I remember staring at the numbers in disbelief. I went over them and over them, carefully matching the numbers on the ticket to the numbers on the computer screen. I refused to get my hopes up, life had been a shit show of disappointment to this point. I was not sure I could stand the heartbreak of believing I had won the lottery when in fact I had not. So, I quadruple-checked them for the tenth time, still not willing to believe. I went to a different source in case they posted these by mistake, but the numbers were the same. The ticket was a winner. 52 million dollars. I began to weep. I blocked out how I came to have the ticket in the first place. I would deal with that later.
My initial reaction was one of relief. My daughter was three years old and needed a heart transplant along with several other procedures. The doctors explained she would not see four without these things. I was unemployed with no insurance. Her mother was also unemployed. The win meant she would be taken care of. She could get the help she needed and could grow up strong and healthy. I would set up a trust fund, one that her mother couldn’t pilfer for her own use. Her mother and I had never married and had always been horrible together. We were both far too dysfunctional to maintain what anyone would consider a normal relationship. Within months after her birth, we had split. We hated each other. But I wanted to help my daughter. And now I would be able to.
I traveled to the state lottery office. I needed them to confirm the ticket, but I was afraid they would steal it from me. They explained they needed to scan the ticket but I was unwilling to hand it to them. Eventually, the nice woman promised no one would take it, that they were here to help. They confirmed the ticket and everything started moving quicker. They needed forms filled out for the government, they needed photos, they wanted quotes to use on their website. It was difficult to keep up. They needed my bank information, but I didn’t have a bank account anymore. They arranged to have one of their people escort me to a local bank to set up an account. It was surprising to me the attention and respect you get at a bank when you are escorted by a lottery official.
In the end, after taxes, I cleared over 28.5 million dollars. My daughter had a successful heart transplant and all of the supplementary procedures she needed. She was on her way to a full recovery. I set up a ten-million-dollar trust fund for her and an annuity that would pay her expenses from now until she could collect the full amount. She was set. That left me with 13.5 million. That should be the happily-ever-after end of the story. And I wish it was. But nothing in my life is that easy. There was a nagging in the back of my mind that wouldn’t go away.
I should explain that I am not a good person. I’m not sure I have ever been a good person. I am my own worst enemy. Among my long list of flaws are alcoholism, a vicious temper, drug abuse, and an inability to accept responsibility for my actions. I can be reasonable when sober, but a complete asshole when I’m not. Every bad decision I’ve made is someone else’s fault. I can’t keep a job. I can’t keep sober. I can’t maintain a bad relationship. I’m not certain I would recognize a healthy relationship if I saw one. I am essentially a selfish worthless fuck of a human being.
Understanding that, it should not surprise you that I stole the lottery ticket that saved my daughters’ life. It happened late on a Saturday night. I was wasted, of course. I had been drinking cheap whiskey and had scored a little meth from a prostitute I knew. I was stumbling home when I spotted a guy passed out in the alley. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you if he was breathing or not. I don’t know if he was passed out drunk or if he’d been knocked out in a fight. I couldn’t even tell you what he was wearing, other than his clothes made him look like one of the people that had a day job and a home with a family. All I remember for sure was I could see his wallet and a little black book protruding from his back pocket. So, I took them and continued on my way home. I searched the wallet as I walked, plucking thirty-seven dollars in bills and a Visa debit card before tossing the billfold aside. I eventually tossed the debit card as well; without the PIN it was useless. I went through the little black book next. I remember thinking who uses these things anymore? Obviously, this guy did. It didn’t have words, only a long list of numbers in columns. The numbers were too short to be phone numbers and made no sense to me. Before I tossed it, I found a lottery ticket folded inside the back cover. I slid the ticket into my pocket, dropped the book, and kept walking.
I woke up with no memory of where the cash came from until I spotted the ticket. I cringed. I had never resorted to theft before that night. I blocked it out until I could make sure my daughter was going to be okay.
Once everything was settled with my daughter, the origin of the ticket started haunting me. I had, in fact, robbed a defenseless man of fifty-two million dollars. It made me nauseous to think about. What if he had a sick daughter? Or a sick wife? What had his life become? What would it have been? Perhaps he was a good man who would have done wonderful things for people? Perhaps he needed that money even more than I did. I took refuge with my only true friends. It’s amazing the quality of drugs and alcohol you can access with real money. I blew a lot of time, energy, and especially money trying to repress my guilt. But it didn’t work.
I tried to find the passed-out man that I stole the ticket from. I was going to give him the money I had left. He may not forgive me but it would certainly be better than nothing. By this time, nearly two years had passed. The trail was beyond cold. No one remembered. No one cared to remember. I even placed an ad in the newspaper stating I was looking for a man who was passed out on that date, that I had something that belonged to him. But it turns out no one reads newspapers anymore. No one answered the ad, and my guilt continued to grow. I kicked myself for dropping the little black book. It may have contained clues, ones that may have revealed themselves once I looked with sober eyes. Those moments were rare, but they happened.
Since I could not find the rightful owner of the ticket, I thought I could find others who could benefit from my stolen money. I found ten homeless people, seven men and three women. I gave them one million dollars each. There was no publicity, just a simple transaction between them and me. I helped them get bank accounts and debit cards, then I placed one million dollars in each account. They were all extremely grateful and thanked me profusely. It made me feel better. It honestly did. For a while, anyway.
In hindsight, I should have done a better job of vetting them. But it is what it is. In less than a year, each of my recipients was back on the street. Each of them had found a way to blow the entire million with nothing to show for it. Drugs, gambling, expensive toys, prostitutes, you name it, they indulged. Three of them even had the nerve to ask me for more. Morons. But could I lay this at their feet? I gave them more money than they had ever seen with no proper training on how to maintain it. This was likely another stain on me, another achievement badge sewn onto my vest of ineptitude. A ten-million-dollar experiment down the tubes. With my own indiscretions, taxes, and expenses, I was down to just over one million dollars. And I still felt miserable. I had stolen 52 million dollars.
I had a cashier’s check drafted for one million dollars, my last one million dollars, made out to the children’s hospital that saved my daughter’s life. I withdrew the rest of my money and closed my account. I walked about seven blocks from the bank to a bar. I ordered several shots of whiskey, enough to get a pleasant buzz. I left the bar and walked to the children’s hospital, where I asked whom I need to speak with to make a large donation. They found an important-looking woman who accepted my cashier’s check happily. They offered to bring in the press for a photo op, but I shook my head and left. I knew these people would do good things with the money. I should have given them the ten million I wasted on the others. Live and learn, I guess.
I stopped at a gas station for cigarettes. On a whim, I purchased a lottery ticket. I was still buzzed enough that it made me laugh, the idea that I would buy another ticket to misery. I found a bar and proceeded to get hammered. During the evening, I met a woman who seemed to be as drunk as me. We hit it off brilliantly, as alcoholics in full stride usually do. We smoked some weed outside, played pool, and drank until the bar closed.
I awoke in an alley with my face pressed against a trash bin. Something was digging into my ribs. I rolled off of several bags of garbage. An empty bottle had been pressing into my ribcage. It took me several minutes to get my bearings. My head was splitting, I smelled like vomit, and had a massive hangover. I had vague memories of drinking with some woman. I remembered playing pool. That was about all I could recall. I stood unsteadily for a moment until I was ready to walk. That’s when I felt for my wallet. No surprise, it was gone, with all of my remaining ill-gotten money. But there was something else. I remembered the lottery ticket. It was gone along with my wallet. I laughed out loud. Hello, karma bitch-slap. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted. For their sake, I hoped they didn’t win. But… then again, perhaps they should.