Poker Face

Searching for home in a house of cards.

“I never stood a chance,” I tell myself.

What a loaded sentiment, the thought that I never stood on a fair footing. The cards should speak for themselves, but a cold deck and foul play render even that impossible. His disguise is now remote and patterns of play unpredictable. And I—I can no longer call his bluff. Dealt an unfair hand of cards, my last remaining act is to put on my bravest poker face.

“Say something,” he prompted, prodded.

Eloquent as I am, I could not formulate the words to speak, or rather, was afraid to leave room for telling misinterpretation. I didn’t know the rules of the game—never did and likely never will. I didn’t know whether to play aggressively or to play a fast fold. I opted for the former, mustering an unshakeable tenacity foreign to even myself. It didn’t matter anyhow, as I was caught in a catch-22 with no surrender, and finally forced to fold.

“What happened was by chance,” I reassure myself.

Every so often, the distance between paints a faint figment of a storied past I once had down pat. Still reeling from piercing spades and captive hearts, I can’t bet on the next hand when my all is still in this pool. It was a gamble and a long shot, anyway; probability, statistics, and outliers—not my strength of hand. Regardless, what hurts the most is feeling cheated and played like a fool. High hopes and higher wages remind me that the loss is indeed tangible and immediate. Hell, even crippling.

“How I react is by choice,” my constant reminder.

That first time will always be disorienting—the expectation to play without prior training, compounded by the novelty of navigating unspoken rules. But blaming the luck of the draw only puts me in a weak position, setting me up for downswing and disappointment. Left with factors that are out of my control, it reduces me to helplessness. But choice, by right, is preemptive and proactive—and most of all—empowering. And what more, the choice is mine and mine for the taking.