If you were to believe my father — and many people do — you would believe that there is no such thing as coincidence. That life is a series of intentional moments that lead us from one to the next, each one ping-ponging us from one destiny to another, all of which carry us on the wave of life up until the inevitable: death.
In a nutshell, my dad is the guy who has more or less eliminated the idea of free will and has instead doomed us all to fate, to that old and ever-present irritating adage: everything happens for a reason. (Air quotes.)
My father is a bit of a legend, or at least he was until he lost the Nobel for his mathematical studies to Punjab Sharma, his protégé who now heads up a rival lab at UCLA. The ceremony made the front page of the New York Times, not because of Punjab’s accomplishments but because approximately ten seconds after the award announcement, my father bum-rushed the podium, ripped his blazer and tie from around his neck and threw them at the judging table, shouting, “You wouldn’t know a fucking genius if he were actually spawned inside your own brain!” And then, just as security brought him down, literally down —they belly-flopped him to the ground — he managed to grab a flute of champagne and hurl it at Dr. Barton Meriwether’s head, slicing open the esteemed doctor’s left eyebrow.
When my mother came to pick him up (she had long stopped attending award events, claiming they were nothing more than “geekish men who were constantly comparing figurative dick size,” which was actually a pretty spot-on assessment), she dryly asked, “I suppose you’ll tell me this was all supposed to happen. That you destroying years of goodwill and ruining your reputation in one fell swoop was all predetermined.”
My father chewed the inside of his lip, stared out of the Town Car window and pouted.
So if you were to believe my father, you’d likely chalk up my day — the day that started everything — as fate. There are, after all, no coincidences in this world, and he built his career proving it. You’d believe that getting my wallet stolen from my bag on the subway last night was meant to be. And that not noticing said theft until I was racing out the door this morning was also part of the master plan. That when I finally did notice, I was distracted because one of my agency’s biggest clients was descending upon my office in less than an hour, and as the agency’s lead creative executive, I still hadn’t sorted out how to make adult diapers sexy. And because I was so wrapped up in my own headspace, I didn’t think to cancel my credit cards or panic over the petty crime. Rather, I instead ran into the bathroom where Shawn was still showering because he (this was also not a coincidence) had woken late, and I yelled to him that I was taking forty bucks and his Metrocard. And that when I went to grab those forty bucks, I also found last night’s receipt from that hip new wine bar on 16th street — Grape! — even though Shawn told me he was playing a game of pick-up with his other Internet – rockstar friends last night. And that just as I was doing a double-take at the receipt and simultaneously stuffing the cash into my pocket (no wallet), my phone buzzed with a friend request from one Theodore Brackton, my boyfriend out of college, whom I had google-stalked only the night before. And in a brief but fiery moment of panic, I thought that he could have perhaps sensed this: that I was out there wondering, googling, ogling from the secure distance that only an anonymous IP address can provide. But before I could even really contemplate the fact that Theodore Brackton might have been stalking me back — not to mention give any sort of weighty thought to the receipt and the wine bar and my long-lost credit cards, my phone beeps with a text from my boss, Hannah.
Text from: Hannah Burnett
To: Willa Chandler-Golden
STOMACH FLU ALL NIGHT. CAN’T MOVE; SKIPPING ADULT DIPES. KNOCK THEIR PANTS OFF. (LITERALLY.)
I groan and yell to Shawn to cancel my credit cards.
Then I shove the receipt into my cash-filled pocket and rush to the door, forgetting that my housekeeper had used Murphy’s Oil on the hardwood, though I have repeatedly asked her not to. The heel in my new shoes gives way, and I feel myself fighting the tug of gravity — an arm splays, my hamstring clenches — but I can’t stop the fall. I land roundly on my ass, and that is when — despite the positive EPT test that I took four mornings ago — I feel the rush of my period.
Yes, my father would tell you that none of this is coincidence — that it was all simply meant to be, that no matter what I did that morning or what Shawn did the night before, that I would wind up on the greasy floor with a pulled hamstring and another month of failed conception. He would cite the world’s axis and the gravitational pull and human psyche and various algorithms that I long stopped listening to. (Nor did I read his bestseller: Is It Really Your Choice? Why Your Entire Life May Be Out of Your Control.) My father would say that this is all part of a larger plan, and that if I wanted to be wise, I’d lean in and listen. Millions of readers already have. (Has he mentioned that IIRYC? WYELMBOOYC was a Times bestseller for forty-two weeks in a row? No? He hasn’t?)
I push myself up and adjust my skirt.
And that is when the wiser part of me would remind him that he didn’t win the Nobel after all.
But I wasn’t all that wise just yet. That comes later.
So more likely, I would probably just be on my way.
“I saw your dad on Piers Morgan last night,” Alan Alverson says to me in the elevator.
“Hmmm,” I say and pretend to read an urgent email, though we both know that there’s no service in the elevator.
“He really might be the current genius of our time.”
I look pointedly at Alan, who insists that we call him Alain, as if he were French, and not born and raised in Livingston, New Jersey.
“Did he convince you of this before or after Piers brought up his current restraining order?”
“Well, it does seem like he was robbed of the prize.”
Alan has a very specific, very annoying way of over-enunciating. A nerve in my temple pinches, though I’m unsure if it’s due to his defense of my father or his exacting way of clicking his Ts and curling his Rs.
The elevator dings, and we step off before I can argue. I was never quite sure how to accept this over-the-top, unknowing praise of my father; our relationship was a complicated mix of reverence and uncertainty, of yearning and emptiness. To his readers, to Piers Morgan viewers, he was a god. To me, he was mortal (most of the time, but not always — sometimes, on his best days and my haziest, he was a god to me too).
“Good luck with Dependables,” Alan mutters before making a perpendicular turn toward his cube.
I reach into my pocket for a Breath Saver and remember the receipt. And the cash. And the wallet. And Theodore’s friend request. And my period.
“Shit,” I say to no one in particular, but Isabelle, my assistant, overhears and offers a look of sympathy. She hands me a latte.
“Adult Diapers will be here in fifteen. PowerPoint is cued up. Croissants, muffins and fruit are on the conference table.”
“Izzy, you’re…what?” I step back and assess her.
“I’m…120 pounds?” She hesitates. “Are you allowed to ask me that?”
“No, how old are you?”
“And you live downtown.”
“And you’re single?”
“If this is about a blind date, no offense, Willa, I’ve seen most of Shawn’s friends on Facebook, and I’m not interested.”
“You’re friends with him on Facebook?”
“I have 2300 friends.” She shrugs. “I mean, Shawn’s hot. Like…I don’t know.” She takes in my skirt that’s still awry, my silk shirt that should probably have been ironed. “Yeah, like, he’s gorgeous. What does he do again?”
“He’s a coder.”
“Right! Like Mark Zuckerberg? Shawn is way cuter than Mark Zuckerberg, but MZ did invent Facebook, so I’d probably give him a pass. But anyway, Shawn’s friends are like Mark Zuckerberg but they didn’t invent Facebook. So no blind dates. Thanks though.”
“Okaaay. Um, Shawn’s pretty great,” I say, not entirely sure if her statement is the worst or best back-handed compliment ever. “Okay, well, have you ever been to that new wine bar, the one on 16th Street? I think Time Out just had it on its cover.” (In fact, the only reason I’ve even heard of it is because I flipped through Time Out last week in my gynecologist’s office.)
“Oh? Grape!? Sure. Months ago.”
“I thought it opened last week.”
I hesitate and look at her, closely, intimately. She shifts in her biker boots. She is young, she is beautiful, she probably has never had to worry about fate and coincidence and life’s disappointments and her husband’s wine bar receipt when he was supposed to be at his weekly pick-up game with other young and genius Internet icons. (At least four of them were named to Wired’s Hot 40 Under 40! Though three of them were wiry and bald, but no matter.) Izzy won’t worry, not yet, about her womb drying like a prune, about her vaginal mucus fluidity, about her peak temperature during ovulation, about sex growing stale because it feels like the only point is for procreation. (Sex is the perfect example of my theory, my dad would say. If you hadn’t copulated at that exact moment, on that night, at the second of climax, you would have had an entirely different child! He would say this with triumph, as if every parent everywhere hasn’t already considered this. That if the wife hadn’t mounted the husband who was mostly asleep while watching some cooking show that skewed toward the female demographic but that her husband secretly loved, and insisted that this was the peak moment of conception, their bouncing baby boy could have been a less-bouncy baby girl. Or twins. Or a miscarriage. Or another month of a missing second line. Who’s to say? Well, my dad is actually, if you asked him.)
“Izzy, in your opinion, what would a married 36-year-old man be doing at Grape!?”
“Drinking?” She looks at the clock behind me. “Twelve minutes until adult diapers arrive.”
“Drinking. Right, of course. They probably went for a post-game drink last night.”
“I guess he could also be picking up women,” she says cas-ually, clicking on Gilt.com, paying no mind to the destruction of her words, not fully understanding the implication of what she’s imparting. “Ugh, I mean, those guys are the worst. I’d never hook up with one. Though — don’t tell anyone this — my friend Candice totally made out with some Goldman guy last week. After they slept together, he mentioned his wife.”
“Well…thank you,” I say. “This has been very helpful.”
I sip my latte and head toward my office.
“Oh, actually, now that I think of it, Willa, I did get an email from the promoters. Was yesterday Tuesday? Every Tuesday is ladies’ night. They kind of like me to go, so if you want to join me next week, I’m in!”
I linger in the doorway of my office. Of course she would get an email. Of course last night was ladies’ night. Of course Shawn wasn’t there for a post-game drink with his buddies. There are no coincidences. I hate it when my father is right.