The story so far:
iv - the game
I moved in with Kirt and his junkie mother just in time to see his step dad Skeeter blow his skull apart with a sawed-off shotgun. It’s an image that will stay with me forever. An image I hope to never see again.
Shortly after the suicide Kirts mother OD’s on smack and also joined the ranks of the deceased. Without any other options we were forced to move to Detroit, Michigan and live with his grandmother.
She was very warm and welcomed us into her home with open arms. It was a unique and wonderful experience to be a part of an African American family. Getting the opportunity to see life through the eyes of a different culture. Learning about a different history than that which is taught in schoolbooks written by uptight white history professors.
But even with a decent home life, growing up in Detroit was rough. We lived on the south side in a predominantly black neighborhood so I was always getting picked on. Luckily by the time we were in seventh grade Kirt was towering over six feet and I wasn’t far behind.
But being tall in the hood isn’t a free pass. In fact, in many cases it’s simply an invitation for someone to prove how badass they are by bringing you down. Or you stand out so much that the older kids want to bust you up.
We grew up learning the hard way how to survive. We both have several displayable scars validating these life lessons.
We learned how to see around corners before we turned them. We learned how to get out of dead ends when there were no exits. How to disappear and reappear elsewhere. When to keep our mouths shut and when to talk. We learned how to create good times for ourselves when the only good times available were cooked in the bottom of a spoon.
Two honest, determined kids growing up in a city of filth and waste.
We made a pact to survive. To succeed in this **** hole world. To one day look back at the messed up hands that were dealt to us and laugh at the way we bluffed our way through them and won the pot.
Neither one of us could have done it without the other. We constantly drove each other to be better, to always strive harder. If I got a ‘B’ in Science, Kirt would get an ‘A.’ Then I would work harder next time to match it. When he got a job as a dishwasher, I got one as a bus boy. A few months later he was promoted to busboy. A month later I was promoted to waiter.
It was a constant race to always be better. Not better than each other…at least that’s what we always thought. But better than the world.
I can’t recall the exact point at which things changed. Sometime during our college years.
We were both heavily recruited by several Big Ten schools. I chose the University of Michigan and Kirt chose Ohio State. This allowed us to branch out a bit while still remaining close enough to see each other often.
The first few years were terrific. We continued to strive for perfection, always trying to one up each other. Each semester we sent each other our grades and documented extra curricular activities. When it became impossible to attain goals any higher than we had already achieved we switched gears; writing contests, poetry contests, art exhibits, video games…women.
Previously all our competitiveness had been used as a means to better ourselves on some level. But Kirt started taking things much too seriously.
He started keeping score.
Simply stated, a win meant one point. A loss meant nothing.
Now we both always wanted to win and frankly neither of us had ever been a good loser, however Kirt started acting detached. If I got a better score at Tetris or scored with a hotter chick one night, he would mole away for a few days. Skip classes. Ignore phone calls.
At one point, after I had slept with his girlfriend, he disappeared for an entire week.
I thought it had finally gone too far…gotten out of control. I was about to contact the police when I got a postcard from London suggesting I check my savings account.
I did and it was empty.
Kirt withdrew my savings and took a vacation. Got cha!
I fought the new system for a while. I told him it was ridiculous to take our games so seriously. But he persisted and in time I started following the statistics as well.
I mean, really, it’s so logical if you think about it.
How else would we know who was winning if we didn’t keep score?