I took a boyfriend home for Thanksgiving at my Ex-Stepfather’s house. Once. Ethan came from a small, immigrant family and thought my description of tons of food, alcohol, card games, and siblings sounded awesome.
“Mostly we play Hearts,” I warned him. “It’s brutal.”
“Hearts? Cool. I’m good at Hearts.”
If you haven’t played Hearts, check it out on your computer or phone. It’s a cumulative point card game where you have to follow the suit that’s led, every trick you take with hearts gives you points, and the Queen of Spades is worth 13 points. You try not to get points, but if you should take all the hearts AND the Queen of Spades, you’ve “shot the moon” and everyone else gets 26 points.
We split into groups and play it for hours. There’s no money at stake. We only play like there is.
On the trip back east, Ethan remained confident. “I played Hearts so much this week, I am ready to crush your family.”
“Really? Who did you play with?”
“The computer,” I echoed. “Um, that may not be the best training–”
“I doubt even your family can count cards as well as the computer.”
“Yeah, they can. But they don’t play like the computer—”
Ethan rolled his eyes at me, pooh-poohed my concerns, and changed the subject. With a last mutter of, “On your own head be it,” I gave up.
On Thanksgiving, Ethan threw down a little Hearts trash talk in the kitchen. Big Brother, Baby Brother, and Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister promptly handed him a deck of cards and whisked him off to the living room. I tried to follow.
Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister blocked me. “This game is full. You can play with Ex-Stepfather, Ex-Stepfather’s Wife, and Big Brother’s Wife.”
I hissed, “I can’t believe you’re sentencing me to the B game!”
With a smug grin, she turned her back on me. I returned to the kitchen table, where Ex-Stepfather shuffled cards. Our game was tame. Civil. Our quiet conversation was broken only by snatches of conversation floating in from the living room. Mostly we heard Ethan’s indignant voice.
After 10 minutes: “You held that king the whole time?”
Twenty minutes later: “You gave up three chances to drop the queen and waited until I would get it?”
An hour in, the wailing began: “Why would you DO that?”
The only responses were shouts of laughter. Or evil giggles.
Every so often I would peer into the living room and ask, “How’s it going?”
Ethan would stop scowling, give me a cheesy grin, and flash a big thumbs up.
He lost by several hundred points. It would have been worse, only Big Brother tried to shoot the moon several times and failed. (Baby Brother & Lawyer Sis are wise to this. And still he tries, every year.)
Ethan sulked through dinner. No one in my large, noisy family noticed.
After dinner, as I changed into suitable walking attire, Ethan railed. “Your family makes no sense! They should get rid of their hearts as soon as possible, like, like –”
“Like the computer?”
“Exactly! But there’s no logic!”
“Oh, there’s logic.”
“No, there’s not! It’s like they don’t want to win!”
I tried to explain. “Winning is secondary.”
“What the hell can winning be secondary to?”
“Making someone else lose. In the most entertaining fashion possible,” I explained, as I put on my jacket. “You coming?”
Ethan picked up his phone and turned his back on me. “No.”
I left Mr. Pouty and joined my siblings. They enquired after Ethan.
“Still sulking. You guys couldn’t have let him win one game?”
Big Brother: “Hey, I ate the queen twice!”
Me: “Oh, please. You were trying to shoot the moon.”
Big Brother giggled. “Maybe. You know, your boyfriend moans a lot.”
Me: “You know, you drink a lot.”
Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister: “It’s how we put up with your boyfriend’s moaning. I think he helped us set a new record. What was it, twelve bottles of wine?”
Big Brother: “Thirteen!”
They high-fived each other.
I wondered why I flew three thousand miles every November.
Ethan and I stayed together longer than we should have. I wanted to dance, Ethan wanted to play video games. I suggested going places, Ethan suggested staying home. We made each other miserable, but when I finally told him I was done, Ethan didn’t take it well. There was blaming, moaning, sulking, and stalking.
I should have expected it.
Some people just aren’t cut out for real-life Hearts.