Hear My Scream
by BR Chitwood – My Archives
Lost my family! A devoted wife and two sons who cherished me!
Lost my job! Lost the right to call myself a responsible family man of Faith and Fidelity!
Lost it all to the fickle finger of fate and, more likely, a sinister weakness within my genes!
What happened to this man of ideals and noble purposes? With a work promotion to a corporate low-rung Vice-President of ‘Acquisition Management’ came a salary boost. There came, too, that exhilarating sense of pride and accomplishment. For months, we, my family, enjoyed our new luxurious living. We went to the park on weekends. We took trips to historical landmarks. We got a spacious new van, and our Russian Blue cat, ‘Vlad’, and our Golden Retriever, ‘Toby’, were as thrilled as the kids on trips.
We even built up a tidy rainy-day fund in our bank. Life was so good!
Then, the company merged with a larger corporation that was global and had a financial sheet far exceeding our own, a ‘Pac-Man’ hungrily gobbling up many big, small, and medium businesses at a voracious pace. The rumor mill made work difficult…people were going to be dismissed. It took six months for the head honchos to announce that my position was no longer needed as the buying behemoth had their own people in place.
For the first time in my working life, I was unemployed. Trying to keep my family worry-free I put on a happy face and left the house in the morning as was normally my wont. I job-hunted all day, every day, for months, even tried executive head-hunters, but I found I was ‘too qualified’ for some jobs and ‘not qualified’ enough for others. My patience at a low level, our rainy-day funds going down rapidly, pressure mounted. Frustration became an emotion I couldn’t hide and it filtered down to the family.
A huge Indian Casino opened a few miles from our house in Chandler, Arizona. It sat on two hundred acres and looked like an ‘Arabian Nights’ apparition in the desert. It was lunch time, and I thought, why not have some lunch and see if the casino could use my corporate experience. It took a while before I found the executive offices and someone in authority, but it became immediately clear that all of their executives had the Indian connection and there could be no position for me.
In the dining room I ordered a hamburger, fries, coke, and thought about my dilemma.
In the background I could hear simultaneous shouts of joy out in the gaming areas. A thought stirred in my mind, dumb in hindsight… Why not try a few turns at ‘21’? Not much of a gambler, but my Dad taught me how to play the game, what to do, what not to do, and I became good at ‘21’. Just maybe I could build up the ‘rainy day’ account and buy more time in looking for a job.
I hurriedly finished my hamburger, fries, coke, and walked around the casino’s rows of ‘21’ tables. I was now excited about the possibilities – people won big in gambling because they knew and practiced certain rules. My Dad told me he always found a table where he felt the people playing knew what they were doing – watching a dealer’s ‘show card’ to determine whether or not to take a card: if the dealer’s ‘up card’ showed a possible 12-16 and the players’ down cards amounted to 12 or above, players stayed ‘put’, hoping for the dealer to bust.
Of course, ‘21’ – Black Jack – was an automatic winner – unless, of course, the dealer matched with his own Black Jack…the player didn’t win the bet but gained a ‘push’ with the dealer. Tied hands with the dealer meant no loss of the bets.
Dad also told me about the psychological aspects of ‘21’ – know when to play, know when to quit. Dad felt there was a time of the day or night when a person could win but that person needed to follow their self-imposed rules.
So, I found a table, watched the players and dealer for a while. Satisfied the players knew the game and would not make stupid moves, I sat and exchanged three hundred dollars into chips of various colors – $5 chips, $10 chips, $20 chips, $50 chips, $100 and so on.
The time was 12:45 PM.
In the next few hours I learned the highs and lows of gambling. I reached a euphoric stage when my neatly piled chips amounted to $6900…including the original $300 buy-in. People gathered behind our stools to see how far I could go. Surprisingly, the time was 6:00 PM. (Dad’s rule about knowing the time to quit had somehow by-passed my mind’s circuitry.
By midnight the $6900 was gone back to the casino, along with another $3800. My face was flushed, my stomach was in knots, and my mind was numb with anxiety and regret. I cashed too many checks at the casino and was also feeling the consummate moron.
With my head reeling with uncertainty, I left the casino and drove home. My wife was frantic. She tried to call me several times during the afternoon but I never answered the cell phone. She cradled me in her arms as I told her about the day, about the frustration of looking for work, and my stupid behavior at the casino. She was not happy but she told me I was entitled to a mistake…a lot of bad stuff landed on me in the past few weeks.
The next day I looked for work.
In between stops, I thought about the gambling…had I stopped when I was ahead, there would be $6600 added to our ‘rainy day’ fund. Thus, my mind told me, you need to know when to stop while you’re ahead – good luck cannot last forever.
Back at the casino that afternoon, I stopped gambling at the ‘21’ table at 6:25 PM, my winnings totaling $3200. I left the casino feeling good, having gotten back almost half of the losses the previous day. I did not tell my wife about the gambling, and I took her and the boys out for pizza.
Without giving a day to day count, I’ll sum it all up.
In the next six months I looked for work in the mornings and gambled in the afternoons. My wife knew what was going on and pleaded with me. The boys sensed there were problems and walked around the house in a timid slow motion. The ‘rainy day’ account was gone. Suffice it, my marriage could not survive the constant arguments, my excuses and broken promises. My lovely boys were cautious and fearful to be around me. The wife could not take it any longer and took the boys to live with her sister in Oregon.
What about me? What about the tattered and torn fabric of my soul? What about the man who used to be?
I’m in prison, serving time for robberies…had to have money to gamble.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone feeling as small and insignificant as I do. I don’t need a mirror to see a man with a prison pallor and a broken heart. I know the damage I’ve caused, the other hearts broken, and two wonderful boys growing up without a father.
Several days ago two inmates attacked me in the yard, cut me up pretty good, broke some ribs, and I kept pleading with them to finish me, to get me out of my misery. I truly wanted to die, but no such luck, and I’m too much of a coward to find a way to kill myself.
The wife and the boys will never know how much I love them and regret the terrible mistakes I made. I only hope they find happiness, love, and forget their terrible wretch of a husband and a father. Perhaps in some other dimension I can make atonement.
For now, “I long for death…death longs for me, but it is dark to die and I fear that I still wish to be.” *
Flash Fiction by Billy Ray Chitwood (From my Archives)
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* The last line quote in italics (above) is from a book of narrative poetry by a good friend from my publishing days.
The book: HELL’S MUSIC\
BY Jerry Miller and his fox-hole buddy!