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A Positive Life of Disappointment
I hear a loud laugh and look over at the “popular” table and I see my older brother Eric sitting with his group of big, buff football players and cheerleaders. I’m sure the joke that was told wasn’t even that funny but I still wish I was sitting there with them joining in the laughter. Instead I’m sitting at a long twenty person lunch table alone and bored out of my freaking mind. It bugs me that my older brother seemed to get all of the looks and brawn that my dad had back in high school while I sit here a mere 100 pounds and five foot six inches tall.
My dad has always looked at sports as a necessity but being that I am so small I have never played. This is why my father sees me as an outcast. He played for Fort Worth Memorial High School--the very same high school I go to now--back in 1981 when they won the division one state championship in football. He makes sure to remind me of this daily as he goes off on his drunken rants. He also never forgets to mention how he made the game winning tackle on the goal line to win by one point in that state championship game. “The crowd stormed the field and hoisted me up onto their shoulders like I was some kind of god,” he would always say. I would just have to sit on the couch and listen to his never ending speeches following that story of how I should try and be more like him, more like my brother Eric, and more of a Smith.
If I did try to leave before the end of his speech he would threaten to hit me so I had finally given up leaving after about the tenth night in a row of trying to leave. That night was about two years ago. He lost his job at the local oil rig and has not been in a sober state ever since. His face was now as red as a tomato from the alcohol abuse. I don’t see how winning that championship game has really helped him in life but as I hear every night, it has.
I keep pushing my peas back and forth on my yellow lunch tray hoping to see my brother leave his group and walk by so just one person can talk to me, the reject, during this seemingly endless lunch period. My brother is flaunting his football jersey because it was the day of the big homecoming game verse Fort Worth West. Everyone in the whole town was going to be there tonight to cheer on the team and mainly my brother who was on track to get a full ride scholarship to the University of Oklahoma at middle linebacker. The same position my dad played, yet another reason my dad loved him and hated me.
Following the lunch bell I heard the announcement bell ring over the loudspeakers. “There will be a pep rally at 2:30 for the big game tonight. Bring your spirit!” Principal Lewis said. I was less than enthused to hear we had a pep rally but my brother seemed ecstatic. Pep rallies were just another way for my brother to shine over me in the eyes of my dad. Eric would go down to the gym floor with his teammates and would be cheered on by the whole school and all the parents that came and I would be up in the band section where my dad would see me sitting with my bassoon. My dad was not a very accepting man by nature and not only did my not being part of the football team tick him off but being part of the band apparently made it ten times worse. Right before my dad would pass out each night I would hear him down in the living room yelling at my mom about how it was all her fault that I had turned into such a disappointment. “You went too damn soft on him and that’s why he turned into a little pussy!” he would scream. I would want to run down there and kick the living s*** out of him each time for yelling at her but I knew I couldn’t because I was too small.
At the pep rally the moment that I dreaded the most was about to happen. Every year at the homecoming pep rally the principal would bring up the picture of my dad being hoisted onto the crowd’s shoulders and say how he expected greatness from the team like that of the 1981 Fort Worth Memorial team. He would call my dad down from the stands who would then give a speech about how great it felt to win that game and all of the hard work it took to be able to make it that far in the playoffs. This speech seemed to inspire everyone at the pep rally but it just made me sick from his arrogance. I didn’t get how a 46 year old lush could inspire people. He had no career, no future, and a family that hated him besides his oldest son. That was more depressing than anything.
Halfway through the speech my father glanced at my brother lovingly because he was the “star” of the family and immediately after shot me a look of disappointment because I was a failure in his eyes. Now I know a 46 year old drunk’s opinion doesn’t really count for much but to me it did only because that drunk was my father. Surprisingly he was not intoxicated but you could still see the redness in his face stemming from the alcohol abuse over the past few years. That speech seemed to take extra long only because my dad decided to kiss a little ass a say what a great program we had at Fort Worth Memorial and how he wished he could travel back in time to start his career over in such a great school. I wished he could travel back in time to, not to start his sports career over but so he could not start drinking and become an alcoholic who’s favorite past time was to scream at his spouse and threaten to beat up his nerdy little son.
As my band and I marched into the football stadium playing our school song before the start of the game I could see my dad pointing and laughing at me with his other lush friends. I just could not take his ridicule anymore. I whipped my bassoon to the nicely manicured football field and ran out of the stadium. I saw my dad get up out of his seat and come running after me. I figured I was going to get a pat on the back for seeming to quit the band but instead of him patting me on the back I got a back hand to the side of my face. I dropped to the ground.
“You’re an embarrassment to this whole family!” he screamed, “Why can’t you be like your older brother!?” He smacked me again. I just curled up into a ball and took it. I only remember waking up on the couch with my mom blotting my forehead with a warm rag trying to get rid of the blood.
“Your father just got carried away a tad, he didn’t mean to hurt you” my mom said. “Sure seemed like he was trying to,” I replied.
“Ever since he got laid off he has just been a little lost, why don’t you try to connect with him and then maybe he’ll tone down his attitude towards you.”
That was the last thing I wanted to hear but I knew it was true. That was when the idea of all ideas popped into my head. If I wanted my dad to accept me I needed to play football! Surely being part of his alma mater would make him proud of me. “On Monday morning I am going to walk into the coach’s office and demand a spot on the football team,” I thought to myself.
As the weekend wore on I became more and more nervous for that Monday morning meeting. I began having thoughts of just not playing sports and just taking the beatings. I had a civil war going on in my mind. “Should I play or not,” I thought over and over again. On Sunday night I was so nervous that I couldn’t even eat my favorite dinner, homemade fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy. My mom asked me what was wrong but I just shook my head and said nothing. I left the table to go up to my room and ponder whether or not I should play and when I finally decided it was the best for myself that I would I was beyond nervous. Being that my dad had kicked the crap out of me on Friday night my dad and I hadn’t talked all weekend and I could sense the hostility. I figured telling him I was going to join the football team would break the ice so I headed downstairs to where he always sat in the living room watching ESPN on his favorite lazy chair. But once I got downstairs my brother Eric was already down there talking to my dad and admiring that picture of my dad being carried on the fans shoulders after that championship game. I figured he wouldn’t want to be interrupted to I skulked back up to my room.
The following morning I talked to the football coach. Coach Rice was his name and he was a mountain of a man. “What can I help you with son? The band room is down the hall.”
“I, I, I was wondering if I could be part of the football team,” I finally spit out.
“I’ll tell you what, you show up to practice this afternoon and we’ll run you through some drills and see how you do. How does that sound?” Coach Rice asked.
“That sounds great!” I said.
The afternoon came and I showed up to practice with no pads. Coach Rice sent me with the manager to go get some shoulder pads and a helmet. I came down the hill into the practice field valley and the whole team turned and stared at me. “What the hell are you doing here” my brother asked.
“I’m trying out for the football team,” I said. He just laughed and walked away to his drill. It seemed endless. I was getting tackled, thrown around, and embarrassed at every drill but I just kept thinking of how it would be worth it when my dad found out I was part of the football team. After practice got over my brother gave me a ride home. I ran in the front door and told my dad the great news. His face seemed to light up. “Way to take some initiative boy,” he said. That was the first nice thing he had said to me in a while. “What position does the coach have you starting at?” he asked.
“Well I don’t know yet dad but I was hoping linebacker.” The look on his face was that of pure jubilation. “Finally, my two boys are taking on the Smith name and playing football.”
When I got to school the next day I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker.
“WILL ROBERT SMITH PLEASE REPORT TO COACH RICE’S ROOM.”
This was the big moment. “You made the team son, congratulations.” Coach Rice said. I almost flew out of my shoes!
The next couple days of practice were tough though. I felt like my brothers own tackling dummy. But again I knew it would be worth it when my dad would hear my name over the loudspeaker at the game and would finally be cheering for me. It would be a nice change of pace from him laughing at me at my band concerts.
The game was finally here. The entire Fort Worth Memorial team and I ran out onto the field. The fans were going crazy and my dad seemed to be bragging to all his friends that I was out on the field. As the game wore on I had still not gotten into the game. It was the third quarter and I thought I would have gotten in already. I turned around to see my dad’s proud smile but instead he was gone. “He must have gone to go get some popcorn,” I thought. Once the time ran out and we had won 27-14 and walked back to the locker room. I got changed and waited for my brother to drive me home. He of course was flirting with all the cheerleaders but I hurried him along because I wanted to get home as soon as I could to talk to my father.
As Eric and I pulled into the driveway all the lights in the house were still off but my dad’s car was in the driveway. I walked into the house and there was my dad sitting in his favorite lazy chair looking at the picture of him after the state game with only an overhead reading light on. “What a great game right dad?” I asked expecting to hear that it was.
“That was simply the most embarrassing thing in my entire life! I bragged to my friends that both my boys were going to be starting a linebacker and instead your ass is on the sideline!” he screamed. He got up from his chair, set down that picture of him after the championship game, and walked towards me. He pulled off his belt and began to strike me over and over with it. I could feel the welts mounting on my back as he continued to strike me. I was on the edge of unconsciousness when I heard my mom scream. She started to attack my dad. I saw her trying to gauge his eyes out before he grabbed her and threw her to the ground. He began kicking her side and I blacked out.
When I woke up my mom and I were sitting at a hospital and she was talking to the police. She had a black eye and tons of red scratch marks a crossed her face. “We’re leaving him for good Robert, I’m done watching him beat on you and I should have left earlier,” my mom said sobbing next to my hospital bed. “He’s going away for a long, long time,” she said trying to pull herself together. That was when I realized, why should I try so hard to impress and old lush who doesn’t care about me unless I’m playing sports? Once I was released from the hospital I went home and went into the old man’s office. I grabbed the photo of him after that goddamn championship game, smashed the glass on the frame, and ripped that god forsaken picture in two. “My life will move on and I’m sure his won’t.” I thought to myself. That’s not my problem anymore.