Warning: CHOKING HAZARD—Not suitable for anyone who has trouble swallowing knives.
Objective: Be the first player to gather all the red flags into a pile & set that motherfucker on fire. Don’t look back. Get out before you disappear completely.
Even though you have yet to begin playing, move back twenty spaces. Into another room. Another dimension. Throw yourself in the trash so she doesn’t get the chance to. Lick the mold from the bread, stick eggshells in your gums. You deserve every last expired promise, don’t you? Don’t you?
Number of players: There were always more than you thought.
Audience: How old were you when you learned to walk? What about feed yourself? Read & write your own name? Who taught you how to love? Where do you store the sins of your parents? Can you remember anything before her? Do you miss the version of you that attacked life with vigor? Is it true that you can no longer remember the feeling of love, only that you clung to its shadow?
The gaslights are on but you can’t see a damn thing. If you must choose an age, choose however old you feel when you fall asleep wishing that she’d go ahead & punch you already—then you’d finally have a tangible reason to leave.
Look, proof, you imagine telling the funhouse mirrors of your life.
Nothing to see here, they shrug.
1 bottomless bottle of whiskey
1 smile like the devil in heat
2 or more contradicting realities
2 icy blue eyes with nothing behind them
3 books about emotional abuse in your Amazon cart
8 coping skills, unused (by her)
10 long-term plans, abandoned (by you)
40 boxes of Benadryl for the off-label use of treating your panic attacks
58 questions, all shaped the same: Why don’t you leave her?
An infinite number of claims that she is healed, that she no longer needs therapy
Enough excuses to mold a new planet, with all the same instances of agony as this one
The higher the number on the card, the more times you must apologize for something you didn’t do.
If you choose a wild card, you must pretend you love waking up next to her.
Good luck finding a get out of jail free card. If that were possible, you wouldn’t be playing this game.
Go to the bar with your best friends.
Sit on your hands to stop them from shaking.
Order an Old Fashioned, chug it down. Order two more. Make the bartender nervous.
Wish that you loving her would mean less. Or more, depending.
Close your eyes & try to conjure up her sickeningly saccharine voice. Then erase it.
Ask: What happened to us?
Answer: There was no us—only you & her.
Say out loud how nice it would be to understand a partnership instead of an ownership.
Rearrange your ribs to make room for what comes next.
Feeling empowered? Shame, shame.
The bridge to freedom has collapsed. Sacrifice two turns. Hug yourself tightly while you wait.
Write down a list of reasons to stay. Write your most emphatic NO over top of it.
Remember that love isn’t love if it bears a blade then blames you for screaming.
Google search: What does a healthy relationship look like?
Listen when your friends tell you how you’ve been reduced to a memory.
Tell yourself hollow words about deserving better, but what is better, anyway? Better than taking a branding iron to your heart. Better than her echoing explanation that she doesn’t want sex with you unless it’s for revenge.
Google search: Which parts are her & which parts are me, by way of her?
Slip on a cone so you don’t gnaw on your homemade stitches.
Repeat: Somewhere, I am beautiful & whole again.
Let yourself cry. Crying is a beginning.
Google search: What if I never want to be anyone’s anything ever again?
Try to recall a time in which you felt happy. Dig up the time capsule, put your happy teeth in, & practice saying goodbye in languages not yet invented.
Ask your friends if she deserves an in-person conversation. The chorus of no’s nearly knocks the wind out of you.
Consider: Who am I when she’s not looking?
Always move in the direction she orders you to. Unless you’re on a two-day break again, from which she’ll inevitably come crawling back with promises of kindness you’ll never see & tenderness you’ll never feel. What is that saying about fools? It’s hard to breathe with the shame sitting on your chest.
Wherever you go, don’t you dare mention a past lover or relationship. No matter how formative. Not unless you’re a masochist. Jealousy is healthy; that means she loves me, is your new anthem & don’t you forget it.
Twelve or more ghosts may occupy the same space at the same time.
Shortcuts: The shortest distance between two hearts is control. But one of these hearts is diseased from overuse, from excessive forgiveness. You can’t always trust a shortcut when you see one.
Fear Spaces: There are multiple Fear Spaces on the path. These will slow you down & twist you up inside. If you land on one of these spaces by exact count, the pawn—you, yes you—is stuck there for an indeterminable length of time.
You will find pieces of you scattered all around the board. At night, you may want to retrace your steps & pick them up with a pair of gloves, maybe some tongs—there’s no telling which pieces are now poisonous.
This game requires no previous experience to play.
You go first. Play then passes to the next person she shoves on the dance floor then convinces she isn’t touching. As a kid, you made art from traced handprints. At least back then they were your own.
On your turn, look into the future & note how you’re never really free—you think you see her face everywhere. On bar patrons, on cashiers, on personal trainers, on dog-walkers, on surfers, on party-goers, on co-workers, on servers, on friends & family. You can’t go anywhere without her dead eyes haunting you.
Move backward two spaces.
Delete every photo of her you’ve ever kept. Delete the poems wearing her face. This was borrowed time & borrowed love—it will all be returned eventually.
Move forward three spaces.
Consider space & your place in it—how much is yours to keep? It feels like your space is shrinking & shrinking. Soon, you will be microscopic. Is a person still a person if there’s no one to detect their presence? How do you remain irrevocably yourself when you are made up of negative space?
You’ve landed on a shortcut, a secret passage. Where does it go? You can just make out her tempered breathing on the other end. You hear her hiss the word unhinged. She reads the definition, tells you are unwell. You are tempted—what if she’s right? What if no one else will ever want you? You, an ugly, neurotic, & unlovable mess.
Jump to the next blue square. A Fear Space.
You recall the first time you met. Her observation & care. You’re the most expressive person I’ve ever met, she said, & you knew you’d be in each other’s lives for a long time. Did she mean all the things she said back when you were both too excited to sleep? Did she ever love you or was it all part of a master plan to possess you? You want to know how much Zoloft it will take to kill you.
How to win the game:
It’s not possible to win, only to overcome.
You wish you could save every unsuspecting person before they are recruited to play. She has a way about her. A charm that slithers & beckons.
Go back to the start.
Haven’t you been here before? Look at you, evolving in reverse, rejecting laws of nature. You believe in giving her a tenth chance like you believe that her tears are real.
Trade places with someone else on the board.
It matters very little whether you hate yourself more or hate yourself less. What matters is that you escape the funhouse, even if there are shards of glass stuck in every inch of your flesh. If someone follows the trail of blood, don’t you dare let them in.
Choose a card from the pile.
Fuck wild cards. You can’t imagine one more kiss, one more tiptoed step, one more god damn excuse. You choke on the words I & love & you. What are you going to do with all that broken light inside your chest? Just because you can’t win doesn’t mean you can’t destroy.
The game has been rigged from the start. Now it’s time to do something about it. Get trashed. Flip the board. Scatter every pawn in her giant, sadistic game.
Stick the wild card under your glass. Smile a wily, incendiary smile while your friends cheer. Even the bartender is on your team.
Pull out your phone & type the words, I am done. When she says, Done with what? finish off your drink then respond, You.
Outside the bar, the cool wind enters your body & fuck, does it feel nice. You cup your hands around your mouth & howl until your throat grows sore. You are a pack of feral selves, bloody & imperfect & needing absolutely no one.