For some reason, I had started to fixate on the fact that if one of my teeth popped out, for whatever reason, I would have no money to fix it. I didn’t have enough saved to insure my teeth, and I’d have dreams all the time of them falling out only to wake up intensely relieved they were still there. Missing teeth would only solidify the appearance of the degenerate I was devolving into, at least outwardly.
Emptiness was waking up to wash my clothes in the bathroom sink. First my underwear, then my bra, then my black leggings and T-shirt. I’d wash them with dish soap because it was all I could afford and then blow-dry them for several minutes. I’d sold all my other clothes for money to gamble. That mecca, the casino, was slowly sucking away and dissolving all the physical things that I thought were necessities. And actually, living life as a minimalist wasn’t so bad, except when my then-boyfriend John and I had nothing to eat. The only thing that was important to us was sitting in front of those fluorescent screens and blacking out until the casino robbed us of our money. It got us high.
We’d search our gray couch for loose change several times a day. I’d check my bank account vigilantly to see if any of the funds from my freelance writing gigs had gone through. After checking a mere twenty times in a couple hours, the deposit I’d been waiting for showed up. I remembered smiling at John. There was a God! I had three hundred dollars. We would go to the casino later that night. We rejoiced, thinking of the ample possibilities ahead, and spent the day doing monotonous chores with more vigor than we normally would have.
On the way there, I’d stare out the window into that grey Seattle sky. Sure, I’d feel a tinge of guilt spending all my money gambling, but what could I do? John and I had developed such a tolerance for the loud noises, bright lights, and high risks of the casino that everything else seemed bleak without that level of stimulation.
Where had my $300 deposit come from? Well, I had helped ghost-write a section of a financial self-help book I’d found on a freelancer site. Professionally at least, I was regarded as a “financial expert.” If they only knew… But the high I got after sitting in front of the slot machines for several hours superseded everything. When John and I drove up to the entrance of the casino, everything else, the struggle, the pain, the loss of our child, just melted away.
The entrance carpet displayed the thick tongue of an exotic creature, its red and purple designs splayed every which way to disorient us. The cigarette smoke drifted through the air, overwhelming us, but the rough tongue of this carpet amoeba was built to withstand the ashes constantly raining over it. And like an angler fish lures its prey, the sophisticated light fixtures that hung from the ceiling convinced us to continue our path without any resistance.
The casino breathed. There was a certain rhythm to it. All the machines had different tunes playing on repeat, a seductive symphony that morphed all those jingles into one thick song of silence. I dissolved onto the casino’s tongue the same way Xanax dissolved onto my own and everything was complete and lost at the same time.
Society doesn’t give you enough time to grieve or dwell on what needs to be processed, so casinos remain full. People die, hearts get broken, babies get miscarried…but then it’s back to work on Monday. The casino was a luxury, offering a way to float off in time and space to buy more time. Like all living organisms, the casino has a voracious appetite to ensure its survival, and I was more than willing to support our symbiotic relationship.
I wound up losing the three-hundred dollars. I felt guilty. To escape the guilt, I had to gamble some more. To afford to gamble some more, I had to blog for other finance sites and wait for those deposits to come through. I called a spade a spade and knew what I had regressed into. But it wasn’t until we’d lost our apartment, the furniture, everything, that I decided to get help.
To say that the gambling was over when John and I broke up and I left Seattle and joined Gambler’s Anonymous would be a lie. After all, gambling had already become my preferred form of survival. I worked small jobs here and there in a gang-ridden part of Los Angeles (Pico-Union), always in poverty. I was spending every single dollar I made trying to find an agent, trying to get materials and software I needed for the literary industry, and using the printer at Kinko’s to send off my manuscripts to prospective publishers. With nothing in my saving’s account, it turned knots in my stomach because survival mode was becoming less and less appealing. I guess this was growth.
All I could do was cling to the possibility that the perpetual loneliness without John and overall low quality of life would improve if just one of these things took off—my screenplay, my book, my collection of poetry. I’d bite my nails so hard that I drew blood. I knew the odds were not in my favor. But just like when I was in front of a slot machine in dreary Seattle, there was the impulse—no, gut feeling—that compelled me to keep going, hoping that by going all in on my passion, it would pay off.
Here is the more likely scenario, the dreadful reality that most likely awaits me if nothing hits: As the years go by, I’ll continue to shield myself from social gatherings and potential lovers even though what I’m writing isn’t commercial enough. I’ll do this until my forties and fifties and realize that I never hit all those milestones that my peers did. I’ll move out of my family’s house, meet someone to spend my life with, have a kid. I’ll try and cheer myself up through self-praise—on how noble it was holding on to my passion as long as I did. But that won’t be enough to dry the tears which will inevitably pool around my eyes at night, feeling as though I failed.
Then I might play with the thought of suicide, knowing that without solid attachments in my life, no one would miss me anyway. I would loathe myself for spending 75% of my existence in front of a screen. But suicide would just be another gamble to deflect the current gamble I was in: what if something of mine DID come to fruition but then I’d die too soon to see it? The stakes are already too high. So, although more than likely a future of regrets awaits me, I still have to power through, because the chance that I may produce something great, something big enough to expand minds and add a little color to this greying world, is well worth the risk. Or so I hope.