Life should come with warning labels.
Warning! At fifteen, you’re going to be tempted to give your virginity to Donald Simoneaux at Mel Ott Park behind the baseball bleachers. Don’t. He’s an arrogant idiot with a big mouth and, if you do it, you’ll never hear from him again. You won’t anyway—it’ll be a one-date train wreck—but if you sleep with him, you’ll feel you wasted your first, be down on lovemaking for the next decade, and be ticked off about it forever. If you don’t, you’ll be grateful you’ve been spared from a second date with the jerk and you’ll meet and marry a great guy with finesse. The first time you two twist the sheets, you’ll be glad you waited and you’ll totally understand all the fuss about sex.
Warning! At seventeen, avoid the Pink Daisy. It’s a cute club with cool people, but when the place is raided, Marianne Demsey will stuff her dope in your purse and you’ll get busted because she won’t admit that it’s hers. You don’t smoke anything, including pot, but you’ll never convince your dad of it, or the police. On the up side, you’ll test clean, get community service, and your mom will know the truth. She’s psychic where you’re concerned, remember? She knows everything. But she won’t be able to convince your dad she’s not covering for you, and he’ll choke you nearly to death trying to keep you on a tight leash until you’re twenty-one. You will not be a happy leashee.
And oh, while we’re talking about twenty-one, skip the Mardi Gras frat party at the LSU campus in New Orleans. You’ll save yourself an ex-husband. That’s where you’ll meet Wonder Man, the guy with finesse that makes sheet-twisting an art form. Unfortunately, he also considers fidelity a rule just for women. Definitely best to not go there.
Warning! At twenty-four, you’ll be a pilot, just as you’ve always dreamed. Air Force all the way, baby. And right after pilot training, you’ll meet a jock that makes you weak in the knees. You’ll marry him three years later, have two great kids—a girl and a boy—and you’ll love your life.
Okay, so in a few years you’ll get a little wistful now and then because your relationship could be better. Jock—a.k.a. Dr. Sam Slater, leading gynecologist in Willow Creek, Florida—isn’t perfect, but unlike Wonder Man, he’s worth keeping. He’s a faithful husband, a decent if uninspiring lover, a good dad so into having the perfect image he still hides all possible flaws from his parents (which you find endearing and annoying), and if at times he’s a bit selfish and seemingly unconscious about what’s really important, well, you’re not perfect either.
Actually, his faults are relatively minor compared to those of the spouses of many of your friends. If you looked at vaginas and dealt with truly hormonal women all day, you probably wouldn’t get overly enthused on nights at home, either. Just saying. In the realm of male behavior, facts are facts, whether or not they are politically correct.
Life, however, has a way of balancing things. As compensation, you’ll have the coolest co-pilot in the Air Force, C.D. Quade, who is a walking violation to the libidos of women everywhere. He’s totally irresistible: gorgeous, sharp, funny, sensitive and straight. You two will be nuts about each other, and on occasion you’ll wonder what it would be like to be with him instead of the jock, but loyalty and vows keep your wedding band on your finger and your panties up around your hips. C.D. Quade isn’t the kind to trespass on another man’s turf anyway, so it’s just as well you keep your blood cooled to a simmer around him. It takes you a while to get that your relationship is deeper than anything physical, but your outlook on marriage in general works in your favor. What is it? Nobody says you have to marry, but if you do, then honor your vows. Do it out of respect for yourself and your spouse. If you can’t or won’t, then just stay single and spare everyone involved agony and heartbreak. Betrayal and breached trust doesn’t discriminate based on whether you do it or it’s done to you. No one escapes unscathed. Bottom line in all this is, with the jock, the kids and your beloved garden at home and C.D. at work, you’ll be reasonably content. That’s not bad for real life.
Now for the grand slam, “kick your backside and pad your knees because you’re going to be on them for the duration” Warning!
Love your family so fiercely that it almost hurts, and do all those things you keep saying you’ll get around to someday—like finding a way to make a living with your gardening, taking that Alaskan cruise you’ve dreamed about since your eighteenth birthday, and making that pilgrimage to Scotland you promised your grandmother you’d make to see where your dad’s ancestors lived. Don’t wait. Do it all now. Absolutely all of it.
Because if you don’t, when you’re thirty-four, on June 23rd, you’re going to be assigned to fly a mission in Iraq and your plane is going to get shot down. You’ll be with your devoted sidekick co-pilot, C.D., who will still be incredibly gorgeous and single, but . . . well . . . There’s just no easy way to say this. Prepare yourself. The bottom line is he’s going to be rescued, and you’re going to be dead.
At least, that’s the way it’s going to seem to you for a long, long time. And repeatedly during this dark period of your life, you’ll remember the little list you made when you were eight: the one that detailed all the things you wanted when you grew up. Remember? You wrote it shortly after you completed the magical leap from the fat pencils you conquered in first grade to the brand new Number 2 slim-and-sleek writing machine.
This list was the most important document of your life, and to mark the rite of passage in creating it, you pulled out your most prized possession: the black ink, clear barrel, comfort-grip, Bic pen—medium point—you’d been saving to first use on something really, really special. This was that life-defining moment. That momentous occasion you would forever recall as the one moment in time when you knew exactly what you wanted and needed to be content.
You felt it the instant the tip of the pen touched the page and you printed in bold, broad letters:
HER PERFECT LIFE
I’m sorry to say that many times during these trials you’ll have to fight hard to not lose hope and heart and let your spirit be broken. It won’t be easy. You’ll believe you’re in hell. You’ll curse that list and your life, and you’ll wish you were dead. Faith in anything—God, human beings, even in yourself will be sorely tested. So sorely tested.
Oh, yeah. Life definitely should come with warning labels.
But it doesn’t.
And that, Captain Katie Cole Slater, is the most important Warning! of all.
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