Before I start, I would just like to say how immensely proud of you I am, for getting where you are today. I admire you and I love you. I always have and always will.
It’s funny thinking back to what I heard from everyone around me. Mantras of “you know he loves you right?”, “he’s proud of you, I promise”, “your opinion means more to him than you know”. I used to compare those to what I heard from you, which was only and always “good job, kid”. I filled in the blanks with their words.
Going back in time, I remember being in awe of you growing up. You took the time to play with me, put your big hat on my tiny head and helped me learn how to have fun. When you’re little, you have this extra special skill of only seeing the best in people. I only saw the best in you.
Your favorite baseball team was the Indians, so my favorite baseball team was the Indians. Your favorite number was two, so my favorite number was two. I listened intently to the stories of you and your friends growing up, how you were a superstar at anything even remotely athletic. I absorbed it all, thinking you were the coolest human being my six-year-old self had ever come across.
As time passed, the play time quickly started to fade, along with any time with you at all. Your patience with me grew very small. I realized I was going to have to try harder, step up my game in order to get your attention, your love, back. I used to watch you and your friends play poker, I saw how happy it made you to be around them. This was my in. I pretended to be a waitress, asking you and your friends if I could bring them anything, refilling chips and pretzels, accepting quarters as tips, all just to be around you. It didn’t work. Your attention never lasted long. My favorite memory from that should be helping you win the tournament against all of your friends. But it’s not. My favorite memory is helping one of the guys who was at the table win the tournament, because you didn’t trust me enough not to give away your hand, passing me off to someone else instead.
The best part about that is I didn’t get hurt by you not trusting me. I took it as I hadn’t proved myself to be good enough yet. So, ask me what I did.
I learned every single rule of the game Texas Hold’em. I learned how to deal, what a straight, flush, full house, three pair was. I learned what it meant when someone said they had “ace high”, they were “all in”. I learned to fold when the cards were down. At this point, the only thing I hadn’t mastered was the infamous bridge. I had seen all of your friends do it while shuffling cards and I knew this would be the skill to win you over. It was so freaking impressive, how could it not?? I asked you how to do it, what the secret was. You responded by saying “I don’t know, you just kind of fold the cards and do it”, then walked away. I sat there, flopping the cards again and again against the stupid green table. I wasn’t going to give up though. After about twenty minutes of miserably failing, I finally got it. I did it. I literally felt the surge of adrenaline rush through me because of the excitement. I screamed out to you to come look at what I had just taught myself. You came in the room, I reshuffled the cards, focusing in fully on bending those cards in the perfect formation to allow them to make that ever impressive bridge. The last couple cards flopped, but overall, I was pretty proud for it only being my second time doing it. I couldn’t wait to hear your response, positive you would recruit me immediately to be on your team during the next tournament. “Cool, could still use some work though” you said, walking out of the doorway. I put the cards back in their pack and left them on the table.
Ironically enough, I still do a bridge every single time I shuffle cards today. Except now, I do it perfectly, without even one card slipping out of place.
At around the age of twelve, I started to realize that I hadn’t been alone in fighting for your attention this entire time. They always say it’s hard growing up in the shadow of someone else, but they never mention how impossible it is growing up in the shadow of something else.
Just as I waited for you to come home and find out that I had already completed all my homework and gotten A’s on all of my assignments for the week, something else waited for you at home. I guess I never thought much about the pack of beer that was constantly being restocked in the fridge. Before I could tell you about my grades, you’d ask me if I’d want to take a ride with you down the street to the beer distributor. They had suckers there so of course I was in. Before I knew it, we were back at home, you in the garage with a whole pack of something to hold your attention, me in the house holding the tests I wanted to show you. I waited for mom to get home and showed her instead.
Now that I knew what my competition was, could see what I was up against, I was more determined than ever to beat it. At this point I was in competitive sports. My coaches always described me as hard working, but I always thought I could do better. I remember my swim coach saying, “she’s the smallest one on the team but can lap everyone here”. I quickly moved my way up in the lanes, swimming and competing with older kids in practice. I was always the anchor, the pressure on to be the fastest one to close the gap and win the race. I put so much pressure on myself to win every single time. I was never happy getting second, getting anything after that I didn’t even want to talk about.
I would be so nervous before every race, biting my nails down to nothing. I couldn’t talk to anyone in the moments before I swam, I had to focus, I had to be in the moment and had to do my best, no distractions. My least favorite stroke was butterfly. My arms and legs were too short to be able to get the distance other girls could. One meet, my coach called my name and told me I was swimming the fifty-yard butterfly. I have never felt my heart drop so hard. I started to tear up, knowing I wasn’t getting this one. I sat next to the two other girls on the bench I was competing against, both having more than a few inches on me, easily.
I got up to the block, you were timing me. I bent to grab the block, heard the beep and dove in. I can’t even tell you how much of a blur this was. I knew that I had to give literally everything in me, had to push myself to the max. I swam as fast and as hard as I could, hearing the screams of parents each time I came up for air. I hit the wall and looked up, seeing no one else around. I sat there thinking everyone else had finished and gotten out of the pool already, completely embarrassed and disappointed in myself. You kept saying “You did it!” and I realized the other girls were half a lap behind me. I tried to get out of the pool and realized I couldn’t lift myself and I couldn’t move my legs. You had to lift me out of the pool and put me on my towel. I didn’t even care that I had literally given every single ounce of energy that thirteen-year-old me had because I had finally made you proud, had finally got your attention.
Funny how I had to get my body to the point of complete and utter exhaustion to get your attention and approval. All the beer had to do was sit in the fridge.
It felt like every time I pushed harder for your attention, the more you pulled away. By the time I was in high school, I had all but given up. I knew I had been defeated. I was exhausted, confused and disappointed. I stopped playing sports because I couldn’t take seeing that look of complete and utter disgust from you one more time, after I missed one out of ten shots at my basketball game. I stopped showing you things, stopped telling you things, stopped trying. The worst part is, you didn’t even notice. Or if you did, you didn’t even care.
In the middle of my high school career, mom and I sat at home, waiting for you on Christmas. We were just going to spend time together, watch a movie or something. After a while of not hearing from you, we decided to go through the drive thru at McDonalds and treat ourselves to a couple dollar menu sundaes. On our way home, we passed the bar down the street. There was your car, only one in the parking lot besides the workers. There you were, only one in the bar besides the workers. You weren’t alone though. You had your beer to keep you company, better company than we could have offered you at that point. We drove home in silence.
This part ends in a whirlwind of dinners without eye contact, my family separating, a lot of crying, a lot of hurt, and a lot of pretending everything was fine.
Please don’t stop reading yet. There’s always a silver lining and we have to make it through the bad to get to the good.