Black 17

by Craig W. Turner

My advice to you is if you ever get the chance to go back in time and fix things… Don’t flub it! I know. I wasted the opportunity.

At least I think I did.

I’m hoping the number 17 won’t forever haunt me. That single number caused me a lifetime of hardships. Well, to be more accurate, two lifetimes of hardships.

It was 1989 – the original 1989, that is – and I was fresh from college with a tremendous outlook on life. I’d just finished my pre-law curriculum at a rather prestigious upstateNew Yorkuniversity, and was headed to the Ivy League. My buddies and I were spending a celebration weekend in Vegas before heading off to the grueling life that was bar exam preparation. On top of that, I’d just met the most beautiful blonde I’d ever laid eyes on, and we’d taken to each other like peanut butter and jelly. Life was pretty grand.

After a couple drinks and a burst of male ego later, though, everything changed. I found myself standing crushed at the roulette table at a favorite casino, one number away from a windfall, having been coaxed by this gorgeous woman running her hand along my chest between the buttons of my shirt to lay everything I had on one number. Red 16. I’d chosen it because of my idol, Joe Montana, the 49ers quarterback already with three Super Bowl rings. He hadn’t failed me come game time. Why would he fail me then?

Unfortunately, the money that I’d so chivalrously dedicated to impressing the woman who couldn’t be found literally 120 seconds after the roulette ball tiptoed past Red 16 and nestled into pocket marked by a Black 17 was $5,000 that was originally destined for my tuition deposit for law school.

It wasn’t a bad life I’d lived after that day – just wasn’t the one I’d envisioned for myself. After my parents had refused to cover for my idiocy, I’d taken a nice job working at a chain department store, and actually worked my way up through management fairly quickly. Married. Had two great kids. Nice house in the suburbs. But for twenty years, I dwelled on the fact that I could’ve been so much more, tracing my failure to shine back to that one instance of poor judgment.

It was then that I met Dr. Marcus Higgleston, a leading psychologist. I’d read an advertisement that Dr. Higgleston had developed a method of recapturing your past – knowing that so many of us out there have decisions we’ve made that we regret. I contacted him and made an appointment.

Dr. Higgleston explained to me that he believed time was merely a state of mind. It had been introduced by the human mind, and it is only understood and lamented by the human mind. Through computer technology, he had found a way to manipulate people’s memories to allow them to literally return to their past and right wrongs. To the outside world, it appeared as a sleep-induced coma, but to the subject, the ability to re-live years of his or her life was very real.

Not wanting to hurt those close to me, I fled from Dr. Higgleston’s office in disgust. But his theories tormented my mind and heart. I became a closet alcoholic. I began to spend more time at the office than at home – not engaged in anything productive, but simply sitting at my desk with my head in my hands, grieving over the number 17. Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t doing anyone any good, and told my family that I was going away for a while. It was difficult for everyone, but my state-of-mind had deteriorated so greatly that I was unable to allow it to matter.

Dr. Higgleston’s process was quick and undramatic. Within minutes, not only was I grasping for the light of consciousness, but I was in the casino inLas Vegas. I could feel my baggy dress shirt, my thin tie dangling from my collar, and my hand was interlaced with a soft, feminine one. I felt a bulge in my pocket – the $5,000. Which means my memory was so precise to the failure of that specific moment that I had actually already been to the cash window and was headed to the roulette table.

Strangely, though the situation was exactly the same, I was not the 23-year-old rising legal superstar. As I felt my facial hair, and the twinge in my knee from that Thanksgiving tackle football incident with my teenage son, I knew that I was my 43-year-old self stuck now into this position of retribution.

Immediately, I was energized, and found myself rushing forward in earnest to meet the opportunity head on, nearly dragging the poor woman behind me as I hurried to the table. I didn’t care. I knew she wasn’t going to stick around anyway for anything more than the money I would win on Black 17. I landed at the table just as the dealer was calling for the last bets, and plunked a stack of chips down onto that evil number.

As the ball whipped around the wheel, I was overcome with the nonsense of what was taking place. Only moments before, I’d been lying on a soft hospital-type bed in a special wing of Dr. Higgleston’s office, and suddenly, I was reliving the most important moment of my life – with the same memories, the same anxiousness and the same emotions I’d experienced twenty years before. I began to wonder what would happen next. Would I wake up from the coma, $175,000 richer? Or would I move forward from this point in my life to live not only this moment, but all of my moments, over again? My enthusiasm quickly turned to trepidation.

Particularly when the roulette ball slowed and halted at Red 34.

Interestingly, the first thing that crossed my mind was that 34 was twice 17, then my heart sank. I wondered how everything else could’ve been so perfectly aligned, then come up with a different outcome? I nearly fell out of my chair with weakness as once again, the girl disappeared from sight. I began to shake as a well-dressed man to my right celebrated his winnings and the dealer calmly swept the chips away to clear the table.

My head was swimming, and I grabbed a stool close to the table to stabilize myself. Now, the question of Dr. Higgleston’s methods loomed even larger. Was I relegated to the same life again, without the victory? Was I destined to make this bad decision? Or would I wake up to harmlessly realize that things were going to be okay for me?

Minutes later, I heard the dealer yell a muffled “Black 17,” behind me, and I stood and raced to the table. Sure enough, the ball rested on top of the 17, and I looked up to see a space in the crowd where I so specifically remembered standing.

I’d gotten to the table too early.

In my haste, I’d rushed to the table and bet on the wrong spin of the roulette wheel. I immediately self-analyzed, and wondered why my greed had so overcome me that the notion of simply not betting all of my law school tuition money never even entered my mind. I realized that I felt I was owed the money for a life of not living up to my potential. My conclusion had become so final that it was no longer about going to law school or a successful, high-profile career. It was simply about defeating that number 17 and having the spoils to show for it.

This time, though, I had the presence of mind to notice the time on my watch. In spite of my sorrows, I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

It wasn’t a bad life I lived after that day – just wasn’t the one I’d envisioned for myself. I took a nice job working at a chain department store, and actually worked my way up through management fairly quickly. Married, somehow, to the same woman. Had two great kids. Nice house in the suburbs. But for twenty years, I dwelled on the fact that I could’ve been so much more, tracing my failure to shine back to that one instance of poor timing.

So it is with great hope that I now enter Dr. Marcus Higgleston’s office, knowing that if I can, as a 63-year-old man who isn’t quite as fast as I used to be, make it to the roulette table by the time the dealer spins the wheel the first time, I will win twice in a row.

My first move will be to tell that blonde to get lost.

“Dr. Higgleston,” I say as I enter, smiling, “you don’t know me, but I need your help.”

“Yes I do,” he says, closing the door behind him.


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