The cloth banana full of lettered tiles splits open in the center of the table. My brothers immediately dive for pieces, convinced that when they turn them over, they will have just the right letters to make words like “muzjiks” or “jousted.” I pick my pieces carefully, lining them up in front of me one by one.
In my family, in the first few seconds of a (highly competitive) game of Banagrams, I can tell who is a contender this round and who is not. This round, the winner will be my sister or my father, the only two who shout “Peel!” and force the rest of us to take a tile that we cannot use. As I look across the table at my sister’s face, scrunched up in concentration, I remember the games we used to play.
We didn’t have Bananagrams back then, so we played Monopoly. My sister, almost two years my senior, was always the banker. I was in charge of the property cards, carefully color coding them so they would be accessible the instant someone landed on “Pacific Avenue” or “Park Place.” Once every card was perfectly in order, we would begin. The problem was that I never won. Never. Grace and I played at least once a week for years, and every time, I would end up sadly handing all my brightly-colored money across the board to Grace, feeling as though I was giving up a limb.
I remember it now, as I move a tile to turn “pool” into “spool.” Even now, I am ashamed of my inability to succeed at Monopoly, a far easier game than Bananagrams.
I decided, as the carpet scratched my bare legs and my mother warned us that dinner was only minutes away, that this would be the game I won. All I needed for another hotel was a little money. Carefully, feeling Grace’s eyes following me even though she was turned away, checking her property cards, I slipped two bright orange $500 bills from the neat array that was Grace’s stockpile to the wild pile that was my stash.
I scramble to put several tiles in place at once, desperately trying to keep up with my family. I see an opening and quickly form “gorilla.” My one little primate doesn’t make a difference, though- my father has already won, his tiles spread out in a perfect crossword.
I won Monopoly when Grace landed on North Carolina Avenue, which I had littered with hotels. My euphoria lasted only a few seconds before I was consumed with overwhelming guilt. I ran to my room and stayed there for what seemed like hours, refusing to come out. Finally, I couldn’t take it.
As we draw tiles for another game, I remember how I had burst out of my solitary confinement and rushed to find my sister, whom I felt sure I had betrayed in the worst way possible. My apology was only accepted with the promise that I would give her three dimes, about a weeks worth of saving for a five year old.
“Remember when I cheated at Monopoly?” I ask Grace, sure she will still be angry over my past grievances.
To my surprise, Grace just laughs. “Oh, I cheated every game. Why do you think I was always the banker? Why do you think I always won? That game has basically no skill.”
I was distraught when I passed over my dimes, feeling certain that they were barely making up for my wrongdoings. Now I learn that perceptive changes even the worst. Still feeling inexplicably ashamed, I draw more tiles and begin a new game.