She used to dread going to the dentist and having her cavities filled. But after she fell ill and had surgery in the hospital, the idea of a quick, simple shot of Novocain seemed like a joke.
He worried about her sister and pleaded with her a million times to end the affair until he finally realized that it filled some void, some need that she had. He knew she wouldn’t stop until it appeared to her that this no longer satisfied that need.
He charmed her by saying unusual things like: “You and I are like a block in a logic game, we have to go together.” They were so un-romantic that they felt genuine, whereas the tried-and-true romantic lines she’d heard so many times before from other men always felt forced and contrived.
When she went down in the world, she was not surprised to see her circle of friends diminish; but she was shocked when her fortune changed, and the same thing occurred. Some friends who could commiserate with her in the roughest of times couldn’t seem to bring themselves to celebrate with her when things were good.
Once, during a discussion about neurons, he laughed at her and said, “You’re such a victim of Time Magazine!” That was the end of the affair.
She married a man obsessed with hunting and camouflage. At the wedding reception, they cut open a groom’s cake in the shape of a deer head.
She didn’t have many good memories of her father. But there was one that she clung to: when she was very small and they played together in the pool, and he would put her on his knee and throw her high into the air.
All the girls in the female student lounge had their noses pressed to the windows to watch the inhabitants of floor C in the all-boys’ dorm across the lawn put on a voluntary, low-fi improvised strip tease complete with strobe lighting and floor fans. But when the boys finished up and gestured that it was the girls’ turn to reciprocate, the room quickly emptied.
I had a thing for the peanut posters plastered in every subway car. Late one night, emboldened by booze, I ripped one out of its flimsy frame and felt surprised no one else seemed to notice.
She thought she was a West Coast girl accidentally born on the East Coast until she visited a friend in California. Listening to the girls there talk about making out with each other the night before—since they’d gotten bored at the party where no interesting boys could be found—she realized she was, in fact, fully an East Coast girl.
He waited years for her to leave her husband. One morning, he awoke with the sense that things could end simply because the person he was waiting for didn’t exist; and the person he was severing ties with was merely an impostor.
At first, she thought he was cold and seriously lacking in empathy, because whenever she brought up her impending surgery, he changed the topic or simply told her not to worry about it. But he was there when she came to, helping her to change out of her paper gown and even pulling up her panties for her; and she saw he had been worried more than she had.
She didn’t mind when he stared at the photo and blurted out, “This looks nothing like you!” She did mind when he added, “It’s hot.”
When she first visited Athens, she was surprised—not by the ruins, they were exactly as she had expected them to be, but by the rest of it. For all the quaint charm of the dusty agora and its tumbled columns with flowers growing up in between the cracks and butterflies hovering poetically over them, a ten minutes’ walk in any direction, and you might think for a moment you were on a dingy street in Philadelphia or Detroit.
He dreaded his birthday. He couldn’t help making an unconscious tally every year of who phoned or e-mailed and who didn’t and he preferred not to be so painfully aware of which friends and family members didn’t care enough to remember.
I do, in fact, have a moral compass. I just haven’t fine-tuned it yet.