Going to California

Making Magic — 7.5

For Cookie’s last night in town, she asked me to help pack her U-Haul. I had no problem saying yes — two and a half years dating is worth more than an evening carrying boxes and furniture down a rickety flight of stairs.

There was another guy there helping, a friend of one of her roommates. He was a big dopey dude who kept ducking out on making eye contact with me. I wasn’t surprised, though — in general, they had little but contempt for me, her friends, and I’m afraid I seldom gave them much reason to think differently. Once someone has it fixed in their head that you’re crazy and uncool, any attempt to prove them wrong only proves them right. Plus, they all had what I thought of as real jobs — in marketing, or in video production, or at serious design studios — and probably at least in part because I didn’t take myself seriously, they were never inspired to take me seriously, either.

For example, I was hanging out at her place one day when a guy-friend of hers, a decent designer and a techie with what I considered real vision, dismissed Illuminati Online as not interesting. I said, “The number of people on the Internet is doubling every six months.”

He laughed. “That’s bullshit,” he said. “That’ll never happen.”

“It’s happening,” I said. “It’s gonna make us think about design differently. Get enough people—”

“Oh, please. Doubling can’t go on forever.”

“Sure, but how many more times does it have to double before you’ve got tens of millions of people—”

“Please,” he said, turning away with a scowl. “You’re wasting my time.” And this was a 24-year-old tech-centric, Mac-wielding graphic designer in 1994, who really should’ve known better.

At the beginning of that year, sure, there were 623 Web sites on the Internet. I’ll put that another way: across the entirety of the Internet, there were about as many Web sites as 15 years later there would be apps on the Apple App Store in its first week. Eighteen months after that conversation, there would be more than 20 million people on the Internet, with more than 23,000 Web sites available to visit.

I was always surprised to find myself unable to make a connection with my girlfriend’s friends, though mostly because I kept forgetting how she had been undermining me to them. She was such a nice and sweet girl, everybody said so. She told me that she only half-jokingly referred to me as the anti-Christ amongst her friends. I asked her which half was joking but she wouldn’t say any more.

It began to dawn on me, carrying boxes of her stuff down to the truck, that most people don’t simply decide one day to pull over on the side of the road to break up with a boyfriend of two years over the phone, without an outside prompt — like needing to tell someone, after arriving at their apartment, that you were now officially single.

Later in the evening, as the last few boxes were being tucked away, I caught the dopey dude gently brushing the back of Cookie’s hand while she talked with her roommates. She recoiled, her head quickly darting around the room to inventory who was in it. She didn’t notice me, in the next room, watching her.

Not long after she walked me to my car. We said goodbye, and it was not quite the summation of more than two years together, but it was good enough. We didn’t indulge in a farewell kiss. That wouldn’t happen for nearly a year, yet.

We did hug, though, that precious, jigsaw-piece coupling that had kept me coming back to her time and time again. In a few days she’d be in Seattle, nearly as far away as it was possible to get while still staying inside the United States.

I pulled back and said, “I never trusted you.” It wasn’t a criticism. It was where I’d gone wrong.

She smiled with grim beauty and pulled me close again. “I never trusted you, either,” she said.

Radio on, I drove home. I worked very hard not to care. After all, I needed to focus. I had a move to manage, myself: I couldn’t go on living in that same apartment; I was done with that place for all kinds of reasons. Plus, there was the other thing that had come up.

I’d been wondering when I was going to be fired from Steve Jackson Games, but instead I’d just been given three months to produce something I never could have imagined: Magic, or something very much like it.

Here’s the story.

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