She had never been one for gambling. Not one lotto ticket or casino night with girlfriends. Never scratched to win $$$, peeled a sticker promising free fries, dug inside her bottle cap for a chance at a free Coke. Would not stuff her name in a “Free Groceries for a Year” box, give a dollar to a quilt raffle, play the stock market, check the weather forecast beyond the seventy-two hour window of reliability. Luck was for those who could afford loss. Hard work, rule playing, and cheeriness were safer bets. When they failed—as they did, with comforting predictability—the disappointment cost less than the aftermath of chanced freedoms¯unforeseen taxes, hidden obligations, reawakened consciousness of vulnerability. Searching dozens of Web horoscopes every morning didn’t count. The shifting pattern of stars was no safety net of fate over which she masterfully balanced her choices. For her the calculation was more basic: needing to seize upon words¯”soon,” “opportunity,” “better,” “support”¯that lifted—for an instant—the weight of her dread so she could fling herself into the void of the day. Marriage no longer counted, having evolved to a manageable risk. She had managed it twice. Now she preferred casting herself with the newly tipped balance of the 51.5 percent living without reward or benefit of a husband. Death, too, could be adjusted for, with or without the Grief Management business. To hazard children—biological, adopted, blended, inherited—was still possible, but she had successfully avoided that liability. Not for her, lugging around relics of love who answered good faith with guile, praise with derision, devotion with indifference. Children were the worst kind of speculation: effortless, like breathing, and deceptively reassuring. Under a guise of familiarity, they leaped into the unknown and dragged you with them, more apt to give you the finger than thanks for your trouble. It had been trouble enough to fashion a recognizable self out of the slam of her life.
There would be one moment of freedom. Swamis, sheikhs, saints, lamas, ammas, rebbes, senseis—all the masters she had consulted bore witness to it. Every path followed to its end led to this moment: wriggling out of oneself into emptiness. To stop breathing self self to be breathed by . . . what to her, on this side, howled Terror, but to those holy fools on the other side spoke Wonder, Welcome, Love. Gamble on the One? The Alive? That alchemical Nothingness where¯so the light-bearing messengers reported¯risk becomes reward and reward turns to gratitude? The inexhaustible Womb of Joy into which one slipped and had to keep slipping, weightless yet lifted, placeless yet home? And if she couldn’t? As so many could not, choking on their comforting sureties? Or if poverty of self were a con the Haves played against the Have-nots, outsmarting born losers guaranteed to amuse?
There would be one moment of freedom. She would have to slip into it. Not like a snake, by law of God or nature, shedding one skin for another. Not like a magician, banking on the safety of illusion. Like this: a woman trapped in a drowning car who must open a window to be saved.