Best Wishes

Anna had not planned on going into tech. Even as her mother dragged her through years of dance lessons, she dreamed of one day being a veterinarian for horses. But instead she became the lead programmer and an equity partner in VetTech, an app that let farmers (very wrongly at first, during beta) diagnose their animals' health problems. She told herself, though, that horses were among the animals the app would one day benefit and this, along with her stock options, was consolation enough.

Cole had been one of the first people in Spokane to buy a 3D printer and with it he made a modest but steady profit hocking made-to-order phone cases out of his garage via craigslist. He soon bought another printer and another and eventually founded a company that manufactured custom-printed medical devices. He moved to California and met Anna at VetTech’s holiday party after it had acquired his company and rebranded as a full-service online DIY veterinary clearinghouse. The lawsuits came quickly and seemed unremitting; that first year they almost called it quits a dozen times but the lawsuits were not granted class-action status, sparing them the worst, and so VetTech endured and was eventually bought for a billion dollars by a Chinese search engine.

They fell in love and moved into a 2,500 square foot loft where they spent long days growing bored thinking of new ways to spend their money. Cole bought a remote controlled electric skateboard, which he came to enjoy immensely, and Anna became the principal investor in PonyZoom, the world’s first urban horseback riding app, which offered short-term leases on horses by the half hour that you could retrieve from kiosks where the city's bus stops had once been. After a year they’d come to silently resent one another for reasons neither of them could articulate.

Things come to and end, Anna thought, not with a bang or whimper but with distaste—eventual relief, at least for one party. Someone is always glad when things are finally over. After months alternating between off-hand sniping and complete indifference, their end came when Anna got an abortion. She had wanted to leave before then, but this is what made it possible. Neither Anna nor Cole had wanted children but they hadn't taken precautions or planned for an accident either. They had, as with so much else in their lives, pretended immunity. So when Anna found herself pregnant she was not simply shocked, it was a disorienting blow to her ego. This was a new feeling for her: powerlessness. She needed a way to assert herself and reclaim control. She intoned mantras, alone in the bathroom or walking home from morning yoga, reaffirming her innate ability to weather storms—she recognized this quality deep within—and soon began to treat all this just as she’d treated the VetTech lawsuits: a storm to be tempered by. Once she’d relocated her center she was ready to move on and calmly do what needed to be done.

There might even be an unintentional benefit to the situation. Since she’d already made up her mind to do it, why not use it to jettison Cole? She knew that she couldn’t be the one to leave, because that would be to admit that something she’d undertaken had failed. So this is how she managed to do it: make him be the one who left. It would be such an awful thing to do without telling him, Anna reasoned, that when she finally told him he would have no choice but to leave. Even if he didn’t want a child either he would surely feel somehow powerless being excluded from the decision, incidental to her life. She blogged about it, posting daily updates on Tumblr that framed it as a journey of empowerment. She did it so well, co-opting the politics so genuinely, that toward the end she even came to believe that maybe she’d never had any other motive in the first place, that the captions she typed for her daily self-portraits really did describe how she felt—how she felt going to the doctor, how she felt afterwards. And it went as planned. Once she told Cole, even showing him the blog posts that only reinforced his extraneous position, he’d been so angry and hurt that he yelled himself raw—which found no target in Anna—and slipped effortlessly into the role of the bad guy and the martyr. He was the one who questioned her right to choose, he was the one who blamed her for exercising control over her own body. With baleful indignation he left and Anna had felt blameless, perhaps even close to guiltless. Their friends derided Cole for his backwards politics, although never to his face, and in the end, when things seemed to have settled down, Anna was simply glad to have it done with.

A month later, one of Anna’s former VetTech partners, Elena, announced a short engagement to a Silicon Valley VC named Thorne. Would Anna be in her bridal party, she asked. Yes, of course. Anything. She was paired off with one of the groomsmen, Thorne’s financial advisor, Kent. The wedding would be held near Santa Barbara, in an orchard by the ocean. 100 luxury yurts had been ordered for the guests along with a portable sauna made out of a vintage Airstream trailer. There would be a bonfire and dancing under the stars. A Native shaman would officiate.

The morning of the wedding, while Anna sat on a chartered WiFi-enabled bus that was ferrying the wedding party to the orchard, Cole was riding his skateboard down Valencia Street with a coffee in one hand and the skateboard’s remote control in the other. PonyZoom operated in a legal gray area—still mostly unregulated by the city—and in this lack of regulation there were no provisions for the removal of manure from the streets. As Cole rode in the bike lane his wheels skidded suddenly in a large pile of manure, throwing him sideways. If Anna had seen it without context, she’d have been struck by the grace of his fall. He sailed through the air for several feet, spinning casually, almost beautifully, arms flowing like streamers, before hitting his head on the curb. The skateboard rolled on, riderless, for another half block before a frightened horse reared up and stomped it to a halt. His mother called from Washington, breathless in her backwater hysterics, while Anna and the five other bridesmaids were having their makeup and hair done. Anna took the call with one eyebrow still unfinished in the semi-secluded space between the makeup yurt and the Airstream, her face temporarily stuck in an expression of dubious suspicion, and she sobbed quietly as a group of shirtless programmers left the sauna chattering about their company’s upcoming IPO.

Anna composed herself and let the makeup artist finish her work. Then she walked to the beach and with the rest of the wedding party flanked Elena and Thorne as they stood beneath a rustic arbor with the ocean unfurling behind them. Though even with all their money they could never have arranged it, a whale spouted just offshore as they finished their vows, drawing gasps and applause from the 300 guests. A few dozen golf carts arrived then to bring them all to the repurposed barn where dinner would be served. Kent leaned in close to Anna and joked about the whale being a little too extravagant, even for the likes of his buddy Thorne.

Anna left dinner before the cake was cut, just as Kent was telling her about his love of travel. It was dark now and the temperature had dropped. She found her coat and left the glowing barn behind, walking through the rows of trees in the direction of the highway’s low buzzing. Her heels made it difficult to walk so she took off her shoes, sinking slightly into the loamy ground with each step, further and further away from the wedding, thinking of Cole and his stupid electric skateboard. Stupid, silly Cole. She let herself cry again and thought about the baby that she had used—cruelly, she now told herself, needing to feel some reproach—as a tool to leave. She wept and wondered which of them it would have resembled more. The stars glimmered with a clear and indifferent iciness and the highway droned on up ahead. Past it was the bulge of a low hill that blotted out Santa Barbara’s lights, leaving it vaguely backlit. Suddenly, Anna no longer wanted to walk to the highway—she didn’t know why she had started walking there in the first place. What she really wanted was to see the ocean. She turned back, giving wide berth to the celebration.

It was early spring and the trees were still bare, Anna didn’t know what kind they were, and she counted their rows trying to discern a pattern to the planting and was perhaps drunk enough not to notice it. She had the sudden wish to see any kind of animal. A cat, a coyote. Something to commune with, something more innocent than she thought she was. Anna came then to a low barbed wire fence and stepped through the snarls, catching part of her bridesmaid’s dress, tearing it with a loud hiss that, as she registered it, melted into the nearby sound of the waves. Past the fence now, she walked toward the sound, away from the tiny banner of blue fabric she’d left flapping on the wire.

Past the trees there remained only a barren field between Anna and the ocean. The moon shone ahead, not quite full, and Anna followed it, knowing it would cast a beautiful white line on the dark water beaming toward her from the horizon. But as she walked onto the field she stopped, confused. The sky was suddenly beneath her. From this fallow field stars flashed up. She turned and saw them bursting out of the black earth all around her, twinkling brilliantly, reaching all the way to the water where, just as she thought, the moon threw its line. How was this possible? What had happened to her, where had she gone that she now seemed to be floating among these tiny explosions?

Anna crouched down to examine one of the stars. It was a shard of glass. The whole field was littered with broken glass—spotted all over with bits and cuts that, she saw now, reflected the light of the moon and looked disorientingly like stars shining up out of the earth, as though they had fallen, shrunken in size, and continued to glow right there, like there was no up or down, no direction but only space. She felt that this was a sign of something, perhaps from Cole, if it was possible that he could see her and be there with her, and she now begged his forgiveness. It was all right, she told herself in his voice. He was with their child now. Anna allowed herself to smile at this thought for a moment, but then discarded it as false. It was her saying these words, not him, not anything else aside from her, here amid this spectacle of the glass-strewn field.

Now Anna stood and spun, dancing a slow and unsteady two-step between the highway and the ocean, the glass making small cuts in her feet with each step. Somewhere on the other side of the bare orchard the wedding DJ put on a record and Anna pictured the guests moving in a happy circle around the newlyweds. She knew there were animals all around her now; small, furry things keeping to the shadows for the moment, watching her and offering not their judgment, not disdain, but their good wishes and protection. She spun and spun, waiting for her equilibrium to give out, to fall and to wait for their arrival.  

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