Samson never wins at bingo.
Every week, I take my rounded bingo marker and stamp a bulbous glob of red ink in his relevant cardboard squares, his vision too blurry and his hands too shaky to do it himself. B-6. G-17. C-1.
And every week, when the bingo cage stops turning and we sit on under-stuffed chairs stamped in faded floral print, Samson and I stare at each other over the rims of our thin styrofoam cups, the heat from the decaf coffee, (all the residents are allowed to have after 4:30 p.m.), making his bifocal glasses fog, the lenses held onto his face by thread-thin wires that tangle behind his ears.
Eventually, he’ll start to talk. Usually we talk about his son, one of the original creators of Sesame Street who gave Samson his emmy, (which Samson insists on keeping on the fireplace mantel in the hobby room so the other residents can enjoy it.) Sometimes we talk about Bambi, his late wife who had proudly knitted 4-foot by 4-foot baby blankets for each and every one of their 15 grandchildren. And sometimes we talk about how acidic and weak the coffee is, his crêpe paper face folding up on itself after each and every single bitter sip.
But last week, we talked about me.
Shifting in his seat, he hoisted his left ankle up onto his right knee, an act that would have seemed casual were it not for the quick grimace that scurried across his face. His socks were tall and black, printed with trains bellowing through thick heaps of steam. I’ve never wanted a pair of novelty socks so badly in my life.
But leaning forward, he smacked his thin and withered lips and said, “When am I reading your book.” It was a statement, not a question, and I took the opportunity to also hoist my left ankle across my right knee, but instead of themed socks, this gave the room a view of the tattoo on my foot–a sweeping arrow that reads momentum.
“Eventually,” I shrugged. That’s all I could really say. I want to write a book. Hell, we all want to write books. But I haven’t so much as even opened up a damn document to begin.
“That’s the thing,” he said, separating his trembling hands and tucking them under the sides of his legs to calm the shaking. “I’m going to be dead soon. And I’m not going to give you one single Get Out of Jail Free card. When you eventually get around to it, I’ll be buried, and you’ll feel really guilty. Disappointed, even. And scared that you’ll die, too, before you’ve fixed to make that book come around.”
Samson is both a charming and gentle man, but at that very second, I wanted to scream at him so loudly that my spit hit his face. (I didn’t, for the record.)
Because he was right, and his words drilled into an exposed nerve, causing a rushed sweep of heat from head to toe and making me feel READY. Before I knew what was happening, I’d promised to get him a manuscript by August 15th, 2015, a date I’ve had set in my head for years, but that I’d only finally said out loud for the first time. The numbers felt thick and metallic in my mouth, like coughing up a rusted skeleton key and hoping someone knew where it fit.
And while there’s nothing truly profound about setting a date, we’ve all hedged around direct questions whenever our dreams are brought up.
Circulating at dinner parties, drinking wine we can’t pronounce in dresses that are too tight, people ask us when we’ll get engaged and we laugh in a way we think is charming and nonchalant, saying, “Oh, when we get around to it,” when we know we’re planning to propose in exactly 84 days, sloshing our glasses around and ultimately staining the shiny white grout on their newly-finished kitchen floor.
Sitting around the Thanksgiving table with enough lumpy mashed potatoes on our plates to feed a large and thoroughbred horse for a year, our Uncle Richard, (the one who always smells like brandy when he tries to kiss us on the cheek), asks when we’re going to have a talk with our boss about that raise, and we push into our mashed potato mountain until the gravy floods out, drowning the mushy peas that never had any hope of survival, saying, “When I’m good and ready,” with a playful wink that we can’t pull off. But we already have a meeting to talk about our raise next week.
Or drinking lukewarm, watered-down decaf with a 92 year-old man who mostly remembers our name, but sometimes calls us Jennifer, the name of his girlfriend when he was thirteen, and he asks us when we’ll write our book, the book that makes our bodies buzz as we try to fall asleep at night, the words we haven’t sat down and stirred up hanging in the hair like determined and driven dust. We say, “Eventually,” when we mean August 15th, 2015.
It’s easier to keep our end game a secret. To keep dates and deadlines to ourselves. Because if a silent promise never gets kept, is there a reason to feel ashamed? If a secret goal never gets met, do we fail?
If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone actually give a single, flying fuck?
But as soon as we bellow our beliefs and announce our ambitions, we’re admitting that we’re capable of failure. We’re cracking ourselves open to scorn. And we’re divvying up our dreams for dissection, inviting our friends and family to swarm over our ideas of success and pick through them with knobbly and nimble fingers.
But without that dose of drive, that responsibility to hold ourselves accountable and the pride to stand on a wooden crate and shout into a comically large megaphone about exactly what it is we’re working for–and when we’re going to get it–all we’ll be left with is an empty styrofoam cup, the top rim picked away by our nervous hands.
The sweltering summer sun will dissolve unceremoniously to grey, and we’ll spend a solitary drive home through suburbia, thinking about all the incredible people we could possibly be if only we’d let our goals and wants and knowledge be known.