In the bedroom, before I fell asleep, I took out a notebook and wrote down a list of the things I wanted to tell her.
These were things that seemed harmless enough not to upset the broad scheme of her life, but that might make a significant difference in retrospect. I took out a yellow legal pad and drafted a list:
- If you ever get a gooey eye, don’t mess around, see a doctor, even if your schedule is packed.
- Please don’t ever not use condoms. Please keep in mind that it is your own older and wiser self telling you this. It’s not propaganda.
- Try running—you will like it. Has Pilates been invented yet? Do that. I wish you would pay attention to your laterals. Stay fit. Keep in mind that it will reduce cellulite acquisition.
- When Grandma gives you a Krugerrand for your twenty-first birthday, have Dad put it in his safe deposit box because you will lose it, I promise you.
- The stock market goes way up in 1999. But get out of tech by July 2000.
- As discussed, keep wearing your retainer.
- Sunscreen (60+) and remove makeup every night.
- Brush up on multiple regressions before the departmental comprehensive senior year. But don’t freak out—you pass.
- Try to maintain good sleep habits. I’m not sure this is possible. But try.
- Start working on your Mandarin tones.
- I’m giving you a list of big IPOs—see if you can invest early in any of them. They’re not going to let you in easily so show some hustle. Also, these are some great companies for a first job.
- Remember you won’t always have the time you have now, so this is the time to learn Arabic.
- Remember that greatness is difficult but worth it.
- There will be plenty of time for boys/men/romance/dating once you’re a VP. There’s no point before then.
- Remember, with men, the key quality you need is that they’ll put your career first, since it’s hard to both be extremely ambitious.
- But men who don’t want to be #1 aren’t going to be exciting enough for you.
- I haven’t figured out how to reconcile those two either, but maybe you can.
- Having a killer work ethic is worth more than riches.
I sighed, looking it over. It seemed paltry. “Things are often for the best,” I added encouragingly. “And when they’re suboptimal you can work to improve them.”
I wondered if I should say something to her about Rafe. “Keep an eye out for a tall, dark, handsome stranger”? If a man comes up to you at a party and puts his hand on your arm and asks you whose party it is, tell him, but when it turns out he’s supposed to be at a different party, celebrating the launch of a different company’s product, try to get him to stay with you instead. Although I hadn’t needed to be told. I had done it without any prior warning. I had even incentivized him to stay by filching him drink tickets. He’d come up to ask me a question, but I just liked the way he looked. That’s so superficial, but you know, product packaging totally affects your user experience, and I found him enticing, almost uncomfortably so. It was uncharacteristic of me to flirt, but it had happened. Maybe I just needed to make sure she went to that party that night. I hesitated. If I’d known it was going to be such an impactful night, I don’t know if I would’ve handled it so well. I wouldn’t have felt so free. There’s irony there, in that I’ve often thought about how, if Rafe had been wearing a Conch that night and had its reliable direction-giving at his disposal, he never would have ended up at my party at all. That bothers me, that I’m helping people operate more smoothly and arming them with the information they need, but sometimes users are going to miss out too. I wasn’t sure what to tell her.
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But if she met someone else, there would be no life with Rafe. What about Nova and Blazer? I felt a pang, thinking of a world in which they didn’t exist. Though Blazer didn’t exist eleven months ago, in current form, and I hadn’t known what I was missing.
And should I say something about the lightning? Yes. No. I touched the scar on my abdomen and trailed my fingers across my body. The list was missing the one thing that really mattered. When it’s a rainy night, and you are with a friend, don’t go outside and sit on an aluminum cooler during a thunderstorm. I hesitated. I let my mind skate over the memory, very lightly: the pain, the feeling of tight burned skin, the heavy shuffle of my useless left leg, the boring grid of squares on my hospital room ceiling, the agony of lying in bed and hearing distant thunder as summer arrived and departed outside my hospital window. The Spanish soap opera I watched, every day, gradually gaining a sense of its meaning the way you wriggle on a very tight-fitting turtleneck. The endless hours of loneliness, lying immobilized, with only my laptop for company.
It had been awful. I couldn’t tell her.
But when it did happen, when she was lying on the ground, flattened by the surge, would she think of me and wonder why I hadn’t? In the days afterward, when she was suffering in the wheeled bed, would knowing I hadn’t spared her make it worse? Could it have been any worse?
I thought of her—guileless, unafraid, Nova-ish in her contrarianism and curiosity. It was too bad. It was really a shame. But if she didn’t go through the experience, awful as it was, she would not become me. It had been difficult, and yet it had been . . . I prompted myself to finish. Worth it. Hadn’t it been? I could not quite say that, even to myself. But this was how it had to be, and difficult calls are difficult; that’s why they are difficult calls. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make them, or that you are wrong. I tore the page off the pad, folded the paper over and creased it, and put it on the desk.
This was an interesting development. It was unusual. It could be an edge. How could I use it?
Reprinted with permission from The Glitch © 2018 by Elisabeth Cohen. Published by Doubleday, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Author Photo: James Browning