A long, long time ago Jon took me to a warehouse in sunnyvale, an unassuming spot. We parked in an all-but-abandoned parking lot and made our way to the front of the building. I can always tell when Jon is about to surprise me (his eyes sparkle and his dimples show when he fights back the urge to smile). That day, the reason for our stopping, was a surprise. But, as we'd only been dating for a month at the time, I was tentative as we approached.
Inside was a giant, dusty space crowded with mazes of boxes and shelves that stretched to the 20-foot ceiling. The man who greeted us was also giant and dusty, but he smiled when we entered and stretched out his hand. I don't remember his name or his face, but I do remember what he gave to us that day. Our Go board.
It was one of Jon's Valentine's Day presents to me. As the man pulled it from the tissue-lined box and unfolded it for our inspection, I smiled. The top was a warm, natural glossy brown; the black 19 x 19 grid was perfect and even. I ran my hand across the top and imagined how many games of Go we would play together.
You see, even after a mere month I knew that Jon was in for the long haul. The fact that we'd both picked up Go (an ancient Japanese board game boasting the simplest rules and the most impossible strategy) in the weeks before we met had been an unbelievable coincidence. Playing together made the addiction to the game complete.
So that day we invested in a gorgeous board, glass stones and a set of polished wood bowls... all that we needed. Jon wrote the man a check, shook his hand, and we hurried out to the car.
The rest of the day is gone from my memory specifically, but I know we played. And over the course of that year we played at my parents' house in front of the fireplace, at a friend's house as he coached our strategies, in parks, at coffee shops... but the best place to play, the most peaceful and lovely, was the beach. Valentine's Day you can find us at Stinson Beach north of Sausalito. We find a spot overlooking the ocean and we play. For three years now that tradition has ended with a victory for Jon.
After that first V-day loss for me, one who has never fancied losing at anything, I pouted. But it turned out to be a marvelous day anyway. As I stood looking out at the ocean, letting the whispering tide push the soreness of defeat from my mind, Jon, my boyfriend of six weeks, came up and wrapped his arms around me.
I love you.
It was the first time he said it to me, and I was overjoyed. No, I didn't say it back right then. But that's another story, one with much less of a point, because if I'd actually followed my heart and told Jon I loved him when I first felt that way... our first date would have been even more dramatic.
The following year, after we'd been engaged for a few months, after we'd begun planning for the wedding, after we'd moved ahead at a full-out sprint, we went back to Stinson for a rematch. In between we'd played some, but not nearly enough. Between school, work and wedding plans, taking up rock climbing and figuring out where to live and what to drive after we were married, Go had all but stopped. We decided to use Valentine's Day as the perfect excuse to jump start the competition.
Jon won again. What's a girl to do?
This summer we've played a lot of Go. Mostly because our friend Amy got a job as barrista at a local coffee shop (not Starbucks) and it gave us a terrific atmosphere in which to match wits. The stakes were raised after each game. Handicaps were raised and lowered accordingly. I won about as much as Jon did, by about as many stones, too.
But losing never gets any easier for either of us. At any point during the game, the person who is smiling believes they are winning. Of course, because we love each other, the winning player often attempt to cheer up his/her opponent. "I love you!" But to no avail. The loser is always a slightly sore loser, denying any and all positive comments from across the table. Sometimes the tables turn dramatically, massive amount of territory change hands, assumptions crumble and goals are dashed. More than once I have been the Phoenix, rising from what had seconds before appeared to be a series of terrible plays and ascending to victory. Just as fast, the roles of cheerleader and grumpy-face switch. It's amusing to watch from the outside.
I cannot begin to explain this game to anyone who has not seen it, heard of it, watched it for more than sixty seconds. This isn't about the tedious strategy, jargon, or history. What it all boils down to is that we learned this game together as we learned the game of life together. Thankfully we're better at balancing jobs and juggling use of the car and planning for our future than we are at the placing of black and white stones on a plain, grid-covered board. But at both we get better each time we takes a stab at playing.
After that first game, after Jon told me he loved me for the first time, I sat down and, as all poets do, allowed that love to inspire me. Ever since it has been in a frame on Jon's desk, reminding him that I admire his talent, and that I will always be there to keep him on his toes.
on a blanket in the sand we match wits
my love and i
smiling strategy & playful plotting
i rush my plays ruthlessly
claiming territory quickly
he eases into battle
setting up tricks and traps for me
there is a rush of white on our board
the beginning is my hour of gold
i wink at him
and i place another piece
slowly I unravel
his traps are evident then
too late for me to set traps on my own
dark shadows stretch over the board
as the sun sinks in the west
snatching my victory
so I lose the game, gaze off towards the horizon
my competitive spirit
for the moment
he touches my hand
the afternoon is sweet
i live to win another day