I think I have to stop being so competitive.
Why do I always have to make things a competition? Why does there always have to be winners and losers? Why does one always need to outdo another. Is it instinct? A survival tool? Pride? Can it be overcome? Is there deliverance?
When someone makes an achievement, instead of simply congratulating them, saying job well done, and leaving it with a hearty slap on the back, I have to open my mouth and take it one single step further, adding, “I can do it better.” This simple boast guarantees that the one who just accomplishing the earlier deed will issue the equally simple challenge. “Prove it.” Normal life is put on hold and the priority of living becomes overcoming that challenge. Life takes unexpected pathways; money is wasted, responsibility are ignored, resumes have to be updated, rudimentary first aid is applied, emergency rooms are rushed, hours are lost in coffee shops, videos are posted on You-Tube and the cops get involved.
In 1970, I was a short, happy first-grader playing with my odd assortment of friends. It was in the driveway of one of our homes that someone, in a flash of insanity, came up with a new game idea. “Let’s play touch the car!” We all quickly raced to the car parked in the driveway and slapped our hands on the side of the station-waggon with the fake wood panelling. Then, each of us shouted, I win, in unison. That turned into a five-way argument over first place.
Before punches could be thrown or rocks fired, before the first crimson stains of lifeblood spattered the light dusting of snow at our feet, the crazy maniac who invented the game in the first place stepped in. “Not this car!” He then pointed towards the street, “Those!” His finger indicated the monster-size gas guzzlers travelling along our street. First graders, being apt to embrace insanity, all agreed this would be a good game and a lot more fun then racing to station waggon parked in the driveway.
The rules were simple, we would all take a turn to individually stand on the curb and when a car passed by in the opposite lane we had to rush out and tag our target.
Yes, we had all agreed it would be a fun game to play, but when it came time to start, only Andre was insane enough to actually play it and that was most likely because he was the one who had thought it up in the first place. He stood there, undiagnosed ADHD energy coursing through his being, bouncing up and down in place, twitching and impatient as he spotted the next vehicle coming down the road. Like a panther pouncing on its prey he sprang from the curb, bounded over the pavement and tagged the rear panel of the car with his mitten. As the car sped on he turned to face us and we erupted with applause like an audience of fanatics welcoming the world’s foremost rock star to the stage.
At age six, the competitive fires of my nature blazed even then. If he could do it so could I. I craved the same adoration of my peers that we had just lavished upon him in heaps. Before common sense could reign supreme I was deep within insanity’s embrace standing alone on the curb as a large car approached from down the road. Focused only on the rear quarter panel I committed myself to the task before me and stepped off the curb. I thought I heard someone behind me urgently warning me to stop but I pushed it from my mind. I was determined to achieve this mission and nothing was going to distract me. My mitten, with the string around my neck, connected with the passing steel leaving a smudge in the dried salt on the car’s surface. I had tagged the V8 monster!
I spun on the pavement to face my friends, leaping in victory, pumping my salt-stained mitten in the air, ignoring the burn on the back of my neck as the string pulled the mitten on my other hand tight. I waited for the cheering and celebration had been Andre’s reward to now explode for me. They stood there in silence, staring. Then, as one, the group turned their backs on me and fled. It was as if I, the conquering hero, had suddenly transmuted into the creature from the Black Lagoon.
My hands fell to my side and with rope burn on the back of my neck I stood there in the middle of the road puzzled. Hearing a noise to my right I looked and there just down the road behind me the car I had tagged had stopped and the driver’s door was opening. A huge polished black boot was stepping out onto the asphalt. But it was the trousers that caught all of my attention and the reflective bright yellow stripe that travelled up the side, ending at the belt where a huge leather-clad holster hung, housing a service revolver within.
I was six years old about to face off with the RCMP and my friends had abandoned me.
I thought of running but figured he could have six bullets in me by the time I reached the curb.
So I had to stand there in the middle of the road listening to a lecture on road safety and promise never to do this again.
And to this day I never have.
But, now that I think back on it, how would we have ever determine the winner of that game? What if all of us had tried and succeeded in tagging cars? How would we have determined who was the winner. Probably the same way we always did. Throw punches and fire rocks. Last one standing with the least amount of blood flowing wins.
Yes, after forty years it’s time for me to stop competing. I just have to accept the fact that yes, I am better at everything and leave it at that. What was that you say? Prove it? Oh I’ll prove it alright! Come on with it! Just name the time and place. I’ll show you!
This is gonna end badly.