“I’m going to work at ESPN.”
When those six words came out of my sister’s mouth four years ago, I knew it was only a matter of time before she would be in Bristol. See, there are people who would like to do something, and there are people who want to do something. Then there are people who are going to do something. She is one of those people who is going to do something. She’s always been that way, and even at 19 years old at the time and me eight years older than her, she’s the person I looked at as motivation. Before then, she was always the person who had the most impact in regard to just about anything I did, but at that moment, she became my hero.
To understand the nature of our relationship, one has to go back to late 1990. My mom was getting ready to have another child, and with three sisters already in the house, I was ready for a brother. The time came to have a boy to mold, to groom, to show the ropes, and even though I was only 8 years old at the time, I was ready to take my potential brother under my wing. With that anticipation, I made my way to the room my mother was recuperating in at Denton Regional Medical Center to welcome my little brother into this world …
… except there wasn’t a little boy there. Nope. My mother just had another girl.
I was fed up. At 8 years old, I didn’t have logic. Critical thinking skills involved merely a string of words put together that sounded good. They meant nothing in my adolescent mind. All I knew was there was another girl in the house and that it was officially me against the world. I didn’t even bother going toward the bed to see the newest addition to the family. Instead, I walked out, pissed off, and waited until my dad, or whomever was first with a car, to take me home. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with that miscarriage of justice.
Once my mom and sister came home, I was still pretty hot about being hoodwinked into thinking I was going to have a brother. In fairness to my parents, they never said I would have one. No, I just figured I was due for one. Finally, I got near the newest addition to the family, and once I saw her, I fell in love with her. From that point on, she was my little girl.
We did just about everything an older brother and a younger sister could do together. When I would get out of school, she was there waiting to play, and when she got old enough to start school, we both would get home and play with each other. When it was time for me to play high school basketball, she was at damn near every game, cheering loud for her brother. When it was time for me to learn how to drive a stick, she was in the car with me, putting up with the endless jerks of the car every time I stalled out.
In August of 2000, it was time for me to go to college. That’s the time when one makes new friends, says goodbye to old ones and goes on to find out what life is all about. It is supposed to be an exciting time. It never occurred to either Andrea or myself that it would be the first time we were apart from each other. Granted, Corsicana and Dallas are less than an hour apart, if that, but in my 18-year-old mind and in her 9-year-old mind, we may as well have been as far apart as Mars and Jupiter.
My parents and Andrea took me to Navarro College to move me in to my dorm. We laughed and shot the crap the whole ride down like a brother and sister do with each other, and as we got closer to the school, it hit me that she would be going back home and I would be staying there. I immediately started to feel like crap. Why she didn’t realize it then, I don’t know, but she did soon enough. It hit her when all my stuff was out of the car and my parents wished me luck. She looked at me, looked at them and started to cry.
She begged me to come back home, said she didn’t want me to stay. She asked if she could stay, and when my parents said no, it got even worse. Here I was, the day before the first day of college, new roommates and suitemates around, and it took everything in me not to cry with her. Instead, I hugged her, told her I loved her, and asked my parents to get her in the car before I changed my mind about going to school in Corsicana and enrolling at UNT, the local college in my hometown, instead. I went home every weekend my freshman year, partly because I wasn’t willing to give my new surroundings a chance, but also to hang out with her as much as possible.
While I was gone, she took up cheerleading, and when it was time to go to cheerleading competitions, we would hop in the Rodeo and drive to wherever she had to be. I didn’t care for cheerleading, but my sister loved it, so that meant I had to love it, too. Whether it was down the street or across state lines to Oklahoma, we were together, thick as thieves. We tossed footballs around in the snow, shot hoops at the high school, rode together everywhere from McDonald’s to the mall to anywhere in between. We were each other’s biggest fans. Sports were merely the backdrop to us spending time together.
When the roles were reversed and she became a varsity cheerleader at my high school alma mater, I would come home solely to watch her cheer. The football and basketball games were secondary. The scores meant absolutely nothing. There was no desire to talk to anyone at those games. My sole intention was her. I would cheer, yell, scream at her during the games, and she never appeared to be embarrassed. We would take pictures after the game, shoot the breeze a bit, tell each other “I love you,” and go our separate ways. During her senior year of high school, that was our routine.
When the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA Championship, we went to the championship parade together. I imagine some of her homies were there and some of mine were, but we were going to go together. There was no other way. When it was time for her to go to college, there was a natural feeling of not wanting her to leave, but it was for the best. She left in 2009 and went to Tyler Junior College where, ironically, I work at today.
It was at that time, after her freshman year, when the summer of 2010 came to life. For most people, it was the summer of LeBron James announcing that he would be taking his talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat. However, it was a different announcement, one that was much more subdued, but just as impactful, that I remember. Andrea went to Georgetown University for an internship that she swore she was unqualified, on paper, to even be chosen for. Nonetheless, she went anyway. She took a tour of ESPN in Washington, D.C. She’s much better at the details of the trip than I am, but I do remember us talking about the trip while she was there. She told me all about her trip, and told me, in plain and self-assured English, what she was going to do:
“I’m going to work at ESPN.”
That was it. It wasn’t, “I want to work there,” or “I’d like to work there.” It was, “I’m going to work there.”
“All right,” I said. There was nothing else to say. Sure, she had at least three years of undergrad left, and sure, there were sure to be more opportunities that would become available as time passed, but once she said it, it was a done deal.
She graduated from TCU a few years later, and she went about applying to ESPN. When she didn’t get the answer she wanted the first time, she went back to the drawing board. Sure, she was sick she didn’t get to start her career when she wanted, but she stuck with her game plan.
“I don’t want any other job. I want to work in sports, and it’s going to be at ESPN.” That’s all she kept saying.
I didn’t know where the self-assurance came from, the unmitigated gall even, the absolute tunnel vision she had in her mission. She enjoyed journalism, communications and the opportunities that both provided, and if she was going to do it, she would do it at ESPN and nowhere else.
So she worked internships at a local ESPN affiliate in Dallas, worked promotion after promotion under the worldwide leader affiliate and never complained. It was really something to see. Here’s someone eight years younger than me, yet motivates me to do better, simply because she wasn’t going to settle for anything less than her dream career.
Days and weeks passed, and finally, the words came. I was at work, sitting at my desk with a student, when the text rolled in.
“I’M GOING TO ESPN!”
Once I saw that, I forgot all about my student being there. I darted out of my office, called her and heard the excitement in her voice. It was on.
The last couple of weeks were spent getting her ready to make the move. My sisters helped make her impending move as smooth as possible, and all that was left was getting her to Bristol. Flying her up there was the best option, but that was quickly shot down when Celia Kelly, a close friend of mine, planted the seed in Andrea’s head that she would be miserable without a car. Once she heard that, a new car magically appeared in the driveway. That meant only one thing: I was driving her to Connecticut.
There is nothing that mentally prepares you to drive 26 hours in a freaking car. We just knew that her new life was starting soon, and she had to get there. So at 5 a.m. on Thursday, July 31st, we left Dallas and set out for Bristol.
Before we even got out of the damn city, she was asleep. I couldn’t believe it. This was going to be the last time we hung together for months, and this little girl couldn’t even wait until we left D-Town to pass out. It didn’t matter, though. We trudged on. The darkness of the early morning gave way to the light of the day, and we kept on going. We stopped for gas and food, and quickly got back in the car to keep the trek going. Thursday morning became Thursday afternoon, which became Thursday night, which became early Friday morning, and we were both tired. We pulled over at a well-lit rest stop in Salem, Virginia, and got some sleep before continuing our journey early Friday morning.
We drove all morning Friday, all afternoon Friday, and finally, at 7-something p.m. on Friday night, we got to our destination. We were both happy and dog tired, but mostly relieved that we arrived. After driving around a bit to familiarize ourselves with the surroundings, we met up with Celia to shoot the breeze. That’s when it really hit me. I started to feel like she did 14 years ago when I left for Navarro. As proud as I was of her, and as much as she was ready to go, and as much as I wanted her to go, I was sad as hell. As her and Celia spoke about the job, I looked around, up at the ceiling, down at the tiles on the floor, at the screen of my phone, at the tongue of my shoes, at anything but Celia and Andrea. It was getting close to impossible to keep my composure. I think Andrea sensed it, but she let me live. Even though I am her big brother, here she was taking care of me.
The next morning came and went. We drove down the street from the hotel to the airport. It was time to leave her in new surroundings and time for me to bring my ass back to Texas. All the times we had talking about girls and boys, playing ball together, singing in the car, going to the Mavs parade, spending the last two birthdays together, basically everything was over for the time being. She said what she was going to do four years ago, and it was time for her to do it. I asked some old man who worked at the airport to take our picture, which was very stupid, because asking an old person to do anything technologically related is an invitation to getting cussed out, which is exactly what he did.
“I don’t know how to use this motherfucking shit,” he muttered as he took the phone from me, flipped it around in his hand and shook his head. “Here, ask that youngster to do it,” he said while pointing at one of his co-workers.
We all laughed and his younger co-worker took our picture. All I was really trying to do was steal a few more moments with my sister. Hell, I already took a trillion pictures of her while we were driving anyway, mostly when she was sleep, but what was one more, right? We hugged, told each other we loved each other. We wouldn’t let each other go, and she asked me not to cry. I told her I wouldn’t, and I grabbed my bags and headed inside. She got in her car and drove away. Once inside the airport, I broke the code of wearing sunglasses inside. I looked at the picture we took, and the tears started falling down my face. I couldn’t let all those strangers at the airport see a real player cry though, so I put my hater-blockers on, wiped my eyes and headed for the terminal back to D-town.
Andrea concludes her first week at ESPN this weekend, but it truly began four years ago in the summer of 2010. I’m not sure what is going to happen next, but I do know she is going to be great at it. She doesn’t know any other way.