I’ve never liked to play games, even as a kid, so many years ago, maybe especially as a kid, and I was never that guy who would rather be on the playing field with his well-oiled glove, or beat-up football, or even now, unlike many of my peers, there’s no clubs for me, no links, not putts, no weekends lost to the greens.
As best I can sort it, I was a model husband, I swear to god.
It was what I was saying, when she came back to the house, me trying to explain, as she was checking on certain things, to grab her winter clothes, to tell me to answer the letter from her lawyer.
Well, like, duh, I hated hearing it.
I hated that these long past years had come to this. I hated the sense of loss, which, really, boiled up as in I lost, like a defeat, it all felt as strong and vicious as when I was just a kid, losing to my older brother, who crowed his victories when I was a kid, and who screamed excuses and accusations with his losses, in the battles of chess, mainly, but card games, board games, even, no doubt, in Mother-Loves-Best.
There were some games I liked, some more than others, like chess, for example, but even that had as much to do with my older brother, I’d guess, than most anything else, since to the best of my recollection from when I was a kid my main motivation for sticking with playing chess was to one day beat him, to savor the victory I suppose, although I’m sure that as a kid I wasn’t thinking about it that way so much. And I did like, even love, the game as I got good at it, although my highest triumph was second place in a high school tournament, even though I had gotten good enough to slip into intuitive play, that state of knowing the shape and best direction of the game even without—maybe especially without—exactly knowing the specifics of the moves to come.
Not like going blank in your mind, a black wave that pushes all else beyond consideration, thought, reason.
I’d lost the championship match through a stupid blunder, leaving my queen to be captured, of all things. Half a century later, and I’m still embarrassed by that mistake, if I’m being honest.
If I’m being honest, I would admit that the need to win that I’ve realized I’ve always had has always bothered me, worried some part of me, probably even when I was too young to really understand, but I look back to even early memories and can now see that my need to win was there, like a kind of hunger or longing, as strong as any longing, as desperate as I once latter felt about women, or girls, really, since that goes back to my high school days, junior high school days, hell, even today, if you want the truth, though I never stepped out.
Girls, women, the particulars of any instance, always promised me some form of salvation, or so it seemed, I’ve come to realize. Even before I knew what to do, even before I understood anything at all about sex and love or whatever mixture best describes my feelings, I so easily could lose myself in imagining that one woman’s love, or the next, or another, her loving me, was all that I would need.
Plus sex, of course, but that is probably as much to do with hormones and chemicals in the blood, the animal in us all, and while there is a connection, of course, and while my hair has grayed and thinned, extra pounds and aches and pains accumulate, my erections and my physical abilities are there and the chemical pings and flashes working well, the deepest sense was always engendered in the idea of being wanted.
I mean, that wasn’t the problem, nor the sharing of such, I made my vows and stuck with them, as best I could, and that was pretty good, I’d placed my bet, as it were, made my bed, as it were, cast my fortune upon the woman I married, and now over so many years.
What that has to do with not liking playing games is confusing, or maybe not relevant, although as I think on it, I understand that flirting, wooing, pursuing was game-like, I guess. But what I’m talking about seems to be more fundamental, although I’m hard-pressed to think of something in life more fundamental than love.
Or being loved, really. It’s not like I’ve not had therapy, and that I don’t understand how my not being seen by my mother—the mother-in-my-psyche, anyway, if not my actual mom—can set up in a person an unreasonable need for acknowledgement, a goddamn complex, it’s not that I haven’t done my homework, made the effort. But what continues to surprise me is the persistence of this, and how it manifests in so many thoughts and situations and reactions, that impetus of not losing, this hunger and desire, an animal quality that is so often plenty of what oppresses me, a goddamn basic need always floating beneath the surface, with occasions that violently stir the calm, that explode into an uncontrolled steaming geyser of want and need and blackness, manifests in so many things, so many tiny and unimportant instances, how this is often exhausting, I’m exhausted.
I worked hard on this marriage.
The way I mostly participate in games, and this goes back into my child memories, is to refuse to play, to remain apart but then stand around and kibitz, to float about the action in hopes of recognition, which I years ago figured out was a way to not lose even while I could experience some sense of winning, murmuring the better word in a Scrabble play, or indicating—always to the annoyance of the players—when best it was to play a trump or whatever, or to invade Irkutsk. Hell, the last time this happened was a little more than four months ago, when my in-laws were over, it was just weeks, maybe less than a week, before my wife announced that she was moving out, and there I was, not exactly oblivious about the trouble in our marriage, but still, calling out word combinations for one or another of the actual players of Bananagrams.
Her wanting a divorce, and this after raising our kids, all out and about in their own lives, and steady and able each and every one, after my doing so much of what she wanted across these decades of marriage, and she’s unhappy, and sometimes the only thing I’m feeling, is how this is a loss for me, but loss as in losing, as in being defeated.
Yeah. I know. What I also know is that any setback, any defeat, is a blow to me, a dropping down in some sort of ranking, some loss in standing, that, sure, only I am tracking, only I am noting, feeling, and this happens in all sorts of ways, about all sorts of things, maybe everything, really.
Here’s a funny thing: over the years, maybe decades now, I’ve noticed that when I do play a game, I often win, the first round, maybe the second, and then I’ll collapse in my playing. I’ve wondered if it is just a matter of me losing interest, but now I figure that my subsequent losses in the second, third rounds, or games like the chess I still sometimes play, results from an exhaustion, when my output, the effort I expend, that experience becomes unsustainable, as if I have the ability to run my brain at 110%, but only for short periods of time, say three hands of poker, and then I’m back down to the usual, or even worse, to a mental diminishment, an exhaustion, I swear this may be true, I don’t know.
Or maybe, it’s the fear that I’ll be angry, go mad, the temper from my childhood days, flashing out, a loss a major blow, a disaster, annihilation.
I’ve thought about this a lot, or tried. I’ve wondered if perhaps I’m nothing special in terms of intelligence, in the spectrum of brain power, but that I have some sort of trick, an ability, yes, to go full out mentally, but only for a short while when hope chokes out the darkness. Conversations can be like this, where I show off my reading, my education, making connections between and among facts and theories and perspectives, to create a kind of flash, to shine, building arguments no one can withstand, no one can choose other than to see how right and sparkly I am.
But I’ve come to realize that it is tiring. That I’m expending a lot of energy, whether it’s something like a serotonin depletion, or whatever neurological substances that get consumed when working recall and logic and imagination hard, I’ll confess that this is something that cigarettes once helped with, I’m sure, something about how nicotine works in cognition, affect, although I just might need to smoke again to recall this in more detail.
Yes, these expenditures apply widely, and even to jokes, and I know that I’ve known since my early years that I want to be the funniest person in the room, too.
It isn’t that I haven’t grown up, because I have in many ways, including some sort of self-awareness of what I’m talking about, but good lord, needing to be loved, wanted, is a harder habit to break than smoking, and the only thing that really got me to quit cigarettes, some thirty years ago, was the idea that I was in a competition with nicotine and that I sure as hell wasn’t going to lose.
I mean, my god, this applies to everything, it seems, and it probably does. I recall thinking along these lines when I had that bad run of hemorrhoids, lasting weeks, after a bad run of the runs, from some stomach bug if I recall, and it’s like I’m shaking my fists at the heavens for the curse of it, which makes me distracted and uncomfortable, so that I’m feeling like I’m slipping down, I guess because I’m not getting some things done, or at least as quickly, or maybe even just that I’m having to worry about scratching my asshole, so, like, Why me? Like, so when bad things happen to losers and that sort of shit.
Like losing my queen. Another blunder, this late in life?
Well, fuck her. She’s not helping me win. No one is helping me win.
I should have said wait while until I’m not here.
I shouldn’t have grabbed her, not so hard, gone black, but I wasn’t trying to, I was just trying to make her understand, stop, be still, see my argument, stop the game.
Which, of course, is what ended up. Her being still, her arguments, her thoughts, her breath, her body, stifled and stilled.
And I feel bad, awful, honest, I swear to god. And now I’m using my goddamn hoped-for 110 to figure out what I can do, could do, cleaning, disposal, moving her car, getting the story straight, what the angles are, how to avoid the penalties, arrest.
I can’t win for losing.