My eyelids flung open at 3:13 a.m., and all I could think of – with the fog of sleep swept away by the churning machine of my anxiety – was Jermichael Finley.
It was the wee hours of a Wednesday during football season, which, for me and millions like me, means precisely one thing: Waiver wire day in fantasy football leagues. I lived with my wife in her parents’ home at that time, in November 2009, in their lovely little mother-in-law suite, complete with a desktop computer connected to a less-than-reliable Internet connection.
Seconds after consciousness registered, I was out of bed, running in a hurried tiptoe toward the computer, looking and feeling absurd, toward my waiver wire. My heart slammed against my chest, my hands sweat enough to leave miniature puddles on the keyboard as I typed my fantasy league password, and breath heaved in and out of my gaping mouth as if I’d just finished the Iron Man.
I wanted Finley – no, I needed Finley – on my team that week. The Green Bay Packers’ tight end, then in his second year, was projected for a monster Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions, who had given up more fantasy points to tight ends than almost any team in the NFL. Everything hinged on ripping Finley from the waiver wire: My fake football team’s floundering playoff chances, my match-up against the league’s best team, and my mood, my psychological well being. Sleep would be impossible, I knew, if Finley was not tucked away, safe and sound, on my fantasy roster at this ungodly hour.
The shoddy web connection sputtered and jumped and slowed. I could almost feel my nerves fraying at their edges, coming apart with every second I had to wait for my fantasy league’s homepage to load.
In that moment, I would’ve happily chosen waterboarding.
Hark! The homepage loaded. I scrolled down the page. I scanned the transaction section like a lottery ticket as the numbered ping-pong balls are falling into place. I found Finley, and yes, yes indeed, my happy heart leapt, threatened to jump from its place in my chest, which would have been fine, because I owned the rights to the Packers’ freakishly athletic tight end, the man who would post a mammoth stat line on Turkey Day and make my stuffing and cranberry sauce taste that much better. I stood up from my seat at the computer and walked on wobbly legs, back to bed, where my beautiful wife slept soundly. She was unaware that my day, my week, my month – nay, my year! – had been made with a simple waiver wire transaction.
I stared at the ceiling, pretending to sleep. I wasn’t like a child waiting for Christmas morning; I was like a little boy who had wandered into the living room in Christmas’s predawn hours, found Santa, and had an hour-long conversation with the fat man. Nothing, Wednesday at 3:30 a.m., could have excited me more.
Sleep eventually washed over me that night, and as I succumbed to it, I thought of a story my dad had told me many years before, when I was a kid, about his childhood friend who had grown up in what my dad called “the old neighborhood.” This old friend had done some bad things my father had never explained in any detail, and ended up living in the woods with other people who had done bad things.
This guy, my dad’s old friend from the old neighborhood, lived in the woods because, as my dad told me, his friend liked beer so much. Beer, in fact, had such a hold on my dad’s friend that he bought a six-pack of suds every night before he went to sleep in the woods because he knew that he would wake up during the night and be thirsty for that beer. He needed that beer. This happened at all hours of the night, my dad said. And my dad’s friend would drink that beer, all six cans, and go back to sleep in the woods.
The embers of that sanitized childhood story of addiction flickered in my head as I fell asleep that night. I did not know why.
That next day, Thanksgiving Day, Finley caught three passes for 25 yards.