“Keeping Score”

by Jennifer Poroye


Everyone on our block spent the morning roasting in the hot sun, waiting for Mom to walk down the aisle. At least that’s what it felt like. In hindsight, June seemed like a good month to get married. But today, it was damn near 100 degrees without a trace of wind to cool us down. The small beads of sweat that started collecting at my forehead were now trickling down my face onto my clenched hands. The loose yellow dress I was wearing now clung to my skin in a sticky mess, and I could feel my hair unraveling out of the style I set it in last night. We could all feel each other’s body heat. There were just too many attendees to fit this wedding in our backyard. I hated this.


More than my irritation at the heat, I was getting angrier at Mom. I told her this would happen, but she seemed dead set on having it happen in the yard.


“It’ll be big enough.” She said.

“Fine. If that’s the case,” I said. “Then we should cut down the invitation list. You can’t fit this many people out there.”

“You just watch me.” She kept on saying. Yeah, I was watching, alright. And paying the price at that.


Now I was sandwiched in with the whole block, wishing she could pick up the pace and just get married already. I wonder what was taking her so long. You would think things would get easier for her the second time around, but it seemed to be just as hectic as when she and Dad got married.


Dad died in a car accident around five years ago. Something like a hit and run. Something like a drunk driver recklessly speeding in the wrong lane at the wrong moment.


Witnesses said they’ve never seen a car crash into another so ruthlessly without getting as damaged as that one. The doctors said too much blood had left his brain by the time he got to the hospital. The neighbors said we didn’t deserve this. The lawyer presiding over our case said we should’ve been compensated more money. Jimmy kept asking when Daddy would be home. Mom said nothing for a while.


I said nothing for a while too. Not even at the funeral. I couldn’t bring myself to express anything. He was gone. Nothing would change that. Nothing would make it better. Everyone around me cried so much that it felt useless to add my own tears to the mix. I just wanted silence.


I still don’t say too much now.


Well, not until today. Everyone at this wedding felt the sudden urge to ‘check in’ with me and ask how I was feeling about everything. People I hadn’t talked to in years were suddenly laughing at jokes I didn’t make, reminiscing on memories of me that I could only faintly remember and expressing how much they missed the “good ol’ days” with me. My patience was wearing thinner with each progressing conversation. Keeping my lips pursed in a tight line with my hands clenched was all I could do to keep myself from ruining this for Mom.


Jimmy was handling this so much better than me. But then again, Jimmy is the extroverted one. And he’s too young to remember as much as I do.


Still, he was handling the whole thing much better than I was. When Mom invited Vincent for dinner for the first time, Jimmy went out of his way to cook his favorite dish and set up the table. He easily opened up to him about his life, hobbies, and friendships. By the end of dinner, he had gotten his number and made plans to go see the next Knicks game with him. Vincent barely even got my name before he left that night.


Getting used to Vincent was...tough, to say the least. For a while, it felt annoying to try and pretend that this person who barely knew me would somehow fill the father-sized hole in our family. I wasn’t looking forward to watching Vincent try to act like family. I didn’t need to let another person in my life in that kind of way. And as much as I wanted Mom to be happy, I couldn’t bring myself to play the good stepdaughter for him.


I think Vincent could tell how I felt without me having to say it, so I appreciated that, at least. He kept his distance and didn’t try too hard to get to know anything about myself that I wasn’t willing to tell him. That is, until I found out he played chess.


You play chess?” I said, which shocked everyone at the table when Vincent mentioned it. I don’t even remember how they got to that conversation, and had long stopped paying attention. But now I was slightly more interested. Playing chess is kind of the only thing I’m good at, so when he mentioned going to the local chess tournament (yes, I am aware of how pathetic that sounds), I felt I could add something to the conversation. He seemed more surprised at the fact that I spoke up to him at the dinner table than anything.


“Yeah, I play a little here and there,” he shrugged. “I don’t know a lot of other people who play though, so I hope I can find some at this tournament.” Before I could respond, Mom went on and on about how I’ve been playing since kindergarten, how I win chess awards every year, and how I was just the smartest little Grandmaster player in our county. “Wow!” he responded, eyebrows raised and all. “I hope to see you at the tournament then!”


I was hoping I would rather not see him there. But, lo and behold, he was there– and killing it at that. I thought he would be out by the fourth round, but he was making it just as far as I was. We ended up being the two finalists of the tournament. At that point, I was ready to place first and go home, but unfortunately, so was he. He was much better than I thought. He made it nearly impossible to make any good moves, and I couldn't tell how he was doing it. But I wasn’t letting him slide with anything either. After an hour of stalemate moves, he won the game in the last 3 minutes with a bishop underpromotion. I barely even thought of that move! I was pissed.


After that night, I played chess with him every time he came over. I had to learn what exactly made him such a good opponent. Most times, we would lay out a small table in the living room to play chess while we ate dinner, and Jimmy would be our commentator. Our dinner conversations would center around our matches. Mom would just shake her head in disbelief, wondering how we could be so fixated on this for such a long time.


Overtime, I learned about more than just his playing style. I learned about where he grew up, who his favorite authors were, how he came to America with his grandmother and learned chess from her, why he became a vegetarian, why he loved the color of sunsets and the smell of the ocean and why he fell in love with my mother.


And sure enough, he started learning a lot about me. In between our moves, I found myself talking to him about everything: my geode collection, my favorite sci-fi movies, my lingering fear of driving and getting older. Without knowing, he got permission to learn much more about me when we played together. He started learning more about why I was so quiet; why I couldn’t seem to make new friends at school; why me and Mom were closer in age than other mothers and daughters; why September made us both really sad. He was such a great listener. He didn’t try to give too much advice, but he would listen intently to everything in a comforting way. Overtime, he started growing on me, as much as I hated to admit it. And when Jimmy and I found out they were getting married, I didn’t feel nearly as terrible as I was afraid I’d feel.


I looked up at Vincent now, who seemed to be a nervous wreck. He definitely wasn’t a tuxedo kind of person, and you could tell. He kept shuffling his feet and smiling awkwardly at people he would meet eyes with. It would’ve been funnier if we weren’t all roasting in this heat.


As soon as I was going to slip out of the crowd to get a drink of water, I heard the wedding march tune and a collective gasp from the rows behind me. Finally, I thought to myself before turning around to look. Took her long enough.


After turning around, I could see why everyone gasped. To be honest, I’ve never seen her look so beautiful and strong. I can’t tell what it was exactly. But she was quite literally glowing. She wore a simple yet elegant satin dress, with little white roses spiraling around it. Her long locs hung down for the first time in a while, with a ring of flowers to crown her head. She was smiling a real smile; Not the pained, thin smile she would give when I asked her if she was alright. Not the smile she gave when she was trying to hold it all together. She had on the kind of smile that reached her eyes and spread to the rest of her face. The kind of smile that made sitting in this heat


worth it. I wondered what Vincent was thinking.I didn’t know I was crying until Jimmy put his arm around me and started patting me on the shoulder. I wasn’t just crying; I was sobbing. Shoulders shaking with quiet hiccups in between and everything. I was truly a mess and couldn’t seem to stop. I felt so embarrassed. I didn’t cry at the hospital. I barely cried at my Dad’s funeral. I can’t even remember the last time I shed a tear in the past eight months. Emotions really aren’t my thing, and I can usually get a grip on them if I try hard enough. But not today, I guess.


I remember Vincent saying one time during a chess match that if I don’t check in with how I feel, sooner or later, my emotions will catch up to me.


“Your body keeps the score too, Yara.” he said. “And if you don’t check in with them, they’ll catch up to you by surprise. You just wait.” He said as he pointed his finger gently.


“Okay, Dr. Phil.” I laughed while rolling my eyes. “We’ll see about that”.


My body had kept the score for a while now. As Mom walked down the aisle, I wept about everything. The pain of losing Dad, the resentment I held against Mom for forgetting about him, the fear I had of people leaving my life, the fear of letting Vincent in our lives, the happiness that Vincent brought to me and our family and everything in between.


I felt a sense of relief hit me once they both said “I do.” I think everyone else did too. It had taken us so long to get to this moment. But it was still beautiful anyhow.


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