When I was about 7 years old my Aunt L. taught me to play scrabble - by beating me at it, soundly.
Now I know how that must sound. But you have to understand that I'm a wordy person from a family of wordy people. My grandmother was able to do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in pen in under two hours. My father, who used to be a history teacher, once helped me out of a jam by writing me a term paper on the birth of the American navy, and then reverse engineering the outline, note cards, and bibliography more or less on the fly. We were all readers, big time.
My aunt is among other things an interior designer, a furniture designer, something of an architect, and has a LOT of specialized vocabulary.
Additionally she has a sense of physical space that grants her some special advantages. She can pack a car like no one else I've ever met, and pattern based games like hi-Q are a snap for her. It also gives her this completely infuriating ability in scrabble to play 2-3 turns ahead of herself, and make plays that make many words at the same time.
My aunt had learned scrabble from my grandmother and they used to play all the time. I wanted in.
So she showed me the basics, and we played "open rack", and she helped me out. But, she still beat me by about 200 points.
I was hooked and immediately wanted to play her again. Did I mention I'm a masochist?
Over the next 13 years we must have played thousands of games. I'm sure I tied with her dozens of them, and came within just a few points of outright winning often.
Do you know how many of those games I actually won?
I did mention I'm a masochist, right?
Everything changed when I went to college. I got involved with a local scrabble club in Baltimore, and they taught me competitive, tournament scrabble. I learned all the 2 letter words you can play in scrabble, got myself a copy of Everything Scrabble, and learned what Tim, the club leader called his "Jedi mind tricks". These were ways to maximize your own efficiency, while mentally dominating and intimidating your opponent.
I went to visit my aunt a few months later, and was I ever ready for a god damn game of scrabble.
I trounced her. It was a slaughter. Then I did it again.
Did I mention I'm also a sadist?
My aunt was thrilled. That weekend we played a lot of scrabble. I won about half the time.
Since then, that pattern has held true. I win about half the time.
We each have our own specialized vocabulary. She's got her spatial skills. I have really good anagraming ones.
I love my aunt. My family has been through some really terrible stuff, things which most people wouldn't even believe, they're so terrible. Throughout it all, my aunt has been there for me. She's a rock in my life. We are really, really good to each other, in every avenue of our lives.
In scrabble, we are total jerks to each other.
Every single time we play, it's a bloodbath. We have a shared style of play I call "Completely fuck over the other guy."
We're so aggressive when we play that many of my friends refuse to play with me, because they find it frustrating. My friend J once angrily tossed our board aside as we played at the beach, out of frustration. He's also a peace loving proto-Buddhist pacifist, who almost never raises his voice.
I taught my stepson this same style of playing scrabble, and once praised him for making another boy actually cry because he beat him so soundly.
Now that the internet and smart phones have made it possible, my aunt and I are usually in two to three games with each other all the time. And in each one, we always go for the throat.
Because we love each other.
I'm so grateful for my aunt and this lifelong rivalry we share. It brings us close, keeps us sharp, and gives me joy.
Now if you'll excuse me, it's my turn.