I need to sit down. No. I need to stand up.
In truth, I have absolutely no idea what just happened.
It started off like any other board gaming session. Bearded moon settled down opposite me, drink on one side, snacks on the other. I put down my phones (three at the last count; work, life, spam), and looked up. A glint flashed across his eyes, and his hands drummed the top of a box still sealed in its wrapper.
That in itself is not unusual. I will admit to at least ten current inhabitants on our shelf of shame (obviously not counting those on pre-order and recently dispatched!). But, normally, prior to cracking the seal on a factory fresh friend, there is a discussion.
Our usual routine is thus. First, we deliberate internally; factoring in time availability, degree of brain-ache, and mini meeple’s immediate requirements. Looks pass between us, our Kallax, and back again as we prepare to quick draw suggestions in the preliminary cardboard gunfight portion of the evening’s gaming entertainment. Shots fired; the horse-trading then begins. Abstract as my go-to, spatial for him. Eventually we settle on a mutually agreeable choice (or two if we each need a win) and then it is down to serious board gaming business.
But not tonight.
No, tonight, Bearded Moon had a plan and took the reins. No questions. One answer. Like a cat sensing an impending bath, all of my senses were on overdrive. The air was electric as he wiggled his eyebrows and invited me to look down at the box shaped elephant in the room. He casually sipped his drink. I bedded in, staring him out. Not wanting to acquiesce to this new situation, my regard somehow implying approval. But, Bearded Moon is an artist when it comes to minimal expression causing maximum effect. He held firm. I faltered, crumbling like a dunked digestive biscuit.
Defeated, I exhaled, and cast my eyes downwards, lids screwed shut in a last ditch effort to snatch victory from the strong, whiskered jaw of defeat. After what seemed like an eternity (but was probably more like a minute), I slowly, slyly looked.
Now, you were thinking I was going to use another F word there, weren’t you!? If it makes you feel any better, I was thinking it in my head. On a loop.
You see, given the omnipresence of mini-meeple in mummy-daddy-home-school-office hell, my perhaps surprising ability to out-swear the swarthiest sailor has been temporarily stymied. My words modulated to match target said audience and avoid being branded a potty-mouth Penny by the boy in charge. I am no saint, however, and my efforts to PG my language often forks up spectacularly.
This time though, I let my forehead do the talking; lines forming into waves of worry as my fists balled up on the table. I felt the presence of strong, fleece covered calves clamp around my own pyjama coddled legs as he ran one thumbnail along the opening. The seal broke with a sharp click and there was no going back.
Real-time. Right now.
You might be aware that Part 1 of my little tale explains the backstory to this personal challenge and so I won’t bore you (again!) with context (or if you are sitting here thinking “what the fork is she going on about?” then I invite you to look back here to reassure your mind that you haven’t missed days as one Lockdown day melds seamlessly into the next)). I’ll just presume you know that, at that precise moment, I was feeling as comfortable as a lynx lying on hot doorknobs.
As the accompanying Renegade Games timer was downloaded and readied, I was the unequivocal definition of a flight-risk. “But why?”, you tentatively ask (risking either a terrifying or tedious retelling).
Well, for anybody unfamiliar with Fuse, it is a real -time, fast paced, co-operative game where players assume the role of an elite Bomb Defusal Team who have only 10 minutes to work together to (yep, you guessed it) diffuse as many bombs as they can. 65 cards with varying combinations of numbers and colours. 25 die depicting said colours and numbers. Oh and let’s not forget the timer. How could we, quite frankly? The sound is still echoing inside my skull as I lie curled up, foetal stye, in my pillow palace, still trying to process what happened in just
Anyway, Bearded Moon shuffled, shook, and set up. I sweated, shifted, and bargained. No dice, mamma. He looked at me and nodded, features fixed, finger hovering over the play button. I swallowed hard and braced myself. This was going to hurt.
And It did.
And then it didn’t.
And then it did again.
I won’t reveal our final score because quite frankly I don’t know it and I didn’t care. 10 minutes of the cruellest analysis paralysis immersion therapy I have ever endured had just happened and I didn’t know whether I was on my arse or my elbow (oh, there see? Apologies, dear readers, for that slipped out under stress!). As the final, shrill beep of the claxon coursed through me, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t even really remember what had happened. But, with chest heaving, and hands trembling, we had finished it. I had done it. Whatever it was. And then something even more unexpected happened.
I smiled. Well, sort of.
It was crooked, it was confused, but the edges of my lips were definitely in an upward arc. In all honesty, I am still trying to properly process why. Anxiety thrives on deadlines. On pressure. On the need to succeed. Over and over again. You can’t slip. You can’t fail. It will expose you for the disappointment and imposter you feel you are. It is the fuel upon which it sustains it suffocating grip.
But, in a situation which would otherwise make my disorder slam on every single synaptic brake in my body and shut me down faster than a 2020 rave, there were moments where I made snap decisions. Brief, yes. Correct, not even close. But they were there. Forced to choose. Analysis, consequences, and overthinking prohibited. “Do or do not. There is no try.”
I should mention that throughout this experience, Bearded Moon was my cool, calm, and collected anchor. Rolling dice, picking card, and maintaining a dialogue whilst I clearly could not sacrifice concentration torn away from the all-important skill of breathing. He was, as always, my centre of gravity.
In the glow of the red illuminated smart screen timer, however, my smile wavered. Not because of the game; Fuse does exactly what it says on the (cardboard) tin. It is fast, it is furious, and it is fantastic.
My smile slipped because I had a feeling which I didn’t understand. Not indigestion, not palpitations (although anxiety does love slamming me in the chest with an anvil). Something new. I think the feeling was (and is) the desire to try again. Knowing that such a conscious choice would open me up to a Pandora’s box of negative and destructive emotions was a daunting prospect. Regret at even thinking it possible hit me like a brick and I got up from the table ready to place Fuse on a less visible shelf. One where the mocking sight of the box couldn’t taunt me so easily. But, rather surprisingly, the box is not concealed behind other games. Fuse is currently centre stage on the top row between Kingdomino and Rummikub.
I cannot say when I will be ready to play it again, but I will. Steely determination and gritted teeth have replaced the post-game wonky semi-smile, and I know for a fact that they represent serious power. Power over fear. Power over doubt. Power over myself.