“Under the Cherry Blossoms” By: Thomas Mande

And I ran. I ran from my children, whose gaping mouths I could not feed; whose father had left them before a time they could remember; who may never escape the poverty in which they are bound; never see the joy in the world, the joy I once glimpsed before life’s cruel hand stole it from me. I ran from the reality, the cold hard unavoidable reality in which I lived. I ran, because otherwise the world might catch up. And I ran into the arms of my savior, the one thing which gave me hope when all seemed lost, yet the very thing that put me where I was; my getaway; my bicycle; gambling.
Gambling is a predator. It preys on those who hope. Those who long to strike rich, those who can’t turn down a game of chance, those are the people for whom gambling is the deadliest. Yet at that time I was completely oblivious to what gambling was doing. Or maybe somewhere deep inside, I knew. But whether I had known or not the fact was that I just needed to run from life, and for me, for my desperate mind, running translates to gambling, for the truth is that nothing thrilled me like throwing down the dice and hoping for the best.
So on the night which I ran from my children, I went straight to the casino. I gambled for hours that night. I played again and again and again, fearing that if I stopped then I would remember reality, remember my 3 children whose money for food I wasted on my own selfish hobby. So instead of remembering, I pushed on through the night, until the first rays of dawn slid out over the horizon. A victory! To leave your worries panting behind you on some street corner. I had won. I had beaten reality. I was a champion.
Until the next morning. That night in the casino I had been in a dreamland, surrounded by the luminous pink petals of my fantasies. I had been in the place that I longed with all my heart to be, not the casino, but a land without worries or doubts, a land where I was free. But the truth is that I wasn’t free. Because when I woke up that next morning, my pockets, my stomach, my mind: all empty. Emptiness is a form of escape, but not the right one for me. Because when I heard the cries of my children, all of painful reality flooded back into my system, and the emptiness was pushed out. And as I sat there, not responding to my moaning children who I could not help, for if I couldn’t take care of myself then I had no business raising children, I was filled with a new kind of emptiness, not the type I had felt in the casino, but an emptiness that I was drowning in, so thick that I could hardly breathe. At that moment I vowed to myself never again to gamble, never again to seek an escape by such selfish means.
That night instead of going to the casino, I traveled across town in search of a job. I had had no education since 8th grade, when my own parents got divorced. But I was strong and I knew I could find something. I got a job at the McDonalds on 4th Street, my first job in many years. As I donned that red and gold apron, I felt my life take a turn for the positive. It marked the beginning of a new age for me and my children, an age where we might now have to worry about food, an age where we are happy.
April 13, 2014. My birthday. My paycheck day. Cherry blossom day. A day that I will always remember. That day I took my children to see the cherry blossoms. We set up a blanket on the grass, and I watched my children joyously devour the candy I had bought them with my paycheck. A playful gust of wind swept by, stirring the fallen blossoms, and I float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas, luminous pink petals not like the fleeting ones I used to find in casinos, but real ones that I can catch in my hand. Because now I was truly free from my past, not by escaping reality but by changing it. And as I sat there on that sunny April day, my life finally in the place that I had forever longed it to be, I felt as if every problem I had ever had was grabbed up by the wind and swept away in a sea of blossoms.


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