I was an English major in college. Actually, technically my major was English literature with a concentration in creative writing/poetry. I wanted to be a poet when I grew up, ha ha. Can you imagine that? I used to do poetry readings. How ridiculous was I?
God, I hate myself for ever saying that. Over the years, whenever I would tell someone what my major was, I made these same reflexive, self-deprecating jokes about it. Can you believe I majored in poetry, I would ask, in a jaunty British accent. What an idiot. That I used to write poetry became a laughable anecdote about being embarrassingly young and ludicrously starry eyed.
Holy shit, how I would love to get even the tiniest piece of that back.
And guys, I’m guessing you can imagine who in my life thought that my poetry major was the most laughable of all? Yup, that’s right. First name Ass, last name Sauce. My fucking ex-husband.
When my dad died two years ago, I drove out to Ohio to deal with his property. We had to figure out what to do with his car, a beat up old sedan that was probably worth less than the trouble it would cause me to sell it. I found the keys in the house, and my Uncle Denny and I decided to see what kind of shape it was in. I had not seen my father in twenty years when he died, but his car was exactly as I expected it would be – it was filled with food wrappers, and there were seemingly random objects glued all over the dashboard. Least surprising of all was that the car was absolutely filled with lottery tickets. Hundreds and hundreds of them. My father had been addicted to playing the lottery his entire life, blowing god only knows how much money on tickets every day. Beneath the driver’s seat we found his wallet, an object we had been searching for the past few days. I think in the back of our minds we thought it might contain some kind of clue about his life, but instead it just held a twenty-dollar bill and a driver’s license, and nothing more.
While my Uncle and I got down on our knees and rummaged through the car, I asked him how the heck my father managed to buy a house anyway? He never had any money – he spent every dime he had on lottery tickets for as long as anyone could remember. Well, shit, didn’t you know, he asked. He won the lottery, he said, in his Appalachian drawl. He won? He actually won, I asked, incredulous. He won, my uncle repeated. And I made him take them earnings, he said, and buy himself a house. I wouldn’t even let him look at that money, he said. I made sure he had a place to live and didn’t piss it all away on more scratch-offs.
And that’s how my dad bought his house. He won the fucking lottery.
I couldn’t believe it.
I wound up giving his car to a young cousin of mine who my Uncle said desperately needed a car. I never met the kid, but I hope that the car brings him luck.
I had not seen my dad in twenty years when he died, and I haven’t written a poem in twenty years either. But this week I thought, there’s more than one way to tell a story. And maybe I will try to tell this one two ways? I’m very rusty, so please forgive me, but I wrote a poem. I wanted to remember how it felt to do it, without giving in to one single urge to laugh at myself for it.
So here goes nothing.
The hard part about gambling is recognizing when you have won.
You can buy ten lottery tickets
Or a hundred thousand
It doesn’t matter.
You can fill the backseat of a shitty old car with scratch-offs
Even after you bought an entire house with your winnings
If you always feel like you haven’t quite won
I haven’t gotten any better at knowing when I have won.
But I do know this
That the universe gives a hundred thousand do-overs
If we just apologize
And ask nicely
For another chance.
And it’s easy to measure a loss
When its name is painted on your mirror.
The best you can do, I think
Is to leave pink gems on your windowsill and
Open the curtains to the daybreak.
Grant yourself an open window.
Ps. You love this song. You really love it. You need it this week more than ever.
Also, listen to The D-Train, The Playlist, a soundtrack for a shit show.
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