Drunkenly, I stumble through the door of an aging Las Vegas casino. I stand next to my husband, touching his back with the tip of my fingers as he asks the receptionist about player cards. Like many things and people in Las Vegas, the receptionist doesn’t seem quite real. A plastic smile stretches across her face, yet doesn’t show in her eyes or in her robot-like welcome.
It is sometime in 2009. I’m still lost in a world of escape. I never want the party to stop. I’m chasing the next buzz, the next boundary to push, seeing how far I can push the edges until my life rips at the seams.
I stare wide-eyed into the casino. The characters of Las Vegas strike me as entertaining. Sometimes their behavior is incredibly outrageous and I elbow my husband and point at the person. We laugh. The really dark side of the “characters” of Las Vegas is the desperate drunks, the little old women sitting alone feeding hungry machines, worn-down prostitutes hovering at the edge of Freemont Street, homeless people living in tunnels beneath the Strip. This side is not funny. It leaves me sad. Scared that these are the depths at which one can fall.
In the foyer a lady sits in a chair. A heavy comforter is wrapped around narrow shoulders. She glances at people through the weary eyes of a much older woman, betraying her thirty-something face. What I notice when I first look at her is the movement of her hands, anxiously squeezing a stress ball. It is as though I’m being sucked into a vortex. I see me in the lady. I see people I’ve worked with in the lady. I see my husband in the lady. I can feel her anxiety inside my body. It scares me to the depths of my soul, yet I cannot peel my eyes away. My jovial drunken mood is saturated by the heaviness.
“Let’s go honey.” My husband says, interrupting my thinking, this unspoken connection I feel with the lady squeezing the ball. I walk beside him, but cannot help but peek over my shoulder at the lady. Her face is sunken. Skin is rough with the gritty streets of Las Vegas. The streets tourists don’t see. Eyes scream tired. Body perhaps screaming for a fix, a drink.
A group of loud young partiers walk through the doors and brush past the lady as if she were an apparition, a figment of one’s imagination. She continues to squeeze. The sweet spicy smell of aftershave lingers in the air as the group of twenty-something men pass us. The loud clanks and electric buzz of slot machines fill the air.
Aged cocktail waitresses ask, “Cocktail?”
We play a few machines and decide to hop down the street to the next casino. We become turned around, overwhelmed by the sameness of the machines. I notice the exit sign.
Something in me breathes a sigh of relief when I spot the lady in the same chair squeezing the same ball. As I push open the heavy glass door, cool desert air mixes with smells of alcohol and fried food.
“Where to next honey?” My husband asks.
I try to push the image of the lady in the foyer out of my mind and return to the drunken jovial mood of an hour ago. I smile at my husband, take his hand rough from years of electric wiring, and walk underneath the flashing light show on the canopy running above Freemont Street. I hope she is safe wherever she is now…