Are You Superstitious?

Knock on wood, it's Friday the 13th. What do you believe?

The Number Between 12 and 14

My luck may not improve until next year.

As a reasonably well-educated denizen of the 21st century, I know that superstitions are illogical and unfounded. I never flinch when a black cat crosses my path, and if I say, “Bless you!” when someone sneezes, it is only to be polite and not because I think the devil will steal their soul if I don’t.

Still, a part of me — perhaps the melancholy Irish side inherited from my mother — harbors a dour outlook on life and a conviction that there is no need to tempt fate. Thus, I faithfully observe a few indefensible superstitions, and I warily admit to them here. For example, I never walk under a ladder, and I never open an umbrella indoors and hold it over my head. I wish I could offer convincing proof that these practices have brought me good luck, but that is the whole point of superstitions, isn’t it? You never know.

While I can’t attest to the good luck linked to these customs, I do have what I like to think is hard evidence of the bad luck associated with a certain number — especially when it occurs on a certain day of the week. In my cautious and circumspect way, I am referring to the number 13 and its occasional unhappy pairing with that otherwise joyful last day of the five-day workweek: Friday.

Years ago, in my only experience of involuntary separation, I was bounced from a job on Friday the 13th. The job had been nightmarish almost from the start, and part of me was relieved that it was over. But I would have preferred to make the decision myself instead of being shown the door by a blustering manager. “You need to be in a place where you can succeed,” he said, by way of a lame explanation.

A few years later, I made an unfortunate decision to get married on a Thursday on the 12th of the month. Perhaps because we knew in our hearts that this union had slim odds of success, my beau and I slipped out of town and were married by a justice of the peace, without family or friends present or even aware of our plans.

We spent our first night as husband and wife in a quaint inn not far from the courthouse where we said our vows. The next day we drove to a nearby beach town and stopped at a small, two-story motel a few blocks from the ocean.

By this time it had dawned on me that it was Friday the 13th, and I was experiencing a growing sense of foreboding — one that increased sharply when the lanky, laconic, 50-something clerk behind the registration desk said, “We have only one vacancy. It’s Room 13.”

His voice was deep and hollowed-out, stripped of any warmth. He sounded weary and bored — except when he intoned the words, “Room 13.”

“Is that really your only room?” I asked. “We’re on our honeymoon, and it’s Friday the 13th . . . ” My voice trailed off apologetically.

“I spent my honeymoon in Room 13,” he said, with the faintest tinge of defensiveness, repeating his basso profundo emphasis on the last two words of his statement. If he expected to win me over with this revelation, he failed. Instead, I felt an un-nuptial mix of distaste and dejection.

Even so, I was unwilling to let the matter drop. “Are you . . . still married?” I asked, as my husband chuckled softly at my side.

“I’m divorced,” the clerk said, in his flat tone. “But it wasn’t because of Room 13.”

With the same sense of passive inevitability that had propelled me to the courthouse the day before, I shrugged and let my husband sign the register and take the key to Room 13. When we got to the room, on the motel’s second floor, my worst suspicions were confirmed. My husband closed the door and reached not for me, his newly minted bride, but for his copy of The Bill James Baseball Abstract. He was a fantasy baseball fanatic, and his top priority on Day Two of our married life was putting together his team.

His preoccupation left me free to observe the dark karma of Friday the 13th and Room 13 settling over me. Late that night, as my husband slumbered, I crept outside of Room 13 and sat, fully dressed, on the concrete stairs leading down to the motel courtyard, with my head against the metal handrail and my hands hugging my elbows. I knew that, no matter how different we might otherwise be, the desk clerk and I would one day have these things in common: We would both have spent our honeymoon in Room 13, and we would both be divorced.

Given my history, it is perhaps no wonder that I greeted the first day of 2013 with apprehension. What if I were facing an entire year of bad luck? Now, halfway through the year, I can report that — if only from the perspective of minor but nagging orthopedic issues — 2013 has more than met my expectations.

The year was less than two weeks old when I developed a pain in my right heel while jogging. After ignoring it for a month, I visited an orthopedist, who diagnosed a bone spur and ordered two weeks of physical therapy. When I saw him in March for a re-check and mentioned that my right shoulder hurt, he diagnosed tendinitis and ordered another two weeks of physical therapy.

In a comic twist of fate, just two days after the doctor cleared me following my second round of physical therapy, I tripped on the sidewalk one block from my apartment, slammed into a metal sidewalk planter and fractured my wrist.

This mishap occurred on the first nice spring afternoon of the year, as I was walking home with a bounce in my step and an unusually buoyant feeling in my heart. It was a Friday, by the way, and although it was not Friday the 13th, I later realized with a small shock that the individual numbers in the April 5, 2013 date added up to 13. That is, 4 + 5 + 1 + 3 = 13. I rest my case.

I have reminded myself many times that it could have been much worse; I was in a cast for just four weeks and have since completed — what else? — three weeks of physical therapy on my wrist. From a physical fitness perspective, I should soon be ready to pick up where I left off in January.

Still, I can’t help feeling a tad anxious about what lies ahead for me this year. I’ve checked the calendar; September and December both have a Friday the 13th, and Friday, Dec. 6 presents the same problem as April 5. (1 + 2 + 6 + 1 + 3 = Oy.) I am considering staying home with a book and a supply of Ace bandages on those days, if not the entire remainder of the year. In any case, would it be wrong to ask you to wish me good luck? And if you have any lucky pennies to spare, please feel free to send them my way.

Copyright 2013 By Susan Hooper

13 Image by Pablox via Wikimedia Commons