[ultimate_heading main_heading=”The Gambler’s Wife by Eric Levy – Issue.XX : September 2016 ” main_heading_color=”#1e73be” sub_heading_color=”#8224e3″ spacer=”line_with_icon” spacer_position=”bottom” line_style=”dotted” line_height=”1″ line_color=”#1e73be” icon_type=”custom” icon_img=”id^48|url^http://ashvamegh.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Ashvamegh-ICO.jpg|caption^null|alt^Ashvamegh Journal Icon|title^Ashvamegh ICO|description^null” img_width=”48″ main_heading_style=”font-weight:bold;” main_heading_font_size=”desktop:34px;” line_width=”3″]an intriguing account of events…[/ultimate_heading]

The Gambler’s Wife

Introduction to the Author:

Eric Levy has been a writer-editor for 25 years on the staff of medical centers and trade magazines (get this…one of them is Modern Floor Coverings…well..a guy’s gotta work). All that time, he’s been pursuing his passion of writing fiction weekday eves and weekends. None of his fiction pieces includes floor coverings.

My strongest childhood memories concern my mother and her Gam-Anon meetings that took place in our living room.

            Gam-Anon is an offshoot of Gambler’s Anonymous (G.A.), made up of mostly wives whose husbands like to roll the dice too much. I listened to the meetings

from my tent. I heard the same words so often that I eventually memorized the Gam-Anon principles, “The Way to Serenity”:

  1. Acceptance
  2. Hope
  3. Faith
  4. Honesty
  5. Courage
  6. Willingness
  7. Humility
  8. Sincerity
  9. Action
  10. Vigilance
  11. Spirituality
  12. Sharing

Mom did not adhere to Principle Number 10. She was, in no way, a vigilante. She spoke the Gam-Anon language, but only practiced a mere fraction of it. The women in the group (and one man, whose wife was the sinner) took turns leading the group. I looked forward to mom’s turn that took place about once a month. She opened the meeting with a call for silent meditation. All these victims closed their eyes with their

heads down.  “What is said in this room stays in this room,” mom said.

          I told my best friend Larry (well…my only friend) about all this hocus pocus going on. When mom wasn’t around, we would follow the Gam-Anon Handbook and take turns being the leader. I would overdramatize it when it was my turn.  “We are familiar with worry and sleepless nights!” I would scream, reading from the Spouse’s Bible. “And promises made only to be broken!” Oh yea. Mom knew that big time. Dad had accepted his five-year pin symbolizing his refraining from gambling. But she knew different. So did I. For those five years, dad was hunted down by a member of the Profaci Crime Family he owed gobs of money to and spent time and time again in prison for stealing merchandise from electronic stores that he sold to give Gallo the Mobster some cash. “We come to the group feeling alone, frightened, desperate, and ashamed!” I exclaimed. Larry thought my performance was hysterical. He had this hyena-type laugh. I didn’t even crack a smile. This was real stuff that had taken over my life with deep-seated anger.

            There were four Purposes of Gam-Anon: To grow spiritually, understand the gambling problem, and welcome assistance and comfort from other Gam-Anonians. But the 4th one…to give encouragement and understanding to the compulsive gambler…You’ve got to be kidding! In retrospect, when I saw dad writing down potential winners of ballgames to throw away his

money on, I should have grabbed that sheet of paper and ripped it to shreds right in front of him. And if he dared to slap me for this perceived injustice, I should have taken the heaviest chachka (and mom had a million of them) and slammed it onto his head. But mom and I watched dad like we would a Hallmark Hall of Fame drama, helpless in the face of dad’s compulsion.

            Another concept that I didn’t agree with was that the Gam-Anon group was being “powerless” over the dreaded “disease.” If they’re all so powerless, then why have such a group to begin with? “Embrace Your Power!” I would tell Larry. He enjoyed when I read the section titled “Are You Living with a Compulsive Gambler?” One of the symptoms was that the gambler has “unrealistic expectations that gambling will bring the family material comfort and wealth.” I would read it with great bravado and then add in a volume that all the neighbors must have heard, “Yes! God bless Gam-Anon for knowing my strife!” Number 11 was the Gam-Anonian “hiding money needed for living expenses.” Mom had money hidden all over the apartment. Dad discovered one of the hiding places and demanded to know if any other cash was being kept from him. “You thief! Where’s the rest?! Tell me now or you’ll see what I’ll do!” and he would go to every cabinet in the kitchen, throwing dishes down to the floor, cracked and unusable. He’d fling linens out of the closet (a good move on his part—a stack of twenties was his winnings). Most all our possessions were removed from their rightful places, until dad found most of mom’s buried treasure.

Get this. It is written in the Gam-Anon scriptures that its members have “defects” and “made others miserable” because they “were miserable.” It is also written that they must “make amends to those they made miserable.” Mom must have missed that one. So, alas, I remain miserable to this day. She never even apologized or recognized the assaults perpetuated against me.

What really made me nauseous are the slogans. Mom was on the phone a lot, speaking to new Gam-Anon wives. She often spouted, “Don’t bear the blame—You’re not to blame!” “Don’t despair—we care!” “With hope—You can cope!” “Start anew with the chosen few!” And the phone call itself had its own slogan: “Don’t be alone—use the phone!” I couldn’t hear what the new recruits were saying on the other end of the phone, but apparently not much, since mom did most of the talking. Slogans would save them all! The line I heard most often was “Everything in moderation.” As far as mom was concerned, nothing was in moderation. In fact, everything she said was overdramatized and recited over and over again.

Every weekly meeting ended with the serenity prayer. Larry liked this best, when I put on my preacher voice and chanted: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Larry, who was a very quiet guy and not prone to the dramatic, made an exception (through my prodding and rehearsing him) and would follow my prayer with “Amen Reverend Barry!” and then pretended to be speaking in tongues, spinning himself around and shaking like an epileptic. As his performance was perfected over several months, I went into a stampede of hysterical laughter. And God knows I could use a laugh.

One evening, I listened from my makeshift tent to Loretta the witch, who was the meeting’s leader. She frightened me. In retrospect, I think she was goth before there was goth. Guess you could say she was progressive in that way. She dyed her hair jet black and had so much hair spray on it that it looked laminated. Loretta’s eyelids were painted dark purple with matching lipstick. Her nails had to be at least two inches long, painted with some witch’s brew. Even when she wasn’t the leader of the group, she acted as if she was. “Joan—you’re talking out of turn!” “Francis—we don’t judge each other in this room!” and a billion other admonitions coming out from between her purple lips. So I wasn’t surprised when it was the witch who finally caught me. She stood up from her seat on one of the wooden chairs mom had in the living room, pulled me out of my tent, pointed her glowing fingers at me and exclaimed, “Young man! This is a confidential meeting!”

She scared the crap out of me. I literally had nightmares for weeks with Loretta on her broomstick flying above my head. In one of my mind’s more creative nightmares, she tied me down to a Gam-Anon chair and in front of all the spouses poured black die on my head, applied witch-glow paint on my nails, and as I screamed, she held my mouth closed as my lips were smeared with purple paint taken from my Children’s Artist Set. But the reality of my being caught that night was worse than any nightmare. After Loretta blasted me, mom grabbed me by the arm and in front of all her Gam-Anon buddies, made me apologize to them all. One at a time. She pulled me by the arm and stopped in front of each of these unfortunate souls. “Sorry…” I said to the first gambler’s spouse. “Sorry who?!” mom shouted. “Sorry…lady?” I said through my tears. “What’s her name, Barry? You’re such a snoop, you should know everyone’s name by now!” I couldn’t remember any of their names, until it got to Loretta. “Sorry…crazy witch lady!” I screamed so loud that my throat ached. Loretta was livid. She was the only one standing through the entire say-you’re-sorry ritual. Her goth face came within an inch of mine and she spoke so quickly and loud that I couldn’t make it out. It sounded to me like some witch chant. I

only caught the end of her rampage: “Joan,” she said, moving her head slightly towards mom. “Joan Schwartz! What are you going to do with this spy?!” I thought I had lost mom as a member of the Barry and Joan Duo Against the Horrible Injustices Perpetuated Against Us By Dad. But then she proved me wrong. She pulled me away from the witch, held me in her arms and declared to the group, “This meeting is adjourned!” And one Gam-Anon wife who I had thought seemed like a kind soul during my espionage, ever so softly said, “I second the motion.”

I found stuff in the Gam-Anon handbook that was never spoken in mom’s group. It was stuff that described me. It was about the effects a compulsive gambler has on his family. For instance, there’s one that says that people who grew up with a compulsive gambler often stay home alone so they don’t have to explain their home life to anyone. And even more shocking is one that says the gambler’s family members avoid bringing friends home. For me, it wasn’t that friends would find dad making bets on the phone, but that they would notice how dad’s gambling affected mom. How nervous it made her. How overprotective she was toward me. The book also zeroed in on mom as someone who uses her kid as a “sounding board.” I swear it seems like the author was writing about me when he asks, “Do you feel more like the parent than the child?” Oh yea, definitely. I was mom’s parent. I took care of her, not the other way around. I consoled her when she cried. I put my arm around her and felt creepy when she rested her head on my shoulder. Then there’s the one that lasted into the present, that the kid finds it difficult to trust people. When you’re betrayed by the very people that are supposed to protect you, to care for you, how could you ever trust anyone ever again?

             Mom’s most nefarious betrayal was when she took me to a child psychiatrist. The shrink took out from his desk drawer my 86-page comic book, “Dinky Day,” that I had created on stapled sheets loose-leaf paper. I was shocked and angered that mom had given the comic book to the shrink without my permission.

“What is this?” the psychiatrist asked.

“My comic book,” I answered, without letting on that my head was smoking from this unjust action taken against me.

“What is the comic book about?”

“A kid, Dinky Day. And his mom. Mostly.”

“What happens between the mom and the son?”

“She screams at him a lot.”

“What else?”

“She thinks he does a lot of bad things.”

“How did you come up with the ideas for your comic book?”

“I…ah…I don’t know. I just made it for fun.”

“Your mom told me you gave it to her to look at.”


“Did you give it to her because the mom and her son in the comic book are similar to your relationship with your mother?”

As a 10-year-old, I told him “no.” though it was quite obvious. He didn’t know, or ask, about Gam-Anon. Forty years later, I realize mom didn’t want to reveal that she was a gambler’s wife. About ten years ago, mom admitted that the psychiatrist told my mother that she needed therapy, not me. It was prophetic. She spent much of her later years on the couch.