It was to be a win/win but not so perfect a one as to mean the same quality of win for each contestant. It was to be not so lopsided a win/win either, as is often the case with wins of this nature, but would yoke together into a single standing one win from the past and one promised a future winner.
The past winner, whose exuberance exasperated the field like a manic child, was not only used to winning, but she was the most mature marksman on the circuit. As with all (what we used to call) Type A Personalities, and I know I’m one, she treated every stage of training and the contest itself like a literary death match. Incidentally, she was a coder by trade, who saw code as the national literature.
The future winner, who was the usual loser, and whose wins were somehow always misplaced before they could become part of the permanent record, expected the whole thing to be called off at the last minute. She was, after all, not meant to win but must stand as an object of contemplation for those who felt time passing too insistently. A mid career language arts teacher, she envied those coders their mortgages while loving her students the more their sublimated, no, their bubbling-up dramas.
Though this usual loser was awkward with her rifle compared to the usual winner, always the artful shooter, she could persuade herself in her cinematic daydreams that she was a legend in the secret hearts of spectators or, wrapping herself in green, lapse backwards into greenery to weep there, suspicious of her admirers’ sincerity. But not really. She was a Citizen of the West, after all, who had not a lot of money but enough to get by on. Her game face included a little rouge for lips and cheekbones, while the usual winner animated her face with intricate scenes of people doing yard work and pushing shopping carts and leaning down to tie a child’s shoelace. Probably autobiographical. She made herself up with the conviction that all actions had a spiritual motive behind them not unlike a soft hammer driving down on soft metal heads. This is not a praise-be-to-god thing I’m describing but something more elemental.
If this speedy improvisation suggests an easy winner, I don’t mean it to. I don’t follow the sport. I know not one contestant personally. I am no sports writer but really (what we used to call) a diarist. If it seems like the usual loser (future winner) should be the one with the pretty tableaux painted across her face, I’m practicing writing against type. If the past winner is off-putting for being egotistical, I will defend her to the hilt because she reminds me of my twin sister, Gina. She too champions chipping away at the myth of mediocrity. “This is a crucial message,” she’s always telling me, “even if you don’t know you’re sending or receiving it: Everyone is incredible.”
Such a sentiment reminds me of the time I trudged up an endless hill to see what all the fuss was about. I was leaning on my stick to steady myself, when my shortness of breath reminded me of the brevity of life. Suddenly everything around me came into sharp focus and every texture (stepping through ice-crusted snow) and odor (pine forest) intensified. The past and future winners were present and, sad to say, at each other’s throats. I’d never before experienced a moment of such clarity, and I haven’t since. It transformed even the athletes’ bickering into a work of nature. O sister, how beautiful the sounds of funny people bitterly complaining!