Fate. Destiny. God.
It’s all a crock.
People want their lives to make sense, want to sit back like cosmic detectives and examine what’s happened to them so far, identifying the key turning points that shaped them and retroactively imbuing these moments with a mystical aura, like the celestial forces of the universe are a team of writers on the serialized television show of your life, charged with concocting outrageously convoluted plotlines designed to achieve resolution by the end of the season. No one wants to believe that it’s all completely random, that the direction of our lives is nothing more than a complex series of accidents, little nuclear mushroom clouds, and we’re just living in the fallout.
As near as I can figure, these were the accidents that shaped my life. If Hailey had never married Jim, then he never would have cheated on her with his ex-girlfriend Angie. And if Jim hadn’t forgotten about the nanny cam in the basement playroom, he never would have gotten caught when he did. Since it was Jim who had installed the nanny cam, most shrinks would see this as unassailable evidence that he wanted to get caught, but they just say that because there’s no prevailing psychological term for a dumbass. And if Hailey had never divorced Jim, then years later she would not have ducked into what she thought was an unused office to have herself a quick, single-mother cry. It was actually only a mostly unused office. It was mine. And if I hadn’t picked that day, of all days, to actually show up for work, I never would have found her there. If I’d met her at any other time, under any other circumstances, she never would have gone for me. Women of her caliber never did. And, knowing my own limitations, I never would have had the nerve to ask her out. But by then, the accidents had built up a momentum all their own, like a tornado whipping through the heartland, and we were sucked up into the twister like a couple of grazing cows.
I stepped into my tiny office at M Magazine that morning and there was Hailey, crying at my desk. “Oh,” I said, which is what you say when you find a beautiful stranger crying at your desk.
She looked up at me through her tears, blew her nose into a twisted, crumbling tissue, and said, “Can you please come back in a few minutes?”
She was a VP in ad sales, and I was an articles editor and columnist, which meant our paths rarely crossed, but I knew who she was, had already nursed my little office crush on her and moved on. After all, she was beautiful, older, and an officer in the company. But now she was crying at my desk, and there’s nothing like a weeping woman to bring out your inner white knight. So I stepped out of my office and closed the door, not only to give her privacy, but also to keep any other white knights from joining the fray, because I was not up for a joust. I took a quick walk and picked up two coffees. I don’t drink coffee, but as an old girlfriend once said to me, sometimes you have to fake it for the greater good of mankind. When I returned, Hailey was reapplying her makeup. “Here,” I said, placing the cup in front of her and leaning against the wall.
She smiled at me through the last of her tears, and she was ragged and worried and ever so slightly damaged and that’s what you need with a beautiful woman, some chink in her armor that gives you the guts to approach. Otherwise, you just circle like a scavenger, watching the other predators move in. “Thanks,” she said, taking a long, grateful sip. “Who are you?”
“I’m Doug,” I said. “This is my office.”
“Hailey.” We shook hands across the desk. Hers were small and soft, her fingernails bitten and unpolished. “I’m sorry about this. I’m just having a bad morning.”
I waved my hand. “I just wish I’d known you were coming. I’d have brought donuts. And Kleenex.”
She grinned. “I’m usually not like this.”
“It’s not your fault. I always have this effect on women.”
The grin escalated into a full-on smile. It was a killer smile, a warm, piercing humdinger of a smile that I felt in my thighs. Women like this generally didn’t smile at me like that. Usually they flashed polite, blinking smiles like hazard lights that said Keep moving, nothing to see here. But Hailey said, “I don’t want to go to my office.”
“So stay here,” I said.
“I should let you get back to work.”
“If you knew me, you’d know how ridiculous you just sounded.”
She looked at me thoughtfully. She had long, honey-colored hair, skin like burnished ivory, and dark almond eyes that opened wide when she spoke and crinkled magnificently when she smiled. “Today is my birthday,” she said.
“Birthdays can be rough.”
“Tell me about it.”
“How old are you?”
“Thirty-six. And divorced. And mother of an angry twelve-year-old.”
“You’re only as old as you feel.”
“Well, then I’m fifty.”
“You look outstanding for fifty.”
She smiled. “It’s just not what I thought it would be, you know?”
“Ah, life,” I said, just like somebody wiser than me might say it. “Don’t get me started.”
She flashed me a wry grin. “How old are you?”
“I’m twenty-five. But I feel twelve.”
She snorted when she laughed, but I liked it anyway, and so I made her do it a few more times, and then she opened up and started to tell me about her divorce and her troubled son, and her bad luck with men. She was thirty-six, divorced, and a single mother. I was twenty-five and still waiting for something to happen to me. We were from two different universes, suddenly thrown together in the twilight zone of my office. It wasn’t just that she was too old for me; it was that she was too pretty, too sad, too wise, and altogether too worldly for someone like me. But something had happened, some hiccup in the cosmos, and we could see behind each other’s curtains, and we were talking and laughing, and she was smart and funny and vulnerable and just so goddamned beautiful, the kind of beautiful that was worth being shot down over.
“Listen,” I said, after a little bit. “We can go on like this all day, but today is your birthday, and in my family, a birthday means one thing, and one thing only.”
“And what’s that?” she said.
“What, the theme park?”
“So you’re familiar with it.”
“We’re at work.”
“I don’t know about you, but I won’t be missed.”
“We can’t just leave work and go to an amusement park.”
“Normally I would agree. Or I’d pretend to agree so that I seemed responsible. But it’s your birthday today. My hands are tied.”
“I have a budget meeting at ten-thirty.”
“Blow it off. I’ve never seen someone who needs to ride Nitro as badly as you do right now.”
Hailey looked at me for almost a full minute, I mean, really looked at me, like she was studying a map. “I’m eleven years older than you.”
“So if I were thirteen, then this would be weird.”
She shook off her smile. “Just tell me why?”
“Because the more you talk, the more I like you. And because you’re so beautiful that it actually hurts if I look at you for too long. And I’m sure you get asked out a lot, by older, smoother men than me, but they’re asking you out because you’re good-looking, and there’s nothing wrong with that, I mean, you have to start somewhere, but you see, normally that would be exactly why I didn’t ask you out, so the fact that I am now means that we’ve already passed all of that.” I took a deep breath. “And because I think you would really like me, if you gave me a chance.”
Her face turned red, and she didn’t smile like I’d hoped she would, but she didn’t look away. She did not look away. “Are you always this honest?”
I nodded. “Almost never.”
“But that’s honest too.”
“I know. It’s tricky.”
“It’s nothing personal, Doug. I’ve just had some bad luck with men.”
“That’s because you don’t know the secret.”
“What’s the secret?”
“You have to train us when we’re young.”
And this time her smile was like a ray of sunlight, the kind that pierces the clouds on an angle and makes you think about heaven. And so we drove her car out to Great Adventure, and we rode Nitro and The Great American Scream Machine and The Batman Coaster and Kingda Ka, and I bought her a funnel cake and a sparkler and sang “Happy Birthday” to her on the Ferris wheel and she kissed me at the top. And sometimes that’s all it takes, no epiphanies, no revelations, just funnel cake on a Ferris wheel and one crazy, miraculous day that should never have happened, but somehow did. It was fate, I thought. Destiny. But I only thought those things because I was in love and didn’t know any better.
J.T., How to talk to a widower
Among cute, funny, and rich, in the final analysis, I always go for funny, which is funny because Lz is not very funny. Or perhaps he is but I’ve just heard all of his jokes at some point or another. He has been trained when he was young though (by me), so as to make him eligible for almost anyone (like me) ha.