The air feels damp above me. The ground feels dry beneath me; and it’s cold – so, so cold. I can’t see anything through the darkness. I can’t hear anything but silence. I can barely breathe. I don’t remember how I got here, and I’m not exactly sure where I am, but I can’t help but wonder if this is what hell feels like.
I was born in the midst of a hurricane, and I ran through life like a raging river. Mama told me I started walking at eight months, and from the moment I learned to run, I haven’t slowed any longer than it takes a pebble to float downstream.
I was a good boy growing up, always getting the best grades in my class, captain of my high school track team. I could run like the wind, and there was nothing I enjoyed more. I was offered a scholarship to the best college in the state, and there was even talk of me making the Olympic team.
All of that seemed to go by the wayside when Papa taught me to play Poker. As much as I enjoyed running as a kid, turns out Poker was my true love. I was good at it too, damn good. Papa said I was a quick learner. He used to let me play with him and his buddies out in the shed. They’d show up every weekend after supper with their decks of cards and their bottles of Jack. It wasn’t long before I could beat all of them. They didn’t want me around anymore after that.
I started going to casino nights in the city when I was sixteen. I had a fake ID of course, and people always said I looked older than I was, so I had no problem getting in. I almost got myself in trouble a few times with the old drunken cowboys who couldn’t accept they were beaten by a kid. I’m pretty sure they wanted to beat me, and not just at poker if you know what I mean. They’d get all mad and say I cheated. I never did though. I was just good, or maybe I was just lucky. Who knows?
Mama didn’t like me hanging out at the casino. She was always worried I’d get myself in trouble. I was too young to be there, she said. I shouldn’t be playing around with these older men and their money, she said. I asked her what she meant, and she just looked at Papa and said, “actions have consequences.”
I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, but I decided it was best I didn’t tell her about the drunken cowboys and how they wanted to beat me up. I knew it would just make her worry more.
Papa didn’t seem to mind me going to the casino at all. He used to give me the money. Since I usually came home with a few extra dollars in my pocket, which I always turned over to him, he was more than happy to let me go.
He didn’t have the same reaction when I told him I was leaving home at twenty-one. Papa was furious. He was expecting me to take over the business, being the only son. I had no interest in doing so, and I told him that. I had just graduated with a mechanics certificate from our community college, and I didn’t want to waste my life fixing farm machines.
I wish I hadn’t been so blunt with him. I could see the hurt in his eyes, like I had just insulted him or insinuated that he had wasted his life. That’s not what I meant, and I tried to tell him, but he didn’t want to hear it. He just walked away from me.
I tried talking with Papa several times over the next few weeks, but all he wanted to hear was that I had decided to stay. I couldn’t give him the news he wanted, so he couldn’t give me the time of day. I haven’t spoken with him more than ten times in the last fifteen years. I don’t think he ever forgave me.
So, I left the big sky of Montana behind for the bright lights of Vegas. I found a job in my field just outside the city, and after a while, I even found myself a wife.
I met her at a casino where she worked as a hostess. She had the most beautiful emerald eyes I’ve ever seen, and her smile could light up a city in a power outage. We got married a year after we met. Five years later, she gave me a beautiful baby boy.
Things were going really well for me back then. I found the life I left the farm for. I had a great job, a loving wife and a baby, and I had my weekends at the casino. Between my job and my poker games, I was raking in thousands every week. I was a winner, in every way. Until I wasn’t.
After eight years of what I thought was a happy marriage, the wife left me. She said she couldn’t take my gambling anymore. I didn’t understand the problem because I was still winning. I told her so. She said she didn’t care about the money.
She cared that I didn’t have time for her, or our three-year-old son. She cared that I spent all my off hours at the casino. I’d even taken time off work to go play poker but, like I said to her, I could make more cash in the game than in an afternoon at the shop. Besides, I didn’t do it very often. Even so, my wife insisted I was addicted.
It didn’t matter what I said in my own defense, or how much I tried to convince her that she was wrong. She said it was clear that I cared more about the game than I did about our family. She told me she’d only stay if I gave up gambling. I told her she was being unreasonable. Now I realize, a little too late, just how right she was.
I don’t remember exactly when the change happened, but at some point, my luck ran out. After being a virtual card shark for decades, I suddenly couldn’t win a game to save my life. And it pissed me off. I started playing every night. I missed more work time than ever, until it reached the point that it cost me my job.
When I eventually ran out of money, the real trouble started. I thought my poker skill was the savior that would rescue me from the generations of farm life that my family thought was my obligation. Turns out it was my kryptonite. I had no idea how hooked I was until it cost me everything.
I borrowed money from a bookie, sure my luck would turn around. But as I got further and further in debt, I began to realize the massive hole I’d dug in my life.
I knew I couldn’t pay the money back, so I did the only thing I knew how, the only other thing I was good at. I ran. I got in my car and headed north on I-15, intending to go home and beg my family for help.
The thugs caught up to me near Mesquite. I tried reasoning with them. I promised to pay the money back somehow. I tried talking myself out of what I knew was my destiny, but they weren’t in the mood to listen. Last thing I remember is the gun pointed at my face, and the crack on the back of my head.
When they pulled me out of the trunk, where I assumed was somewhere in the middle of the Mojave Desert, I saw nothing but tumbleweed and emptiness around me. Then I heard the gunshot.
Now as I lay here in this shallow grave with my mouth and eyes filled with dirt, and a bullet in my chest, there’s an ache in my heart for the life I rejected and the family I left behind. I can’t help but wonder if they will find me before my bones have turned as dusty as the parched land around me. I can’t help but wonder if they’ll even look.
As the tumbleweeds spin in the breeze across the barren land above, I know my life is spinning to an end in this shoddily dug grave. I can’t help but think of Mama’s words when I first visited a casino all those years ago. “Actions have consequences,” she said. I picture Papa, with his limp, and I think I finally understand what she meant. It feels like I’ve come full circle.
Not yet dead, but barely alive, I can’t help but reflect on the life I lived. I used to think I was akin to a pebble in a raging river. But as my lifeblood dries as surely as a creek in prolonged drought, I finally realize the sad truth of my existence. Engulfed in the desert’s parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
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