Kyric Koning. Kyric graduated in 2013, majoring in English and minoring in writing and classical studies. Kyric is a ceaseless explorer who often wanders the same well-worn paths. He spends as much time looking to the past in an attempt to be a speaker for those passed as he does looking to the future, planning what stories he can mine and refine from his predecessors. At present, he lives at the crossroads of Wyoming and Grandville, trying to figure out how to work writing into all the other tasks he has to perform.
The bus stopped outside the camp’s entrance. It says a lot about a school when its vaunted field-trip occurs at a camp in the middle of nowhere. Camps are places parents send their kids so they can get a week of peace. Our school sent us, hoping to increase community and character among us.
Like we were that upstanding.
Upon arriving, our instructor split us into two groups and sent us out to perform camp activities. Nature stuff. Craft stuff. Ropes course or zipline. It was too cold for water stuff, being autumn, but we viewed the lake. We toured a cabin. We played games. Some were team oriented. One was not.
For this particular game, the class had been reunited. The counselor proceeded to tell us we’d be playing ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’—but with a twist: it was Napoleon Dynamite themed. All participants started as the bottom of the then-trendy movie’s character roster: Uncle Rico. You would call out your rank, seek out another player at your level, and battle them. Once a victor was decided, he advanced to the next character on the hierarchy, repeating the process. Losers stayed at their level, frantically seeking to escape it.
So it went until someone ascended to the highest position, earning themselves the lauded title of Napoleon Dynamite. Once this state was reached, the lucky individual would scream her title and rush over to the head counselor. When two arrived, the true battle began to determine the sole, undisputed Napoleon Dynamite.
Somehow, I overcame all odds, and, with a giddy mania, sped over to what would be the decisive battle. There I awaited my opponent. From the crowd, stepped him. Let’s call him Jake.
Among my small circle of associates, he was known by a different name: “Golden Boy.” As gold is king among metals, so was he a paragon among humanity. Like a sun, he beamed a perfect smile, seemingly always happy. People basked in his radiance. He was the best at everything. He was athletic and intelligent. Popular with men and women. Noble and humble. Hospitable and charitable. Funny and religious. And to top it all off, his magnificent physique never lost a tint of its perfectly golden tan.
Without going into excruciating details, we were essentially opposites. Destiny even went so far as to make our birthdays exactly six months apart—the furthest possible from each other. And I, so far from his glory, so desperately wished I could be even a sliver of what he was.
The counselor, sensing the tension rising from the disparity, gleefully stood us side by side. He took Jake’s hand and raised it high. “Who wants him to win?” he asked.
Thunderous cheers swelled from every throat. Exuberant girls sang his name. Guys rooted for their bro. Smiles matching their champion’s shone back on him. His victory was practically assured.
“And who,” the counselor took my hand, dragging it upwards, “wants him to win?”
It did not last long, just long enough. I wore my own smile, the tarnished smile of a man far too accustomed to being right in all manner of wrongs. I had easily foreseen this. How could it not be this way? For someone to be a winner, someone had to be the loser. Against Golden Boy, I—the understated—had no other fate.
The crowd took far longer to realize what they had done. But they did. Guilt crept in. A ragged cheer went up. Sparse clapping. The counselor quickly moved things along.
“All right, boys,” he said. “Battle it out. Best two of three, wins. Begin!”
Our hands fluttered as we chanted the eponymous mantra. We messed up our count, forcing a restart. The first point went to me. I trembled. The next few rounds blurred by in a series of ties. He broke the tie, earning his own win and cheering from the viewers.
Everything hung on the what came next.
We made eye contact. He smiled still, enjoying the game. I was a sweaty mess. My hands were clammy and shaking, and my breath short. It shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. We went through the motions. He threw ‘Rock.’ My hand formed ‘Paper.’
“We have a Winner!” the counselor cried, stepping up to again thrust my hand heavenwards. “All hail the one and only Napoleon Dynamite!”
The class was ready this time, and gave an obligatory cheer. I grinned, perhaps my first true grin since the match began. Everything was a bit hazy. I still couldn’t believe what had happened. I had won. I had beat Golden Boy. This moment was perhaps the best of my life. It certainly felt like it.
Golden Boy and I shook hands and went our separate ways. Immediately, he was surrounded.
“Good try,” my classmates told him. “You were just unlucky. This doesn’t matter anyway.”
I stood alone, with only my title, and somehow that didn’t seem to mean much anymore. Somehow, even in losing he was the best. Next to him, my victory had no value. He was always golden, which made me silver, second at best.
A classmate broke away from the golden circle and came over to me as I trudged away.
“Hey,” he said, raising a fist. “Play a match with me.”
Our eyes met. We both knew what he was really asking.
I recoiled. “No.”
“Come on,” he cajoled. “What’s wrong? Can’t play a simple game? Afraid to lose?”
Not wanting many things, but mainly not wanting to deal with him any longer, I reluctantly raised my fist in acceptance. We banged out a round.
“Hooray!” my classmate yelled, rushing to rejoin the others. “I beat him! That makes me champion!”
In silence I watched the departure. I held nothing now. No illusions obscured my downcast sight. It was easy to see what I was not. What I was was never really said, but inherently meant.
It was less easy to believe I was something else.