“I’ve been struck by lightning nine times, won the lottery seven times and bowled a perfect three hundred more times than I care to remember.”
The Luckiest Man in the World
I’ve been struck by lightning nine times, won the lottery seven times and bowled a perfect three hundred more times than I care to remember. Yet, you’ve probably never heard of me. I say probably because there’s still a chance that of the handful of people that might read this, one of you will have grown up in my small hometown outside Trenton, gone to my huge public school the same years while I was still attending, and actually known my given name. You’d be one of about seven kids and three adults at the time. Ten in seven billion. Low odds, but not zero. I love odds. Well, I hate them but they’ve all but consumed my life.
The first time I remember beating the odds, I was twelve. We were sitting on the warped floor of our bedroom while our foster mother, Mrs. K, sat asleep downstairs with an unopened book in her hands. There wasn’t much to do at the house before lights out at eight. No television. No toys. The only books were in Mrs. K’s room. All we had were a few board games left from foster kids past and a homemade deck of cards, hand drawn by one of the kids, Eddie. That night we were playing Yahtzee. I loved Yahtzee. Half chance, half strategy. Five dice, three rolls per turn to hopefully create one of the scoring combinations. I had a different strategy than most of the kids. They liked to fill out the top section first. As many ones as possible, as many twos, as many sixes, in the hopes that they score enough for the top bonus, a measly thirty-five points. I focused on the bottom combinations, specifically Yahtzee, five of the same number. Five ones, five twos, five sixes. Yahtzee is worth fifty points and each additional Yahtzee is one hundred bonus points.
One in 1,296: the odds of rolling Yahtzee. A perfect score of 13 Yahtzees: 1575. One hundred: the number of perfect scores I recorded before stopping count.
My stomach was fluttering as I sat crosslegged with my pencil and scorecard. I couldn’t tell if it was from Mrs. K’s meatloaf or the ratty Hustler magazine Ricky had shown us earlier. It felt like a warm bright light bouncing around, creeping up into the back of my throat. I could hardly breathe, let alone speak, which was for the best since Mrs. K hated all things loud. When it was my turn to roll, I grabbed the dice and closed my eyes. My lips mouthed the word Yahtzee before spilling the contents of the red plastic cup into the box. My eyes opened to the screams of the guys. I had done it. First roll, Yahtzee. It wasn’t until my third consecutive Yahtzee that Mrs. K came barreling into our room demanding we hush up and go to bed. The guys wouldn’t have it. They cheered and laughed and bounced around the bunks, telling Mrs. K about my three perfect rolls. I felt like a super hero, like a million bucks. My typical low gaze rose as I looked up to Mrs. K, who was walking towards me. She smacked the crooked smile off my face, going on about witchcraft and black magic and the devil. The first of countless abuses veiled in her fear of the devil that would continue over the next few month I stayed with her. The guys hushed up after that, or at least tried to keep from laughing while filing into the cramped bathroom. The miracle gone, like a faint memory of a dream. Not sure if it had really happened or we just imagined it.
The next day at lunch, Chris and Devon came up to me demanding I do the Yahtzee trick for their friend Caleb. Apparently they had told him the story about the night before, and he didn’t believe them. I told them it was just a stupid trick I learned in a magic book, but they wouldn’t give up. That was the first time I lied about my ability. They said it wasn’t a trick, they swore it was real. Before long a crowd had gathered around Chris and Devon as they retold the epic story about the three perfect rolls and how Mrs. K came stomping in and how she tried to smack the magic out of me. By the time the story ended, I was holding five dice of all different colors, shapes and sizes. I lied again. I told the crowd that it might not work, that it was a fluke. They just cheered louder. I felt sick to my stomach. The crowd hushed and grew tighter as I closed my eyes. I tried with all my might to roll anything but a Yahtzee. The dice hit the table with an eruption of prepubescent screams. That’s the first time I remember feeling used.
One in 1,101,000: the odds of being struck by lightning. Nine in ten: the odds of surviving.
The first time I was struck by lightning I was thirteen. I had left the foster home about five weeks prior with my backpack of clothes and an old blanket. I was sleeping wherever I could find a roof over my head, eating whatever scraps came into my life. Sometimes I would stay a night or two at a friendly farmhouse. Usually it was an elderly couple just happy to have another young mouth to feed. I never stayed more than two nights and I’d never tell them I was leaving. I slipped out of every home like the first, in the dead of night with whatever snacks I could find before reaching the door. I loved walking at night. It was like a different world nobody else got to see. You could trespass almost anywhere while everybody was asleep. Occasionally there would be a house way off in the distance flickering with a bright blue light. I would go right up to the window and watch the TV that was left on. Sometimes there’d even be someone asleep in a comfy chair, and we’d watch together. You could walk in the middle of any street with no fear. I liked to lie down on the dirt roads, rest my head on my backpack and watch the stars for hours.
I remember one night, I hadn’t eaten real food in about a week. My stomach was full of air and grass. I was resting near a line of trees as the wind began howling. I sat up when it started drizzling. Soon enough, a full-on rainstorm was coming down. Every few minutes, the entire landscape would be fully lit by lightning. As if for a split second I was all alone in the daytime. The pain in my stomach was overshadowed by the warm light bouncing around. I stumbled to my feet and slowly made my way to the middle of the open field. There was a small ranch house in the distance but that wasn’t my aim. I didn’t want food. I didn’t want handouts. I didn’t want to lie or be used. I didn’t want to keep surviving day to day. I fell to my knees and waited. The last thing I remember was the deafening crack of the bolt as it traveled through my back into the ground.
I awoke the next day in the little shack in the distance. It was home to a nice man, Bubba, and his wife Carrie Anne. They owned and operated the driving range that I had collapsed on the night before. This stay was different. I didn’t rush out like before. I was too sore, anyway. I lay in bed a few days until the branches of scars across my back stopped bleeding. Carrie Anne brought me home-cooked soup and cornbread. Bubba would come by every now and then between his golf lessons. I stayed with them almost three weeks. It didn’t take long before Bubba had me swinging a club. I wasn’t a natural, but after a couple days and a few hours of Bubba’s teaching, I could hit the ball pretty decent.
One in five thousand: the odds of hitting a hole in one. One in 175 million: the odds of winning the lottery.
It was a Friday evening when Bubba took me out for a late round on the small par-three course next to the range. It was my first time actually playing real holes. Bubba teed off first, standing still as he watched his ball sail through the air. He gave a little nod when the ball landed a few feet past the pin. It was my turn. I was nervous. I wanted to get as close to the hole as possible to take putting out of the equation. The warmth fluttered in my stomach as I placed my ball on the tee. Bubba handed me a club and told me just to swing nice and easy. Nice and easy, no problem. The ball came out high and left before turning back to the green. It landed a few feet short of the pin and rolled slowly before disappearing into the cup. Bubba cheered and came toward me, holding my shoulders, making sure I was real. I holed out three more times that night, for Bubba’s sake. It feels selfish now, but I couldn’t help myself. The look in his eye was as if I was the one thing he’d been waiting for his whole life.
I slipped out of the shack that night. We had a nice dinner. Carrie Anne had made chicken fried steak and biscuits. She covered everything in gravy. Bubba couldn’t stop going on about my round on the par-three course. He’d never seen anything like it. A boy who just a couple weeks ago had never picked up a club, and now with a little bit of coaching, he’s a natural. Bubba’d never seen a hole in one before, let alone four in one round. Every few years or so, a group would come in and describe their buddy acing a hole and he’d give the guy a free round. These were guys that he’d seen at the range for years. I knew I had gone too far when Bubba started talking about me entering tournaments and turning professional. With a little more coaching he thought I could be competing at the US Open. That had been his dream growing up, before he blew out his knee in the war. I felt bad. I didn’t want to just slip out like before, but it was the only way. It was the first time I left a letter behind. My stomach was jumbled when I was writing under the candle light. I thanked Bubba and Carrie Anne for their love and hospitality. I said I’d never forget them, and I haven’t. I closed my eyes and wrote the first six numbers that came to mind and told Bubba to go down to the local gas station and buy a lottery ticket. My lucky numbers might just be his, too.
I’ve won the lottery seven times. Once for myself and six times for the kind people I’ve met along my journey. The first thing I did when I turned eighteen was wait for the right jackpot. Might as well cash out for good, I thought. I won $28.3 million and left the country. I’ve been sailing around the Mediterranean for the last decade or so. Before that it was the south Pacific, the Yellow Sea, the Tasman. I’ve got homes all over the world. I’ve made friends in every nook and cranny of this earth. Never for too long, though. You’d be surprised how quickly someone is to exploit good fortune. My biggest fear is to be locked up somewhere with tubes coming out every orifice, men in white coats running test after test in order to diagnose and replicate the feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ve never been in love, never married nor had children. I wouldn’t dare take the chance of passing on this curse.