by Jessica R. Gera
We were drinking coffee at the time; coffee that tasted like it had been brewed days ago. It was stale, and it matched his mood. He was miserable. He sipped, he complained, he sipped, he cursed, he sipped, he gave up.
I had always known my older brother to be confident, positive and persevering. I had never seen him like this.
It was like the Caramilk secret; an unsolved mystery. And the more he spoke the more he alluded to it, women – he’ll just never understand them. It was easier to just give up. But was it? Was it really easier to just throw in the towel? He called it ‘acceptance.’ I called it a cop out.
I didn’t say anything for a while. I let him vent. After some time he looked at me and said, “What?” I didn’t realize it then, but I was looking at him like he had just miraculously grown a pair of wings and was ready for take off. I was shocked. I mean, I always knew women sat around deliberating the ways of men; their style, their ideologies, their thought processes. But could it really be possible? Just as women just ‘didn’t get’ men, the opposite was also true? Men just ‘didn’t get’ women either? And just as women became frustrated and hurt…wow….men did too?
“Sorry” I said to him, “Didn’t mean to stare.”
“Stop it then” he responded. So I did.
He went on to talk about his friend Darren and how he had followed all of the advice that Darren had given him and Darren was happily married, and Darren said, and blah blah blah and none of Darren’s advice had paid off and blah blah blah blah…..
Daren was an idiot. But I kept that to myself. And as he went on and on singing Darren’s praises, I tuned out.
So this is the other side, I thought to myself. Man and woman in a relationship, man and woman get into a fight, woman goes crying to her friends, and man cares too? He gets upset? He even gets “emotional” sometimes. I had experienced an epiphany.
The next day I did my normal morning ritual; the drive-thru to pick up my medium tea, 1 sugar, 1milk with the bag in. (yes, the bag has to be in) I reflected on the previous day’s conversation about the differences between men and women:
“You all lack simplicity”
“You all lack understanding. You choose to make it difficult.”
“You make us guess.”
“You never ask.”
“You never get to the point of what’s really bothering you.”
“You never want to listen to what’s really bothering us.”
“That’s ‘cuz there’s always something bothering you people.”
At this point I stopped. This was going nowhere.
We met for a drink the next day. It was anything but easy to get a seat, after all this was peak playoff time; super bowl frenzy.
New York was playing Tampa Bay.
Watching a game of football was as annoying for me as listening to Tyra Banks speak; nothing made sense.
My eyes didn’t know where to focus, I didn’t understand the role of each player, and every time I thought maybe I was getting the hang of the game, it ended with a bunch of men falling all over one another, and just when the next play was about to start, they ended up falling all over one other – all over again.
“I give up” I announced.
“It’s not that difficult. You just need to understand the basics of the game” he replied.
I wanted to learn, “shoot, explain it to me.”
He did. He explained it in full, the whole point of the game, the various intricate strategies that each team used, the rules, the fouls, the timelines, the conditions, what separated exceptional from mediocrity, the whole kit and caboodle.
I got it. I understood. I smiled. It was now my turn.
“So if I get what you’re saying, the whole point here is the touchdown. That’s the ultimate goal.” (Humor me readers, I was being a little “ditz-like” on purpose. There’s a reason for it.)
“Obviously” he responded.
So I went on, “and strategy is definitely important in this game. I mean an ineffective strategy is detrimental to achieving that final goal – the touchdown. Right?”
He put his drink down. “You’re not usually this dumb he says. If you got something to say, just say it.”
I guess I had forgotten about the fact that he had known me my entire life.
“Look, all I’m doing is recapping what you just explained to me. If I understood you correctly, the ultimate final goal, the desired outcome, the best case scenario for the game of football is a touchdown. I guess it all depends on how well you strategize, how well you follow the rules, how good of a team player you are, and of course, how much you want to win.”
He smiled. “Ah, I see where this is going.”
I continued, “It’s amazing how everyone begins the relationsh-er-I mean game of football with the same odds. No one is given any advantages over anyone else. All players have to start at the same spot; the line of scrimmage. What you do from there, well, that’s really up to you.”
He was still smiling. He didn’t say anything for the next few minutes. As the waitress brought the bill to the table I noticed he didn’t reach for his wallet. Instead, he decided to order another drink. As he continued to watch the game (and watch me from the corner of his eye), he looked over at me, “go on.”
I smiled back. “I thought you might say that.”
“Okay, so we’ve established that everyone starts at the same spot, the same chances, the same odds. So if I understood you correctly, from that point onward, it’s on the team now to make it work. Together. As one cohesive unit.”
“Yes,” he says. He sips again.
“And there’s a strategy planned out by the coach. So I guess the coach really has to know what he’s doing. If he’s going to lead a team to victory, he obviously has to know what he’s talking about. After all, not just anyone can be a coach, right?”
Long pause. (He has this thing about long pauses.)
“Jessica” he says, “perhaps Darren is not the best coach.”
“Perhaps not,” I replied.
We paid the bill and went home. Exhaustion hit me after surfing the net for a couple of hours; my regular ‘before bed’ ritual. Tonight’s search was on, of course, the NFL.
I had an early day the next morning and was looking forward to crawling into bed as soon as possible.
Just as I found the ‘comfy spot’ on my bed, of course, my cell phone rings.
“Flip” I say. And up I go to pick up my phone while I rehearse in my mind just how crankily I should enunciate each syllable of ‘hell-o” when I answer.
I take a look at my call display. I put the phone to my ear ready to realm him out but before I can even get out the ‘hell’ of my ‘hello’, he says, “I forgot to tell you, each team gets 4 tries at 10 yards.”
I already knew that, but didn’t want to burst his bubble.
“So that’s a good point right?” he asks, oblivious to the fact that I had just yawned really loudly directly into the phone. “No one should be expected to achieve victory after just one attempt.”
I could actually hear him smiling over the phone for gosh sakes.
“Yes, I agree. 4 tries at achieving 10 yards seems to be reasonable.” And then I looked over at my clock, it was 11:43p.m. This was going to be a long night.
I continued, “the thing is, I can only imagine that feeling of getting a first down. Maybe you haven’t yet hit your final goal – the touchdown – but you do get yet another 4 chances to do so. Ultimate success doesn’t always come so easily.”
I waited for him to say something. He was chomping on licorice, his usual source of comfort when he was going through something. But why he chose black licorice over red, well that, I would just never understand.
He still didn’t say anything, so I continued. “When you’re playing a good game, a really good game, well, there’s just no better feeling than that. Everything’s going the way you want it to, you and your team mates are in sync, and if you keep it up, well you might just get marri – I mean – win the Superbowl.”
What felt like an eternity and a bit later, he replied, “Yeah, but it’s not always such a good feeling. I mean, imagine being out there on the football field and accidentally, just accidentally, you do something to harm another player or you unconsciously break one of the rules of the game. You get penalized for that, you could be set back 15 yards, and then, the end zone just looks so far away. So unattainable.”
I thought about that one before I responded. “Well true, you may get flagged a 15 yard penalty but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the game. You’re just set back a bit. There’s still time to make up for it. Remember, there should always be a strategy. Oh, and of course people make mistakes, but we all know the rules, so we all should try our very hardest to play by them. Um, I meant the football players, they should try their very hardest to play by the rules.”
“Yes, I know what you meant” he says.
I thought about what I had just said; about being set back a bit. I remembered my football lesson the previous day when he explained that an aggressive defense can regain possession of the ball by intercepting passes meant for players on the other team. There it was, the football that was supposed to fall into one man’s hand but really fell into another man’s hand. I remembered – her – she never had any problems being that football; being “intercepted; falling into various man’s hands; hands that really weren’t meant for her. In fact, she never really seemed to have any issues at all in playing with balls that really weren’t meant for her to play with….
“What?” he asks.
“Nothing” I respond, surprised to hear my own laugh out loud.
“You listening to me?” he asks, now slightly annoyed.
“Ya man, I’m listening” I reply, still half smiling to myself.
My alarm clock tells me its midnight.
He sounded lost again.
“You called it a fumble right?” I asked him.
“Huh” he so eloquently replies.
“Today when you were explaining some of the fouls, you mentioned ‘fumble.’ Sometimes we fumble; we just can’t seem to keep our hands on the football. We’re running, we catch it, we’re holding onto it, we’re falling, we can feel our hands loosening. What was once a cohesive and tight relationsh-er-I mean, grip, is now weakening, and you drop it. You drop the football. You fumble. It happens.”
“Mr. Spencer always said real men don’t fumble. He said real men don’t make mistakes” he replied.
Mr. Spencer was the football coach for our high school football team. I hadn’t seen him for years and missed him about as much as I missed my adolescent acne. In fact, they were quite similar – Mr. Spencer and my zits – they both looked awful, you did whatever you could to avoid coming in contact with them, and when they really got out of hand, they could be quite painful. That was him; Mr. Spencer; he was like the kryptonite for all young people’s dreams, hopes and aspirations.
“Real men don’t fumble?” I inquisitively asked him. I took a look at my computer, I had left it on. I walked towards it and took a look at the screen. The last thing I had done was click on Frank Gore’s stats. Earlier today he was ranting and raving about this man, so I figured I’d take a look. I praised myself under my breath for keeping this window open. I read the screen and responded,
“Is that why Frank Gore had 2 fumbles in 2007 and still managed to gain 1102 yards with 260 attempts?”
“And real men don’t make mistakes?” I half stated and half questioned.
“How about Tom Brady? In 16 games he allowed for 8 interceptions yet he still got 50 touchdowns and 4806 yards.” I was frantically switching from one player’s stats to another now.
“Are you educating me on football?” he teasingly asked me. At least I knew he was smiling again, that thought gave me some comfort.
“We could switch the topic to tennis” I teased back.
“Pu-lease, tennis? Let’s just discuss baseball while we’re at it” he sarcastically responded.
I didn’t get it, “I like baseball.”
That brought him back to life. “Jessica, don’t even TRY and compare baseball players and tennis players to football players. These guys are the toughest sports players out there, hands down. They play and they play to win, in rain, sleet, snow, fog – any condition.”
“Wow, sounds committed” I respond. “Almost like there are no limits. Maybe it’s because they want that ‘victory’ bad enough that nothing would stop them, not even the coldest of cold weather.”
Yet another long pause.
He was thinking. He was understanding. He was reflecting. He was getting it, getting the fact that for anything to ‘work,’ it took this type of football player dedication – to play it out, even in the harshest of conditions.
“So why is it that you can be that team player, you can play by the rules, you can strategize, you can do all you need to do, and yet still, ultimately, lose the game?”
The million dollar question; I knew it was coming. I didn’t want to concentrate too much on this point, but, it did deserve some attention. After all, his question was valid. So far, I had emphasized all the things that he needed to do to win his game. I would always emphasize winning the game over anything else, but, I wouldn’t be his sister and his friend if I didn’t tell him the other side.
He needed to hear both sides. He needed to know that his very first priority should be to play the game; play to win, and follow the rules. But at the same time, he also needed to know that sometimes, no matter what, we do just lose that one particular game. It seems like we did everything right, we followed the rules, we practiced, we stuck it out in the harshest of conditions, but still, we just didn’t win this one. I knew I had to respond, I didn’t want to be negative or discouraging, but I did want to be realistic. And as I went back and forth in my mind as to how I should answer this question, he said,
“Maybe we just don’t play well – with those particular players.”
I pride myself on being a rather articulate person, yet, all I could say back was, “yeah, maybe.”
But he was right. Perhaps no matter how hard you tried, you heart just isn’t into it – the game that is.
So I asked him, “While you’re playing the game, are you enjoying it? Really enjoying it? Are you playing for the love of the game? Or are you playing just to play? Just because? Because if you’re not playing for the love of the game, you’re not doing any justice to your team mates. Frankly, you’re just wasting their time; and yours too.”
His mind was in over drive now. It was now almost 1:00am and we were both exhausted. He didn’t waste any time. As I lay my head back onto my pillow, I could hear his rhythmic breathing on the other end of the phone. I closed my eyes with the phone still clutched to my ear in case he awoke and wanted to share any other random thoughts that came to mind. I knew he’d be okay; a light bulb had gone off for him today.
4 days, 4 teas, and 4 games later, New England was playing Jacksonville. We met at the local bar to watch the game. He looked refreshed; like he had spent the last few days at a spa. It’s amazing what clarity can do to a person.
His co-worker from work and his wife were joining us, he informed me, as we placed our order for the first round of drinks and a heaping plate of nachos. I knew him; I met him a couple of times in social gatherings. He was a nice enough guy.
The nachos and the coworker arrived at the same time. Mr. Co-worker arrived alone. As I took my first bite of my nacho and looked at Mr. co-worker’s face, I immediately felt a sense of déjà vu. Did I meet him before? Do I know him? No, I was certain that I didn’t. So what was this sense of familiarity? Where was it coming from? And then, it hit me, the nacho. It was stale, and it matched his mood.
“You alright?” he asked his colleague, obviously noticing his staleness the way I had.
“Fine” he replied.
Mr. co-worker’s left hand extended to pick up his drink showing a bare ring finger; a space that was once occupied by a wedding ring. He turned his attention to the game.
I looked across the table at my brother and shook my head. He didn’t need me here; he could handle this on his own now. I finished my drink and gave into a couple more stale nachos, said my goodbye’s and got up to leave.
He walked me to my car, “thanks for the touchdown therapy” he says, half smiling. (If he wasn’t long pausing, he was half smiling)
“Anytime” I replied, happy that I was able to assist him in finding some peace and clarity.
“You don’t have to leave” he says.
“I know, but I wanted to give you guys some privacy. And you’re a pro now! You don’t need me!”
“So what do you think of football now?” he asks.
“I have to admit, I love it! I can’t believe Tom Brady completed 26 pf 28 passes! It’s like New England just can’t be stopped! And I really don’t get why Jacksonville’s defense remains the same for the majority of the game. I mean, every single play they dropped back into coverage. Why would they do that?”
There was a much longer than normal – long long pause.
“Ummm” he says.
And then I realized what had happened. I couldn’t stop laughing, the type of laughing that hurts your stomach, invokes tears, and eventually you can hardly even breathe. He was looking at me like I was an alien; trying to make some metaphoric sense of the words that had just come out of my mouth! The last few days had been so sentimental and so very ‘deep’ that I guess I just forgot to tell him; I really did just like the game of football…
Copyright Jessica R. Gera 2008
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