|Ben Marcus [shelfari]|
Esther’s allergy to ceremony was predicted by all the guides we’d half read about teenagers. We saw it coming, then put our heads in our own asses. We were warned, but still we insisted on basic politeness as part of some dim instinct we had to remain in control. Esther abhorred all the functional vocal prompts one bleated in order to stabilize the basic encounters, to keep them from capsizing into awkward fits of milling and hovering. Hello and good-bye and thank you to strangers; good morning and how are you. These phrases were insane to her. She would pick the simplest rituals, the most basic behavior that people keep in their back pockets and whip out without a fuss, and wage dark war against them, scorning us mightily for caring about the exchange of niceties.
“What have you learned, Samuel, when you’ve asked me how I am?” she sniped once.
“Maybe I’ve learned . . . how you are?”
“Right,” she nodded. “And you can’t tell that by looking at me? Is that really your best way to find out what you need to know?”
“Sweetie, talking to you isn’t just about gathering information.”
“Apparently not, because you don’t remember a single thing I say. Your gathering mechanism is fucked.”
Had Esther just said mechanism?
She seemed in her element during these conversations, glowing with the power she had over me, as if I should enjoy it, too.
I’d parry with oily fathery lameries. “Doesn’t it feel better to say things to people?”
“Feel better? It feels like shit. It feels entirely like the worst kind of shit.”
Little did she goddamn know.
“Okay, darling, I’m sorry.”
And thus a rhetorical marvel was engineered: I apologized to Esther, regularly, for her refusal to be queried on her well-being. I regularly failed to mount cogent justifications for any of the human practices. They turned out to be indefensible to her. In the end I was a poor spokesman for life among people. Such were the victories of language in the home.