I’m certain I graduated from college, but I haven’t seen my diploma in over twenty years. I can’t find the parking ticket I got yesterday. It’s probably sitting in the same drawer alongside the one I can’t find from last week. At age 14, I remember holding my social security card for approximately five minutes before I misplaced it and never saw it again. Last week, I found a watch I thought I’d lost months ago inside of a shoe. Perhaps that’s why I’m pretty good at memorizing lines of dialogue and people’s phone numbers—I can’t be counted on to save the paper I wrote them on, and even if I put the info into my phone, it might take me a while to remember where I left it. I lose my phone, my wallet, and my keys multiple times a day. Sometimes, I’ll go into the kitchen to find that book I’ve been reading and two hours later I have organized the silverware drawer but have zero recollection of what I came into the kitchen for. “One fish goes this way, the other fish goes that way,” is how a friend once described these absentminded tendencies. I am a Pisces, after all.
Possibly, I got it from my dad. Growing up, I didn’t own a set of house keys. He probably lost his own set too many times before he gave up and decided it was easier just to leave the front door open (please don’t break into my dad’s house). As a teen, I was taught to leave car keys in the ignition, because how else was anyone supposed to find them? (Please don’t steal my dad’s car.) To this day, my father is well known for driving away with a coffee mug still on the roof of his car, and even though everyone in the family has bought him countless pairs of nicer sunglasses, the only ones he seems unable to lose are the neon-green mirrored ones intended for road biking.
But what my dad has lost in sets of keys, he’s made up for with his ability to paint vivid pictures of the past. As a keeper of the objects and details of the present, his record may be spotty, but as a minder of memories, he excels.
My father is an excellent storyteller with a tight repertoire. If his stories were songs, he wouldn’t have a ton of deep cuts, but he could fill an entire album of Greatest Hits. As a kid, I lived for the rotation of stories from his own childhood: the time he got separated from his mom in the grocery store and a neighbor found him and brought him home; the day his family became the first on the block to own a television; racing on the beaches of Long Island with his collie, King. Then there was an entire spinoff series about Dad and his childhood friend Georgie. Dad and Georgie taking the train to Coney Island to ride the Ferris wheel; Dad and Georgie dressing in trench coats and fedoras for their secret club in which they pretended to be Al Capone’s henchmen; Dad and Georgie going to the soda shop, where they’d sit at the counter after football practice and order an egg cream or a “suicide” (an ice cream sundae involving a scoop of every available flavor).
As I got older, the stories matured as well. There was the one about his senior prom date, Angela, who’d fallen asleep under the sunlamp that day and came to the door beet red and puffy from crying, my father reassuring her he couldn’t tell at all (he could tell). And the day he met my mom as she was moving into his same apartment building, and she asked if he wouldn’t mind letting her make a call because her phone hadn’t been hooked up yet. The year he spent after college in Vietnam working for the Agency for International Development, where the local kids would sometimes crawl under a cafe table where he was having lunch and pull at his leg hair, fascinated because they’d never seen such a thing.
One of my favorites, one I’d heard over and over since I was little, was about the day I was born. What kid isn’t fascinated by their own origin story? My mom was in labor all through the night, it began. In those days, the dads sat in the waiting room and smoked cigars through the whole thing, Mad Men–style, so it wasn’t until right after I was born that my dad visited my mom in her hospital room and saw me for the very first time through the glass of that weird baby holding area you’ve probably seen in old movies. After a nurse pointed out which blob was his, my proud dad headed out to get my mom something to eat. Outside, the sun was just coming up, and maybe because it was so early, there were hardly any cars in the parking lot yet. My dad got into his brand-new red VW Beetle, and somehow, even though he was driving very slowly, and even though there was plenty of space to navigate around it, plowed directly into a lamppost. As a kid, I found this hilarious. As an adult, it occurred to me this was a story of a very young, new dad, who was probably deeply freaked out. But I still found it funny and sweet, and marveled that a half-hour search for his car keys was not also part of the plot. But I could never have predicted how the story of the day of the lamppost would impact my future.
Last year, my friend Jane Levy gave me a reading with an astrologer named Kitty Hatcher as a Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Season One wrap gift. Jane is one of those people who knows who all the best people for everything are. We all need a friend like this. If you’re looking for a therapist, a landscaper, a facialist, just ask Jane. I’d never had my chart done before, but because the person was recommended by Jane, I knew she’d be excellent.
Obviously, because it involved keeping track of a piece of paper, no one in my family had seen my birth certificate for decades, and I was worried about not being able to tell Kitty Hatcher the exact time I was born, which I knew was an important detail when getting your astrological chart done. But “the sun was just coming up,” as my dad had told me a thousand times, and when I told Kitty that, she said it was good enough for her. Dawn is dawn, even in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I was born. Kitty Hatcher said she’d just do my chart using an estimate of between 5 and 6 a.m., and that would be accurate enough.
When Kitty called me with the results of my reading, I could tell she was excited. She kept saying she’d seen things in my chart that were very rare. She said that in the new year, I’d be given a major position of power. She envisioned me working as a film director, or even running my own television show. She even said I’d been some sort of powerful warrior in a past life. She told me I’d always had some psychic abilities, but that soon I’d be feeling them stronger than ever before, and these abilities were going to help me achieve new levels of success. She told me that the next two years were going to be some of my best, that there were promising planetary convergences in my chart that only happened once in a lifetime, if at all. The fact that all this good fortune had to do with my third house of Taurus being in the fourth sun of Saturn or whatever pretty much went over my head, but the headlines were undeniably fantastic.
I was excited about my now dazzling future and bragged about it to whomever would listen. “I thought you didn’t believe in astrology,” one of my friends said. I told her that, duh, I believed in it now because how could you not when the predictions were so fantastic? It’s the same way I “don’t believe” in awards unless I’m getting one, and I “don’t believe” in reading reviews unless someone tells me they’re glowing. And anyway, even if astrology isn’t valid, two years from now I’ll likely have forgotten that anyone told me I was supposed to be having the best two years of my life because they will just be the two years I’ve been living in. In fact, I’ve found that one of the most fun things about getting any kind of reading of the future is that it’s usually only deeply important for the one day. I’ve been to a few psychics over the years, and I couldn’t tell you one thing they said to me. Good or bad, it goes right out of my head. I’m sure the details would have stuck with me if I’d written more of them down, but even if I had, I’d probably have lost whatever I’d written them on.
A few weeks after I’d been told that—according to the stars—I was headed for greatness, my stepmother called. She and my dad were moving from their large house in the suburbs to a town house closer to my sister Maggie and her family. “I found a bunch of old notebooks of yours in the attic,” she said. “Do you think there’s anything in there you might want?” I almost told her to just throw the pile away, since I hadn’t used a pile of notebooks for anything since undergrad, and it was doubtful I’d find anything illuminating in the notes I’d taken for my Victorian literature class, but I asked her to send them anyway.
I forgot about our call until a week or so later when a medium-sized box arrived. In it were some of my notebooks from acting class containing deep thoughts about what my various characters ate for breakfast (Note to actors: this kind of research has never helped me. But in case you’re curious, always oatmeal.); some photos of me in bad ’90s jeans (so starchy, so puffy, why did you guys bring those back?); and a curious cardboard folder with a black-and-white printed drawing of a regal-looking woman. On the cover below her picture in an ornate font read the words: “Certificate of Birth.” Jackpot! Better than a notebook full of oatmeal for sure.
Copyright © 2022 by Lauren Graham. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.