It's a Gamble by 'She-Who-Shamelessly-Shucks-Chips'
It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark. Typical January in the American mid-west. But I felt left out in the freezing, biting cold. And my future certainly looked dark, indelibly black, to tell the truth. I had boldly issued an ultimatum. A poorly thought out ultimatum, obviously. The hand had been dealt. I took a gamble and lost. Lost big time. Lost not only for myself but for my young family. Oh, yes, I knew gambler's grief. How had it boiled down to this blustery night, this moment suspended in time, etched into memory?
How far back does one go when talking about the gamble of life anyway? Surely, I don't need to go back to 'I was a poor white child growing up in the deep south...' kind of way. (Okay, okay. I'll stop calling you 'Shirley'!) So I'll start when I first met the man. Actually, more of a boy. What age are you when you are a sophomore-to-be in high-school? Fifteen? We'll say fifteen. So we met when we were fifteen, well, not to be nit-picking but we had probably known of each other the year before. Let's say it was when we first got to know each other a bit. When I first noticed his charm. But that isn't truthful either because I at first thought him to be quite full of himself, if you understand what I mean. He lifted weights a lot and wanted people to know it so he showed it.
We were both counselors at summer YMCA camp. (Mine was a 'junior counselor' last-minute-fill-in-not-at-full-pay kind of first job.) The camp had an Indian theme so we all went by our Indian names (to be politically correct I guess that would be 'Native American' names today). He had a cool name, “Hawk”. Mine was... oh, dear, I can't remember what mine was. It wasn't cool like his 'cause I was assigned mine when I couldn't come up with one by myself. (Mm. Maybe it was something that meant 'She-Who-Has-No-Mind-Of-Her-Own'?) The girls were in their cluster of cabins and the boys in theirs. We came together in the lodge for crafts and at bonfires or cookouts or certain activities like swimming. It was annoying to me how he strutted about trying to make you think he was hot stuff and leered at you like he knew you really wanted him, or something like that. I had a perfectly wonderful boyfriend so certainly did not want or need him.
We spent two summers working in peaceful harmony. At the end of our second blissful working relationship the unthinkable happened. My perfectly wonderful boyfriend dumped me! Threw in the cards. Took his class ring back and dumped me! Without explanation! In the vacuum of summer when nobody, but nobody, would know I was back on the dating circuit! Nobody knew except all my cheerleader peers whom I lamented to at practices. Our coach's husband happened to work with Hawk's mother. Therefore, Hawk now knew and asked me out on a legitimate date. I reluctantly accepted just to fill the void, you understand.
The wheel turns. Turns out he did have a lot of charm. The projected bravado was just a coping mechanism he had to learn to protect himself in his broken childhood. His abusive father had left his mother with eleven kids and got out about the time the boys got big enough to fight back. As the oldest boy still living at home he worked hard and gave all his money to his struggling mother. I was a cheap date. Never wanted him to spend money on our outings. We used my first car, a forty-dollar stick-shift Rambler that I couldn't drive because of said stick shift, to get around in until it wouldn't ramble anymore. Thus we dated throughout our senior year. The football hero and the cheerleader. Quintessential perfect couple.
Surprise, surprise, surprise! Thought you won the big one. When prom time came around guess who showed up at my door, remorseful and nearly begging me to go to his prom with him (I neglected to mention he was an outlier, from the village I had previously lived in before being relocated to the metropolis of 15,000 in which I now resided.) As fond memories of this average-Joe-type young man start flooding back I can only say I was in angst. Another instance when I threw the dice, gambled on what my life would become. Oh, I was so young.
I remember when the most popular boy in class sat beside me on the school bus ride home. A short ride. Mine was the first stop on the route. His was the last. But every day after that he would sit beside me whenever he got on. Found out much later his mom used to always pick him up so he didn't have to even ride the bus. Ah, young love! We didn't even know what to say to each other. Then my family moved to the huge town ten miles away. How do you keep such love alive? Average Joe would hike into town and feed the phone in the booth (ever heard of one of those?) dime after dime (or one of those?)and we would hang on to that phone like a lifeline. But what to say? When he got his driver's license (at least six months before I got mine) he found his way to my front door. We picked up where we left off. I shunned all offers of other romance from the locals. I remember one fellow asking what was wrong with them that I chose some alien. Uh, back to my angst.
Roll the dice. Do I pick the one I considered my first love even though he had dumped me unceremoniously in the middle of summer...not knowing if he would do it again in a heart beat... not knowing why, why, why he had left in the first place? But here Average Joe was professing undying devotion... Or do I stick with the one willing to drive that stick-shift just for me? Loyal and hard working and sensitive and definitely in love with me and he would never, ever, I was sure of it, dump me because of... well, he would never dump me for anything!
Hawk pulled the ace out of his sleave. He gave me an engagement ring at our prom. (Yes, I felt guilty. His family needed help more than I needed a fancy ring. But it was only a tiny thing.)
It's a game of chance. He had football scholarships being thrown at him from all angles, I could have gone anywhere in our state on my scholastic capabilities. He was so sure he would lose me if we went off to college jungles that he turned down all offers and settled only on me. So I took a chance on him. (That name at camp didn't mean 'She-Who-Chases-Pot-Of-Gold-At-End-Of-Rainbow'!)
Ante up. In my opinion a proper young lady did not get married until she was minimally nineteen years old. So we got married the week after I turned nineteen the following summer. The following May we had our first son and another the May after that and two Mays later a lovely daughter then two years, four months to the day later (what? September!) another bouncing boy. (Four in five years even though we weren't trying to set any records. We found out what was causing it and got him fixed.)
And so we rode the roller coaster of life. Quintessential family. Six shiny charms clinging to a fragile bracelet of security. Hawk still cared about keeping in tip-top shape. Our community had very little to offer in the way of weight-lifting apparatus. At my suggestion we purchased a few pieces of work-out equipment. I started taking up his interest, too. Guys were always asking for his advise on how to look like Arnold so about the time our youngest entered kindergarten we opened a fitness center. I ran it while he was working and the kids were in school then he would come spend some time there while I went home. Somehow we made it work.
Shuffle the deck. The police department commissioned him to help keep the officers in good physical condition. I applauded the city when the leaders entered the twentieth century and hired their first ever female police officer. The lucky Ms. got to work-out with the force and also was included in any extracurricular activities the fellows chose to do. She and her husband lived two blocks away. I even jogged a few times with her. Maybe, just maybe, I mentioned a flaw or two of my husband's like when he spent money and time golfing when he knew expenses mounted with growing kids and we needed him more than the links did. Oh, and the fact he talked about wanting to move to Las Vegas. Vegas?! Sin City itself?! No way did I want to raise my kids there! Casinos, betting, gambling, taking chances! Not for me.
Cut the deck. Well, guess who was made her training officer? She spent eight hours a day riding beside him in the cruiser. I only slept with him five or six, maybe, then we spent the rest of our time juggling the kids and wallet-abusers.
Read the tells. He started having strange assignments needing time away from home. He missed Thanksgiving dinner with the family. He showed up with a new shirt claiming his mother had given it to him for Christmas when she only gave homemade gifts if she gave at all (huge family remember). He stayed out all night.
Call his bluff.
“I won't be coming home tonight and when I get there tomorrow we need to talk.”
Next day. “You are having an affair aren't you.”
“No, no of course not. I love you. Well, maybe a little indiscretion. But you don't know... ”
“Oh, you are having an affair and I know exactly with whom. Don't try to deny.”
“Never wanted to hurt you, everything will work out fine. Nothing needs to change.”
“So I am just supposed to look the other way while you play Russian roulette with our lives. No, I think someone is definitely cheating and its not me. Here, you take this ring. You have broken the promise you made with it. When you can keep it again bring it back to me. In the mean time you will be sleeping in the basement.”
(Maybe that name read 'She-Shamelessly-Shucks-Chips-To-See-Where-They-Fall'?)
Break the house. It was January. Inside and out it was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark. Emotionally bankrupt, I was so physically ill when I realized he wasn't coming home that night I had to call for help to bring the children home from their activities. How do I tell them Daddy's not coming home? Probably never again. He made his choice. He stayed out with her again. We were left out in the cold. I never got that tiny thing of a ring back. I never guessed when he had said on our sixteenth anniversary (six months before to the day) that he would do it all again he meant with another woman. I was so sure he would never ever leave me...
By God's grace I pulled myself and my children away from the dark abyss although not totally unscathed. Grief scars the heart. Town scandals sure do build character.
We started a new game. Bet on a new horse. Hit the jackpot. This one is a winner...But life is a gamble. (Make that name now 'She-Who-Lives-Epic-Love-Life'!)
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What a wild ride, Mary! I like how you used the prompt to tell this tale of personal tragedy and reemergence. Creative nonfiction is one of my favorite prompts to write in, and you've really done it justice! Some favorites: - 'I was a poor white child growing up in the deep south...' kind of way. (Okay, okay. I'll stop calling you 'Shirley'!) - Steve Martin AND Airplane... you are my kinda people lol. :) - I reluctantly accepted just to fill the void, you understand. - sure, sure ;) - Do I pick the one I considered my first love even though...
I don't have the vivid imagination most of you talented people possess so I have to call on real life experience. Almost every word of this was exactly how it came down. I offen point out I don't watch soap operas because I live one. Found out later that my first love did cheat on his wife, also. I am almost certain he had left me because of my moral convictions of waiting for marriage. I really can't remember what 'Indian' name I was given. I was trying to show character growth giving a new name as it progressed. I am sorry if you had to go...
Oh, well, you know - I'm at the point in my life where I can laugh about it all. :) (It's sort of a manic cackle, but hey, coming out on the other side still beats the alternative! ;)
You can't be serious. -signed, Shirley
You have a very specific writing tone/voice, and that's very difficult to achieve. Well done! This was my "critique circle" story selection, and I'm glad it was. I think drawing from your own life experiences hardly ever steers one wrong. They do say "Write what you know" for a reason. I like the use of the gambling theme throughout as well. Thanks for sharing!
I like the gambling metaphor woven throughout, and while there's a lot of sadness in the story, ultimately it seems to have worked out. Very much a coming-out-stronger kind of story, even if the event itself was crushing. And the gambling works, because everything in life carries a bit of chance, a bit of risk, right? Even crossing a street. Just the stakes get very high in relationships. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for taking the time to write such positive feedback.
I really liked the way you used gambling terms and your 'Indian' names as you progressed through the tale. Your wry humor really set the tone for the story and it also showed us a lot about the kind of woman the MC is. The first-person narrative was definitely the way to go here. Although this story was full of drama and pathos, it was told with verve and spirit. Nice writing, Mary. Very nice.
And very nice of you to comment with such nice words, Delbert.
Interesting use of gambling terms to show the ups and downs of life. I enjoyed it. Life is all a roll of the dice, a game of chance, isn't it? We win, we lose. Sometimes we lose when we win and win when we lose! I have experienced both, and probably many others if they think about it. Insightful. Thank you Mary!
Thanks for your kind comments.
Well done, She-Who-Made-Me-Laugh-&-Think-Out-Loud!