“Do you recreationally street race?” “No.” “Have you, in the past calendar year, taken part in the riding of a motorcyle or similar motocross vehicle?” “No.” “Do you have any violation points on your current Florida state driver’s license?” “No.” “Great, now we can move on to the next section.”
I ripped away at the loose skin surrounding my index finger’s nail, the thick teal polish that had covered it that morning now long gone. I sat cross-legged and expectant across from Judd Newesky, a bald man in his late 50’s, swinging questions at me with baritone-voiced gravitas that sliced through the room like the big knife in that movie about the ghost pirate ship. I think it’s actually just called Ghost Ship.
This was all my parents’ idea. A new life insurance contract: one just for little ol’ 20-year-old me. All to myself!
The cognition-consuming nerves of having to interact with an adult about adult things overpowered the core disgust that I was taking a day of my Thanksgiving break home from college to drive to a Northwestern Mutual office in a strip mall. I would usually put something like this off until my parents caved in and just did it themselves, but this was my special, private contract. It was all on me. I was an adult. Even if I had already skipped most of class that semester to watch The X-Files.
The subject was approached in the living room my second night back in Florida, on break from junior year at Boston University. I usually never went home for an academic break as short and petty as Thanksgiving – I hadn’t even been home for the previous two summers. Flights are expensive, time is precious, and there were always things that I could be doing in Boston. I made the journey this Thanksgiving and this Thanksgiving only due to special circumstances: I was leaving for a six-month study abroad program in New Zealand that January.
“We were looking at the data…tuition…government…” Everything that my parents were saying lacked logic and straightforwardness. I lay on our suede couch as NASCAR blasted on the TV and Dad stared ahead. “We just think it’s a smart time to have your own life insurance. It’s important…student loans…government…” Every sentence slunk back into its inevitable mush. Like cutting a blueberry pie. Once sliced, the pristine initial state of virgin crust will be ravaged by the thick blue goop in the middle, spreading around the platter until no memory of the initial formation can be wrought. But I wasn’t dumb. I figured out what they were getting at. As I turned over to join the viewing of the mesmerizing circulation of stock cars taped live from Homestead-Miami Speedway, a metal clang of truth rang, awakening my consciousness all at once.
“They think that I am going to die in New Zealand. And they want to make sure that, if I do, they are not stuck with my student loan bills.”
Judd’s office was modest. No special leather chairs or globes that are all brown. I think that fancy people look down on globes of color. Brown signifies antiquity. Blue and orange and yellow signifies mediocrity – at least in the globe-owning community.
I tried to find the silver lining in my strange new responsibility. I convinced myself of the excitement that this was all me. Never before had personal things (doctor appointments, bank account information) actually been entirely personal to me. As a 20-year-old, you rest in a strange, swaying hammock of expectations of individuality and yet, equally, a hard parental grasp on all of your business. But this was my contract, and my contract alone, and this was an opportunity for me to be as candid as I wanted.
Judd asked questions that led him to gain more insider information about my relationship history than any of my closest girlfriends know. The next section of sweat-inducing questions crept up: health and wellness.
“Have you been checked in to an emergency care facility in the past calendar year?” “No.” “Are you currently pregnant or have you been in the past year?” “No.” “Have you consumed alcohol in the past six months?” “Yes.” “Have you partaken in the intake of tobacco in any form in the past calendar year?” “Yes.” “Really?” “Yes.” “Oh no.”
He backed up his wheely chair and grabbed his paper, on which he had been check-marking all of my most private confessions.
“This is bad.”
“Okay….um, okay. It was like eight months ago. I had one cigarette at a party.”
“In the insurance world, one cigarette is no different from ten packs. Hold on. This changes everything.”
Judd was now standing up from his wheely chair and leaving the room. I heard a distant printer click and moan. He returned a few moments later holding more vague papers containing my life in data.
“See here. Because you answered yes, your monthly bill will be $280 instead of the original $110.”
“Um, okay. It was literally just that one – I promise.”
“Yup, I know. Shouldn’t smoke at all. If it make you feel better, you’re not the first.”
There was no teal polish to be seen anywhere.
“This is coming out of Dad’s bank account. Take Dad to dinner tonight and break the news to him. My advice.”
Almost coming to tears, I listened to Judd’s booming voice continue the survey, numbly acknowledging the rest of the prying questions. I felt like I was six years old again, and that I had stolen cookies from the precious, confidential jar, now being forced to shakily confess my deed to the cookies’ rightful owner. Smoking and drinking are not things that my family is or has ever been cool with the idea of their children doing. I was a good girl. I was at a big university up north. I went to Prom with a group of girlfriends, giggling and coming home safe by 1:00am.
Once the invasive DNA swab was complete (which Judd jovially introduced with, “This is to check for tobacco and AIDS!”), I was free to go.
We placed our orders at the Island Pasta Company in downtown Melbourne and I wrung the starfish-adorned napkin between my now scabbed, chipped, and polish-less fingers. Evening was falling and I still had no hope of an appetite. I sipped my water casually until no casualty could be be conveyed from further sippage. My throat cleared and mouth opened.
My sister’s eyes widened, my mother nodded, and my father chuckled and recited the same life philosophy whose previous recitations had gotten us through years of car accidents, burglaries, expulsions, cancer treatments, and stolen cookies.