Creative Nonfiction: Relapse

By Chris Milam

I have money in my wallet because the landlord is late picking up the rent. He's always late, not good for a former degenerate gambler. I'm not an addict anymore, though. I'm just a recluse now. A dad. Single and sedentary. A nobody. It's 9:35 in the morning. From my past endeavors, I know first post is a little after noon. I stared at the clock. It moved slow, like my digestive system trying to process the five hot dogs I ate for dinner the night before. If I can just make it past noon I'll be fine. Too much on the line to lose it now. Stay cool, man. You're better than this. Am I? Tick tock, mother fucker.
I paced the floor for an hour, trying to talk myself out of going to the track, though I knew I was going to go. Once that thought forms in my mind, all I see are dollar signs. I could double or triple the rent money I have. Maybe a gift for my daughter. Maybe a gift for myself. If I win big, I could order a bunch of stuff on Amazon. Or go on vacation to Florida. Or Vegas. I desperately needed a vacation, I never go anywhere. I needed to escape the monotony of Ohio life. The clock crept along as my heartbeat increased by the minute. It's getting close to first post at Miami Valley Gaming . I'm already counting the money I'll win. That's the vicious lie gamblers never sway from no matter how many thousands we've lost in the past. No matter the destruction I caused years ago when I couldn't stop, not for me, not for my kids, not for anything. Gamblers never think they’ll lose. It's warped thinking. I will win. I have to win.
I drove to the facility. I have my cigarettes. I have my rent money. I got a free drink and sat at a table right in the middle of the place, so I can see all the tracks on giant flat-screens. All the good tracks are running today. I started off with a plan. Bet smart, don't play worthless longshots. Trust your handicapping. You're intelligent, you can do this. Break every race down without focusing on winning huge. Look at speed figures, breeding, and who's the jockey. Be conservative.
I stuck to the plan for about an hour. I'm up, but only a little bit. It's not enough. It's never enough. I'm not here for small money, small wins. I'm here to make some serious cash. I switched tactics, started looking for decent longshots. Maybe they won a race two years ago. I ignore all the poor performances since then. Maybe they can recapture that magic once again. I bet them straight up and in a few exactas and trifectas. But the chalk, the betting favorite, kept winning. I knew from my previous gambling days that the chalk wins around 30% of races. But I don't care. There's no money to be made betting favorites. I go on a longshot bender and lose almost all of my money. I'm down to twenty dollars. I'm scared and anxious. What the fuck are you doing? I'm about to lose my home. Everything is on the line here, but I kept betting stupid.
I headed to the smoking area. I'm filled with the sounds of beeps and bops from the slot machines. I was never interested in those, no skill involved, just pure luck, like lottery tickets. I hotboxed two cigarettes to calm my nerves. After a few minutes, I went back to my seat.
My last best, ten to win and place on a horse called Thunder Sky, has been made. I watched the race with my eyes glued to the screen. The horse is a closer, comes from off the pace, not a good thing in a short sprint. Thunder Sky stumbled out of the gate, dropping ten lengths behind the leader. This is familiar terrain for me, a road well-traveled. I know it's already over. And it is, he finished last of eight horses. I sat there and stared at nothing. My mind was a pool of fear. My body an ocean of anxiety. I lost everything. What am I going to do now? The landlord could show up anytime. I finally stand up and walked to my car, my head low, looking at the asphalt.
I made it home and went from chasing the dime to chasing some pills. Klonopin. It's my only option. I swallowed the whole bottle, four pills at a time. I went to bed. I texted my ex, told her I'm sorry, please take care of our daughter. I told her I always loved you, which isn't true, but I'm completely out of my mind. I'm scared and completely alone. She doesn't answer my cry for help. Maybe it's because she's at work and hasn't seen the message. Or maybe she doesn't care. I lean to the latter because I'm a masochist. I lay there thinking about an old gambler saying: gamblers secretly want to lose to punish themselves. Yes, there is a lot of truth to that.
I fell asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night. I'm not dead somehow. I'm neither happy nor sad. Neither mad nor glad. I felt nothing, empty inside. All I can think about is how am I going to pay the rent? I have no plan, no idea to worm my way out of this situation. I can't lose my home. I'm better than this. Or maybe not. Maybe I was born to lose.
I glanced at the clock. Tick tock, degenerate. Time wasn’t on my side.

Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, JMWW, Lost Balloon, X-R-A-Y, Lumiere Review, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. He's been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and The Pushcart Prize.