Play Again?

I’m joining a group of writers to create a collaborative fantasy world. It’s like playing Dungeons and Dragons with far fewer rules and more than one Dungeon Master.

It’s like being in a RPG video game, which, I could mention, I’ve never actually played.

I have felt like life, at times, is a video game. I wrote this poem back in something like 2005 and I keep thinking about it today. I feel like I’m a few levels behind everybody.

The reality is that I have been getting feedback on my book draft, feedback from great people. It’s been trickling in for the past few days, and I will get the most important drafts back with notes tomorrow and I have to dig in to revisions before I submit it to my publisher on Thursday. It would make sense that I’m freaking out that people don’t think it’s a bestseller, but when I dig into my brain, I realize that what freaks me out more is that people like it. If I believe what they say, they actually like it a lot.

And that FREAKS ME OUT. A fear of failure goes hand in hand with a fear of success. Am I really this good? Do I have a chance? Do I really get to have what I’ve always wanted? Do I deserve any of this?

So, here’s the poem that’s been running through my mind all day. Thanks for reading.

Play Again?
Christine Haggerty
February 23, 2005, posted May 2012 on Wattpad

Hello, welcome to your personal fairy tale.
To play for a happy ending,
please insert two quarters in the slot below
and push START…

Level One. It took a minute, or maybe
a year to two, but the system
stayed consistent, and sticking to the
right I pretty much got through, except
for once when my jump button stuck
and I ran into after-school detention.
That sent me into the third-grade nightmare,
where I had to defeat the playground bully
before I could get back to the maze of
halls and helpful librarians. Ugh, it was
dark in there, I lost half a life taking hits before I
discovered that the X button let me throw
rocks. I passed, but the kid next to me
signed her name on for top score. Good luck, she
told me.

Level Two. Things looked a little different now. I
wasn’t sure where to go or what to do, but
I figured that it couldn’t be that much
harder to make it through and move on
to level three where I heard all the good
stuff was. Nothing happened for awhile because
I couldn’t tell if I had to find some
secret key or throw a monster down a hole and
save a village of Japanimated mice or what. I wandered,
picked up a few points making a delivery to a guy
in a beat-up old Dodge. Really the whole level
confused me, but a guy watched over my shoulder
and said to head left to the Club, whatever
that was, but he said I could get points there
in a few bonus rounds if I talked to a guy
named Howard and did what
he said. I used the A button. The points chinked out
but I carried around a shadow that slowly drained
one life away and I was down to two when I finally
found the gate to level three. No monster,
no key, but the mice danced when I slid into the rabbit

Level Three. I paused and took a breather, wiped my
sweaty palms on my faded jeans and stretched
my little thumbs. The stint in the Club really
took its toll on my trigger fingers. I glanced over,
the high score girl speeding on level five.
Level five? I asked some guy who’d
been keyed to her screen since she hit a bonus round
on level two. Man, how she’d get so far?
He laughed and scuffed his toe against the
worn carpet on the floor. She knows where to shop,
he said. I guess so. I grabbed my gears
and got ready to score a few points and search
for a turbo boost. Maybe if I’m lucky
I’ll find some way to skip over level four
and start living. I found a street full of boxes
and empty cars. I kicked some cardboard
into the tires and headed for downtown. I
stopped looking for signs and nice people
to show me the way. I wanted to win.
The girl next to me shouldn’t be so far, I was smart
and so things weren’t fair. I pushed the
guy at a shop around, but I picked the wrong dress
and never made it into the ball. That’s okay,
a guy at the door said, they’ll let you in through
the back. You got any juice? his hand shot out.
Juice? No, I stepped away. Aww, that’s too bad, he said
and slipped inside. I wondered where I was
supposed to find the juice and if high score girl
knew, but I didn’t ask because she was
racking it up on a happy bonus round. I turned back
to my screen and found the alley behind the
Ball Hotel. Whatcha need, little girl? a shadow man
asked. A carriage, I suppose, so I can score a handsome
prince and reach Happily Ever After. You won’t find
that here, but I got something that’ll get you
there faster. How much? I asked. Half your points
and one life. Okay, I shrugged, a simple matter to get
past this drudge and on to level four.
The shadow man slipped me a cookie
that read ‘eat me.’ I took a bite and the screen
sped by at light speed. Wow, I wish
I’d done that before.

Level Four. A fairy forest filled with sparkling
winged things…ooh, they bite. Nothing’s
what it seemed, and I squirreled into a
knothole in a tree that swallowed
me. When I landed on some platform stretched
across a dark abyss, I was the March Hare,
pimped in a top hat with a pocketwatch
that didn’t tell time but read one life left.
I couldn’t see up, and I couldn’t see down, so I
said what the hell and jumped into
a bonus round. A guy named Seth said
if I knocked off enough fairies, I got a prize,
so I went crazy on the buttons
and took out thirty-five. Not bad, a kid
behind me said. I picked up an extra life,
and back in the tree I wasn’t the March Hare
anymore, but a fantastic babe in black leather
with a blade. See if those fairies bite me
now, I huffed, and climbed out of the tree, watching for an
ogre or a bear to try to take me
down. I wandered around the trees, slashing at
this and that, thinking nothing could touch me.
Then I found it, the gate to level five. No way
to get through. I turned around, looked for
a key. An ogre told me to find
the fairy queen, and then I shoved him
in a tree and paid for a frog to guide me. I wanted
to get through. To reach the fairy queen
I had to fly, so the frog stayed behind
and I traded a life for wings. No matter, I’d find
a bonus prize on level five, but first I had to
get there. The fairy queen gave me a box,
and said that I’d know what to do. I said thanks
and hopped back and flew over the forest land
and hit the gate straight on. I opened the box. Empty.
The fairy queen laughed from behind the
gate, I only gave that to you to see what
you’d do, she mocked. What do you mean? I
asked. You’re a fool, she said. Do you think
level five’s any better than level three or
level one? Yeah, I do, I replied, it’s gotta be
or why did I try to stay alive? Go ahead then,
she said, come on through. If you’re gonna be
like that, I don’t care what you do. Move aside,
I muttered, and kicked the gates wide.
Come on in, she said, and smiled.

Level Five. A cliff by the ocean. The fairy queen
followed. Whatcha gonna do now? she
prodded. I looked at her and said, fuck you,
and walked off the edge…


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