She Bets Her Life

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

Cyndra 3: "C'mon, girl, you deserve a little fun..."

Cyndra's sister makes her an offer she can't refuse.

Cyndra is back.  She is the 21-year-old wife of 23-year-old J.B..  They have two kids, Kelli, 2 and L'il J.B. four months old.  They live in a tiny town in the Mojave Desert because J.B. Senior is a Marine.  He's also a drunk, has been since he was thirteen.  When we first met Cyndra, she was sitting in her husband's gigantic truck in the middle of the desert waiting for him to come back from riding his dirt bike.

Cyndra's story is one of a collection of stories I brought with me from a year living on a little Mojave Desert mesa northeast of a town that wasn't much more than strip malls and human longing.  Many of my neighbors were hard-working people out of work, or poignantly young Marines and their families, or old-timers who couldn't figure out what the hell had happened to California.  To read the beginnings of Cyndra's story, go to posts Cyndra 1:  Why did I marry him?  Who is he now? and Cyndra 2:  Do I still love him.  Did I become my mom?

For those of you new to Cyndra, J.B. and the kids, I began to write the story because I ached to write it. And sometimes a story aching to be written feels a lot like the jones to use.  Maybe that's why so many writers, artists, musicians and other makers become addicts.  I write Cyndra with commitment to my recovery, with respect for her, and with the conviction that often a story can teach more than a psych lecture or a professional paper.  We begin where we left off in Cyndra 2.

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Cyndra cranked the volume on the I-pod.   There was a new voice.  She had no idea who it was.  She'd downloaded a mix from a website.  It was a woman singing quietly, a sad guitar behind her.  Cyndra had never heard it before, but the song was about making mistakes and running away and Cyndra wondered if it had been written for her.

She thought about just starting the truck and driving away, but she knew J.B. usually rode the damn bike till he was running on vapor.  Pissed-off as she was, she didn't want to kill him, which is what pushing a dead dirt bike back to where he could hitch into Yucca Valley in ninety-eight degree heat would do.  She checked the gas gauge in the truck. There was a good half tank left.  But she turned down the air conditioning just to play it safe. Seemed like that was all she ever did now - play it safe.  Make sure J.B. and the kids ate more or less right.  Try to watch her weight while she felt so empty all the time. Listen to her sister bitch about the salon - how Gennifer was a bitch and Margo was a bitch and D'wanne was nothing but a bitchy faggot - and never tell her sister what she really thought, that Tyra was the real bitch. And why couldn't she just tell her that? - because sometimes, if Cyndra was realllly understanding, Tyra would offer to babysit and Cyndra could take a long luke-warm shower, go out on the patio in her wet t-shirt dress and sit in peace while the hot air evaporated the water from the dress and her skin, and she could pretend it was March in Phoenix, Arizona where she and J.B. had gone for their honeymoon. The air had been perfect. Soft.  Little night breezes.  If she closed her eyes the evaporation felt like that kind of heaven - or maybe even J.B.'s fingers all delicate on her face.  

What had happened to wild Cyndra?  What had happened to the girl who didn't hardly drink or smoke pot, but who would walk away from the Luna Mesa Full Moon keggers on the BLM land, out into a silver desert where if she lined herself up just right with the big fat moon, her shadow would walk ahead of her?  Or the girl who would run right out into the heart of a thunderstorm when one slammed in, like a miracle you could be terrified of and love how your heart pounded in your chest?  What had happened to the girl who was going to be the first person in her family to go to college - right over at Copper Mountain College where she wasn't going to get some dumb girl degree, but major in computer programming?

Gone.  Vanished in the instant it took for her to welcome J.B. into her body and whisper, "I'm going to drive you crazy, bad boy."  Ten million years ago.   L'il J.B. snorted, whimpered and clutched his tiny hands in the air.  Cyndra pulled him up to her breast and plugged him in.  She heard the giant mosquito whine of the dirt bike.  There had better be something new pretty damn soon.

*****

"So how long were you stuck out there?" Tyra said.  She had her "snooping for gossip but pretending she really cared" tone in her voice.

"Six hours all told."  Cyndra shrugged.  "It wasn't a big deal.  At least I had my music.  And I could just think for a while without somebody nagging me about something or other."

"You need a break," Tyra said.  She had her gossip so she could afford to be charitable.  "I sure do," Cyndra said.  She figured Tyra was going to offer to watch the kids for an hour so she could take her bath and sit on the patio.

"I've got a surprise," Tyra said.  "Tell J.B., you and me are going down into Palm Springs to get some stuff at Target. Call him so he doesn't get shit-faced on the way home from work.  He can watch the kids.  He owes you. You deserve to have some fun."

Cyndra thought of the heat in Palm Springs and the old people who all looked like they had never made a mistake in their lives.  Plus a hundred and fifty bucks had disappeared from their savings and she didn't want to spend money.  "We're almost broke till the end of the month," she said.

Tyra laughed.  "You don't need money, baby sister.  I hit it big over at Morongo last night.  I've got five hundred bucks free money and a postcard from one of those fancy Palm Springs casinos that's good for two buffets, free drinks and fifty dollars in free slot play. We're gonna get wild."

"Play it safe" seemed to hover in Cyndra's mind like Casper the Friendly Ghost.  It smiled it's cutesy-poo smile.  She wanted to strangle it.  Cyndra straightened her shoulders, looked her sister in the eye and said, "Pick me up at 7." 
 


     


 

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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