“Sooner or later, luck runs out.” This is what my friend says to me, as we are sitting on a park bench, facing the bike path.
Here is the thing: I am having trouble these days, accepting what I have. I feel too fortunate, too undeserving. It makes me uneasy, anxious. Like I am always about to lose it all.
“What I mean is, in your life, you’ve been lucky but you’ve also been unlucky. It’s not like everything in your life is so perfect.”
I laugh. I am grateful for her directness.
She says: “I mean this be to comforting.” She says: “I think we are just supposed to enjoy what we have when we have it. Because we know we won’t always have it.”
My son is going on a field trip to the zoo. On the car ride into school, he says: “I hear that they have a giraffe.”
I laugh to myself, imagining the way information is delivered, transmitted through the gossip channels in the kindergarten.
“It’s true!” I tell him. “I have seen many giraffes at that zoo!”
We are idling on the bridge while men in orange vests move orange traffic cones from one part of the road to another.
“Do you know what?” he asks. It is the way he prefaces everything he says.
“What?” An orange-vested man waves me past.
“I get to ride the school bus today. And do you know what?”
“I get to ride it all the way to the zoo.”
I stay late for a work event and sit at the back of the room. Slides are being shown. Behind the screen, I can see the rain come down in great, gray sheets. The room is cold. The attendees are chatty and loud. At one table, a young woman translates for another older woman, who stares straight ahead, nodding. I fidget. I tap my foot. I am so tired I can feel my bones ache.
The bus stop man is outside, waiting in the pouring rain. I see him as I rush my son out to the car. He has no umbrella - just a hooded jacket. There is no shelter at this stop. There is only a phone pole with a sign. Once my son is in the car, his seatbelt buckled, I throw my own umbrella into the front seat, slide in. I think: Should I go back inside, get an umbrella, offer it to the bus stop man? Should I ask the bus stop man if he wants a ride? I don’t know where he is going and I am already late.
I start the car. Think again about getting another umbrella, but in the end, I do nothing but back out the driveway like I always do and pull out into the street. Halfway down the block, I think: Why didn’t I offer him a ride?
Later, sitting at my desk, I think: Why didn’t I offer him a ride?
So much rain that the streets are flooding.
I am flipping through the pages of a magazine I have not yet read. I pause, scan a page. My eyes fall on this: “Murderers who plead with imaginary kidnappers to return the family members that they themselves have killed betray subtle smiles.”
Surely, one hopes, their luck runs out, too.
Although I suppose that one could argue it already had.
Later, when I ask him, my son summarizes his zoo trip like this: “We saw an elephant. We had some snacks.”
“Did you see any other animals?” I ask.
“Ummm, I don’t remember.”
“Did you see the penguins? The moon bear? The pink flamingoes?”
I try a different approach. “What kind of snacks did you have?”
“Oh, you know. The snacks we had in our lunchbox. Just, you know, snacks.”
Yes, I suppose I do know.
Some years ago, I drive into Boston for a meeting of Korean adoptees. We huddle in someone’s tiny living room. I perch on the edge of a footrest.
We talk about committees, about events that we can have. Parties that we can throw where parents come with their adopted children. Balloon animals. Face painting. A table with Korean games and toys. This is not what I thought it would be.
The women - and they are all women - are young, pretty, energetic. They wear pointy-toed shoes. The woman whose house it is disappears for a time and returns from the kitchen with a tray: Rice crackers and tiny cups of tea. As she hands me a cup, she asks: “What committee do you want to be on?”
“Which is the one where we sit in corners, weeping?” is what I want to ask, but instead I hear myself say: “I will help with the festival.”
I do not help with the festival. When I return home to find the email in my inbox, with details for when the committee will meet, and how, I send a quick note of response.
Her message comes back almost instantaneously. “So sorry to hear that, Mary! Maybe next year!”
I write back before I can stop myself. “Definitely!”
In a little stack of papers on the corner of my desk, I find a ticket stub from the Paris metro. The one we took from the airport into the city in the early morning after we had flown all night. That trip - those autumn days - seem like another lifetime ago.
“Will you go back?” my friend asked me recently. We were talking about her trip to Europe - to Hampshire, England where she will scatter the ashes of the man she lost last fall. The man who had been her partner for decades.
“We will,” I say. “We are talking about next spring.”
“And where will you stay, in that same place?”
I think of the little hotel on the hill where we spent those fleeting days. The winding staircase that led us up to the top floor. The windows that opened out onto the rooftops of the city. How dazed we were when we saw them. How we longed for sleep, but before we let ourselves fall to the bed, we stood there, looking out into the gray mist. It was something I never want to forget.
But look, I have already forgotten the color of the sky that morning. I have already forgotten whether all the rooftops were white or whether it is just that I wanted them to be. Did you stand behind me, your arms around me? Did you bring your mouth to my ear, whisper warm breath into it? Did you lead me then, to our bed where we let sweet sleep wash over us at last?
No matter. This is the way I will remember it.
It’s colder on my walk this morning than I expect it to be. The traffic seems heavier than usual too and I find myself darting between cars, on high alert.
As a child, walking home from school, I would often find coins on the sidewalk. I would come home with a penny and a dime clenched in my fist, or on the rare occasion, a quarter. My mother set up a little glass jar on the kitchen counter where I could collect them. “Some people,” she said, “see coins in the street and walk right past them, like they are too good to pick up money that other people have dropped.”
“You should always pick up coins when you see them,” she said. “They will bring you good luck.”
I have been waiting for news and at the end of the day yesterday, I receive it. Is it not as I had hoped. I feel winded, reading it. I read it again, to be sure. It hits me harder than I had anticipated.
Almost as if to prove my friend right. Almost as if to say: See, you are not so lucky after all.