DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN! I picked the wrong effing year to give up drinking for Lent. Please wave your hand and make two bottles of Fume Blanc appear on my doorstep. And I’ll give up television instead, okay?
Of course I knew who you were, but you did not know me. I was just a young writer crying in the Amtrak waiting room at Penn Station, rejected by her agent, watching the melting snow stain my suede boots.
You did not have my problems. You were published. You were famous. You had spats.
I had just been told, after toiling over a novel for two years, a manuscript my agent had approved chapter by chapter, that she didn’t like what she had “approved”. That my first novel should really have a character closer to my own persona.
Write what you know? Please. How cliche. How trite. How asinine that I took the Acela, thinking we’d be celebrating with champagne.
But the Acela is what led me to you, Tom Wolfe. Who sat near me in the station and offered me a kind smile.
I didn’t speak, didn’t dare ask you for advice through my tears. I feared the way my day was going, you would say something even more banal, like “show, don’t tell!”
The White Suit, however, was the ultimate show.
Because on the train home, my heartbreak turned to fury. “I hate her” turned into “I’ll show her.” I came up with a new plot based on my own flaws and secrets. I wrote it in a fever. It nabbed me a new agent who sold it in an auction in ten days.
Because I was smiled on by angel. An angel in a white suit.
Do you wonder about the people you deliver to, as we wonder about you?
We wonder if you are an Olympic athlete, drawn to the good benefits for traveling and training. We wonder if you are a model or actor, in between jobs. We wonder if you are married. And if you have an older brother. Or maybe a hot dad.
Do you wonder if I am a writer, based on all the books you carry to my door? Or a dancer, because of the bright lululemon boxes?
Do you wonder why I spritz on perfume when I see you walking down my driveway?
There’s a reason you only compete every four years.
Because it takes time to train, to learn and re-learn, to fall, get up, and try again. Many of you have been at this since you were children. Back when it was play, when it was just fun to make the shapes, to feel the wind, to dream the dream.
It’s taken most of you ten years or more to get where you are today.
Yesterday, I told a writer that wanting to be published today is like wanting to be in the Olympics.
She didn’t like hearing that. Because she just wants to fly, and doesn’t want to fall.
But you know what I know – you need the muscle-memory of plummeting to appreciate the soaring beauty of rising up.
I was 22 and always in a hurry. I drove a dented red car too fast through a Northern California neighborhood on a foggy afternoon. I was no angel, but I was innocent-looking, freckle-faced. No piercings or tattoos, nothing goth or punk about me. When you pulled me over, you looked nice enough. You said simply, “License and registration.”
You didn’t flinch when I opened the glove box. As you surveyed my ID the open window let in the chill of the coastal fog. I shivered in my thin t-shirt. I rubbed my hands together, then nestled them between my legs. In a split second, you screamed “Freeze!” and had your gun trained on my head.
To say that I froze was an understatement. All these years later this scene is locked in my mind like a still from a movie. A furious young cop in straight-armed academy position. “What did I do?!” I shrieked. “I didn’t do anything!” These words fell out of my mouth involuntarily. We’ve all heard them now. We hear them all the time. They are the instantaneous reaction of the innocent.
“Hands up!” You yelled. I lifted my cold hands.”A little lesson when you are dealing with an officer of the law,” you said as you lowered your weapon. “Never, ever reach under the seat.”
I shouldn’t have said anything in return. But I had a smart mouth and you were wrong.
“I didn’t reach under the fucking seat! I reached under my ass! My hands were cold!”
If I had not been who I was, this may have been the biggest mistake of my life. You looked at me oddly, took a deep breath, and delivered the real lesson with your awful reply: “Doesn’t matter what you did. It matters what it looked like.”
You wrote me the speeding ticket. I paid what seemed like a very high price at the time, but which I now know was nothing, absolutely nothing.