I never won in contests. I had only wanted to win something, anything, once, and so I had entered a contest for which I felt I was a shoe-in. When I dropped off my entry, I was two weeks away from aging out of the running, and, at 12 years old, colouring was easy. I coloured in the requisite drawing of a hot air balloon with markers and mailed it in to the newspaper.
When I got the phone call telling me I was the winner, it was anticlimactic. I expected to feel whatever emotion it was that people looked like they were feeling when they won something, but I didn't feel the urge to beam or gush about my news. I just felt kind of bored. The prize of a kite emblazoned with a giant Canadian maple leaf barely interested me, and I wished it were as easy to win other things that interested me more. I knew that I was a complete asshole for feeling this way, because I had won a kite, goddammit! But I didn't really care.
A couple of weeks later, I went to pick up my prize, and the lady at the desk told me about how the the second prize winner, Becky, had nearly won, but I had just squeaked by. I couldn't stop thinking about Becky after that, and when the first, second, and third place winners were announced in the paper the following weekend, I looked at Becky's second-place picture and bio and felt sick. She was two years younger than me, and I was now technically aged out of the contest, having had my 13th birthday two weeks after the contest closed. I was a fraud. I imagined that Becky really wanted the ugly kite that I now held, and I was a thief.
I needed to pay some kind of penance for being such a jerk, so I regularly took the kite I didn't want out to a field near my house. I told myself that I would treat it like prayer, that I would let my kite fly up there into the sky, and I would think about Becky. I would hope good things for her. I would hope that she would win something and feel the feelings you are supposed to feel when you really want something and get it. I would hope that I would only take what I wanted in the future, that I wouldn't try to artificially create what was better to come by honestly.
I spent hours in that field during my 13th spring reeling out string and squinting against the sun, waiting to appreciate what I had taken and worrying that this was how things would be, that I would always want and then regret wanting. The field only punctuated my thoughts, stretching out flat and dusty and unforgiving until it abutted the peeling fences of suburban yards.
I finally found some relief one afternoon when the wind twisted the kite into a nosedive. It pulled and jerked in powerful loops that yanked my arms hard enough to drag my feet until it pounded into a dirt clod and collapsed under its own force, its spine busted in two. I was calmed as I wound up the string for the last time, watching it snap out little dust clouds, and folded the broken toy under my arm. I was so tired of thinking about Becky and wanting and not wanting.
I couldn't just win and be happy winning, because this was how things really were. I knew that now. My hairshirt was done, but the fact remained: there would always a Becky and some damned kite, and I would always be a thief with broken spoils.