejection leads to anger which turns into thoughts of revenge.”








-John Steinbeck

In English class, my teacher told us about this quote as we read the novel The Grapes of Wrath. I had already read the book because my dad introduced me to John Steinbeck’s work earlier in my life but the quote was new to me. When my teacher first discussed it with us I doubted it but now I would never deny the truth behind it. Recently, my dad told me about the biggest regret of his life, the quote came to mind when he as he told the story because then I knew it was never truer.

Rejection


This Saturday night seemed no different than any other as Judy collapsed into my arms and we fell into a deep embrace. We didn’t come up for air as we moved to the bed. I traced my lips across her jaw line and continued to move down her neck. I placed gentle kisses on her skin as I made my way to her heart. Just as I went to place a small kiss below her collarbone her hands moved from my back and gently pushed me away. It was over, new boundaries had been established.

Then Judy slowly began unbuttoning her blouse. I watched carefully as each new button was released. My breath quickened and my mind raced. I didn’t know what this meant.

After the third button she stopped and she gently reached for my hand. It was probably sweaty from my nerves. I yielded to her still unsure. She placed my hand lightly on her breast above her heart. I realized she was reminding me of who she was.

“Can you feel that?” she said. Her heart was racing underneath my touch.

“Every time I am with you I feel like its going to explode out of my chest. Never think I don’t want you.” She wanted to wait, till she was sure that it was going to last forever.

“I want you so badly. When I’m with you it feels right, real. I can’t stop myself. You need to stop me because I want the dream even more.” The dream was waiting for marriage which in today’s age seemed like a myth. She knew the difference between lust and love.

“Judy, when I graduate I want to marry you.” I was raised taught that a man was to support his wife; although my mother did work two jobs and supported four boys on her own. I wanted to be different from my father. I wanted to do what was right.

“I don’t think I can wait that long. I’m afraid I will lose you within that year apart.” Judy was a year further in school than me because I had to work in the mill after high school to save money for college.

“I love you, I’m not going anywhere. I am yours, always.”

“What about after I graduate? We can get married then.”

“No, I told you I want to support you. I will not marry you if I cannot support you.” As I said this, my voice became stern and she slid herself out of our embrace and further from me.

“Howard, stop being so old fashioned. We love each other, why shouldn’t we get married after I graduate?”

“I don’t understand why we can’t just wait another year until we are both done with school.”

“Because, who knows what will happen? I won’t be around and you will be at parties with your frat brothers. You will probably forget about me. We will grow apart and it won’t be the same.”

“Judy, that’s crazy, I love you. Nothing will happen.”

“You don’t know that.” She starts to cry. It’s the first time I have seen her break down like this and I don’t know how to respond at first. She is always so confident and strong. I hate myself for hurting her but am still frustrated. I move towards her to comfort her but she shies away and gets out of the bed.

“If we don’t think we can wait one year, how can we even consider forever?”

“Just go. I am sick of arguing about this. Maybe we will just never get married.”

I left and didn’t look back. The rain fell on me as I made the long walk back to my fraternity. More that anything I was furious and even the cold March rain couldn’t cool my mind. Instead each drop that fell on me stung, only fueling my fury.



Anger
It was a week since I had argued with Judy. I waited for her to call, nothing. I avoided her at school and took different routes to class. I wouldn’t be the first one to give in. She would have to admit that she was wrong. She had to make the first move if she wanted me back.
Since we’d broken up all my friends were tense around me. They were careful with their words and knew I would snap unexpectedly. Craig was always the daring one of the group and spoke up first with the news.

“Howie, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the word on the street is that Judy is going to Spring Weekend with Chuck.”

My blue eyes seemingly melted due to the raging fire that was now within me. How could she? Chuck Joseph, he was such a douche. I can’t believe she got a date for Spring Weekend. We had only been broken up a week. This meant I had to find a date. As this thought crossed my mind Daphine walked in. I quickly spring out of my seat and jogged over to my solution.

“Hey Daph, by any chance would you be interested in going to Spring Weekend with me?”

“Sure Howard, sounds fun.” She giggled lightly as she accepted my invitation.

“Cool, I will pick you up at eight.” I flashed her a smile and turned to return to my frat brothers. They were confused at the look of joy on my face. Now, I just wanted to laugh at the idea of Judy and Chuck. Ha. I was going to Spring Weekend with Daphine Summers. She was the kind of blonde bombshells you saw in magazines. She was sweet, smart and came from a rich family that owned trucking companies. Every guy wanted her. If any girl in Youngstown had a shot at making Judy jealous it was Daphine.

I smirked at Craig and said, “Well, let the word on the street be
that I am going to Spring Weekend with Daphine Summers.”
Revenge

Daphine wore a pale blue halter dress that made her bright blue eyes stand out against her golden blonde hair. Helen of Troy would be jealous of her beauty but the truth was there was another woman at the Spring Weekend party who was even more immaculate that her. I notice the grace and power Daphine wields but my mind is constantly on Judy. I don’t let her know it but my eyes are on her the entire night. Every time she laughs at one of Chuck’s jokes or smiles at a friend. I never notice her glance or even breath in my direction. I wrap my arm lightly around Daphine’s waist and lead her to the dance floor. Every guy’s jealous eyes follow us as we make our way through the crowd, right past Judy and Chuck. I look into Daphine’s eyes as we pass Judy. Daphine just smiles back at me and winks, she has no clue what she is a part of.
The pain of seeing Judy with Chuck is overwhelming. Her beauty is staggering and I want her to come back to me, but we have gone too far. Her scent washes over me as I pass her and it feels like a sharp electric shock. I miss that scent. I want her to feel the pain I am feeling. She looks completely content and happy. It isn’t fair.
Daphine and I dance then get a drink. This routine continues the entire night. Occasionally we break it up with some small conversation with old friends and make some new ones. After awhile I lose count of the drinks and the dances. In fact, after a point in the night I can’t remember anything. Everything is a haze until I wake up the next morning, at Daphine’s place. I didn’t think anything happened but I couldn’t be sure, and I wasn’t waiting around for a conformation.
Game Over
Within a week after that Spring Weekend Judy and I had made up. We realized that our argument was petty and neither of us wanted to let it get in the way of our happiness. We got engaged and were eager to announce our plans to our families.
It was too late. We had already played the game and the consequences from that Spring Weekend would come back to haunt us. As I was about to go pick up Judy for our engagement party Daphine drove up to announce that she thought she was pregnant. All my happiness was taken away in a moment.
Things started happening so fast and my life swirled, everything blurring. My emotions because numb and I just ran through the motions of what was expected of me. In that time it was expected for me to marry Daphine, so I did. I was miserable and felt I deserved to be punished. The pain in Judy’s and my mother’s eyes when I had to tell them the news may have been considered punishment enough to some people but I hated myself.
I found out after two months, two weeks and two days of marriage to Daphine that the baby wasn’t even mine. I hadn’t touched her that night after all. I will never forget that day as I sat in my black leather recliner looking up at the ceiling, basking in my fate. I posed the question with no reason of suspicion. It was just a gut feeling I had.
“Daph, it isn’t mine, is it?” Before she spoke I heard the beginnings of her sobs. That was answer enough.
“You were never supposed to find out.” Now it made sense why her parents where being so nice to the guy that knocked up their daughter. They would rather have me apart of the family than the high school drop out who I later found out was actually the father.
I escaped this nightmare my life had become by entering into the draft. Since I was technically married and thought to be the father of Daphine’s child I could have easily gotten out of the war. Vietnam was a war that was detested by so many but to me it was a precious escape. This is what my life had become. War was a better option than my life with Daphine. As I served over seas my marriage was annulled and that chapter of my life erased.
It was still too late. I sent Judy a letter telling her everything that happened. She replied a letter that could have compared to the length of “War and Peace.” Despite its length and sad truth for many years I carried it around with me everywhere. It was the last time I ever talked to her. It was the last thing I ever had of her. In it she said that we could easily find a way to forgive each other and get back together, but nothing would be the same because we would never find a way to forgive ourselves. She blamed herself for the fight that lead to our break up and I blamed myself for being in the situation with Daphine.
The rest of my life I would look back and think about what my life could have been with Judy. She will always be the woman I should have married. After her I had relationships but never again would experience anything close to the love we had.
I would finally marry Mary Ann Fullerton. I later realized after our long strung out bitter divorce that I never loved her. I loved her children to another man, Dawn and Lonnie. I wanted to give them everything, in an unexplainable way to make up for what I lost with Judy. I gave up on love for myself because I knew that I could only have that with Judy. I still felt I deserved to be punished in that way but I wanted to give everything I could to someone else. So the meaning of my life became giving her children and later my children, Scott and Sarah, every opportunity I could.
Even though I am proud of my children when I think about what my life could have been with Judy I can’t help but be drowned with sadness. Children are supposed to be the product of love between two people. Scott and Sarah are not. I am sorry for this but that is the truth.
Now forty two years later I finally learned: no one ever wins when you play The Game.




The sad reality is despite the warnings we hear from our parents or authors we can’t avoid playing The Game. In our lives we will face rejection and the consequences of it. In our pain and anger, we question ourselves and why we are unworthy. I wish it wasn’t true but apart of our natural reaction to pain is revenge because we must find a way to move past it. These levels of revenge can fluctuate of their severity but in some way they are always present. As hard as this story was for me to hear I am glad I did. I feel bad my dad lost the love of his life but he has found love in myself and Scott. I just hope in my life I find a way to avoid losing The Game.





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