Don't fall in love with a dreamerby Jamie McKenzie
Note: Written for an adult audience. Contains some strong language and sexual details.
Don't fall in love with a dreamerDon't fall in love with a dreamer? Anthony always hated those lines because he thought himself a dreamer and wondered why someone would write such nasty lyrics about him and others like him.
He always thought of dreamers as sweet and optimistic, so it was hard to understand the threat mentioned in the song. He found the words insulting and mystifying.
"Always take you in?" What was that about? Dreamers as con artists? Frauds? They spin crazy dreams but don't mean them? They hook you on fantasies?
And why does the woman have to change him? Do all dreamers need changing? Why? The song made him furious.
He preferred Kermit the Frog's much sappier song about rainbows and dreamers.
Someday we'll find itBut he had this gnawing dread that only children were supposed to like dreamers. Somehow we grow up and learn that they are dangerous people. Heart breakers. Untrustworthy liars and fakes. Most of the world, it seemed, had learned to stop dreaming. Dreams are dangerous? Fantasies? Illusions? Delusions?
Heart breaker? There was a Pat Benatar song by that name, and the dreamer allegations surfaced again.
You're a heartbreakerHaving left a marriage a year earlier because it was a nightmare, Anthony was not ready to lay aside his romantic dreams, though there were plenty of times when he wondered if they were merely pipe dreams. It was exhausting trying to find a healthy, passionate romantic partner. And frustrating. Time consuming. So many disappointments.
Hanging out with friends in a local bar, Anthony often found his thoughts wandering to such questions. Maybe dreamers are a threat to that vast majority that have laid aside their dreams? Maybe they'd left too much behind?
It bothered him so much he usually raised the question when he first met a woman.
"How do you feel about dreamers?" he would ask and most times he would see their eyes veil over with suspicion and anxiety. In fact, he almost never got a straight answer. Most were evasive or asked him a question back.
"Why do you ask?"
If he had asked, "How do you feel about cancer?" he would have expected the same kind of wary response, but he could not see how dreams and dreamers were as threatening as cancer — a taboo subject, evidently.
When he first met Susan at the farmers' market one Saturday, he was shocked when she gave him a straight answer.
"Ahhhh," she said with a warm smile, "I only wish I could find one. They seem to be an endangered species."
This left him speechless. And he looked at her a second time, especially her eyes. He was prepared for irony or sarcasm, but her eyes betrayed no cynicism. She seemed on the level.
She was not a stunning beauty, but she was lovely. She was a bit more plump and shorter than his usual "type." But she had an air of grace and self confidence that was appealing. Not pretentious at all. Susan seemed direct and unadorned. Her glasses gave her a bookish look, and her pixie face was cute enough to win his attention. Bundled up in a parka to protect against the October chill, he could not tell what shape lay beneath, but he did not care much. He liked her warmth and her smile.
They had both been browsing a display of dried flowers in the same booth, so it was an easy thing to start a conversation.
"Lovely, aren't they?" he had begun, and after a few exchanges they had found some coffee and an empty table where they could chat.
It was smooth, easy and very comfortable. And Anthony felt safe donning the rose tinted glasses he reserved for that tiny group of women he felt just might restore his faith in true love. He had never tasted it in all his forty years, but Susan reawakened dreams that he had set aside. Maybe she would be the one. Maybe not. But he knew you could not get to bliss without faith. As he sat chatting, his mind was already picturing hours with this new woman that would be more magical than any hours in his life.
Susan sat thinking many of the same thoughts. And her mind was also jumping ahead picturing sweet hours in bed with Anthony. In her heart she hoped he would be the kind of man who would bring her coffee every morning. No man had ever done that for her, and she knew that if he brought her coffee, it would be a sign. She believed in signs. She believed in magic. And she believed in dreamers.
Truth to be told, Susan had never met a dreamer. Not romantically. But she knew that's what she wanted and needed. Anthony seemed to be the real deal. And she had her own pair of rose-tinted glasses that she had never worn before meeting him. They appeared suddenly without her making any special effort. It was as if there were some reflex that propelled her from every day into the fantastical.
When he reached his hand across the table, her hand grasped his without hesitation. In just those few moments they had passed from strangers to lovers. Cupid had fired a single arrow that pierced both their hearts and bound them together. His aim was flawless and his targets willing.
A life without dreamsAnthony was in a state of bliss. He had finally found a woman who openly stated a love of dreamers. It was a first. He was surprised, delighted and astonished.
In their first few weeks, they passed through a mostly joyful discovery stage that confirmed their initial reactions to each other. Both proud of listening to their intuitions, they kept gathering evidence that they had been right from the very start.
Anthony learned that Susan lived with a two year old mutt she called Bradley who had been a street dog until rescued by Susan. This set her apart from their upwardly mobile Seattle neighbors in Belltown who walked their purebreds like some folks drive their Mercedes. For them, a dog was a fashion statement. Soon they would move over to the East Side, buy a house with a yard and try to raise children as if they were fashion statements.
"And where is your son in school?"
"Ohhh . . . "
"Ohhh . . ."
They did the fun things that downtown Seattle lovers do on their weekends. They strolled through the outdoor sculpture garden. They went for runs along the harbor. They bought fresh fish, flowers and haricot verts at Pike Place Market. They went to plays at the Rep. They ate brunch at Toulouse and raved about the New Orleans styled food.
There were museum visits and concerts of all kinds. They discovered a shared love for folk, jazz, blues and classical but not opera. Many evenings they hung out at local spots like Tula's and the Triple Door listening to local talent. They never watched TV and managed to find something exciting to do every night of the week. It was a romantic whirlwind that often left them breathless.
They still had separate apartments with months left before leases could be renegotiated, but most nights they were together in Susan's apartment because of Bradley. Anthony came to love Bradley and their early morning runs while Susan slept in a bit. They would wind their way down Broad from Third Avenue past the sculpture garden and the Spaghetti Factory to the park that skirted the bay. It was a great way to start the day. He and the dog became fast friends.
As they entered their third month together, they started planning weekend trips. They took the Victoria Clipper across Puget Sound for a weekend at the Grand Pacific Hotel. They enjoyed Amtrak to Vancouver and splurged on two nights at the Four Seasons. And then Susan suggested a drive north to the Silver Reef Casino near Bellingham. This was a bit of a surprise to Anthony, who never would have come up with that excursion on his own. But he was game.
She had a battered old BMW that never left the condo's underground parking. Even though battered, it was as comfortable as an old shoe, and they had a delightful Saturday morning drive up I-5, stopping twice along the way for Starbucks and pastries.
The casino was growing so fast, the new construction dwarfed the old. It had no resemblance to the photos on the web site and was quite disappointing as they searched in vain for a good parking place.
"Damn!" Anthony cursed. "I feel swindled already."
Susan placed her hand gently on his arm. "It will be fine, Honey. Most of the time we will be inside and not even notice."
They checked into their room and just as Anthony was looking over the spa menu to suggest a couple's massage, he noticed that Susan had emerged with a surprising outfit that was totally out of character. For a hip Seattle woman, this outfit was an aberration. He figured she picked it up at some consignment shop. It looked like something out of that old TV show, Gunsmoke.
"You like it?" She smiled.
"It's perfect for this shit hole," he smiled back.
"Ready?" she asked.
"For what?" he asked.
"Table games!" she smiled.
Seeking the roulette table, Susan pretty much left Anthony behind. She was single-minded in her focus. So he followed along dutifully and marveled at this new woman who had appeared from within the body of the woman he had been seeing for the past three months.
It was Susan, but not his Susan.
He stood behind her as she played. He was no gambler, but it took him only a few minutes to realize that Susan was. As soon as she had walked onto the gaming floor, he noticed a change in her breathing and her bearing. She was suddenly alert, primed, eager and very much awake.
She made lots of money in the first hour. Thousands. So much money and so much noise that she drew a crowd. When the ball went round and round to land on the number eight with her $25 chip, she gave out a shriek. The dealer pushed over 35 chips worth $25 each — a total of $875. She then surrounded the eight with $25 chips, one on each side and one on each corner, betting the most allowed by house rules.
"In your dreams, Honey!" shouted one skeptic.
The word "dreams" smacked Anthony on the side of the head. This was a new take on dreaming and dreamers. Gamblers as dreamers. Foolhardy. Crazy. Betting the ranch. Speculating.
Susan was so pumped up and turned on he could barely recognize her.
And then the impossible happened. The ball went round and round, jumped, bounced and landed squarely a second time in the same eight that had paid her $875 a moment early. This was her moment. Her day. Science and statistics be damned!
"No way!" yelled the man who shouted "In your dreams!" earlier.
She was up more than $5,000.
"Should we stop for dinner?" he asked.
"Stop now?" she snorted. "Are you kidding? Stop while I am fucking hot?"
Anthony left her playing and found the steak restaurant. He half expected her to join him, but an hour later, she was still whooping and hollering at the roulette table. She didn't even see him watching her. She was totally absorbed in the game.
He wandered about and noticed that most people sat at slots pushing buttons. Most of these were seniors. Most people smoked while they gambled and drank. Multiple addictions he figured. So how had Susan hidden hers so well for so long?
All of them dreamed of big jackpots. They were lined up in stubborn resistance to the odds. They were believers in Lady Luck, good fortune and miracles like the number eight hitting twice or even three times in a row. You could not reason with them or cite statistics. They believed in magic and blamed science for killing off much that was special about life.
Pipe dreams? Anthony felt the sands shifting under his feet as he realized that dreaming was not as pure or as innocent as he had once thought. Each time he approached the roulette table and saw Susan's contorted face, his spirits dropped several notches. Finally, around midnight, he stood behind her, noticed that she had lost her stacks of chips and was reaching into her purse for more money. She hauled out a stack of hundred dollar bills.
She had come prepared. She was serious.
"Honey," he whispered in her ear. "Maybe we should go to the room and give it a try again tomorrow?"
She never even heard him. She tossed ten hundreds across the table. "Quarters!" she commanded, meaning $25 chips.
"Yes, Mam!" barked the dealer.
Anthony could not watch any more and wondered if there were a quiet bar where he could rest and think things over. Finding none, he retreated to their room to order beer and a pizza. After a few slices, he fell asleep on top of the bed and found himself dreaming about stacks of chips and spinning wheels of various kinds.
When Susan returned to the room in early morning, she did not bother to change her clothes. She just fell onto the bed alongside Anthony and his pizza. He did not notice and she did not care.
When the Zero hits too often
It was late morning when Anthony opened his eyes and found himself lying next to a half-eaten pepperoni pizza.
The love of his life had evidently rallied and returned to the roulette table without waking him. But perhaps she had never returned? He really didn't know. The pizza box left no clues.
He had expected they would do some fun tourist things on this trip, like take the ferry over to Lummi Island for lunch, but Susan seemed intent on winning back her money. Even after he ran for an hour across the rather boring marshlands near the casino and enjoyed breakfast, she showed no sign of relinquishing her post. She was seated in a resolute, slightly hunched over, defeated pose. There was none of the eager hunger and predatory joy she had shown when they first arrived. She had descended into the nether world of the damned, the losers and the unlucky.
She was wedded to the table as if to some unworthy husband and marriage. There were few rewards but no escape. When he suggested a ferry trip and lunch, she ignored him. He had ceased to exist. He was like some irritating fly begging to be slapped away.
And so Anthony hopped into the battered old BMW and drove a few miles to the ferry dock where he could park the car, since he knew from a Yelp search that the Beach Store Cafe on the other side was a short walk from the ferry dock. He sat with a beer and a Reuben browsing the Internet on his iPhone. He knew that Susan and he had no future now, but he remained troubled by the idea that a gambler was a dreamer.
He found the lyrics of Kenny Rodgers' song . . .
You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,He was ready to walk away from Susan . . . maybe even run.
Then he found "The Gambler" by Dostoyevsky. He remembered reading this novella in college, but it had held little magic for him back then. It was just a cool Russian story. But now he had a different level of interest given Susan's addiction.
He found he could download the story for free, so he sat in the cafe drinking beer and reading about Russian roulette players from more than a century back. Even with the passage of time, not much had changed from the gaming in Dostoyevsky's German resort and the gaming he had witnessed the night before in the Lummi casino.
His favorite part of the story came when the supposedly dying grandmother appeared without warning in apparently good health and insisted on a visit to the casino. Everyone had been waiting for her to die so they could inherit her money and pay off their debts. Her arrival was a doomsday event for the hangers-on.
Despite all protests against her going to the casino, she prevailed and had a triumphant first visit not unlike Susan's the night before.
Her guide and adviser was a young man who found her instincts and strategies horrifying. He kept warning her that her betting on the Zero was crazy, but the Zero kept hitting over and over until she walked out with a fortune. Unlike Susan, he noted, she walked out while she was ahead.
But her triumph was short lived, he learned, reading further. The next day she returned her winnings to the casino along with all of her estates and other funds. She left the casino penniless.
As Anthony finished his third beer and read further, he found himself wondering how Susan had fared during his absence. It was just the middle of Saturday afternoon and they had booked two nights at the hotel. It was hard to picture another evening wandering the floor of the casino while she wrestled with her devils. But he had heard that Bellingham was a fun college town and he was not so old that he could not develop a game plan that excluded both Susan and the casino.
He really doubted he would see her again after this weekend and so he invested little energy in thoughts of their future. He was only thinking of Anthony and a Saturday night in a strange town. How could he salvage a few hours of bliss from an otherwise dreary and disappointing weekend?
And what was next in his life?
For months he had defined his life as Susan's partner. Now what? Susan's ex?
Another night in Bellingham held little attraction, so he drove her car to the Greyhound station in Bellingham where he caught the southbound to Seattle. He figured she could get a taxi from the casino to reclaim the BMW.
His SMS was brief.
"Left BMW at Greyhound."
But hers was shorter. “K"
The wheel spins
Anthony missed his morning runs with Bradley more than he missed Susan.
When he left her behind at the casino, there was no contact for several months. There was no reason to speak. They had no future. As far as he was concerned, she was a monster. Her gambling struck him as obscene, and good as their other days had been, he was permanently soured on their having any future. He was not a gambler but he knew some bets were riskier than others.
A few hours of watching Susan at roulette convinced him that she was in a different orbit. It was a level of obsession that struck him as mental illness. He knew that wisdom argued for distance and closure.
Anthony missed his morning runs with Bradley more than he missed Susan.
Compulsion was not part of his make up. Nor was obsession. But he had trouble letting go of the morning runs with Bradley. He realized that he loved the dog more than the woman.
Even though it pained him greatly, he rang her number.
"I want Bradley."
He had expected this response. But what followed surprised him.
"You don't get Bradley without me."
"You are crazy!"
Even though he loved the dog, there was a price he could not pay.
"You should come for breakfast, Dear. You and Bradley can go for a run while I cook, and when you return from your run, I will have nice drinks and a great breakfast waiting for you."
She was so seductive. He almost loved Bradley enough to accept the invitation.
"I have given up gambling," she said.
"Yes, Dear. I will confess that it was a huge, stupid problem. And I would rather have a great partner like you than play roulette. In fact, I'd give up every stupid vice I have to sleep in the same bed and the same town with you each night."
He had nothing to say. It was the first time in his life someone had made such an abject, degrading confession.
He realized in this moment that we are all gamblers in some sense. Susan had taken her chips off the roulette table and was betting them all on a future with him. It was a crazy, impulsive, romantic lunge. And he was not a stupid man. He understood that she was betting her life on him rather than her addictions. She was hoping he would back her, support her, join her.
It was one of those turning points in life. He could turn away or he could embrace.
"I am coming for breakfast," he said. "And if you have given up roulette, I am staying for good."
It was one of the most dramatic pronouncements of his life, so far.
"You will not be sorry," she said. "I will make you very happy."
Strange as it may sound, Jonathan felt like he was sitting at a roulette table and his number had hit over and over and over again. He realized that Susan was offering a jackpot. She had diverted her gambling away from the table to the man.
"I'd bet my life on you, Stupid!" she said, and he knew she was crying.
"Me, too," he said, feeling far from eloquent.
Susan was true to her word. She stopped roulette, bought no lottery tickets and stayed clear of all gambling establishments. Like any addict, she was compulsive in her escape from compulsion. She read self help books and followed a variety of six and eight step programs.
Anthony watched her progress and noted the switch of compulsions. Much as he wanted her to succeed, he began to doubt her ability to cast aside a decade of gambling. He spent many nights in her bed and renewed his morning runs with Bradley, but he remained skeptical and guarded. He liked having his own place and an escape route if needed.
Susan noticed this reserve, of course, but she did not mention anything to Anthony. She understood why he might not trust her conversion and knew she would have to stay the course for at least a year before the veil might drop from his eyes. She concentrated on her recovery and tried to be the warmest and best girl friend he might ever meet. She was not angry with him and felt his love was an important part of her recovery.
She knew enough about addiction to understand that gambling or alcohol were ways for people to fill some dark hole inside. Anthony was a much healthier way to deal with darkness, but she also knew that she had to do most of the emotional work herself.
They resumed most of the activities that had brought them pleasure before the casino trip. Once again they seemed like the perfect Seattle couple. Each night they found a band or a show or an opening to attend. They had great sex and great conversations. They never argued. They went for long walks with Bradley. And their friends started asking when they were going to get married.
They both found this question irritating since they each understood that marriage was out of the question for a long time. Neither was in a rush. It was their friends who wondered. And there was not much they could say to explain why it might be a very long time.v
Even their parents joined the chorus. They were such a sweet couple. When would they tie the knot? They could hardly explain they were waiting to make sure Susan was cured of her addiction.
"She is such a nice girl, Anthony. What are you writing for?"
"You are such a nice girl, Susan. What is he waiting for? Is he commitment phobic?"
They understood each other without speaking a word about the waiting. It was the right thing to do. He knew it. She knew it. It was not complicated. Despite all the good intentions in the world, addicts are unreliable. So they enjoyed each day fully without speaking of the shadow that hung over them. As long as Susan could wrestle with her demons, they could savor wonderful hours.
Nothing felt permanent but with that one reservation they could count themselves fortunate. Their life was sweet in all other respects and they were the envy of all their friends whose relationships seemed turbulent and risky. They were calm and settled. To all who viewed them, they had attained a serenity rarely achieved by anyone under sixty. Mellow. Solid. They had the kind of love that would surely endure for decades.
Or so it seemed.
Seeking new thrills
Even though Susan gave up the casino, she continued to view life as a series of bets and side bets. There were risks to be considered, opportunities to grasp and then some wagers not worth making.
She was betting on her own recovery. Staking her life on it. Even though some would have rated her chances as slim and the effort a long shot, Susan chose to view her efforts with the confidence of a true believer. This was not a time for doubt or wavering. She knew she must prove resolute.
For his part, Anthony viewed shared her sense that it was all a big gamble, but unlike Susan, he did not face monstrous personal challenges. He had no need to reverse a lifetime of compulsive behaviors. His biggest challenge was waiting and encouraging. He knew that his faith in her recovery was a major factor in her success. If he doubted her, he sensed she would collapse and revert to former behaviors.
Susan made a point of seeking out activities to fill the void left by the end of gambling. She knew these could not just be time consuming. She had found gambling thrilling, even when she was losing. It had made her feel alive. So now she looked for things that would bring her thrills. She took up sky diving and scuba. They joined a runners club. She bought a Harley. She started rock climbing, first at the REI climbing wall and then out at Icicle Creek near Leavenworth.
Anthony did not share her need for thrills and was not entirely happy with her choices, but he was a good soldier about most of them, joining her in all but the sky diving, the rock climbing and the back of the Harley.
“But you could get your own bike,” she said. “That way we could ride together, go on weekend trips and explore the back roads.”
He just smiled and shook his head. “It’s fine, Honey. It’s good for you to do some of these things solo. I don’t need to tag along for everything.”
There were nights when their love-making surprised him, as Susan’s passions left the table and found their way into bed. She had always been a warm and affectionate lover, but once she set gambling aside there was an edge to her sexual drive that almost scared him. She was so intense he felt swept up in a maelstrom, almost overcome by the power of her feelings. Fortunately, he found an answering beast rise up inside him that met her full on.
“That was amazing,” he smiled after one afternoon of especially torrid sex.
Susan just smiled, thinking she had found a new way to hit the jackpot.
The biggest gamble of all
Two years after Susan chose him over the casino, Anthony decided it was time for them to marry. He spent the week planning and preparing his proposal. They had looked at enough rings so he knew she would be happy with the emerald he picked up from Tiffany. The biggest challenge was selecting a place and a time. He wanted it to be memorable. He ruled out hokey possibilities like the Space Needle. They had favorite restaurants that would do, but he had something different in mind. Something out of the ordinary.
He suggested a drive out to Snoqualmie Falls, where he went to his knees and made his proposal.
“I am really touched, Anthony, but I cannot accept.”
He was stunned. It was impossible. He had supported her through two years of recovery, cheered her on and shown steady faith in what she was trying to do. He rose to his feet, stepped back and glared at her.
“What?” he said. “Are you crazy?”
“Not crazy. Just not ready.”
He waited for an explanation, but he saw none coming.
“How could you not be ready?” he asked. "We just spent two years putting the casino behind us so we could live a healthy life together.”
Susan gave him a darker look than he had seen in a long time. v “That’s just it. You think of me as a recovering gambler. It is always on your mind. You cannot shake that image of me. I know you still doubt me. You will doubt me ’til the day I die.”
He was beyond anger, but part of him knew that what she said was true. He would always wonder if and when she would relapse.
“Besides,” she said, “I think I can do better.”
He glared at her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
She paused as if wondering if she should say what was on her mind.
“There are men who don’t spend every moment thinking about recovery.”
By now the ring was stashed safely in his pocket and Anthony was thinking only of escape. He was thankful that he had kept his own apartment and need not spend any more time with this woman.
It would take him weeks to realize that she had done him a favor.
Luck be a lady tonight
It felt so good to walk into the casino after a two year sabbatical.
Susan knew it would be a great night. Everything felt right. The stars were aligned. It had been too long.
She walked slowly toward the roulette tables feeling a surge of power. In all her years as a gambler she had never felt anything like it.
Her favorite seat was waiting for her. Her favorite color chip was available. The dealer smiled.
"Welcome back! We missed you."
Susan bought a stack of $25 chips and studied the table. She knew exactly what to do and just where to place her chips.
The other gamblers hushed as she laid a thousand dollars on favorite numbers.
The dealer reached down for the ball and gave it a brisk spin.
Susan did not bother to watch the ball. She knew just where it would land.
She lit a cigarette and hummed "Luck be a lady tonight" as the ball went round and round and round.
She was glad to be home.
Written materials, art work and photography on this site are copyrighted by Jamie McKenzie and FNO Press.
From Now On is published by FNO Press