This is meant to be read as a commentary on, or supplement to, Pawn to Queen. Go read that first, and then come back here. Maybe it´ll make more sense. Maybe it won´t.

One of the worst mistakes you can make in football is to drop the ball. It doesn't matter that you were hit by 350 pounds of angry defensive end, or that you didn't quite get a good grip on that Hail Mary pass. You dropped the ball. You failed.

Parenting is like that, sometimes. The whole point of having a mother and a father working together is so that you have backup when one of you drops the ball; the other one is there to quickly scoop up the errant pigskin or maybe make the catch and run it in. Unfortunately, divorce screws up that neat metaphor, because all of a sudden Mom and Dad aren't really on the same team any more. They might be in the same uniforms (for a while) but they're having constant arguments about everything from the training table to the playbook to conditioning. At this point the metaphor just blew out its seams, so I'm going to leave it on the sidelines and move on.

Your major responsibility as a parent is to make sure your kids are happy and functional and ready to make their way in the world, preferably in a job that keeps them far from the hostile gaze of John Law, and hopefully making enough money so that they can move out on their own. It's tough enough to do that when parents are on the same sheet of music; the way society works these days in big cities, you might almost think that the powers that be would prefer more broken families and broken people to justify their hunger for money and power. When you and the Mrs. are constantly fighting over every little thing, when a lot of her energy is going toward building up the new boyfriend and tearing you down for not being a passive, enabling, doormat it becomes damn near impossible. Because the kids know what's going on. They may not understand it, but they know. And just like a team where nobody has any confidence in the coach any more (oops), it gets harder for the parents to make the kids do the things that need to be done.

Add to that devil's brew the internal damage the parents are working with. Dad is depressed; the anti-depressants are barely keeping him functional against the all-consuming background noise of a marriage breaking up like the Titanic hitting the iceberg and the pain of his father's recent death. Mom is oscillating between baffled rage (because none of the buttons and levers and dials she's been pushing and yanking and twisting for sixteen years work any more) and vicious joy that while she is all bubbly and happy with New Relationship Energy her soon-to-be-ex is mired in a black pit of depression. All this drama makes it hard to concentrate on the important things. All you can do, with the drugs (barely) holding you together and a little long-distance help from your friends, is keep moving forward. Put one foot in front of the other. March or die. One day at a time. Crisis management, not for the win, but for a desperate need to not lose. Brutal triage when your son fails again and you can't spare the energy, money, or time any more to keep kicking him along and hope something jolts his faulty motivator circuit into some semblance of functionality.

And when your dog dies and the house breaks for the last time, you move. You think things are going to be better, but they aren't. Your head is still fucked up and your heart is (mostly) a glowing, smoking crater where nothing lives any more, and your daughter has become what you were so long ago: a bitter, misfit loner full of hate wishing they were anywhere but here, any time but now - at least during school hours. Otherwise, she's loyal, helpful, supportive, everything you could wish for in a daughter. All that positive exterior stuff makes it hard to see that she's just as broken on the inside as you are, because you don't know the whole story. Eventually you'll find out, eventually you will know. But eventually is a long time in the future, in a different place, where both of you have had your headspaces adjusted and are thinking clearly for the first time...well, maybe ever.

Looking back, it all becomes painfully clear. You can fill in the blanks now, connect all the dots (because there are new dots, in places you never suspected) and a new picture emerges. It's not a pretty picture, but it's one that looks and sounds and feels correct. Fair face concealing fell nature, a story as old as man himself. Still, knowing you were caught in that story doesn't make you feel any better. Instead, you sit there with a sinking feeling in your heart, looking at the words on the screen. Sure, things turned out okay. Eventually. Your team won, and that's good...but still, you dropped the ball. And that's never going to go away.
Roll the tape, Howie. Let's watch that again.
And again.
And again.


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