She Bets Her Life

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

Basement Medicine 11: What Falls Into the Absences

Teaching, writing from the richness of what we have lost.

It is a pure gift to teach Writing Through Addiction to a circle of passionate women and men at this national conference on gambling addiction treatment.  I set up an exercise and watch the students:  heads bowed over their writing, the whisper of pens moving steadily over paper.  Later they read. The ink in their pens is truth. Courage is their muse.

We speak of losses, of absences and lacunae.  We each understand how it is to go into the places we cannot fill.  Later, I remember a dispatch I once sent to my subscribers.  When I read it, I remember more - how I was in the early stages of acute withdrawal and how the desert gave me not the filling of the emptiness, but a way to occupy that void.

What Falls Into the Absences

            The only sure antidote to oblivion is the creation. So I loop my sentences around the trunks of maples, hook them into the parched soil, anchor them to rock, to moon and stars, wrap them tenderly around the ankles of those I love. From down in the pit, I give a tug, to make sure my rope of words is hooked onto the world, and then up I climb.

                                    --- Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put


                  The Invisible guitar

                  Fullerton train station

                           guy playing guitar

                           with right hand

                           withered left hand

                           from very visible was

                                    playing to a

                                    chair covered seat

                                    and a bench

                                             covered blanket

                           Invisible audiences

                           listening to a distant




had been written on the back of a Vanity Fair subscription card tucked into a copy of Delicate, a collection of short stories I wrote in the early Nineties.  I'd found the book in a used bookstore and bought it to give to a new friend.

         Delicate was inscribed: 


                  I “met” this

                  woman thru NPR radio

        She writes about real

                 women on real journeys.

             Enjoy   -   Janet



There was also a 3X5 file card in  the pages.  On it was written todolopuedo.ina.nel  Password  EBIZ  I googled todolopuedo.ina.nel   It does not exist.

        A few days later, I walk east across the desert. The setting sun dusts the creosote with gold.  Shadows are gray, then purple, then indigo.  A jack-rabbit startles out of a tangle of downed Joshua branches.  I follow my footprints from the day before.  They carry me past the white couch that is settling back into the earth and the backless shelves my son and I left next to the couch.  Each day I put something on the second shelf that I am ready to lose.  Once it was how I scare myself, another time it was imagining I have a damaged brain---there is a theme here.

         My footprints disappear from the road and curve through more creosote and Joshuas and groves of yucca.  I follow.  I stop at a yucca which has split into three equal sections. I press my hands against each section, then link the broken pieces with my splayed fingers.  I have no idea why I do this.  It just seems right.

         I reach the old Joshua Buddha just as the light goes rose-gold.  I bend down to the stump that is also the form of a seated Buddha.  I lean my head against it and I say, “I’m back.”  I touch the tiny white spine tucked into the bark of the fallen trunk and sit next to the delicate bones.  I plant my feet in the sand. There are dark mountain ranges in the northeast and perhaps a mile away, the county land-fill. 

         Gate gate paragate.  Gone gone gone to the other side

         I remember my most recent talk with M.  We spoke of aging.  We spoke of loss.  We spoke of what has fallen away---and what hasn’t.  I told him that I no longer was able to destroy myself.  I told him I came to that inability not by my own choice. 

         “I don’t know why I had to give up what I loved so much,” I said to M.  “There are layers and layers of emptiness in me now .  It’s not time to fill them...if they can ever be filled.”

         The sand is no longer pale gold.  The shadows fade.  I drink what’s left of the water in my bottle, touch the Joshua Buddha stump and head home.

         I’m a few minutes away from the light that burns outside my cabin door when I see a sheet of paper caught in a clump of dried grass.  There is writing on it.  I pick it up and carry it home.

         I wait till after dinner to read it.  The words are carefully printed in a child’s hand on lined paper. 


Dear Isaaih,

         I hope you have a merry christmas and may all your wishes come true.  Thank you for playing games with me.

         When we play monopoly we have fun.  Monopoly is one of favorite game.  Hve you ever played monopoly video game.  It’s fun, isn’t it.

         When I grow up I will keep you in my hart.  When both of us grown up we can both hang out.

         Love, Angela


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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