Gripped By Gambling

“Please,” I whispered to the officer, “not in front of my grandson.” Shaking his head, he leaned toward me with handcuffs dangling from his outstretched arm. Moments earlier he had told me, “I just want you to go downtown with me to answer a few questions.” And now he was handcuffing me and mumbling something about police procedure. He pulled the handcuffs back when he noticed five-year-old Tyler DEWA POKER standing a few feet away. Tyler clutched a little red truck in one hand and the hem of his mom’s skirt in the other. My family stood frozen and stared at the six police cars backing out of the driveway. I felt the officer’s hand on my arm as he escorted me to the only remaining car. With each rapid breath, my heart felt like it was going to explode. Ducking into the back seat, I looked up at him and held out my wrists. CLICK. CLICK. The cuffs were securely in place and Tyler hadn’t seen.

I watched the officer walk across the driveway where my daughters stood, their arms wrapped around each other. Whatever he was saying to them didn’t seem to help. Juannie and Kathy just nodded while Tyler looked up at his mom, seeking reassurance. I slipped lower in the back seat and struggled to catch my breath. Hyperventilation! I needed to control it. Control one small thing in a world that was spinning off its axis.

Everything was happening so fast. It was far too much to be feeling in the space of a single moment, but that was the kind of moment it was. For years I had danced with the devil, but instead of waking up from a nightmare, I awoke in the middle of it. Peeking out the car window, I watched my family huddled together. I thought of my sons . . . my third daughter and her children . . . and Tommie, my boyfriend. When everyone came home that evening, Juannie and Kathy would tell them some version of what happened. They would probably stare at each other and try to make some sense of it. They couldn’t. Looking down at the handcuffs, I wondered if my family would forgive me. Could I ever ask them to? I loved them dearly, but I admitted to myself that I never allowed their birthdays or holidays to interfere with my gambling.

As the officer walked back to the car he shot a worried glance into the back seat. Satisfied that I would be okay, he climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine. He must have sensed my bewilderment for he turned and in a gentle voice he said, “You remind me of my mother. She’s about your age.”

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