Janet Sheridan: Born to lose
August 23, 2012
After seeing me skirmish with neighborhood friends on a dirt court beneath a basketball hoop hanging from a telephone pole, my dad told me I'd be a great player — if the other team would leave me alone.
Dad's comment summarized my competitive life: 0thers scheme, maneuver and never give up. I fail to think beyond the immediate play, forget to watch for exploitable weaknesses in my opponents and lose any ability to concentrate when the going gets tough.
My lack of assertiveness puts me at the mercy of bloodthirsty competitors, ruthless cutthroats who sense my lack of guile, take advantage of it and quickly dispense of my weak-willed self.
Unfortunately, I've lived with many of these rogues.
After much banging about of balls with mallets, Carolyn and I had reached the finale of a closely matched croquet game. Both of us could make it through the final two wickets, hit the stake and end the game.
It was my turn. I took my time, studied the angles, concentrated — and missed.
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Carolyn didn't hesitate. She Ignored her winning shot at the stake, took aim at my ball, and hit it. Then, as the rules allowed, she moved her ball next to mine, walloped hers vigorously, and sent mine zooming across the yard to lodge among the tangled roots of an overgrown lilac bush.
I considered her action an unsportsmanlike betrayal and could not forgive her treachery.
She didn't care.
I fared no better at board games. I thought the purpose of Parcheesi was to get all four of my markers safely home before anyone else. So when Bob, who clearly was losing, chose to take one of his players around the board again rather than heading home with it, I thought he'd taken leave of his senses.
But then he caught up to my last player, landed on its square, sent the little fellow back to start, and won the game. I yelled that he was a dirty cheater and I hated him. He then spent the rest of the day asking me if I wanted to play Parcheesi.
Even Mom chose victory over artistry. When we played Scrabble, I concentrated on using all my tiles. I swelled with pride when I ridded myself of the dreaded Q, unaware that Mom could earn a triple word score by adding "ion" to my word, quest. Which she did, chuckling wickedly at my gasp of dismay.
My mother, the woman who supposedly wanted only the best for me, played to block me when possible, took advantage of my errors, challenged my words and gloried in my defeat.
Barbara also proved duplicitous, winning games I didn't know we were playing.
As Valentine's Day neared one year, Mom enlisted us to help her make heart-shaped sugar cookies. I had a fine time: wielding a cookie cutter, eating bits of dough, talking with Mom and ignoring Barbara, who seemed unusually quiet and businesslike.
As Mom lifted the last cookie onto the baking pan, Barbara shot from her chair, did a lobster-crawl victory dance, and boasted, "Got you, slowpoke. You only cut 18 cookies, and I did 24. Loser, loser, loser."
She continued bragging and scrabbling about even when I told her she was adopted, and I was the only one in the family to vote against it.
I played chess with my first husband for six months, both of us novices, and wondered why he won most of the games. Then, during an unusual closet-cleaning spree, I moved a stack of his clothes and found a book, pages earmarked and sentences underlined.
He was on chapter six of How to Win at Chess.
More recently, when we hike, I've noticed that Joel always manages to reach the summit first.
Though I have no evidence, I'm beginning to think he's pulling a Barbara on me and is too sneaky to gloat.