Game Night

Susan Neville



There's the needle you stick in the deflated basketball before attaching the air pump, the needles on the white pine that fall one day in autumn and turn red on the ground, there's the different thickness of needles in a sewing kit. There are wood and plastic knitting needles and metal knitting needles the color of popcorn bowls and metal cups (like the blues and greens of bicycles with their black and white tires and the needles you use to inflate the tires) and there's the particular thin needle your mother used to stitch the sleeve of your brother's best suit before he was laid in the casket. And there's the needle the undertaker used to sew his lips shut.

There are the needles you set in the groove on vinyl records to release the sound, there are needles that measure the sound, and acupuncture needles and trussing needles for tying the legs of poultry before it's cooked and then there are the slim silver needles, fine as broomstraw, that pierce human skin and flesh and the elastic tubes that carry blood toward the heart. You will need several of the latter. Or you can share one with your neighbors. Do not make this second choice.



In some states you can find them at the drugstore. In other states you can't. Don't look for any logic or consistency. Don't look for kindness. In the states where you can't buy syringes easily, you may run into trouble. Ours is one of them. It will not stop your play, but the play will be more dangerous. I am so very sorry for this because it means, unfortunately, that you will quickly join the dark side of the game. My darling one. The risks will be greater for you. It can't be helped.

To put all the risks out on the table, know too that this is a state where you cannot exchange your needles at the end of play, even if the milky drip of liquid and blood is still clinging to the tip of the one your teammate hands you. It seems to be the thinking that the needle itself is what drew you to the game.

And while it is true that sometimes just the sight of the needle or the prick of any needle will give you a fleeting temporary relief, it is not enough. So you will make your own arrangements. God save you as you roll the dice.

So when you cannot find needles easily, find a relative or neighbor who is diabetic. If the neighbor is elderly, he or she will think the syringe has been misplaced and will soon purchase others if the pharmacist will allow it. Pharmacists are drunk with power, and it may be difficult for the diabetic who pleads and whimpers. But don't think about that. Protect yourself.

If you still have a credit card, dear one, order your kit from eBay. Or go to a fisherman, as they have their own sources for rigs that they use to inject air beneath the skin of earthworms so the bait does not join the algaed muck at the bottom of a river or a lake. This is true. Buy some wading boots and a pole, or steal them from Gander Mountain. Listen to the recordings of birds. Peruse assault rifles like a good citizen. Move to fishing supplies. Fishermen are seldom questioned about their rigs. Diabetics, on the other hand, are sometimes treated like criminals.

And one more risk: if you are caught with any of this, you will end up in jail. Where, even if you're not sentenced, you might wait a year or two for a defense attorney to plead your case. Ultimately, this may be for the best. But you will never ever get a job should jobs appear again. This is all part of the game as it is currently played in the heart of the country. Dear one.


A Note on Water and Spoons

Do not be afraid to ask questions of your friends or family. Some compounds dissolve easy in room temperature water. Some dissolve only when heated. Heat is your friend, as boiling water may kill certain viruses. It is recommended that you boil all the water to begin with. Please. Do not become impatient and use cold dirty water or forget to bring the boiling water back down to room temperature. I regret that I must say these things that might seem obvious, but I must.

(When you were a baby, I was given a ceramic handled spoon at a baby shower and I fed your dear brother strained peaches and strained peas and used the soft side of the spoon to carefully make a second bite out of the food that oozed from the corners of his sweet sweet mouth. As you grew, you followed him everywhere.)


How to Play

So you've found a syringe and a short needle, ultrafine if you can get it. Thick needles will work but make a popping sound that may frighten you. You've dissolved the compound and filled your kit.

If you can, find someone to do this with you as games are not meant to be played alone. Find several someones. Practice how you will call the hospital should one of you require it. Practice hiding your kit so you will not go to jail. Think of this as military training. You do not, under any circumstances, abandon your buddy. You would never jump into the stone quarry with no one with you. You might break your neck or drown unremarked upon. Tap into that old knowledge. And don't worry. If you live in certain hidden areas of this country, players will be plentiful. Just look around you and someone will appear.

Oh, there was a time when your gameboard was a small theme park of courthouse, Victorian homes and workers' cottages, veneer mills, gardens, churches, a hardware store and knit shop, children on bicycles, a Carnegie library, perhaps even an archive of local history, and a restaurant where old men and farmers gathered in the winter over thick white mugs of coffee. And at the edge of the gameboard, grain elevators filled with seed and the flatness of green fields that sounded and looked like the ocean when the wind blew across them. The sunset was as crimson on the western horizon as it was on the Gulf of Mexico. I'm here to tell you that the sunset is still as beautiful, but I know the game will keep you turned toward the center of the board.

So. First, choose and clean your site. With practice, you will become skilled at judging the direction and width of your chosen vein.

Use gravity to bring blood to your limb before applying your tourniquet. Swing or hang your arms, for instance. Make a fist. Try to secure rolling veins so they won't roll. The method of securing rolling veins varies from person to person, and you will become proficient with practice. Be sure not to leave the tourniquet on too long. As the blood's tubing rises to the surface of your arm, it is tempting to stop and watch and waver. Do not do this. Make a choice.

Make sure the needle bevel is opening face up. Remember the goal is to quickly get the liquid to the heart.

The needle should be perpendicular to the injection site. I cannot overestimate this. You must have confidence when you make the insertion. Think about the times you've had blood drawn, how the skilled phlebotomist dives into the vein like an Olympian and sticks the landing. Be that Olympian and whatever you do do not be cautious as you insert the needle through the skin and muscle, probing for the vein's tubing. This will cause the vein to roll. So insert! Just do the stick.

When you think you're in a vein pull the plunger back to see if blood swirls into the syringe. If the blood is dark red and slow, then in fact you've hit a vein.

At this point untie your tourniquet and inject. If you do not hit a vein despite following these directions, or if your arm turns numb or you notice it turning blue, untie your tourniquet, pull your needle out, and wait before you try again. Gather your courage. You may try several times at first. If you are not properly positioned in a vein when you push the plunger, you will be putting your drugs into the tissue surrounding the vein, or under the skin, or some mysterious black hole, dark matter. In addition, the tissue will be painful and will swell and the effect of your drugs will come too slowly. You risk an abscess. So be patient. Find the vein.

If you follow the rules, you will feel immediate relief. You may feel as though you are one with God. Rest assured that it is not God you are at one with. Still, if you'd like, pray to your god. Praise, gratitude, supplication, confession of sins. Each prayer will be appropriate. You will need all the help you can get to make your way into, through, and back. The goal of the game at this point will seem to you to be metamorphosis. But listen to me. The real goal, for you, is to stay alive until I can find a way to save you.

And so as the rush begins, don't forget the vein you've tapped. Carefully pull the needle out of the injection site at the angle it went in. Apply pressure to the site to stop the bleeding. Don't use alcohol pads on a fresh injection wound.


On the Choice of Partners

You will simply recognize each other. In the winter, you and the others will huddle in the only house in the neighborhood that currently has heat. Neighbors, your neighbors' children. Despite our best efforts, you came to the game at different times and as you know for different reasons. All the reasons go back to the fact that the gameboard has drastically changed. Know that it always does, though. War, drought, famine, illness, death, poverty. The gameboard changes underneath your feet. We did not want you to feel the pain of this.  

In your case, instead of the verdant grid you carry in your memory and that I carry in mine, outside the blanket-covered windows the snow now covers shattered county roads, the abandoned mill, the abandoned casket factory, the abandoned storefronts, the now-industrial farms that no longer require the tending of plants or animals but of monstrous machinery. (At night the machines are lit with headlights, a man sitting in an air-conditioned cab listening to talk radio.) Do not stop to mourn the past! Remember your mother worked 40 to 60 hours a week and when she felt her soul emptying she would go to church or drive up to the city or the outlet mall by the interstate and the two of us would buy resin mirrors made in China, silk flowers, a faux painting of wine bottles or coffee; a t-shirt in several colors the softness of kittens, the thickness of tissue paper, made of recycled pop bottles to soothe your conscience and to take your attention away from the fact that in the wash the t shirts would develop tiny holes. We were assured that this is the trend, one which will require the purchase of several more t shirts but in the meantime here is one with the tiny holes manufactured into the fabric from the start. Doesn't it look good? Is it not hip? Do you not want it? Are you not beautiful in it? Doesn't it soothe your soul?

The purchase of these things was a drug itself and at night you would look at the glittering colors of objects and for a while it would satisfy you until once again you felt yourself emptying and you would begin again.

So what has changed? In all the years you learned nothing from me other than the syringe that sucks in money and then releases it. So when the money comes from disability checks (how hard it was to get that documentation!) or from your discharge from the service or from selling your body at the convenience store, and you need desperately to play the game because it has become, as you can see, the only game, then what are you to do?

How could it be otherwise?

Dear one. Listen:

If you want to play, you must understand you've made a choice you will regret. Every day in the world you will tell yourself this is the last time you will succumb (the last dessert before the diet, the last purchase on a credit card, the last time you will sleep with him, the last lie you will tell, the last theft you will be forced to make, the last drink, the last injection, the last time the very last) and every morning you will wake in shame and the only thing that will ease the shame is more of the thing that caused it. I know this. I wish I had a well of wisdom to give you. I wish I had it now. You were so fragile. I loved you beyond reason. I wish I could have kept you in a sort of womb filled with beauty and light and angels. Sometimes I'm sorry I brought you to this world. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Forgive yourself. Religions were formed to protect you from this process. They have always been this powerless.