We’ve all heard the complaints about the perfunctory How-are-you?s, the What-do-you-think-about-the-weather?s, the How-about-them-Yanks?es.
Well, give me the meaningless inquiries about my health (which is fine, thanks), the weather (which I never quite know how to answer), or sports (which I don’t follow) over the bright, cheery, quick and indifferent “How are the kids?”
The requisite answer is “Fine. How are yours?” But what if the true answer is, “Breaking my heart, thank you very much”? If all the asker wants to do is show that she remembers that I have kids, then she might just point and wink and say, “Kids.” I’ll point and wink back, and we’ll be on our way.
But if we’re in the midst of a crowd and someone looks at me with bright, expectant eyes and says, “How are the girls?” what am I supposed to answer. (One is fine, thank God.) The other night I came up with a glib, slick short version for someone I had just met and with whom I was exchanging the requisite family structure pleasantries, but the short, slick version doesn’t get past that initial acquaintance.
But the long version has pain on many sides, fear, sadness, love and lies, anger and guilt, and tears embedded in it. I don’t know how long it is, because I haven’t told it. I don’t know how it ends. I don’t know if this is the belly of the whale or merely a pinch point. I don’t know where the inciting incident’s change of paradigm fell. It’s a story to explore with one person, such as the matushka at my church, who is one of the best listeners I’ve ever met, but it’s not a story to dump carelessly on anyone.
Maybe it’s a story best written, so that only those prepared for the journey take it.
But the writer herself must prepare for the journey.
But don’t ask me when you’re on the way out one door, and I’m on the way out the other.
(I must be the most difficult conversationalist in the world.)