I've always bet the longshot. Even as a kid. I've never liked the favorites, the preferred, the petted, the perfect. I cannot remember a time ever betting on the champion to win anything. If a contender was insulted, mocked, scorned, I would be there to defend, to praise. I have rooted for and stood beside some of the oddest, flakiest, outcomes --in sports games, award shows, political elections, school battles-- and I'm always there to watch the last marathon runner limp across the finish line. And whenever an unrealistic unpredicted joyful win occurred, I was always wild with joy. For days.
After my son was diagnosed as "Developmentally-delayed, multiply-handicapped, mentally-retarded," this penchant for the far-fetched, the also-ran, the unlikely, the dismissed, the overlooked, the rejected, the slow, the dim-prospect, the come-from-behinders only became more entrenched. It doesn't help matters that my God loves the outcast and the rejected and is a Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief
And when I taught high school, I was the finish-not-fail teacher. It was my job to somehow get the far-fetched, the also-rans, the unlikely, the losers, the "obviously stupid", and the supposedly "doomed for life," the criminally-inclined to not drop out of school. So I was always there, reading to the kid with AIDS, carrying tests to the house of the seventeen year old mom of two, nagging the lesbian prostitute gang to finish their homework, dragging the truants in for that last test that would enable them to graduate.
Three times a year I play the horses; I always bet the longshot. I often win. I play the longshot because I hate experts and their smug pontifications. I hate society's normative standards. I hate being on the side of power, the lauded, and the applauded. I'm a bitch like that.
I don't know what it is about horses but they seem like the very essence of the life force to me. They are vitality and strength. I have no doubt that they understand the joy and purpose and passion of racing. Animals know far more than we think they do. Yes, I think they must rejoice to run -- and win-- a race.
On May 3, 2014, the Kentucky Derby, the first of the three horse races I bet on during the year, occurred. I bet the longshot, Commanding Curve. I bet $2.00 across the board. Win, place, show. $6.00 Splurging is apparently my middle name. ;-) I suppose I could've spent a lot more but for me, the aim is not to win but to see the magic of the longshot.
I'd missed the game as it occurred -- being at a book launch cum cabaret party for a fellow writer. I couldn't very well hide out in her bedroom watching the game while drummers drummed, dancers danced, singers sang the praises of the publication of her book. But the game was on my mind.
The next morning I zipped on over to youtube to see a video replay of the game. My heart fell when I saw that the favorite California Chrome had won. I think I would've preferred any horse other than the favorite winning. I decided to watch the race. My longshot, Commanding Curve, came in second. Now, depending on the video you watch, you may not see this -- the graphic is found on the official Kentucky Derby video-- but the graphic is telling, and for me wholly inspiring. Commanding Curve --a 50-1 longshot-- is horse #17. The graphic appears about mid-way through the video --jumbled little number squares that represent each horse in the race. Commanding Curve, my sweet longshot -- the representative to me of all the wall-flowers and the smugly-dismissed, the equine challenge to know-it-alls and oddmakers-- was in the back.
He was in the back a long time.
But then, slowly, subtly, imperceptibly, without pomp, without flash, without notice, -- when most had probably given up on him-- he inched ahead. Step by step, subtly, with committment. He came in second.
I rewatched the video three or four times, getting goose-pimples each time. (okay, okay, I cried and became a weepy mess.) This is not something the nature-blessed or vaunted or smug will understand. It is certainly not something the mothers of perfect, healthy children could understand. But those of us who understand being dismissed, those who have sick children who keep trying night and day even in their twentieth year to read chapter books or to say their ABC's -- we understand.
It is true that some longshots stay behind. It is probable many will always be last in the pack. And it is probably quite silly to hope for unrealistic endings, but there is a joy to coming second that some first placers will never know.