[ Adventures ]
Leaving Las Vegas
Dealing with one ending. And another beginning.
Waking up after two hours of sleep. Cramming the last few items—toiletries, sleep tee, travel pillow—into the last few inches of luggage. Leaving behind the plastic containers that held my tofu and my yogurt, abandoning the plastic colander and the too-sharp paring knife whose slice still marks my thumb. Negotiating with the bellman to leave the rebounder and the juicer in storage until a friend comes with the claim-check number to pick them up. Taxi, airport, boarding, plane. And all the while, the dull, disturbing ache: sorrow, uneasiness, longing, shame.
It was my fault. I can’t do anything about it now. The way they all looked at me when I walked away (even if they didn’t), embarrassed for me, amazed at my incompetence (even if they weren’t). The way I could have—the way I might have. . . Why didn’t I know? I did know—why didn’t I remember? I did remember—why didn’t I act?. . .
Like any heartbreak, the pain is physical: heavy, aching, roiling, sore. Like any loss, it comes and goes, a wave breaking, ebbing, flowing, breaking.
Over the years, I’ve talked with The Numbrist about how to bear the pain of tournament losses, something for which I believed my writing struggles and other artistic failures had equipped me. (Not failures. Setbacks.) The grants you don’t get, the audiences who don’t come, the queries that go nowhere, the readers who don’t care. The years of looking back, then forward, unable to see any signs of hope except the ones you make up yourself, and it’s not like you can’t find evidence for them, both logical evidence (This editor praised me, that agent almost took me on) and evidence born of faith (Before becoming best-sellers, The Great Gatsby was out of print, Moby-Dick failed–me too, me too!). It’s just that the evidence doesn’t matter, finally, because you know you’re making it up. The Numbrist knows, with a certainty born of volume and variance, that if he plays enough tournaments, he’ll eventually get the results he wants—and yet, when he loses, he suffers, there’s no other word for it. It’s one of the few times when what he knows and what he feels don’t seem to be on speaking terms. The discreteness of the tournament—the specificity of the contest—is both a blessing and a curse: you might win another; you won’t win this.