For reasons I cannot recall, my seventh grade classmates competed against one another in a chess tournament.
(We wasted a lot of time that year. For example, 80% of the 7th and 8th grades was on the track team. When there was a track meet, the remaining 20% of students would remain in school, but couldn't be taught. ("You don't want to run sprints? Then you have to double up on American History." That strategy would have crippled our track team or caused a riot in the classroom.) Instead of learning, the blessed, blessed teachers somehow convinced the school to allow us to go for "nature walks". The two teachers and their remaining students would just up and leave the school. We'd wander down the local, rural roads, talking and singing. I have a distinct memory of a few older girls, including my only neighbor, singing Ugly Kid Joe's "Everything About You", even humming the music to the ending -- but they got it wrong, because "Everything About You" fakes a traditional, jazzy ending, and instead ends totally punk! -- while we strolled along the dirt road. Everyone behaved, because everyone was happy to be out of the classroom for hours at a time. The most notable rebellion came from Bobby, who attempted a Tarzan swing, presumably to impress the girls. Running toward a large, low-hanging branch, Bobby jumped forward and grabbed on; the branch snapped and the pendulum fell to the ditch. He was fine. Everyone laughed. The teachers had to love it, too, because Bobby was a spaz.)
I won the chess tournament. This was likely less a function of my chess talent than a credit to my experience -- my brother and I had been playing chess ever since my parents, in a brilliant move, bought a board and convinced us that it was fun. (Rereading that sentence, I can see that it gives you little clue when I first learned chess. I guess I don't know, but it must have been before the other kids.)
After my victory, I refused to play another game. I didn't want to lose. I didn't want to tarnish my legacy. I quit while I was on top, before Barry Sanders or Jerry Seinfeld or Kurt Cobain made it fashionable.
One day the 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, a remarkable human being, noticed that I refused to accept a challenge from Ryan, whose ability had risen exponentially since he first began to focus on chess instead of the amazing pile of NES cartridges in his home. Mrs. Brown asked to see me outside the classroom for a moment.
"You can't refuse to play anyone just because you are afraid you'll be beaten. You have to keep trying."
Actually, I can't remember her exact words, or even her approximate words. It's a tragedy, because I do remember that conversation meaning a lot to me. Her counselling, however phrased, was excellent. She didn't have to take me aside -- I was a good student, and I wasn't breaking any rules. But I was her student, and I wasn't working to my potential. She expected more.
And that's how I lost the title of Chess Champion to Ryan.
Years later, Ryan and I found ourselves at the same college, on the same rec center basketball court. We fell on different teams, and decided to guard each other. I dominated the first few possessions. Ryan became so frustrated that he punched the padded wall beneath the south basket. The padding was too thin, however, and Ryan broke his hand. I was the Count of Monte Cristo crossed with Thunder Dan Majerle. My revenge was complete.
These days I've been playing online against Nathan. As in grade school, I could have retired a winner after the first triad of matches. But now we're in game 4, and ol' Porkchop seems to have the upper hand.
I will break his hand soon enough.