You should probably know two things up front. And the first is this: On my thirty-fifth birthday—the day I lost my career and my husband and my home in one uncompromising swoop—I woke up to one of my favorite songs playing on the radio alarm clock. I woke up to “Moonlight Mile” playing on the radio (where it is almost never played) and actually thought, as you only would think if you’re a total fool (or, perhaps, if you were about to lose your career and your husband and your home in one uncompromising swoop): The world, my world, is good.
I stayed in bed, in my fresh Frette sheets (a birthday present to myself), the sunlight drifting through the windows, the air chilly and light. And I listened to the entire song, crooning assuredly through my apartment.
Are you familiar with the song “Moonlight Mile”? It’s a Rolling Stones song—not nearly as popular as their ubiquitous “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” or as wedding-song-sticky as “Wild Horses.” “Moonlight Mile” is just the most honest rock song ever recorded. I don’t offer that as my personal opinion. I share that as fact: an inarguable fact, which you should twist into your brain and heart so that when someone argues the virtues of a different song as the epitome of greatness (prepare for the Beatles, who naturally arise as a challenge to the Stones), you can smile and quietly think, I know better. It’s nice to know better. It’s nice to know that when you hear the closing guitar riff of “Moonlight Mile,” what you’re actually hearing is a piece of music so soft and difficult, so dangerous and quiet, so full of life and death and love, that just below its surface, the song is telling you a secret—a secret that I was just starting to understand—about everything that matters in this world, everything that grounds us and eventually leaves us, all at once.
The tricky part is that the song was the product of an all night jam session between Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. It was Taylor who had taken a short guitar piece recorded by Keith Richards and reworked it for the session. And it was Taylor’s idea to add a string arrangement to the final song. The legend goes that Taylor, for good reason, was promised a songwriting credit. But “Moonlight Mile” was officially credited to Jagger/Richards. Keith Richards would later deny Taylor’s involvement at all, and say that Mick Jagger delivered the song to the band all on his own.
Normally, if you were to ask me about this, I’d say: Who cares? The credit didn’t matter, what mattered was the song. Taylor kept playing with the band, so he’d let it go.
Except on the morning in question—the morning of my thirty-fifth birthday, the morning of my crisp Frette sheets, of rightness in the world—the injustice of Mick Taylor’s omission was at the forefront of my mind, and I looked him up on my phone.
Considering what was about to happen to my world, it was odd that this was the moment I focused on Taylor. Call it foreshadowing, call it intuition. For the first time, I found myself sympathizing with him. Even though, in my particular story, I’m not the guy you root for. I’m not Mick Taylor. I’m not even Mick Jagger.
I’m Keith Richards, getting credit and telling lies from outside the room.
I heard a groan next to me. “Didn’t you make a rule about phones in bed?”
I turned to see my husband, waking up, yawning for effect. Danny Walker: Iowa raised, strong chin, fearless. His eyes were still closed, his long eyelashes (thick lashes, like someone had tinted them, slathered them with rich mascara) clasped tightly together.
“You can’t even see my phone,” I said.
“I don’t have to, I can feel it,” he said.
He opened his eyes, stunning green eyes, those lashes surrounding them like a web. I resented those lashes, those eyes. Danny was more naturally beautiful than any woman would ever figure out how to be. Especially his wife. And while some women might have been okay with
that, proud even, or so blissfully in love they didn’t keep score, I was not one of those women. I kept score. I hadn’t always, but somewhere along the way I started to. Which maybe was part of the problem. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“It’s your rule,” he said, pointing at the phone. “Shut it off.”
“That’s the first thing you want to say to me today?” I said.
“Happy birthday.” He smiled, his great smile. “Shut it off.”
He moved his hand down my stomach, his touch ice cold. Our apartment was an old converted loft in Tribeca (recently photographed for Architectural Digest), a few blocks off the Hudson River, and freezing in the morning. No matter the season, no matter June’s gnarly heat. It was freezing. It was also oddly loud, the noises from the highway and the river comingling to remind you there was nowhere else in the world in quite the same identity crisis. It was by far the nicest place we’d lived together—a large step up from the first place we’d shared at the University of Oregon. A garden apartment, the landlord had called it. He was right in that you could see the garden from the basement windows that looked up toward it.
There were three apartments after that, but none of them had the loft’s corner windows—with views of the Hudson River and Battery Park—making everything in New York look beautiful.
I tossed my phone to the side of the bed, tossed Mick Taylor to the side.
“Good. Let’s start again, then. Happy birthday, baby,” he said. And, for a second, I wondered if he’d been thinking the same thing about our real estate past, our shared history.
He started to kiss me, and I stopped thinking. All these years in, I could still get lost in it. Lost in Danny. How many people, fourteen years in, could say that? And, yes, I’m glossing over the other part—the part where that took a hit. But I had vowed to change all that. And, at this particular moment, I was dedicated to changing all that. Very dedicated.
Danny moved on top of me, his hands working their way down my thighs, when I heard it. My phone beeped from the side of the bed, a bright and shiny email notification coming across its screen.
I flinched, instinctively wanting to grab it. It could have been important. A hundred and fifty people worked on my show; it usually was.
Danny peered at the phone out of the corner of his eye. “How is that putting your phone away?”
“I’ll be really quick,” I said. “Promise.”
He forced a smile, moving away. “No, you won’t,” he said.
I flipped to my inbox screen, and there was the email.
The subject line was simple enough.
I didn’t recognize the sender’s email address. So I almost didn’t open it. I like to tell myself that if I hadn’t, I could have stopped everything that came next.
Door one: Sunshine Mackenzie ignores the email, has birthday sex with her husband, and life goes on as usual. Door two: Sunshine pushes her husband aside and opens an email from someone called Aintnosunshine, and life as she knows it ends.
Let’s guess which door I took.
Do you know who this is? Here’s a hint: I’m about to ruin you.
I laughed, a little loudly. After all, it was such a ridiculous email. So incredibly over-the-top, like the spam you get from Nigeria asking you to send your bank account information.
“What’s so funny?” Danny said.
I shook my head. “Nothing. Just a silly email.”
“They usually are.”
This was a point of friction between us. Whereas my entire career existed online, Danny was an architect and sometimes didn’t even check his email more than a couple times a day. He’d learned how to contain it, disregarding ridiculous emails from difficult clients, who were obsessed with their Gramercy Park brownstones, their Bowery rooftops. He’d learned how to contain it, so he could get the work done for them. It was a skill that his wife, apparently, had yet to learn.
I turned back to my phone.
“All right. You’ve chosen,” he said.
Then he pulled the blankets back, got out of bed.
“No!” I said. And I reached to pull him back down. “Danny! Please come back. That’s a birthday order.”
He laughed. “Nope, too late.”
Then the next email came in.
Do you think I was kidding? I’m not the kidding type.
Some would even say humorless: www.twitter.com/sunshinecooks
This stopped me cold. Why did he choose the word humorless? (At that moment in time, knowing nothing, I thought the hacker was a he.) It was a specific word. It was also a word I used often.
So I clicked on the link.
And there was my verified Twitter account staring back at me.
There was my profile complete with a photograph of me in my studio kitchen—wearing a peasant blouse and strategically distressed jeans, my blond hair swept off my face in a loose bun.
Cooking for a New Generation. Host of #alittlesunshine. NY Times bestselling Author: #afarmersdaughter, #farmtothenewyorktable & (coming soon!) #sunkissed
And a new tweet to my 2.7 million followers.
Apparently from me.
I’m a fraud. #aintnosunshine
I must have let out a gasp, because Danny turned. “What?”
“I think I was hacked,” I said.
“What are you talking about?”
He walked back over to the bed to see for himself. I quickly pulled the phone away. Even in the chaos, I still had an instinct to control it, keep it close. And, of course, to keep it away from him.
“You know what? It’s nothing.”
“Sunny . . .”
“Danny, I’m forwarding it to Ryan now. He’ll deal with it. It’s his job.”
Danny looked unconvinced. Fourteen years. He knew things. “Are you sure?”
I forced a smile and repeated that all was well. So he nodded, walked away.
First, though, he leaned down to kiss me. A sweet kiss. A birthday kiss. Not the sex that we’d been close to, but something. Something lovely.
Which was when the phone’s bright light shined again, another tweet coming in.
Let me stop there, though.
Before we got the next tweet, the next hack, before we got to what it said. The thing that led to the demise of my career, my home, my marriage.
You remember how I told you that there were two things you should know right up front?
The first was how it happened. On the morning of my thirty-fifth birthday, “Moonlight Mile” welcomed me to my day, my husband still loved me, and then the email came in. The start of something I couldn’t stop.
The second thing you should know? I was not (certainly at that moment in time) a good person. Some would even say I was a bad person. And everything this emailer—the hacker, the imploder of my perfect life—had to say about me was the truth.
See how I told you how it happened first? Garnering sympathy. Take that as proof of the second.