A Hostage to Fortune
I don’t think anyone who knows me would be surprised to find out that I’m an extremely superstitious person. I compulsively knock on wood. I throw salt over my left shoulder on a daily basis because I’m never quite sure of exactly what qualifies as “spilling” it, so I just err on the side of caution anytime I am near a salt shaker. I hate the number 13 and will go to great lengths to keep it out of my life. (I am as big a fan of lagniappe as the next person, but please don’t ever try to give me a baker’s dozen. It won’t end well.)
I also pick up other people’s neuroses as easily as a cold virus. Stepping on sidewalk cracks never bothered me until it bothered my college roommate, and now I studiously avoid ever doing so. Same with tails-up coins: I would always pick them up – money is money – until I had a coworker who was horrified after watching me pocket a tails-up quarter. “Oh, my God,” she whispered. “Do you know what you just did? That is 25 days of bad luck!” I didn’t say: “Oh, don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t 25 days of bad luck. It’s 10 minutes of street parking.” I said: “Oh, no! I didn’t know that! Oh, shit! Will it still count if I throw it back?!”
Somehow, though, it never occurred to me to take fortune cookies very seriously. And yet those little rectangular paper fortunes now remind me, poignantly, of both of my dead siblings.
The first meal we ate with my brother after he got out of rehab was at Great Wall on Metairie Road. When he cracked open his cookie, his fortune read, “You can choose to be whatever you want to be.”
“Ooh, give that to me!” I squealed, 7 years old and quite sure I single-handedly could make sure my brother got well and stayed well this time. “I want to make you a present with it.”
I took the fortune home and glue-sticked it to the center of a piece of cream-colored construction paper. Around the border of the paper, I drew different faces – happy, friendly, sober faces. “Please make good choices,” I wrote underneath the fortune. My mom took me to K&B and we picked out a frame for it and delivered it to him at his French Quarter apartment. He was genuinely touched and hung it on his wall.
“Thanks, sissy,” he said.
Three weeks later, he was dead. We buried him with it, with that and a pack of Camels.