What would you do if you suddenly had a lot of money that you didn’t expect? Suppose you came into an inheritance from a relative you didn’t even know you had. Perhaps it’s your lucky day and you have the winning ticket in a lottery. What would you do with the money?
My father won 1.8 million dollars from a Vegas jackpot. It wasn’t one of those things where he put a bazillion coins in the slots and finally drew the lucky pull. Nothing like that.
Daddy likes to play Texas Hold ‘Em. It was our first night in town, and it hadn’t taken him long to land pocket aces and go all in against an ace-two suited that turned a flush on the River. It’s just one of those things, a bad beat, but $2,500 was gone in a fat hurry and our weekend in Sin City was more or less over before it ever started.
He was on his way out of the casino when he passed by one of the progressive slots that had a credit on it. Daddy’s an ex-Marine. He prides himself on honor, so he stood by the machine and waited. No one came back to claim their pull at the bandit’s arm and so Daddy slapped the button.
Fear was actually his first reaction when the sirens went off. Somehow, the casino bosses would know it wasn’t his coin. But the flashing lights and the triple diamonds on the pay line turned his fear into numb disbelief and the realization that our weekend wasn’t over after all.
I’ll never forget that weekend. Three days of fun, a spare-no-expense surprise. Fancy meals, exclusive shows, limo rides… it was all something to be remembered. The real memory that goes with that money he won started the night after we got home.
Growing up the only daughter of a Marine, I got used to a no-nonsense lifestyle. It was just a fact of life, like the chance I might finish a year in a different school than the one I started in, or the knowledge that there are worse punishments than an ass beating. I love my Daddy, and I appreciate the lessons in life he taught me. I never joined the service, but I like to think I got the best of that world at home in the years before my mother finally divorced him.
Marine means tough, and everything about Daddy was Marine. Our trip to Vegas was termed a “designated family excursion,” necessary for building morale and camaraderie. I needed morale in his estimation because Daddy had cancer. There was a tumor in his skull near the top of his spinal chord. An operation would require specialized surgeons that even Daddy’s military insurance wouldn’t cover. We couldn’t afford it, and so he had simply informed us that he was going to let nature take its course.
Jackpot. When you win $1.8M, you don’t go home with $1.8M, but you go home with a lot. I’d gone to live with him when he received his diagnosis, to care for him and to be there for him through the end. One little button had changed that, changed our future, or so I thought.
When I came home from college Monday evening, I found Daddy sitting at the kitchen table in a T-shirt and visible five o’clock shadow. A lady in a grey business suit was filing papers into her briefcase while Daddy finished signing documents. I recognized her as his financial planner, Paula. He was always a man of action, so it didn’t surprise me at first that he wasted no time putting his money to work, until Paula spoke.
“Hi, Karyn! Nice to see you,” she smiled, then pointed out one more line requiring a signature. “And right here… perfect! The deed should be in the mail soon and be here within seven to ten days.”
“What deed?” I asked. Daddy refinanced the little equity he had in his house to move me home when he learned of his cancer. He wouldn’t hear of me quitting or even postponing college and the transfer was costly. He owed more than half a million dollars on the mortgage now.
Paula looked suddenly uncomfortable. “It sounds like you two have some talking to do,” she said. “I should leave you to it. Call me if you need me, Chuck.” She ducked hastily out the door.
“What deed?” I demanded again.
“Calm down, Karyn,” he said. “I’ve taken care of everything.”
“Taken care of what? Daddy, what have you done?”
He stood up and walked over to place his hands on my shoulders. In my world, that was considered a loving hug. “It’s not important. I’m just making sure my baby is taken care of.”
“Did Paula mean the deed to your house?”
His face rarely showed a lot of emotion, but the tiny squint that happened in the corners of his eyes belied how pleased he was with himself.
“Daddy, you can’t afford that. That would be most of the money you had from your jackpot.”
He nodded unpretentiously. “There was enough extra to pay off the car, your student loans, my back medical bills and pre-pay your tuition. We still…”
“What about your surgery?” I shrieked.
His hands squeezed my shoulders and I pushed them off of me in anger. “Doll, that’s out of the question,” he flinched only slightly. “That money would barely cover the cost of the operation. The post-op care would bleed us dry like a family of starving vampires.”
He stopped to read my expression. “It’s done,” he shrugged. “I made sure my little girl has a home.”
Tough girls don’t cry, but the knot in my chest was uncontainable. “What’s the matter with you? How can you even say that?” I sobbed. “How could I ever call this a home knowing you paid for it with your life?”
He studied my tears apathetically.
“Daddy, I don’t want a home if it means losing you. It’s not worth losing you.”
“Baby doll, you’d probably lose me anyway. You heard what the doctors said, why the VA won’t authorize it.”
“Then at least I would lose you knowing we did everything we could.”
“Karyn, baby, look at me.”
I looked up. I did everything I could to make my face a stone statue beneath the veil of tears. He expected it of me.
“A man gets one chance at this life. One go round. He’s got to make it count. I can’t pretend I’m happy about this damn tumor. I’m not. I don’t want to die. But do you know why I don’t want to die? I don’t want to die because it means I’m going to lose you.”
I could only stare.
“At least let me die knowing I did everything I could.”
I ran from the house in tears. He wanted me to be tough and I couldn’t be.
I’m tough now. I’ll be finishing college next year, and I already own my own home. I can say that because I’m lucky. I’m not lucky because my Daddy stumbled on a slot machine with an unused credit. I’m lucky because my Daddy was a man who cared more for my well-being than his own chance at life. Sometimes it’s tough being lucky.
© 2012 Anne Schilde