Last night, we watched the movie Rounders, a drama where Matt Damon and Edward Norton portray high-stakes poker players. It was intriguing to disappear into that risky and shadowy world from the mundane security of the couch. My pulse was racing enough just watching someone lose $25,000 in a matter of seconds; I certainly didn’t feel a need to experience it myself.
I know very little about the mechanics of poker, but I do know a few things about psychology. And, as you may know, poker is often more about what the players think you have in your hand rather than the actual cards you hold. The winner is often the person who can see through others’ misdirections while projecting his or her illusion seamlessly.
I think my ex would have made a very good poker player.
For all I know, maybe he was. Perhaps that’s what happened to the money. But even if he never touched a deck of cards, he was still approaching life like a game. He was attracted to risks. He seemed to enjoy being able to manipulate people with his stories and actions. He had an amazing ability to read people and steer them in the direction he wanted.
And, like many poker players, he was almost brought down by his tell.
In the game, a “tell” is a subconscious sign that reveals when a player is stressed or bluffing. It can be a certain eye movement, a twitching of a finger or, as in the case of the movie, even reaching for an Oreo. Players work to restrain or hide their tells.
Because the truth is fighting to come out.
My ex met his other wife at a bar in a Vegas hotel, where they were both staying for work. According to her, they stayed up late that first night, flirting and drinking in the public spaces. He was wooing her with fabrications, telling stories of a manufactured persona woven from the lives of our friends. I guess at some point, the stress of the lies grew too great because he passed out cold on the casino floor.
Interestingly, in his statement to the police months later, he claimed that at that moment, he lost “conscienceness,” misplacing his ability to tell right from wrong. It was the only truth he wrote upon that paper.
The paramedics were called and his vitals taken. His blood pressure was as inflated as his lies.
Because the truth was fighting to come out.
For the last several months of our marriage, he visited doctor upon doctor trying to reign in his ever-soaring hypertension. No pill was strong enough; the pressure kept mounting.
Along with the lies.
The doctors declared his problem was idiopathic, arising from unknown origins. What they failed to realize is that the cause was buried in his psychology rather than his physiology. They were looking in the wrong place.
If I known I was married to a poker player, perhaps I would have recognized his hypertension for what it was. A tell.
Because the truth always finds a way out.
Side note – When I saw him a couple years ago, one of the only things I was curious about was his blood pressure. I figured it would be a clue as to the kind of life he was living.