My brother used to womp my ass at Rich Uncle. It was a musty game in an old collection of moldy ones at my grandparent's hunting camp in upstate New York. This game, in particular, had to do with money. And in the same likeness, he would beat the shit out of me in Monopoly. And then, after giving my ass a good old fashioned whooping, he would gloat; and although I can't remember the direct manner in which he gloated, I can only imagine that he might have stuck his index fingers straight in the air and then pumped them up and down in the manner one might take to milk a cow. I remember the distinct feeling of dejection. It tasted like salt water.
Now these games had a strategic element to them. And it might make sense that he, being the older, smarter sibling, should kick my ass. But he would take me to the cleaners in such games as Go Fish, War, Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land and any of the sort of games that required only the right LUCK to win. He would still kick the crap out of me.
But I continued to try. I would continue to try to race him around the house, only to come huffing and puffing three minutes behind him. I would continue to try to win at PIG at the basketball hoop, only to spell PIG before he even made it to P. He asked and I never gave up.
I was remembering this when I drove the 4.25 hours home from Augusta, Maine this weekend. The Green Mountain Girls had a tournament. We lost all of our four games. All of them. Now the last one and first one were close...so we may have had a chance and that makes playing any game worth it. But in the second one I felt no more useful than an orange construction cone. And in the third, we just plain sucked.
And so on that long and tiresome and lonely ride home I contemplated this suckingness. As I passed lumber yards and general stores and church parking lots full of Sunday's best, I looked back over my life and saw all the losses, all the close ones, all the images I have of my own fallen head, slumped shoulders, thrown sticks, maybe even a few tears. As I passed ponds littered with ice houses and snowmobile trails running perpendicular to paved roads and abandoned houses and alternately houses filled with shit up to the ceiling I considered why I drive all these miles to play these games with these women only to lose.
I play because she plays her heart out. Even with a broken hand or bum knee. She plays even when a whole team has her number and is out to get her.
I play because she loves hockey so much that this Valentine's Day was perfect because she got a new pair of hockey gloves. And her birthday before she got new hockey pants. And the Christmas before she got new shoulder pads. And so on. And so on. And so on.
I play because the girl on the left has the tenacity of a bull dog and the girl on the right, well we have our moments out there on the ice.
I play because she's just plain sweet.
And because she's just plain good.
I play because, win or lose, we always get ready in the locker room with the idea that we can win. That we will win.
And just in case we don't, I can count on us coming back to the hotel, cracking a few beers, putting on our high heels and our acid wash jeans (well, some of us) and hitting the crazy nightlife that these small New England towns can afford.
We pay extra money for the shows.
The Gun Shows that is.
But the laughter, the laughter is always free.
So with four hours of sleep under my belt and the frost heaves exacerbating the headache brought on by some watery beer called Blue Light, ingested because of some game called beer pong, I went through my life and took stock of my lack of victories. Every sundown the three Final Four trophies on my bookcase, none of them National Championship trophies, shimmer in the pinkish gold setting sun. I refuse to throw them to the sharks in the landfill. I see THAT one tiny step away from the Olympic team. Almost, but not quite. I see professors telling me I'm not smart enough to get a Phd in English. I see teaching failures. I see coaching failures. I see all these things I wasn't victorious at.
And then I turned right on Rte. 302 right outside Bethlehem, N.H. I've been on this road before. It was familiar, I knew where I was. I knew how to get home. It wouldn't be long now.
I pulled up the driveway, unpacked my hockey stuff, said hello to the dogs, sat in a quiet house for a moment. I looked around at the mess...left behind by kids and life and extreme sports. This life. More specifically HIM:
He is my one true victory.
Thirteen years ago he asked me to be his wife. I might have failed at being my best in all things up until that point. But from that eventful Valentine's Day until now Paul Bunyan has made me a better person.
He tells me to go play.
And even though we lose it doesn't taste like salt water.