Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Gambler

Every story has a beginning. Mine is no exception.

But unlike most stories, I don't know where mine begins. Was it today, in a courtroom, or was today the ending. The final, sad chapter in a life spent running and chasing dreams. Only time will tell whether today was footnote, or an ending. Or, I fear, could it be the beginning?

I turned to God today. I turned to him for the first time since I was fourteen. Since our baseball team played in the Yeshiva High School championship series. I had never prayed as hard in my life as I did that day. Not at my Bar Mitzvah, a year earlier, or when my Grandmother was dying in the hospital a few years before. What I wanted was simple. I wanted to win.

And as I watched the winning run score from my position in Left Field, on a fluke double to right by the worst hitter on the team, I could swear I heard God laughing and walking away. Two runs in their final at bat. Winning the game and breaking our team's collective heart, and my spirit. We lost 2-1, and for me, that mocking laughter I heard in the back of my mind was undoubtedly God, the same one that I prayed to three times a day, and spent my mornings studying his books, laughing and walking away.

That was the last time, until today, that I prayed. I put on an act for a few years. Went to Minyan and wore T'fillen, but never again did I bother talking to God. What was the point anyway. If he couldn't grant me the one thing I needed more than anything else, if he was going to let me go down, I was going down without him.

The day after the game, I missed Minyan for the first time since I had turned 13. I was in the hospital late into the evening, and the rabbi's chalked up my absence to my mysteriously smashed right hand. They new it was broken, supposedly from punching a wall so hard in the JCC locker room that I broke my fingers and shattered half the bones in my hand.

Was that the beginning of what happened today?

I learned two things the day of the game. Three things, really. The first, was never count on God when you were up against the wall. The second, was never get into debt with a bookie, even if that bookie was your roommate and you couldn't imagine him hurting a fly, no matter how sure thing the bet was. And third, never bet on baseball.

I wish I could tell you that my hand healed, and with time, so did my relationship with God, but you know, already, that our relationship never healed. And neither did my hand.

As for my roommate, Mordy, at once my best friend as well as my bookie, well, we'll get into that later.

I learned another thing that day. It was much better to be the bookie than to be the better. At least, it is until you get caught.

Was there gambling in my yeshiva? Absolutely. Seventeen years later I still cannot close my hand without feeling pain, and even then, my grip is weak, like that of an old woman. And the stakes were high. Too high for a fourteen year old who didn't even understand what it meant to have $1,500, let alone lose that amount of money.

But this story goes in circles. Its how I remember it. The circles that swing around and slay you later.

When we got word today that the jury had reached their verdict, I prayed once again. Dear God, I said, I know that I have walked away from you. I know that we haven't been good in a long time, I whispered, but please, let them find me innocent. Let them tell me I am a free man.

I was sure that I heard laughing this time. Only now, I wasn't sure if it was God laughing as he walked away, are the memory of my own maniacal laugh as I bludgeoned Mordy with a sledgehammer. It wasn't revenge for his act of treason. I understood my smashed hand. That was business, and so was this.

I rose from my seat when the judge instructed me to stand. I listened to the foreman when the judge asked if they had a reached a verdict, and stood stonefaced as the foreman read the verdict the jury had reached.

On the count of murder in the first degree, they found me guilty.

I looked back at my wife in the galley. There were tears in her eyes, and something else. Total disbelief that this had happened to her.

Then the bailiff came over, held my hands close as he snapped handcuffs on my wrists, and walked me out of the courtroom.