She Bets Her Life

A writer and former compulsive gambler reflects on women and addiction.

Cyndra 1: Why did I marry him? Who is he now?

She tells her story to save her family's life.
Keith Oatley, Ph.D.
This post is a response to Why Read Fiction? by Keith Oatley, Ph.D.

I lived for a year a few miles from a huge Marine base in the Mojave Desert.  It may have been the most difficult, most heart-breakingly beautiful year in my life.  The landscape was huge, and inhospitable to everyone except the birds and coyotes, the wind-gnarled Joshua Trees, the ancient creosote, the tiny lizards whose tracks crisscrossed the pale sand like lace.

People had to carry stories inside themselves to stay alive in that country.  I listened to the stories: drunk car crashes from which people walked away unscratched; the tweaker lab that looked like a suburban house gone up in flames and no one hurt; the fact - the stone truth, man - that when 2012 came, the shift was going to begin 6.8 miles Northeast of the tiny town of Joshua Tree.  I tucked the stories away and brought them north. They are an ache in me, and a privilege.

Long before books were printed, old women and men taught the children through stories.  A Hopi story-teller begins with the words, Aliksa'i.  "So it is."  I once listened to a Havasupai man tell us the beginning of his people's creation story, a story that takes four days to complete.  As he spoke, he taught his listeners about loyalty and the earth's bloodlines and lust and grief.  He taught us how young people can forget the old and the old somehow forgive the young.  He taught us about impulse control and delusion and the medicine we all have inside us.

I've been longing to write the Mojave stories.  My agent tells me that it is almost impossible to write fiction, but writing the Mojave stories is medicine.  So I write the first one. I'll post it in sections alternating with other pieces, like an old-fashioned serial.  I'm not sure how it ends or what it will teach.  That's the nature of a living story.  Too much planning implies you've got it all under control. That's boring, unrealistic, and dangerous. It lulls you into a complacency that removes one of the artist's most valuable conditions: Being Pissed. ~Twyla Tharp.  Here is Cyndra and she is pissed!

 

Cyndra Won’t Get Out of the Truck

If she had known how completely crazy J.B. was, even BEFORE he shipped over to Iraq, she would not have married him.  Even if she had been seventeen and him twenty-one with pale blue eyes, with shoulders that wouldn’t quit, with a manner of kissing that said “I completely respect you girl, and I completely want you.”

But it was too late to take it back.  There was Kelli who was two and cute as a puppy; and there was L’il J.B. who was too l’il to be able to tell whether he was going to be cute or not.  Kelli was at her mom’s.  L’il J.B. was attached to Cyndra’s left boob on which he was sucking as if his life depended on it.  Which it did.  Which was why it was too late to take back that dumb second when she had looked up into J.B.’s eyes and said, “I do.  I surely do.”

Cyndra and L’il J.B. were in the front seat of J.B.’s King Cab.  The air conditioner was blasting and Cyndra was squinting into the dashboard t.v.  She could barely make out the picture because the King Cab was parked smack dab in the pure hell of the Mojave Desert.  J.B. was not in sight, but Cyndra could hear the bad boy roar of his dirt bike, even though the windows were closed and she had her earbud in so she could listen to a duet between Faith Hill and Tim Mcgraw that was causing her to sob and drip tears on L’il J.B.’s tiny bald head.

She and L’il had been stuck in the King Cab for four hours.  J.B. would zoom up every hour or so and say, “How ya doin’, baby?  I’ll just do this one last run and we’ll head in for pizza and home and who knows what.”

As if.  As if she could even stand for him to touch her.  As if all she needed was another something nuzzling her boobs.  The t.v. flickered and went black.  The cell battery was dead due to her listening for two hours to her best friend bitch about how there was nothing to do in this totally boring place.  Which meant there was really nothing to do.  Nothing.

      She had a pile of her mom’s magazines next to her on the seat because she had planned to leave them at her sister’s salon.  She glanced down at the top one.  "How to welcome your soldier hubby Home."  Right.  There would be---she didn't have to look---a recipe for The Most Outrageous Triple Chocolate Torte and two articles on how to lose weight.  For your soldier hubby.  Both of them so stupidly hopeless, the cake which J.B. would not eat because he would have slammed eight Dos Eq longnecks during dinner; and gorgeous skinny her if she was ever gorgeous skinny her again, because if J.B. did touch her, it would have everything to do with want, and nothing to do with respect. 

Mary Sojourner, M.A., is the author of She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction (Seal Press/ April 2010) and Going Through Ghosts (U.Nevada Press, 2010).

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