The Fortune Cookie

Written By: Samantha  Pattinson

It is the perfect balmy evening after a long summer’s day. We have ordered take-out from Chen’s Garden and sit on the deck of our house, which nestles at the end of a woody lane, off a dirt road between Easthampton and Amagansett. Still warm from the sun, we lean back in our chairs and savor the sticky tang of General Tao’s chicken, the fiery crunch of spicy lettuce wraps and the comforting bite of shrimp dumplings. Crickets are the only music necessary to our laughter and easy conversation. I take a mouthful of buttery chardonnay and crack open my fortune cookie. My head inclines towards my husband whose hand gently strokes my back and I gaze around the table at the tanned and smiling faces of three generations of family. Reading the message in my hand, I smile catching my husband’s inquisitive eye and put the scrap of paper in my pocket. The seven tiny words ring true. I’m the first to admit life hasn’t always been this perfect. Before I met my husband I had been in an increasingly destructive relationship, which through a combination of neglect, control and disrespect had progressively diminished my self-esteem, until finally I had no idea who I was. I shiver, although it isn’t cold and brush non-existent crumbs from my lap as I stand to bring in the dishes. That was then, not now. As we relax into our home from home vacation our daily routines fall into a natural rhythm built on years of summering here. The next morning, my day begins with a four-mile run down a quiet and shaded track. The dappled sunlight flickers in and out of the deep green canopy above and the only sound is my sneakers hitting the dirt until a speeding truck breaks the peace, it’s wheels tearing up the road in a cloud of dust. Startled, I am forced to the side. At the crossroads, I turn into full sun and a long stretch of open land. Agricultural field and white rail fences of pasture, with horses’ heads down, absorbed in their grazing. Then a farm stand, “Fresh Produce” hand painted in red, laden with watermelons, corn and sunflowers. Turning again at the recreation fields a blind corner forces me to run with the traffic until its safe to cross. Then the climb, longer than I anticipate past the odd piece of look away road kill. Reaching the Golf club I pass men in long shorts and pastel polos following their caddies hauling bags of clubs towards the inspiring nineteenth hole. Batting aside a fleeting image of my ex in a similarly fussy shirt, I make the final turn at the sign of two hikers, back onto the dirt road and home again. Ready now for coffee, I stand in line with cyclists, runners and other families up early with young children. I am caught up in my daughters’ chatter (there are four) and with them it’s easy to banish any thoughts of the past. Sitting in the morning sunlight, on one of many wooden benches lining Main Street, they enjoy their croissants and me a venti Americano sweetened with hazelnut. Increasing need for sweetness comes with age and as I look at the beauty around me, life feels truly safe and sweet out East. My husband agrees to watch the girls by the pool or maybe they will knock a few tennis balls around the court, anything to beat back the draw of the lone TV for these precious few weeks each year. I make the short drive to the Mandala yoga studio. There is a feeling of spirituality and peace even amongst the expensively made sweaters for sale in the entrance lobby. They will be perfect for the late evenings’ chill but as yet there is none and will not be, for a month or more. We reassemble in the ocean breeze of Amagansett Square for a lunch of the now famous dosas. Number Twelve has become our favorite without the roasted tomato but adding avocado. Pure, wheat free, Hampton’s perfection. Light, tasty and a little bit different. The swami looks down from her news-piece framed on the wall approving. The owner’s values seeming to exemplify her own, honorable. The salt wind that invades the square and turns Adirondack chairs to weathered grey calls us down to Atlantic Beach. The parking lot is full of residents and the turnaround crammed with vehicles dropping visitors by the shack selling fast food and ice cream. If you climb a few steps and look beyond the dunes, you can see the blue waters of the magnificent Atlantic reflecting the deep aqua of the July sky. White rollers unceasingly thunder onto the endless yellow shore and water touches dry land for the first time in three thousand miles, its repetition both glorious and meditative. The sand is hot and if you flick off your flip-flops near the road you are forced to run towards the ocean and wetter, cooler ground. Set up, brightly colored sun chairs; shades and parasols one family sits next to the other. Just a blur of colored dots under the protection of the lifeguard’s elevated chair if you walk even a hundred yards up a soon deserted beach and look back in awe at the enormity of your surroundings. Time for my husband to take a spin on his bike. He will leave us at the beach and set off on “just” a 35-mile ride; short for him. He is headed to the lighthouse in Montauk. Route 27 all the way, that straight infamous road of mostly slow moving traffic, snaking its way through Hampton towns. “See you in about an hour and forty.” He shouts over his right shoulder against the roaring tide and rises out of his saddle to climb the hill away from the beach and us. We happily remain, not far from the lifeguard between blue flags signaling it is safe -ish to swim. Our chairs mark our semi circle of territory. When the sun burns so hot we can bear it no longer, we seek refuge in the water splashing around in the shallows. Taking a stroll down the beach mile upon mile of surf beats incessantly onto the shore. Then maybe time for an ice cream. The walk increasing to jog then flat out run as the sand deepens and the heat underfoot becomes scarcely bearable. Slowly, the afternoon drifts by in simple pleasures as our bodies turn a deepening gold. Almost two hours have passed with no return of my husband. The children are ready to return to the cool shade of our pool. I am not worried by his non-appearance; maybe he has a flat or decided to go straight home. I shower and the afternoon grows late. The quiet of the house is broken only by birdsong and provides welcome relief from the thunderous roar of the ocean, exhausting in all its splendor. Suddenly, my stomach turns over and a knot wrenches that makes me feel sick. Where is he? Where is my phone? I search all the usual spots but nothing. The children, unbidden, join in the search and go to the car. “Found it,” my nephew calls. “It was down the side of the seat.” Relief floods through my body and I snatch it gratefully from his outstretched hand and scan the list of missed calls, seven and all from my husband. Fingers fumbling, I call back. “What’s the matter? Where are you?” I interrogate whoever has picked up the phone, not caring to consider for an instant that it might not be him. It is. “I had an accident.” “Oh God!” “It’s okay. I’m in Southampton Hospital, an ambulance brought me. I’ve never travelled 27 so fast.” A car had crossed the highway turning left just as he was entering Montauk and not seen him coming. Witnesses described him flying over the hood. He dislocated his left shoulder but he could have been killed. He was lucky. We were lucky. I think back to the words of my fortune cookie “Look around you, the answer is nearby”. At first I feel despair. This was supposed to be my new life, safe and sacred more perfect than I dared dream possible. It could have all ended this afternoon. I have to acknowledge what has always been true; these blessed days out East will not last forever. Life is fragile and can change in a moment: any day you can be dealt an uncontrollable blow that is permanent and unfixable. Our safe harbors are not really safe, only temporary moorings and we cannot stand still on sand that is constantly shifting. Look around me? The answer is nearby: I see my husband, my four daughters. My temporary mooring will be more than enough.