As a child, people called me Lucky. I had an uncanny knack for finding money everywhere I went–quarters, dollar bills, fives, and, on three separate occasions, twenties–which drove my older brother Mike absolutely crazy.
One time, at the county fair, I had found two twenty-dollar bills, one under a flattened popcorn box in front of the ring toss and one on the floor of a port-a-potty. 40 bucks! Mike never had in his life found anything higher than the fifty-cent piece he had found waiting in line to ride the elephants at the circus two years before.
“One of those twenties is mine!” Mike had shouted at me on the way home, sobbing, superman t-shirt stained with vomit. “I was going to use that port-a-potty, and you went first!”
I, who had puked on Mike while riding the Ferris wheel, shrugged my shoulders and handed over one of the twenties. That settled him down. Our disputes never lasted long.
But that’s not how I came to be known as “Lucky” Roberts. It was because of something that happened when I was 5-years-old.
I spent the better part of my early childhood living in a small farming town in rural Oklahoma. Most of the boys in town had a fascination with tractors, and I was no exception.
“Uncle” Ray owned and operated a small farm. He was a quiet, bachelor farmer who had a gentle way with children. He always had an unopened pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint in the bib pocket of his immaculate overalls for every child who might come his way.
“A whole pack for each of us!” Mike had exclaimed after meeting Uncle Ray at the county fair for the first time. Every kid in town knew and adored Uncle Ray.
It was a sunny late September day, and Ray, who was also well-known to my father, was harvesting the ripe soybean crop. Mike and I were enjoying a rare ride with Uncle Ray on the old, open-top John Deere, chewing our gum with great vigor.
Although Ray was known for the level grade of his fields, no field could be without a dip here and there. Ray had been watching carefully for just such a dip when the left side of the tractor dropped with just enough force to throw me off the tractor.
The next thing I remember, I was lying on the ground, two-and-a-half feet from the back end of the combine, untouched, chewing my gum. Many theories sprang up around town to explain what had happened on that day. Some speculated that I had fallen into the pothole, and the tractor had shifted enough for the combine to roll squarely over me untouched. Still, none of the other farmers would believe that one of Ray McCoy’s fields could have a pothole deep enough for it to be possible. Others suggested I had somehow been thrown clear over the combine or that I was cast aside and only rolled behind the combine after it had passed. But, by far, the most popular theory was that it had been a miracle, more specifically, that an angel had protected me. I had lost the memory of what truly happened in the depths of dreams. But whatever it was, I was known as Lucky for as long as I lived in town. I didn’t feel so lucky anymore.
When I awoke, Amy was already gone. I hoped that she was at Farid’s, but I wasn’t certain. My back ached regularly from sleeping in a chair, but I didn’t know how to sleep in a bed without Laura. I didn’t know which side to sleep on, didn’t know how to sleep in one alone. She had been the first woman I’d ever slept in a bed with.
The air was crisp, and the sun shining through the buildings of the city as I walked down the hills to Farid’s. My broken arm still ached and throbbed as I walked, so I popped a couple of pills. By the time I got to Farid’s, I was feeling ready to face the day.
I entered his shop and took my regular seat. Amy was taking an order from a young couple who chatted with her amiably. When she turned around, she saw me, and she smiled curtly. She wore black pants, a white collared shirt, and a green apron with a name tag that said “Amy” on the top left.
“I’ll be with you in just a moment,” she said, walking briskly by.
“Thank you, ma’am,” I said.
In just a few seconds, she was at my table. “The usual?” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “How is it working out?”
“Are you checking up on me?”
“Hey. This is my place.”
She rolled her eyes faintly.
“Farid treating you alright?” I said.
“Yeah. He’s cool. Kind of smelly.” she said, crinkling her nose.
“I hadn’t noticed through the cologne.”
“Ah,” said Farid, approaching. “It’s the great James Roberts come to harass my newest employee.”
I smiled, “Hey, thanks for hiring her. I owe you one.”
“No problem, my friend. Amy, check on that couple in the corner. Maybe need a warm-up on their coffee.”
“Yes sir,” she said, smirking at me.
I finished my breakfast and said goodbye to Farid, not able to catch Amy’s eye as I left.
At work, I went to pour my third cup of coffee in the morning from the pot in the breakroom, which could not have been more brightly lit with fluorescents – not a welcome environment for me after my tussle with drugs and booze and pain.
Then Heath entered. He sauntered with the smug ease of a person who was striving for personal peace and wanted everyone to know that he was achieving it. He wore his blond hair in a ponytail, and despite having to dress professionally for work, wore a friendship bracelet on his wrist, which made me wonder how much time he was spending in Buena Vista park smoking pot in a drum circle.
I see you got into a fight,” he said with a knowing look.
Holding out my sling a little, I said: “I certainly feel like I did.”
“My guru said this would happen. He said my friend James would experience a karmic consequence.”
Heath frequently spoke of this man. He had devoted himself to a guru who had miraculously healed him of chronic pain. He told me of the man’s many very minor miracles, like when he caused someone’s phone to shut off when it rang during one of his lectures. Or the many karmic healings. And for some reason, the guru had taken an interest in me. I was losing my patience with it.
“Heath, please keep me out of your voodoo guru shit.”
“Suuuure, sure. But I can’t control what he sees.”
“Whatever, look, have you started on the middle tier, yet?” I asked.
“He wants to help you, James. You should feel honored.”
“I would be honored if you would do your job. I need to provide those web services to the front-in team by the end of the week. To do that, I need your code.”
“I checked it in this morning. See for yourself.”
He led me to his cube and showed me the code repository on his computer screen. It was all there.
“Would you like to do a code review?” he asked, with a gleaming smile.
“What does your guru say about this project?”
“It’s going to be fine, James. Relax, man. Guruji is watching over us. It will be a huge success.”
I worked in a room of six rows of cubicles. I generally kept to myself. I no longer experienced the joy of programming. All I really did now was clock hours, getting my work done, but only just–no more dazzling clients, hustle, or avoidable overtime.
My cube had no decorations. No pictures of family. No award plaques. No collections of ceramic frogs like the lady working next to me.
“James, do you have those services ready for review?” said the frog lady, my project manager, at my cube entry.
I studied her a bit, noticing that she bore some resemblance to her many frogs. “By the end of the day. It’s almost done,” I lied.
“Good deal. Shoot me an email when they’re checked in.”
I nodded and took a sip of my coffee, which was a little too bitter. We had changed our coffee service that week, and I wasn’t a fan of the new roast.
I wondered about what Heath had said. Karmic consequences. Maybe I did deserve to suffer. I certainly had been responsible for suffering, but I couldn’t bear to think about that. My suffering was more significant than a busted arm. It was deeper than a physical pain. In my quiet moments of despair, the only thing keeping me from downing the rest of my pills now was Amy. She needed me, and perhaps I needed someone to need me.