I am hungry because Wendy told me I can’t eat before she draws my blood. My waiting room overlooks the blue Pacific.
I had asked Wendy several times if I could come to visit her here, but she was evasive and so I began to monitor Neurula online. Last week, I saw they were beta testing out of the Santa Barbara facility. I signed up.
Wendy was unhappy with my trick.
“It’s a workplace. You can’t just come visit,” she told me through the phone.
“I’m a participant of your study,” I said.
“You’re my sister.”
“Yes, that too.”
Neurula will analyze my genes and then curate a personalized bio-hacking regimen to optimize my body, mind, and probably soul. They will also sell my bio-data to Google and lesser advertisers.
Upon my arrival, Wendy gives me my visitor pass, a laminated plastic rectangle that I am instructed to wear wherever I go. The visitor pass says 12 HOURS in big, yellow font along the bottom.
Now, Wendy brings the phlebotomy equipment to my room and goes about laying her materials on a metal tray lined with gauze, tapping information into a tablet, and cleaning the crook of my elbow with an alcohol pad.
A man enters the room without knocking.
“Welcome,” he says curtly.
He stands close to Wendy, looking over her shoulder. He places his hand lightly on her hip and says, “Make sure to fill out the revised CC-RS for this draw. With Gjelina’s updates.” He gives her a little pat and leaves the room.
“That’s Adriaan,” she tells me.
“Yes, I figured,” I reply. She makes a face.
I look away when she inserts the needle. Wendy is good. It does not hurt. I did not realize that Neurula trains its Account Managers in blood draws.
“Oh, I only got certified when I came to Sea-Suite,’ Wendy clarifies. “All execs learn to run labs.”
“C-Suite? Is that what you call this place?”
“Yeah. Sea-Suite. S-E-A. Get it?”
“I mean, yes, I get it. It’s a play on a word.”
“Yeah, it’s a homonym. Okay, almost done.”
When Neurula hired Wendy, she invited me for wine at their Culver City coworking space. She let me open one of their consumer test kits, a little box emblazoned with the logo and containing a plastic tube.
“Eventually, they want to use the DNA to create stem-cell embryos,” Wendy had told me. “To be the cutting edge infertility solution. But that’s hush-hush right now.”
Neurula. A spasm of innervating cells.
A couple months into her new position, she ran into the CEO, Adriaan Visser, in the hallway. He was there, visiting from Santa Barbara.
“Oh my God. He was so obviously looking at my boobs,” she had said to me, laughing.
After that, she was promoted several times. She started her own nutrigenomics regimen. She mixed peanut butter into her coffee and other days ate nothing at all. She lost twenty pounds. She talked about adaptogens and got a blank look in her eyes.
Then, she didn’t drink coffee at all anymore. I joined her for vigorous walks down Melrose. She was cagey with me. She told me potato starches flared her anxiety. Potatoes! She alluded to a relationship with Adriaan. She stopped answering my texts. Then, she moved up the coast and into this so-called live-work space.
Now, Wendy withdraws the needle with a little tug to my skin. She caps the vial. Involuntarily, I imagine my blood sample spawning dozens of little me’s populating the homes of wealthy, barren Californians. I don’t know if that’s how it works.
“Let’s get brunch!” I say.
“What? No. We have a ton of paperwork to fill out,” she replies.
“Oh yeah, the CCR-whatever you call it,” I say.
“Yes and others.”
“Oh my god. Come on, Wendy. Bring the stupid iPad.”
Wendy calls shotgun. She looks bored. I am suddenly overcome with the urge to impress her and so I drive to the most expensive hotel I know. Wendy giggles in delight as I pull up under the crisp, blue awning of the Rosewood Miramar. Dad brought us here after he and mom announced their divorce. The trip successfully bought our favor for the weekend.
I let the valet park my Honda. Wendy and I walk quickly through the lobby, past the gilded reception. Behind the limestone dolphin, we turn into the elevators and push the pearlescent button labeled 26. Beach Bar.
The doors open into the breeze. We order turkey clubs that stand two inches tall and Wendy eats a whole sandwich. We order mojitos, then caipirinhas, then more mojitos. When the bill comes, I pull out a heavy, black card and flash it before her, gauchely. She squeals. It’s our mother’s credit card.
Stuffed, we co-opt two lounge chairs. Wendy is plied with alcohol and she forgets herself. Staring into the sun she tells me things. How she loves Adriaan but hates him too, how she’s jealous of Marcela, Adriaan’s other girlfriend, how she has traded in her entire salary for stock options. For once, I just listen, hating everything I hear.
At four, I feel hungover and able to drive again. In the car, Wendy falls asleep and I realize I could keep driving. I can hop on the 101 and we can drive home together right now.
I imagine her waking up in two hours on the couch in my apartment. Like Sleeping Beauty from a dream, she realizes that her savior is leaning over her, asking if she wants sushi or tacos tonight, and now everything is going to be okay.
Back at Neurula, Wendy gets out of the car. She comes over to the driver’s side window and sticks her hand out.
“Visitor pass, please,” she says. I get out of the car. I hand over my laminated card.
Wendy is hugging me, big and open-hearted. Squeezing my shoulders. She is saying bye, love you, bye-bye. This is not what I wanted at all.
Louise Head is a Midwestern transplant to Sacramento, California.