Part IX

Playing the long shots

The day after Christmas, 2012, my ex and I went out. She was visiting from Texas again.

I drove to Redlands where my ex’s sister and sister’s husband lived, but they weren’t home. It was just the two of us. For the holiday she got me a blue Round Rock Express baseball hat — they are the Triple-A affiliate of my favorite baseball team — and we sat around and spoke on the couch. I was apprehensive, since it was always a fat question mark how I would be received.

“I have something to tell you, but it’s kind of embarrassing,” I told her. I figure I tipped my hand when I used embarrassing as a disclaimer. I mean, how many things are embarrassing, really?

“What, that you want to marry me?” she retorted, in amusement.

“Yeah, actually.”

I was still unemployed and living with my parents, which she knew. Because she was so close to her best friend, and because her best friend was in relationship with Trey — my best friend — there were not a ton of secrets to be kept. And while I doubt my ex went to great lengths to keep tabs on my life, some things weren’t worth lying about. I could embellish, or fabricate the truth to all the random peoples in my general life surroundings, but my ex meant more to me than that. She meant more than everybody.

Still, even after she read me like a book, I nonetheless made my pitch. I told her I loved her, and that I was always going to love her. That her best friend was in California, and we could be the four musketeers and live happily ever after, or whatever. Since my reality didn’t leave much to offer, all I had to sell was a dream.

I didn’t get any answer, because what answer was there to give? She was living in Texas and had no plans of coming back to live in California. She was happy there.

She told me I was lost, but that it was okay because a lot of other young people are lost, too. I didn’t accept that. Granted, I was coming from a position of weakness. I had no job and next to no money, and wasn’t literally saying we should get married right then and there. Rather I was, in futility, trying to keep the idea open.

We left soon after, headed back to my parents house so I could give her the Christmas gift I got. I spent almost all of the money I’d received over the holidays to get her the jacket she wanted. Then we left to get burritos at the Mexican food place Trey worked at, and later headed to the mall. She got a bunch of MAC makeup shit and I put it on my credit card.

When I took her back to her dad’s house, I remember feeling extremely hollow. I was used to being distant with her, because distance was never not a factor between us, whether it was me in Virginia or her in Texas. But never were we so distant when we were together, sharing the same space.

Somehow her parent’s living room, the same living room that had been part of our history for years, had become just another room in another house. She saw straight through my great reveal, how her and I should get married someday. Beyond that I had nothing new for her.

Maybe she was right. Maybe I was lost.

She walked me to the front door, and we hugged each other goodbye. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t see her again until Trey’s wedding, which came almost three years later.

* * * * *

At the end of the winter, late-February 2013, Trey had a massive night at the casino. We went with a couple people who worked with him — Trey was an artist in a tattoo shop — and Trey went straight to the high limits and bought in with $500.

Before we left for the casino, Trey gave me $500 and said, “If I lose, you’ll play with this.”

I don’t remember what front we were putting up, but Trey gave me the gambling money so it wouldn’t appear like I was the broke friend still living with his parents. (Which in actuality, I was.) He didn’t explain that to me, because he didn’t have to explain. It was just understood.

As it turned out, Trey wouldn’t need me to gamble. He sat down at the $100 blackjack table in the high-limit room. In a span of five minutes, he stacked his $500 buy-in into about $2,000. Our night was already made.

So I did what any normal person would do, and went to the $50 table next to the one Trey was at, and started winning over there. It’s only when you don’t give a fuck about losing that makes winning seem so easy. When Trey left from his table, he was up about $3,000. That was the night I hit a blackjack on a $500 bet, which paid $750. That’s still the biggest blackjack we ever won.

We left that night winners of $2,000 apiece, tied for our biggest ever casino score. Once I made it home I figured it was a good night to drive through McDonalds, a victory meal, so that’s exactly what I did.

The line was long and took some time, so I spent a healthy portion waiting, thinking about what I should buy with all the new money I came into. I could get a new laptop, a bunch of new clothes, or just save it and feast on fast food every day for the next six months. The options were endless.

Somewhere in there, Trey’s voice was in my head. You’re better at math than all the dealers I’ve seen… you should be a dealer….

And that’s when it hit me. I was going to use the money for progress. This wasn’t going to be another one of the countless times he and I won a bunch and gave it all back. This time was going to be different.

At the beginning of March I showed up to dealer school. It was a Friday. The instructor, Peter, offered me to look around and see what the school was all about. He told me there was a payment plan, and so forth.

“No, that’s all right,” I said. “This is what I want to do. I’ll pay you now and be back on Monday to start.”

So I signed his contract, handed him thirteen crispy $100 bills — all casino winnings — and began on my path to being a dealer.

* * * * *

The next year of my life went according to the script. Dealer school was a work-at-your-own-pace environment. Peter had students he hadn’t seen for multiple years come back, re-learn everything. He had people who showed up once or twice a week. And others, like me, came everyday for a few hours.

All told, I wouldn’t get a job until January of 2014, but it wasn’t because school takes that long. It’s because the Rangers played at 5:00 most nights, so I’d go to school around noon and leave around 4:00. Yes, I was that guy.

I became the editor of a tiny Rangers blog on some obscure part of the Internet. So I suppose the way I justified it, to myself, was that I needed to catch the action live so I could write about it. I was also without the pressure of looking for a job, which, too, made me comfortable. Knowing what I know now, I would have busted my ass at dealer school and gotten a job in three months, or something.

Also in 2013, Trey and I were past the point of conflict. It’s as if the night we reunited in my ex’s backyard, in November of 2010, we never looked back. I mean, aside a few squabbles here and there, we haven’t had any serious beef in the decade we’ve known one another. Trey was my best friend, one of the few consistent pillars in my life. And he remains that to this day.

In no small way, Trey was responsible for funding dealer school. Just as we did as 21 year-olds, from the first time we gambled — the night before his 21st birthday — we split everything down the middle. If I won, we both won. If he won, we both won.

I owe all of my skills as a dealer to Peter, the man who taught me everything from blackjack to roulette to craps, and virtually everything in between. But without Trey, who originally staked his money which I profited off, my timeline would have been delayed. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

* * * * *

The pattern with my ex repeated itself a handful of times between 2013-2014. We’d start talking again, stop talking again, start back up. We were unpredictably predictable. But whenever she came back to California to visit, she made sure not to involve me in her plans.

One of the last times we spoke on the phone, which was probably in the fall of 2013, I learned she was seeing a therapist and taking something to help calm her down. She told me I wasn’t good, or healthy, for her life. And she was likely accurate with that assessment.

As her and I faded out of contact completely, dealer school was my new outlet. There were always people around, always plenty of cigarettes to be smoked, and I didn’t have to be there. I could leave whenever I wanted. It was kind of like being in college again, only this school was actually interesting.

When I was at home, I knew I would be back in isolation — a place I knew very well by then. I would write about the Rangers and sometimes blog about my life, much as I am doing here, right now. And many nights I thought about her, wondered how she was doing.

When I was 19 and 20, I really missed the way she made me look to the outside world. She was so pretty, and so intelligent, that I thought it said something about me that I was with her.

By the time I was 21 and 22 and 23, I realized I didn’t care at all how she made me look. I missed how she made me feel. Nobody else existed when we were together; we shared a bubble, our own universe. None of the number of girls I had been with, or messed around with the idea of dating, ever took me away to a similar place. And it’s been my contention, since I was first heartbroken at age-19, that until I feel that same robust amount of love for someone, I won’t have any reason to bother with a relationship.

The truth is, as shitty as she has made me feel, and as aggressively as I’ve loathed and occasionally loathe myself, I don’t blame her for originally dumping me. And I don’t blame her for rejecting my advances as we aged into our early twenties. I wasn’t a good person then. Neither of us deserved the other.

I can only say this now, with experience at my back. I was 24 once. Last year I was 25. Somewhere in the meantime, while I learned how to calculate 5% on a $1,250 bet, or how to push chips on a roulette table, or how to arrive at the payout of a horn-high midnight on the dice table, I found out how easy it was to be nice. I finally learned how to treat people the right way.

She only saw glimpses, short commercials in between the real action. She knew me, almost exclusively, when I had nothing. All she could go on were my words and actions, and my supposed love. There had to be more to life than that, and back then I didn’t know where to find it.

But, I wasn’t going to stay down forever. All of the dreams I attempted to sell her simply needed time, which turned into the one thing we no longer shared.

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