I’ve never been a big fan of fate.
It’s a lazy ideology and an easy way to make sense of the fortunes and misfortunes that steer the course of our lives.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a wistful dreamer with an overactive imagination; raised without a religion, save for the convictions I borrowed from a dog-eared copy of “The Little Prince.”
I’m not saying fate doesn’t exist. I’m just saying I’m better equipped at tempting it than I am at waiting for it to happen, because often it’s the choices we make (or don’t make) that decide our destiny.
I found proof of this a couple months ago buried under a stack of clothes in my bedroom closet.
A love letter in a Rubbermaid tote.
I came across it the way we often come across faded notes and old photographs: by accident, by chance, by fate or whatever you’d like to call it.
I was looking for a magazine, specifically, the premiere issue of Jane magazine, a publication dating back to 1997 –– a year that, if I were of the baby boomer generation, would be my 1969.
Bill Clinton was still in office, still denying his relations with That Woman. I was still traipsing around in black combat boots, still listening to cassette tapes, still thinking coffee tasted like motor oil and that 30 was old.
In the process of unearthing the magazine; I found a love letter dating back to 2004 –– the year I left my home in Western New York with its one traffic light, cow patch roads and tractor pulls.
Oddly, it was a letter I had written to the high school sweetheart I thought I couldn’t breathe without.
It was tossed among the dusty crap we shove into shoe boxes, the flicker of old flames and past friendships we record in battered journals, the vestiges of youth we keep for no reason other than to stumble upon it years later by accident, by chance, by fate, or whatever you’d like to call it.
The letter was in an envelope; stamped and addressed to a person with whom I spent most of my youth.
As verification that it had traveled from Florida to New York, it had been inked by the US Postal Service. Funny that it was in my possession and not his.
Shortly after breaking up, I pulled it from a box of his belongings. I wanted it for my own sad stash of nostalgia.
I opened the letter. Inside was a sappy overpriced card with a watercolor illustration on the front.
In it, I begged him to move with me to Florida. At the time, he was undecided and frustrated with my dogged pursuit of a job outside of Buffalo. He wasn’t ready to leave our friends and family.
A cautious homebody, he was a computer nerd with an unhealthy addiction to Pizza Hut and video games. All he knew of Florida was what he saw in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and even the game’s computerized hookers couldn’t convince him to relocate.
In fact, he was so unsure of the move, he wouldn’t accompany me on the flight to Tampa. He said he needed time to sort things out in his head.
So instead I flew with my mother, crying the whole way, watching my seven-year relationship hang like a dark, low-lying cloud outside my airplane window.
I had gotten a job at a newspaper in Sarasota. Although I told him I was moving whether he followed me or not, I was petrified to leave him. Petrified to leave behind everything that was comfortable and familiar in my world. Petrified of failing. Petrified of what I already knew: that we had grown apart.
Underneath the sentimental mush, I was pleading with him to change, in denial that somewhere between the ages of 15 and 22, it was me, not him, who had changed.
I found the card in a gift shop at the Buffalo Airport. I cried at the register.
To make circumstances more pathetic, my beloved cocker spaniel, Hershey, had died the day before. He was 12 and unbeknownst to my family, he was loaded with cancer. The timing of this dog’s death was abominable.
So there I sat, in a window seat, crying and scribbling in a card, a locket fastened around my neck, inside of which I had stuffed a tuft of Hershey’s fur.
It was a weird scene, but not nearly as weird as the one that went down next when I spotted, of all people in the universe, Sinbad, sitting in first class.
Yes, “A Different World,” “Jingle All The Way” Sinbad.
Even at my lowest, most pitiful state I was certain it was him. I’m an expert at recognizing anyone, especially celebrities, so I elbowed my mother and whispered between snot-sucking sobs, “I think that’s Sinbad sitting in first class.”
“Sinbad?” She asked. “Who the hell is Sinbad?”
“You know,” I said. “The comedian.”
“Black guy?” She asked.
Suddenly, I was laughing at the absurdity of the moment. Suddenly I wanted Sinbad’s autograph. I wanted it on the card I had written to my boyfriend. I guess I thought it would lighten the mood.
“You don’t even know if that’s him,” my mother muttered.
I knew it was him. I signaled for a flight attendant.
“Hey, that guy up in first class. That’s Sinbad, right?” I asked.
She was hesitant to answer. I was a wreck; mascara running down my cheeks, tissues piled on my tray table.
“Oh, I know it’s him,” I continued. “Can you just ask him to sign this for me?”
I handed her the card and my pen. She turned it over, opened it, closed it and narrowed her eyes. She was not amused.
“I’m not supposed to do this,” she said under her breath, walking away with the card.
Twenty minutes later, she returned, sliding it over to my mother like she was handing off contraband.
Still not amused, she said nothing.
I opened it. At the bottom beside where I’d written, “I love you. Love, Heidi,” Sinbad had written, “I love you too man. Sinbad.”
For a moment I was giddy. Things were beginning to turn around. By the time we reached our layover in Detroit, my weeping had subsided into a quiet whimper.
As I got off the plane, I spotted Sinbad walking with his female companion. I couldn’t resist. I approached him with bleary eyes and a sniffling nose.
“Excuse me, Sinbad?” I blubbered. “Thank … you … for signing my card.”
He turned around, surveyed my dopey, tear-streaked face and smiled. It was obvious he had read it. All of it. My lovesick ramblings. My pleading. The P.S. about my dead dog. I can’t imagine what I looked like to him standing there in that moment.
Scared shitless comes to mind.
“Cheer up, sweetheart,” he said. “Things will get better.”
Then he locked hands with his girl and walked away.
My mother was hanging back in the distance looking mildly horrified by her brazen and bizarre daughter.
“Soooo,” she groaned. “What’d he say?”
“He told me to cheer up and that things would get better.”
She rolled her eyes. She’d been telling me the same thing for hours.
“Can we go find our gate now?” She asked.
“Sure,” I said, tucking the card into my purse.
A few days later, after I had dropped the letter in the mail and clocked my first 30 hours at the paper, I hit up a video store in Sarasota.
They were selling VHS tapes in a bin for 25 cents.
Just as I had refused to retire my cassette collection, I was still, in 2004, watching movies on VHS.
I sorted through the bin, found a few gems from the mid-90s and as fate, or chance, or whatever you like to call it, would have it; I came across a copy of “First Kid,” starring Sinbad.
I added it to my stack and headed to the checkout counter.
The surly clerk made a face when he rang it up like I had just purchased rotten fruit, like he wasn’t sure if “First Kid” had gotten mixed up in the pile.
Without an ounce of irony, I assured him I was purchasing it on purpose. Then I went next door to Hungry Howies and ordered pizza.
I was spending the night in.
Although he had yet to physically move, my boyfriend had finally decided to join me in Florida. We had made plans to drive down together the following month.
I still needed my car and my stuff.
Ten months later, we would break up. He would return to Buffalo and I would stay in Sarasota. A pug puppy would fill the void my cocker spaniel had left and Sinbad would find himself at No. 78 on “Comedy Central Presents: 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time.”
None of these things would alter your world. Well, except for the world of one guy we know.
Oh, I’d never watch “First Kid” again.
And in all honesty, I can’t tell you I gleaned anything from the movie. I’m not even sure I remember it. I do remember Hungry Howie’s pizza never tasted so good and being away from home never felt so liberating.
I can tell you I remember thinking if Sinbad can get on Comedy Central’s list of 100 Greatest Comics, I can hack it as a writer in Florida.
And if not, I was leaving it up to fate, or chance or whatever you’d like to call it.
PS. The photo is of the only love letter that counts: my wedding vows to Joe.