Derrick turns 18 today.
We welcome him back after a long separation. Of all the places he could have gone today, he chose to spend his birthday with us. At Derrick's request, we pulled out the old game of Risk; maybe he missed the old times.
Years ago we used to play Risk with Derrick and his older brother Anthony. Without fail, the fictional board game war always turned into a real family conflict, where each person played the same, predictable roles. Anthony would cheat, then pitch a fit when he got caught. I always felt compelled to play the part of the world police, so the primary argument always revolved around Anthony and me. Derrick would barricade himself in Australia with no real strategy for winning, and then cry when he finally lost the war. Anthony would make fun of Derrick for crying, and Rhonda would finally leave the table in disgust. Sounds like a horrible family memory, and yet both boys still talk about the nostalgia of playing Risk as a family.
This time, the dynamics of our game changed dramatically. Of course, Anthony wasn't here to cheat and Derrick finally abandoned the Australia strategy and quite nearly destroyed everyone. Dakota joined the competition in his own right and the girls formed a cooperative team. Instead of fighting, we actually laughed and joked the whole time. Maybe we finally mastered the art of creating happy, loving memories, even if it involves a quest for world domination.
At the end, I won the game, but both Derrick and Dakota gave me a run for my money. As Derrick left, I hugged him and said, "Happy birthday Derrick. I'm sorry I had to crush you on your birthday, of all days." A tiny laugh escaped his normally somber facade.
It was a happy birthday for all of us.