By Kristy Barry
Photos courtesy of Kristy Barry.
Whether we are wrestling, racing go-karts, bowling, flinging darts, running, shuffle-boarding, rolling dice, playing mini-table tennis, or playing rummy–I appreciate how competitive my boyfriend is.
He gets this look in his eyes, flaunts this dirty smirk that tells me he’s not going down without a fight.
He set up a dart board in his apartment, which considering how often we play with silly bets–this is more of a romantic gesture than lighting candles and popping open a bottle of wine. From billiards to betting on the Kentucky Derby–we’re fierce but fun-loving towards each other.
For hours on end on one bone-chillingly cold winter night, we played “Pass The Pig”, a game my grandma showed me, where you toss two rubber pigs and score points based on how the pig lands–on its legs, snout, tail or hooves.
On Valentine’s Day, we could’ve gone home much sooner, except he was so hell-bent on beating me at Connect Four.
During a blizzard, we drank IPAs, ate grilled cheese sandwiches, and played Big Buck Hunter until 5 am, nailed each other with snowballs all the way home, and tackled each other into the snow.
On a canoeing trip last month, we made a contest to see who could skip stones the furthest. That contest then evolved to who could throw a rock the furthest. He won that contest every time, but I’d still reach down, grab my next (surely prize-winning) rock, tell him to “watch this”–and show him I was in it to win it.
His friend marvels at his throwing range and I chime in, “And he won’t even play on my softball team.”
His friends sail on and are a half-mile down the river and we’re still chucking stones, laughing like goons when we overzealously spike rocks just past our feet. We float up to a rope swing area and I gulp, remembering an old boyfriend who used to come to this area of the Delaware River to swim and jump off cliffs nearby.
Henry is 6’7″, lean, and in many ways, ferociously physical. We met in college when he played for the Division I men’s volleyball team at Rutgers-Newark, and I played for the D-III women’s team.
Henry and I played softball together in Central Park, hopped waves in Florida, hiked mountains of Vermont, jumped cliffs in Tennessee, snowboarded under the stars on New Year’s Eve, and teamed up for a volleyball doubles league in Hoboken–where mostly I’d set and he’d hit. We formed a “Ghetto Football League” while living in Newark and I loved watching volleyball matches where he’d stuff the ball on a block or ace his opponent’s with a lethal floater serve.
But of the varied cliffs we’ve jumped, he always leaps first which eases any inkling of fear lingering inside me. If he can clear the landing safely, surely, we are both going to be okay.
But during the canoeing expedition, my current partner is feeling trepidation about the rope swing and I tell myself that I can go first. Henry is not here, for better or worse, and I’m capable of busting a move on this swing.
The swing is an old waterskiing rope which is slippery and hard to reach. I stood at the top, exhaling jitters and reminding myself that I can’t be “Little Miss Crazy Sports Girl” who jockeys ostriches and wrestles hogs but can’t rope swing into a serene, still little river. But if I do crack my head open like an egg on the way down, I will have died boldly.
I fly high, release, and survive. And when my beau sees a cool photo of me mid-air, he’s now determined to jump. He climbs to the top of the ledge, turns into Tarzan and raves about it as we paddle on. His sport of choice is golf, not circus antics, but he’s damn good at both. He’s a “six golfer” with a powerful, yet buttery-smooth swing.
We go to the Chelsea Piers driving range and he’s bombing the balls to the far net and even into the Hudson River. I challenge him to hit the cart scooping up balls, which he delights in doing. I can’t hit the cart–just happy that I hit the ball and it doesn’t ricochet off the roof.
He tries translating my softball swing into a golf swing that doesn’t resemble Happy Gilmore’s. I can’t keep my left arm or my front foot straight but he’s patient with me–cackles when the ball dribbles off the tee, takes video of me whiffing, and tells me in hillbilly tones, “It’s a good thing yer purdy.”
He says he wants to play 18 holes the next day and I don’t have warm, appropriately preppy clothes but I agree to scrap together what I do have at his place. We hit the links and I’m wearing black jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt. Looking like a ninja and feeling inspired by freakishly talented 8 year-old kids in the Netflix documentary Short Game, I hit most balls straight off the tees and directly into the trees.
He cheerfully fetches my stray balls out of the thicket. Later, he says he’s most impressed that I didn’t shut down or get angry and throw my clubs at any point. Was he expecting I’d tip the golf cart over like some Ohioans do with cows?
I enjoyed that we were playing together harmoniously and that he could show me how dominant he is at golf. Though I froze in 50 degree weather, he initiated the activity, kindly coached me, and kept me warm between holes.
He doesn’t play my sport of choice (volleyball) but that’s okay. He supports me in his own ways, surprising me by asking if he can come watch me play a league-regulated game this winter. He sits on the sidelines of my game, as the only fan in attendance, taking photos of me, making funny faces, whistling and yelling cheers when I ace serves.
To stoke his fire to play for my lackadaisical beer league summer softball in Central Park, I bet him a new MacBook Pro that he couldn’t hit a home run. And I said he could even serve as the designated hitter. Still, each Wednesday night, I imagine him surprising me and winning that new computer. But he didn’t come out swinging.
What goes up–like golf balls, snowboarders, ostrich jockeys, and dartboards–must eventually come down.
We want different things–I want someone to go skydiving with me, volcano-boarding in Nicaragua, and zip around foreign countrysides on a Vespa. I want to attend the Super Bowl, not just idly watch it on TV. I want him to be in the ring with me, or at least live on the sidelines, while I wrestle squealing pigs and not just learn about it through YouTube.
He watches my odd sports videos—like underwater rugby, a prison rodeo and ostrich racing— with reverence and brag about me to his friends. Yet, he tells me I’m too adventurous for him. That he wants a lot of solitude and time at home to create his art, that we operate at different speeds, and that our lifestyles are clashing. That it’s better to end things now while we still like each other, than to wait for a bitter fight or a disheartening fade out.
The last time we talked, we talked about how much joy we’ve shared together, no matter what we were doing, and that the canoe trip was his favorite summer memory this year.
In the end, for a brief time, I hoped he would tell me I’m wrong about him and help show me how we could get the ball out of the sand trap; that his highly competitive spirit, from dice to darts, would shine through this time and he’d show me he’s in it to win it.
Magical thinking, of course.
He’s kind of like the rope swing–strong, supportive but a little tattered, slippery, and hard to reach. I wondered if he’d rise to the challenge, make a bold leap, but then I questioned my next move.
At first I tightened my grip on the rope swing, experienced blissful exhilaration, and then I just had to let go.
For more, check out Kirsty in conversation on the BTR Sports podcast, every Sunday on BreakThru Radio.