The best scrabble game I ever played was in the summer of 2010. The setting was pretty typical – my bachelor apartment in southwest Calgary. The opponent was even pretty typical – my good friend Dwayne who, at the time, I had come to regard as my best friend. We stared at each other across a scrabble board on a weekly basis – a comforting practice that had brought stability to my life at a time of great imbalance. There was typically fire in the electric fireplace. There was typically a bowl full of nuts or candy. There was always tea.
I really like scrabble; I am not the best scrabble player. I’m good, but one of the side-effects of growing up in a large family where nobody bothered to read the rule book is that I rarely know the proper rules for any games. If you find a game stupid, this never matters; if I go the rest of my life without knowing the proper rules for monopoly, I’ll be just fine. But I always really liked scrabble. Words were my thing, and the fact that most people in my family (other than my little sister) hated the game was just an added bonus. You really only need one other player anyway.
Over the years, the rules have been revealed to me as my circle of contacts has grown beyond my immediate family. The most embarrassing revelation was uncovered by my ex-boyfriend’s sixty year old mother, who played the game religiously online and, upon watching Gene and I play scrabble in the basement one night, informed me that you can’t add onto a word and continue to spell another word in the same turn. Such painful truths were unearthed slowly, like a bandaid deliberately pealed back from a day-old wound.
As my disillusionment with the game diminished, my love for the sport of it did not. An expansive vocabulary was still required, and it was still an excellent way to demonstrate grammatical superiority.
Or at least that’s what I thought. Until I met Dwayne. Who played for points, and only points. And with this meeting, “all was lost, like tears in the rain”.
Dwayne was, and still is, a man who is small in stature. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for in speech. The man loves to talk. When we first met, we became enamoured with each other. Not because we truly found the other person all that intriguing, but because we saw a great deal of ourselves in each other. We viewed the world in very similar ways, and any conversations that we had with each other simply reinforced our hyperactive and exaggerated world view. From where I was sitting, Dwayne was the first person to not piss all over my thoughts. I was suddenly permitted to over-think every situation as much as I wanted. I felt mentally safe for the first time in my life, and that feeling was an incredible release. I often referred to our conversations as brain orgasms.
It wasn’t long into our friendship (and out of my recent relationship) that I began to confuse this feeling of release with actual feelings of romantic love. A crush began to develop, and it was the worst kind of crush – the kind that you fear is not reciprocated. Had I been honest with myself, I would have known from the beginning that this crush would never have amounted to anything. The reason was simple: I was raised to believe that small is the greatest quality a woman can have. And, as my metaphorical mental twin, Dwayne was raised with much the same mentality.
I am not small in stature. I say this even now with a wincing face, because I truly wish that I was. But at 5’7 (which I lie, and say is actually 5’6) I will always be considered “tall for a girl”. Tall does not have to be a terrible quality for a woman; models seem to do quite well. But I am not a model. I am a regular-sized woman who is above-average in height. And that’s the best way that I can be described.
I’ve never cared if men were taller or bigger than me, but if I’m being honest with myself I’ve always cared if men were taller or bigger than me. It’s a part of my upbringing that I deny, and there are many other male qualities that I hold in higher regard, but my ideal man would be someone who was taller than me. It would make me feel more feminine. Fuck.
This was a topic which was, and still remains, hotly contested between Dwayne and I. He would assert that, “men prefer a woman who is shorter, and women prefer a man who is taller.” My feminism would rush into battle at full gallop, yelling, “That’s not true! I’ve had crushes on lots of men who are the same height as me or shorter.” To which he would quickly retort, “But what would you PREFER?”. And I would immediately hate him – partly because I ascribed to such an archaic way of thinking, and partly because I took it as him telling me (in his own terrible way) that he would PREFER to never be with me. And round and round we’d go.
The only thing more infuriating than Dwayne’s views on relationships was his approach to scrabble, and I began to suspect the two approaches were inextricably linked. While we were similar in so many ways and could typically talk about anything, our approach to the game could not be more different. Without fail, I would strive to make the most complicated word I could muster, and he would sweep the points by putting “rock” on a quadruple word square (this was super scrabble we were playing, so…ya…that shit was wide open). As time wore on, our two approaches became more and more problematic for my impressionable heart; I kept trying to impress him, and he really just wanted to win.
But the night of the best scrabble game ever was a bit different. I was pretty sure I had just lost a lot of weight. This is not something I typically track, because if I did I would be obsessed with it (likely because of the aforementioned men=big, women=small hang-up). But I had gone down two jean sizes and one bra size, and greeted Dwayne at the door by proudly proclaiming this information. He seemed almost embarrassed for me that I needed to share such details of my life. Have I mentioned that me with a crush is a fundamentally pathetic phenomenon?
As I unfolded the scrabble board in the usual spot on the rug, Dwayne made an odd suggestion.
“Why don’t we make up words as we go?”.
I initially thought this was stupid – the whole point of scrabble is to exercise your brain and win favour in the eyes of the person you’re playing with (isn’t it?). But Dwayne went on to explain that the words we made up still had to obey certain rules of English linguistics, and we had to successfully use them in a sentence that was acceptable to the other person. In part due to my crushed state, not only did I go along with this idea, but I kept notes (so very pathetic).
In just a few minutes, what should have been the dumbest take on scrabble became oddly liberating. Not only was it the most we had laughed and felt no tension around each other in weeks, but, pooling our creativity, we created a language with these gems:
Cronnnan – A modern-day barbarian; very high in comedic value. “The Cronnans were gulping down their creatine at the gym.”
Jrlegmn – Spastic puking. “I watched him jrlegmn for at least two hours.”
Fohatu – Designer public hair. “She had a fohatu shaped like a care bear.”
Xeill – A drunken haze in which you see your crush in a certain way, and your opinion cannot be swayed. “It was too late – the xeill had already fallen over his eyes.”
Seriously. Hours of this shit. Most people would have found this entire exercise fruitless and frustrating. For me, it was the most fantastic idea ever. To assign new meanings to random letters that meant nothing, and would really never be used again? Pointlessness never felt so good.
I suspect (though I don’t know for sure) that Dwayne knew I needed this. As I said, me when I have a crush is a pathetic mess. I have this on good authority from multiple third-parties on multiple different occasions. When I like someone, it’s obvious – it consumes me, and it’s never a good thing. But even sadder is the fact that this isn’t just how I behave around crushes – it’s how I behave around everyone.
I want to impress my fellow humans with my knowledge of a world that I have only the vaguest clue about. I want to not only be accepted, but hailed as victorious – beyond reproach in every aspect of life. I will lay down my biggest words and brightest ideas, forcing them to fit, only to discover that a three-letter word in the opposite corner would have taken me much further. I play for other people, even the completely wrong people, and forego the joy of exploring an empty board that would quite literally allow for anything.
If I’m being honest with myself, winning or being great or beautiful or thin means nothing to me. But, if I’m being more honest with myself, losing or being mediocre or ugly still means everything.
For one night in the summer of 2010, “tall”, “short”, “dumb”, “smart”, “thin”, “fat”, “ugly” and “pretty” were unwelcome impossibilities; these words meant nothing, because there was a whole new lexicon to create. If I could strip all of this meaning out of life, I’d probably have more opportunities to experience pure joy, regardless of what it looked like. Or at least get a higher score.