One of the worst things you can be called when playing Texas Hold 'Em Poker is a donkey or a fish. Both symbolize the player's lack of skill and make them an easy target for the other players at the table.
I was both before I even sat down at the no-limit table at one of the biggest games at the Bellagio Casino in Vegas.
For years, I dreamed of sitting down and playing against the likes of Doyle Bronson, Phil Ivy, Barry Greenstein, and other top pros who can be seen routinely on ESPN in the biggest tournaments. With a wad of $100 bills and years of experience of playing in local casinos in the Los Angeles area, I sat down this afternoon seemingly ready to live out the dream.
Unfortunately, I wasn't there mentally. I made no moves, didn't watch and pick up on my opponent's tendencies, and never did anything other than fold hand after hand. I was like an actor or actress who suffers from stage fright, unable to move when called upon.
After an hour or two of this, I looked around the table at my opponents and noticed three of them wearing sunglasses. Sporting shades while playing poker is often done by players who are trying not to show their excitement or disappointment with the cards they are dealt. Staring at a woman with sunglasses, I finally realized why I was never able to get into the game mentally.
Five hours earlier and needing to stop for gas on my trip out of California, I merged my new BMW onto the one exit into Baker. The town of 904 people is landscaped with fast food restaurants, gas stations, two motels, and a thermometer that stands 134-feet high and claims to be tallest in the world.
This resting stop for travelers going from Los Angeles to Las Vegas also had something that I never thought I would have or want again. A desire to make a connection to another person.
Perched behind the counter at the Mobile Gas Station, Ann flashed a smile at me that was so sweet, so innocent, and so inviting. Similar to me not being able to play at the poker table, I stood in front of her unable to speak.
I was dumbfounded by her beauty. With brunette hair, the cutest dimple in each cheek, and wearing a yellow sundress that showed off her toned and tanned arms, I was more attracted to her than I have ever been to any woman in Los Angeles.
She wore sunglasses that had four diamond-like stones on each side of the frames. They covered most of her face and made it impossible to see her eyes. The sunglasses made Ann as mysterious as she was gorgeous.
Without seeing them, I imagined her eyes blue and wished that before I left the counter she would take off the sunglasses so I could complete the image of her that would no doubt run through my mind for days. Despite not getting this chance, I walked away surprised to see someone like her in a place like Baker.
More surprising than seeing someone like her in a town like this, was my reaction to seeing her. When I was told that my cancer was terminal, I made the decision to go through this alone. I didn't need anyone to go through this with me and didn't want anyone to stop me from doing what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it.
More importantly, I decided never to be drawn to another person by beauty, personality, or the prospects of companionship again. Why set myself up for emotional pain when all I have ever known is being hurt by the ones who said that they loved me?
The cancer had taken away any control that I had over my own body physically. The last thing that I have control over is my emotions and feelings. I made the decision that the way I would control that is by not getting emotionally attached to anyone again.
How naive I was to think that I could stop myself from getting butterflies by simply looking at another person like Ann? How naive I was to think that I didn't want to get caught up in someone's beauty?
Folding yet another hand, I raked up the chips that I had in front of me and left the table. There was no need to continue to sit at the table when all I could think about was getting close to another person again. I can always come back to the poker table tomorrow.
Tonight, all I want to do is dream of Ann and the eyes behind the sunglasses.