Authors: Therese McFadden
Tags: #friendship, #drama, #addiction, #death, #young adult, #teen, #moving on, #life issues
“We don’t have fortune cookies.”
“You’re kidding me.” What kind of a place
serves Chinese food without having fortune cookies? Ridiculous.
“People kept throwing them away.”
“So?” The fun is in the opening, not in the
“So…” Now she’s pissed. Oops. “That means
we’re giving away a product that’s being thrown away unopened and
then filling up a landfill somewhere. We try to be as green as
possible. If more people stopped getting things they didn’t want,
our world would be a better place.”
“Seriously? No one opened their fortune
cookies? I don’t believe that. And if they weren’t opened, couldn’t
you recycle them? I hear recycling and the green movement are
almost one in the same.” I smile and she glares at me. I’m not sure
why I’m giving her such a hard time, or why I’m being so outspoken.
I guess knowing you’ll never see someone again makes it easier.
“So do you just want the soup? Or you can
add an almond cookie for two dollars.”
“Now I know you’re kidding. You’re honestly
telling me people wouldn’t bother to crack open a fortune cookie
but they eat a prepackaged almond cookie? Have you ever met anyone,
anywhere, who likes almond cookies?” I’m laughing now. It’s
possible I’ve gone insane, and equally possible I’ve entered some
strange other dimension where fortune cookies don’t exist (though
in this scenario I am probably also insane).
“Ma’am,” Cashier Lady sighs, “I like almond
cookies. Now, can you just tell me your final order?”
“Nope.” I shake my head, still laughing. The
universe has to be trying to tell me something through the lack of
fortune cookies. Maybe this is all just a dream, or I’m
hallucinating in an empty building and none of this is real. “I
can’t eat soup without a fortune cookie. No fortune cookie, no
“So you’re telling me you don’t want
“Sounds like it.”
“Goodbye then, ma’am.”
I walk back out the door, still chuckling to
myself. No fortune cookies. That was unexpected. Maybe the whole
building was really some kind of front. I would respect it a little
more if that was the case. I’m disappointed about not getting
anything to eat. My stomach’s settled down just enough to let me
know it’s hungry, and my next stop isn’t for another hour. I just
hope wherever I wind up next is a little more traditional. It
should be illegal to have a Chinese restaurant without fortune
cookies on the premise. They should at least have that posted on
their website. It’s like entrapment, luring me into a place with
the promise of fortune cookies and then taking them away, questions
still unanswered. I start up my car as my stomach growls. Time to
The truth may be
My new emotion for the next hour of the
drive is “denial”. I’m not sure how I’m going to stretch this out
for an hour, it seems pretty self-explanatory. I don’t want William
to be dead, but there’s not much I can do about it. I saw him in a
coffin and then I saw the coffin lowered into the ground. Sure,
it’d be nice to think he could pull a “saved by the bell” buried
alive move, but I know his mom had an autopsy done. If he were just
paralyzed by a venomous snake or had fallen into some bizarre coma,
there was no way he was alive after that autopsy. No “Fall of the
House of Usher” ending for me, although I do feel like the world is
collapsing at my feet.
I’m not really sure what I should be denying
in my hour of denial. William is dead. I don’t want to believe it,
but I don’t have a choice. I can’t not believe it. Plenty of people
have made me painfully aware of the fact.
Denial might be one of those stages you can
only really feel pre-funeral. It’s that feeling in your heart that
responds to “he’s dead” with “no, really, where’s he hiding?” I did
think that at first. I’d just come back from a day working with Mel
and found a bunch of missed calls waiting for me on my cell phone.
I never got that many calls, and even if I did they’d be from
numbers I already programmed into my contacts. All those numbers
didn’t look familiar, and not familiar meant not good. I was
already feeling strange about what happened the night before, and
the fact I had all these strange numbers on my phone, no
voicemails, and no messages from William wasn’t a reassuring sign.
If I hadn’t known that night, I knew for sure before I got in my
car to drive home.
I kept telling myself he couldn’t be dead.
He’d gotten arrested -- sure. He relapsed and was in the hospital
-- fairly likely, not great, but at least he’d get help. He did
something stupid and ended up in the hospital, but it wasn’t
drug-related-- best case scenario. I drove home without even
thinking to return any calls. It was the summer, it was sunny, I
was happy. People’s boyfriends didn’t die on happy-sunny-summer
days. That’s not how things were supposed to work. He wasn’t dead.
Something else must have happened. I remember briefly thinking he
might have wanted to fly back to Minnesota, to ‘“That Place”’, and
there’d been a terrorist attack like on 9/11. I was actually
comforted by that thought. If it was true, at least there was a
chance he could still be alive somewhere. There were survivors of
the 9/11 crashes, I think, though maybe not the planes. I was too
young to really pay attention to the details back then, but
miracles happen. Maybe the plane had just crashed. That wasn’t that
I went through all sorts of scenarios like
that on the drive home. It was impossible to think logically. I’m
surprised I made it home without hitting something. My mind kept
making up these scenarios, all to the background noise of “he’s not
dead.” I pulled into the driveway and tried not to notice all the
extra cars around the house. He wasn’t dead. It was a joke. He was
playing a cruel trick. He did something stupid. He wasn’t dead. Of
course, when I walked into the house and saw the cop, I couldn’t
think of any other reasons.
I think that might have been the most
memorable day of my life. I also think it will be the day I spend
every other day of my life wishing didn’t happen. I guess that
could be considered denial. Yeah. I am in denial. It’s funny; when
I first read through that list I thought those were all short-term
feelings. I never realized how deep these emotions could run. I
didn’t realize how much a part of me they were becoming. Hell, it
could take more years to come to terms with William’s death than
I’ve currently been alive.
That’s a scary thought.
I turn the volume up on my “denial” playlist
and hope the hour will be over soon. I don’t want to think about
that day anymore. It’s bad enough when something happens to remind
me of it. I don’t want to just sit here and brood about it. Some
things aren’t meant to be over-thought. Especially the things that
can’t be changed. I am starting to get hungry so I think about the
next Chinese restaurant instead. They better have fortune cookies.
If I hit one more place claiming to serve Chinese food but refusing
to carry fortune cookies, I might as well just turn around and head
I could really go for some beef fried rice.
Whatever kind of place this is, I hope they have fortune cookies
and beef fried rice. That’d be great. I can almost taste it. Maybe
I should have gotten soup. I wouldn’t have had to eat it there,
could’ve just eaten it in my car. My car’s going to start smelling
like food sooner or later anyway. I could have brought a snack bag.
Why didn’t my mother remind me to pack a snack bag? She asked
enough about everything else – like socks. I could get stranded in
the middle of nowhere and starve to death, but at least my feet
wouldn’t get cold.
My GPS beeps and tells me to pull off at the
next exit. I do so gladly. This place is a little harder to find
and not right off the highway. I always start to get concerned when
my GPS takes me through residential neighborhoods, because I know
I’ll never be able to find my way out if it stops working. I hate
having to put my trust in a little box attached to my windshield,
especially when I’m already directionally-challenged enough to get
lost going in a straight line. I’m too far in to think about it
now. Just have to hope my little black box knows what it’s
Eventually, it gets me to what seems like a
more populated road and I start to see fast-food restaurants lining
the sides instead of houses. The GPS yells at me to make a left and
I blindly follow its lead into the parking lot of a Panda Express.
The place I was supposed to be going to was called “China Star 1”.
This is obviously not it, but the addresses are the same. I guess I
should have done some better fact-checking before starting my trip.
After all, the universe and I are in some kind of fight. I can’t
expect things to go right all on their own. That isn’t how the
universe wants to play this.
It’s tempting to just turn around and go
home, but I made a deal with myself to only do that if they didn’t
have fortune cookies. It’s equally tempting to just start driving
hour three and hope for better luck at the next place, but I’m so
hungry all I’ll do is think about food until I eat, and that would
defeat the purpose of my hour trying to deal with stuff. Even if it
is just a Panda Express it smells good – although I could be so
hungry I’m just telling myself I smell something good. Either way,
it looks like food wins out. At least Panda Express is a form of
Asian food. That has to mean something. It could have been a
McDonald’s or a Taco Bell. Then where would I be? This could even
be a very small concession from the universe. I think that’s how
I’ll look at it.
Having finally made up my mind to go in, I
find a place to park close to the door and go in. The second thing
I notice – after a line that will take at least twenty minutes – is
that there’s a bowl of fortune cookies by the cash register. Looks
like I won’t be forced to drive back home after all.
It smells just as good inside as it did from
my car, and I start thinking less about what secret messages the
universe might be sending me and more about what to have for lunch.
I’m still not all that far away from home, but it feels like I am.
I think it might have something to do with being totally alone and
away from home. Calling is always an option. So is getting in my
car and driving back. What makes it all seem so out of the ordinary
is that I’m the one calling the shots. I’m making all the
decisions. Obviously, I’m not totally independent, because my
parents still expect me to come home (not to mention they’re
helping to finance my late-adolescence-crisis trip). It’s just the
most “on my own” I’ve ever been. It’ll be like this every day in
college. If I get around to picking one. There’s a disaster that’ll
be waiting for me when I get back. I’m not sure if it’s better to
use this time to contemplate what I’ll do when I get home or just
ignore everything until I’m home and hope the answers just
If I were taking this road trip with
William, things would be different. We’d talk and help each other
figure things out. He’d be driving though, and while I’d still
probably get to dictate all the when’s and where’s of our stops he
would, ultimately, be in control. I love William. I’d give anything
to have him back, but there is something a little empowering about
only having myself to rely on. Sure, it helps knowing I have a home
to go back to where bills aren’t my concern, but all this not
having to wait on someone else is kind of nice. There might be
something to this being-on-your-own thing after all. Choosing where
to eat and what to do with my life are very different questions,
though. I think it’d be nice to have someone in my life (other than
a parent) to talk about those big questions with. Sometimes it’s
nice to be alone, but other times it’s just lonely.
“What are you gettin’?”
“Huh?” I stare at the guy in front of me who
is wearing the uniform red shirt and black hat. For some reason his
question just isn’t registering in my brain.
“To eat. What’s your order? Food?” he looks
at me like I’m an idiot. He’s probably younger than me, too. He’s
got his first job and that freshman look about him, but he’s trying
to cover it up by acting like a jackass. I’ve never understood why
people do that. Acting like a jerk doesn’t make him look any less
young. I remember my freshman year phase though. Me and Amanda went
through it together. We fed off of each other’s insanity. I was a
real bitch back then. It’s hard to see it when you’re a part of it,
though. It’s amazing the growing-up a person can do in four
“Beef with broccoli, General Tso’s chicken,
and fied rice.” I smile and pretend I don’t notice he’s trying to
be insulting. I hope he isn’t involved in the preparing of the
food. I’m not sure I’d trust him enough to eat it.
The line moves a little quicker now that the
ordering is over and everyone pays with some form of plastic. I
hate it when people stop a line by trying to count out change in
pennies, or, God forbid, they want to write a check. Not that they
don’t have a right to use their coins or stay out of debt and away
from identity thieves, but those people always seem the slowest to
make up their minds and unable to count properly or write the right
numbers down the first time.
I hand the cashier my debit card and grab a
fortune cookie for my tray. The good thing about a crazy lunch hour
is that a good chunk of people take their food to work, and I’m
able to find a tiny table without too much trouble. The food is
good, but it’s easy to tell it’s “chain food.” The thing about
those hole-in-the-wall places is that the food isn’t always the
same. Sure, it might be cooked by the same person in the same way,
but every time things are a little different. The spices could have
a different heat, the breading a different crunch, the sauce a
different thickness. It makes things a little better.