If games possess a secret, I think it’s that they play us as much as we play them. Among those games for our family have been word games. The possibility of a pun never tempted Dr. Seuss so much as my husband, Matt. I’m the watcher and comment-maker, feet tucked under me on the couch, mint tea in my New York City Ballet mug, craquelure pattern at the bottom. I see it anew with each cup I drain, as our twenty-year-old daughter Courtney shakes her head, calls me a tea-aholic, which may be true. It’s my favorite kind of head shake in the world, as I once told Matt, who laughed my favorite kind of laugh, saying he agreed.
They play a game called Green Glass Door, which Courtney figured out when she was six. The entire point of Green Glass Door is to discover how the game works. Once you do, the game is over, which is not the same as ceasing to be—you simply can’t play it properly anymore. But they continue the familiar refrain, even though Courtney does not want to be here with us, and Matt and I have what we have right now because of her presence.
“Behind the Green Glass Door,” Courtney will begin, “there is zooplankton but no copepods.”
Matt takes up his part, with the game most commonly enacted in our living room, though the kitchen will do as well.
“Behind the Green Glass Door, there are paramecia, but no amoebas.”
“Wrong,” Courtney says.
“Okay, there are velociraptors but no allosauruses.”
“No, there are allosauruses but no velociraptors,” Courtney corrects him, and with another example or two, the game fizzles.
My husband and daughter are more thespians than they are players when it comes to Green Glass Door at this stage of our family, but it’s like a TV program that’s been on in the background at various happy points, so you keep the channel the same.
Our kid gets a granola bar and passes back through the living room, where Matt has paused the Lauren Bacall film that we watch.
“Bogart wore platform shoes because he was shorter,” Courtney might remark, because she knows her stuff.
“It’s not my fault your mom is six foot,” Matt replies. “Doesn’t make me short. Nor non-strapping, young lady.”
Were you playing Green Glass Door, what you could now say is, “Behind the Green Glass Door, there are taller women, but no shorter men,” which would almost certainly throw your opponent. A useful tactic is to make the statement sound like a riddle, using objects, living forms, or ideas that bear a preexisting relationship. People will think about things long before they think about how they are told about things.
After her school closed the dorms and Courtney came home in March, she asked us not to collect her at the train station. Said she didn’t want to put us at risk, exposed to the unflattened, convex curve of a would-be plague, which the news reports made sound like hot, parabolic death.
I have asthma and Matt hasn’t breathed right after puncturing a lung in a sledding accident as a kid. When we first started having sex in college, he sounded like some kind of human accordion on top of me, with a dollop of Darth Vader, not that Courtney knows any of that beyond Matt’s inhaler, which he’ll stick in his pocket as he heads out on his runs.
“You get used to it,” he had said at the outset of our hook-up forays, but I think he was talking more about himself than me, while also trying to be reassuring—he wasn’t going to die, or anything. “I’m sorry,” he added, but I didn’t want him to feel sorry.
Just as I knew Courtney wanted the calming nonchalance of setting down her bags in the hall, saying, “Mom, dad, I’m home,” having made her way on the train, same absence of fanfare as when she was in high school, the daily reinstallation of a unit. Family unit. And everything else such a unit might keep in place.
Behind the Green Glass Door, there is sufficiency, even if there is not that which once was.
I’d like it if games play us as much as we play them. I think I want games to have their own needs. I find it comforting.