What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
My new favorite bumper sticker: what could possibly go wrong? It’s the question that the completely clueless ask when standing in the middle of their perfect happy ending. And what follows is usually a movie-scale epic disaster. It would be the ideal bumper sticker for the back of my car, but I just might wait and have it put on my tombstone someday. I saw it on a Volkswagen in the LAX parking lot as I was leaving for MIT. I think I’m going to have to start paying better attention to omens.
It’s funny to think that I spent the first eighteen years of my life putting things in perfect order: math problems, number sequences, puzzles. I’d think them into orderly submission and then revel in the crisp solution. Even the bumper stickers that cover the four walls of my bedroom are lined up at perfect right angles. This is my defining characteristic, this preoccupation with order. Which is why it’s really hilarious-slash-tragic that I never focused on all the loose ends.
I mean, maybe it was the whole near-death thing and the falling-in-love thing that blurred me a little. I was in such a rush to get to the romantic finale that I wanted my story to wrap up nice and neat: The bad guys are caught and the young lovers are headed off to Hawaii for a little rest and relaxation. What could possibly go wrong?
Seriously? It turns out that 1) there are plenty of un-caught other, even worse bad guys out there, and 2) I have parents who frown on me jetting off for a pre-honeymoon honeymoon with my new boyfriend. Of course, I’ve listed these outcomes in reverse order of tragedy.
The truth is that life isn’t nice and neat. At least mine isn’t. You never know what or who is waiting around the corner. Sometimes it’s a guy with a knife; sometimes it’s a casually placed kiss. The bottom line is that none of it was part of my plan.
And I should have known better. You don’t get yourself nose-deep in trouble, hunted by a crazy bunch of terrorists, and then walk away with a new attitude and a cute boyfriend. This isn’t a sitcom, and the credits never rolled on the whole story. I should have known trouble would follow me. And that you shouldn’t go ahead and mess with national security just because you can. Really, what could possibly go wrong?
If You Knew My Family, You’d Understand
My second (ignored) omen was the human torch I’d been assigned as a roommate. I should have known she was going to be the match that got the whole fire blazing. When my parents and I got to my dorm on the first day of freshman orientation, she was already there. She is about five foot ten and impossibly skinny with bright red hair, cut short and spiked straight up. I had to pause a few beats at the sight of her. “Hi, are you Farrah? I’m Tiki.”
She is the most perfectly named person I have ever known.
She is from Virginia, and her parents were driving back that night. Anxious to beat the traffic, they made the obligatory trip to Bed Bath & Beyond and then hit the road. My parents seemed to have all the time in the world. In fact, I was scared to ask when their return flight left. Not what time, but more like what day.
Not that there’s anything really wrong with my parents. It’s just that I was hoping to slip quietly into college, blending in, in a low-key sort of way. And my mom did not blend in, especially in Massachusetts. She wore white leggings (there are only six people on earth who can get away with wearing white leggings—my mom is one of them) and a turquoise tunic with sequins along the cuffs that caught the light as she gestured. She was way too bright for New England and made me feel like I was being followed by an oddly beautiful neon sign. My dad, on the other hand, blended beautifully. All tweed and khaki, in a rainbow of beige. He seemed as if we could have just happened upon him at MIT: a quietly friendly math professor whose mind was chewing on something that no one but me would understand.
“Girls, those metal blinds are not going to do. What do you say we take a trip into Boston and hit the Marimekko store and see what we can find?” My mom clapped her hands together like a kindergarten teacher calling us all onto the rug for circle time. When we didn’t move, she pressed on. “Tiki, this is in your best interest. If we don’t do a little decorating fast, she’s going to cover these walls in bumper stickers. Now, we don’t want that, do we?”
“I brought posters?” Tiki was proceeding with caution, not knowing exactly how to handle my mom’s enthusiasm.
“Mom, we’ve got it. We’ll be fine. How about Tiki and I get settled in, and we can all, including you, talk about decorating at parents’ weekend in October?”
I’d just stuck a pin in her. “Fine. And in October you give me four hours in the Copley Place mall?”
Finally, they left. Tiki and I were both excited and nervous, sizing each other up. Tiki sat cross-legged and perfectly balanced on a desk chair, watching me. She had a way of moving her long body and slowly unfolding her limbs that reminded me of a cartoon character. “Farrah? Is there another name for you? I mean, I’m just not feeling it. Tiki and Farrah rock MIT? It doesn’t seem right.”
I looked down at my boots. They needed to be resoled and maybe polished. I’d worn them just about every day since the ninth grade, and I’m more and more sure as time goes by that they have magical powers. It was my goal to be as comfortable in every part of my life as I was in those boots. “Yeah, in middle school they called me Digit because I like math.” And so it was out there, on day one: Digit.
“Awesome. Tiki and Digit. This is going to be epic.”
She continued unpacking her things. She took the bed closer to the window and covered it with a turquoise bedspread, embroidered with a giant peacock. There was going to be nothing subtle about Tiki.
“You mind if I hang these?” She unrolled two posters, both prints of works by Adam Ranks, a popular Los Angeles graphic artist who’d become even more popular since he’d been kidnapped three weeks before.
I sucked in a little air. “Oh. Adam Ranks, right? Have they found him?” I tried to sound casual, like a person with no personal experience with kidnapping.
“No. He’s history. Two guys came to his house, tied up his wife, and took him.” She dropped a poster, and I watched it roll back up on itself. I knew exactly how it felt. “They left no fingerprints; no one saw the car. The police have nothing.” She picked up the poster and taped it to the wall, reasonably straight, but not nearly straight enough. “You okay?”
“Yeah, just a little surprised. I mean, I thought that was local news in L.A. You seem to know a lot about it.” I walked over to retape the poster exactly straight and ran my finger across it. It was a simple geometric design of an evergreen tree, with an overlay of a sparkling poppy that seemed to be 3-D. “How does he do this?”
“He invented this special printer that creates digital prints that can be overlaid with lots of different te...