How to Make Ravioli

Last week, I was asked to teach some of the loveliest people I know how to make pasta. There was some confusion over the meaning of “making pasta,” and, long story short, I wound up showing them how to fry up eggplant, smash tomatoes, tear mozzarella, and stir it all into preexisting pasta.

So, this morning, my mom and I made some ravioli, and I made a little pictorial tutorial out of it. Here’s how we did it:

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Me and Two

IMG_3205

April 2015

For our fourth date, I met Two in Port-au-Prince. I decided for sure that he wasn’t a murderer when I spotted him through the glass partition at baggage claim, waving at me, smiling stupidly, and generally looking like a bucket of puppies.

When people ask about our fourth date in Haiti, I tell them about our one-armed bodyguard and the pistol he tossed on the front seat of the SUV like it was a pack of Fruit Roll-Ups. I tell them about the drive across the Haitian countryside and about the weirdly strong cell signal we had out there. I tell them about how we huddled around my phone in the backseat and streamed a clip of Rhiannon talking to CNN about the video of her pit bull that had recently gone viral. I tell them about the stop we made halfway through, about the way the guard took me by the elbow and led me into the market, parting the schoolchildren who were pointing and grinning and reaching for my hair.

These are the stories I tell, but in the privacy of my memory, it was just me and Two, drinking beer on the beach, swapping stories about horrible people we’ve known.

*

A month later, I would be sitting on the edge of Two’s bed sobbing into my hands. It wasn’t really about the joke he’d made at my expense. It was about the why are you escalating?’s and the you’re overreacting’s and the come on, man’s that had been parading out of his mouth for an hour. Two had made my life so easy after a year of grinding difficulty, and suddenly, simply because he couldn’t stomach my feelings, he was making it so much harder.

In that moment, I could see the whole relationship unfold before me: his passive-aggressive jokes; my retreat into daydreams; his retreat into his phone; the fights that were not really about the chicken or the avocado or the book that, yes, was thrown but not thrown at him; my waiting, my waiting; all the chances we’d give each other; all of the poetry and platitudes I’d summon to rationalize those chances; the way I’d tear at the edges of my cocktail napkin when I told my friends we wouldn’t be breaking up after all; the way they’d take a slow sip before responding, “As long as you’re happy.”

I wasn’t crying about the joke. I was crying because, in that moment and in every moment of conflict since, I was experiencing the whole long, painful end of me and Two. (I guess I’m the Mozart of lots of things.)

The next morning, blinking into the flat light of early winter, we resolved to think of the whole episode as, let’s say, aberrational. As things tend to, the relationship kept going, and, as people tend to, he kept being the same.

But something else happened. As we traveled through Argentina and then later to Oaxaca, threw dinner parties together, attended his cousin’s bat mitzvah, Two became funnier and more specific. He looked handsomer every day with that down-turned mouth of his, that upturned posture. Our banter became more precise and brisker.

And, all of a sudden, we could claim for ourselves shared memories from our halcyon early days. When he didn’t laugh at the excellent joke I made about his sneeze (“That was a classic of the genre!”). When we realized that two of the horrible people we had told stories about were actually the same person. When I waited on a bench outside the American Embassy while he went looking for the laptop he’d left on a bus, and I, only somewhat irrationally concerned for his safety, steeled myself to intervene and rescue him. We’d reminisce, correct each other’s versions of the stories, and proclaim, with only the most tenuous logic, that what the other said or did was just so hilariously typical.

And all of this–all of this business that, I suppose, is about falling in love and remaining in love–only made the fact that he wouldn’t change, and that I wouldn’t, that much more painful.

*

In our photos from Haiti, the blue is the bluest blue, and the green is the greenest green. The sky, land, sand, and sea are brimming with their proper colors. In those photos, the world looks so straightforward. I’m jealous of the person I was, the person who got to sit in that world for a while, the person who thought the worst thing about Two was that he didn’t know how to pronounce Beyonce.

Now we are the horrible people we tell stories about. And this world looks like the one I see in a portrait of him I once found tucked away in a bin with old mail and receipts. His ex had painted it. This world looks like thick, complicated strokes of muted color. It looks like Two, walking away.

Optical Illusion

profiles

January 2015, Buenos Aires

He has eyes like the sky in winter. He smells like two hundred dollars’ worth of bath products you buy in a store decorated with dead leaves and a canoe. His legs are uncompromising, like trees or fortresses. He says words like aberrational and sublimate like other people say want to see a movie? and don’t forget the eggs. In the morning, he crawls up close while I’m sleeping, puts his mouth right up to my ear, and yells, “Mr. Pickles!”

I’m in Argentina with a stranger. He’s my boyfriend. I’m in Argentina with Two.

He thinks he made pesto last night, but he did not make pesto.

He runs three hours every morning. What he never says when he comes home panting and red-faced is that he stops to eat pastries and make friends along the way.

*

I don’t understand Two. I mean that as a statement of fact, not as commentary. I look at him across the table every night, searchingly. I study him as I’d study an optical illusion. In the optical illusion, I can only ever see the young woman, never the old woman. And those squares look like such different colors to me, even as I learn they’re the same. The vase I can kind of see, but I can’t hold it in my mind for more than a second or two before it morphs back into two silhouettes. How does one come to understand the person sitting across the table?

*

He asks the cab driver to take him to the cueva, which is Spanish slang only he knows for a place to exchange money at the street rate. He thinks I close the cab door too hard. He thinks it and says it and says it and says it. He changes his mind about the restaurant mid-stride. He asks to eat at the bar.

Wisps of gray hair are starting to curl up under his ears. He looks like a founding father. He says he looks like Graydon Carter. He doesn’t understand why the founding father thing is funnier.

He thinks my favorite phrase is “I don’t know what to tell you.” What he doesn’t realize is that he always says whatever he’s saying many times in a row.

He can’t believe I never read that book. He can’t believe I never ate that food. “Reeeally?” he asks.

He speaks English like it’s his second language to people for whom English is actually their second language. “The bar is called Rosario. Is near to here, no?” He either means to or doesn’t mean to. It’s one or the other.

He purses his lips when he doesn’t have anything nice to say. He speaks in a voice like suede when he does.

*

The thing about an optical illusion is that when you start out looking at it one way, it’s hard to ever see it any other way. You unfocus and refocus. You tilt your head. You look away and look back.

Our brains want to organize stimuli into meaningful information–at least, that’s what I read. That’s why we tend to keep seeing optical illusions the way we saw them initially. That’s what makes it hard.

It feels radical, dangerous even, to let go of our structures of seeing, to allow those data points to blur and then sharpen again into a new image, a fuller image. I think I see Two sometimes. I think I understand why Graydon Carter is funnier to him, why he can’t stand the sound of the cab door slamming shut, why he can never choose a restaurant. I think I see him, but I stop trying for one second, and he’s gone again.

*

He wants to go to a diner in Koreatown in the middle of the night. If I say no, he’ll make himself pasta e fagioli and smoke weed while I sleep.

He wants more salt, more spice, less light, more room, better wine, warmer days, longer nights. He wants more me, less me. He wants it all.

He’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, as he runs out into the freezing-cold ocean and calls out for me.

The Mozart of Bitterness

Mozart

September 2014

One evening, late this summer, I declared myself the Mozart of Bitterness. I was sitting neatly on the end of the couch that doesn’t get sat on. It was one way to be less hot. I felt high up, tilted. My legs dangled. I had opened the window too, but it was of no use. The air wasn’t moving.

My elementary music teacher Mrs. Jackson wore long cotton dresses with sneakers. During her first divorce from Mr. Jackson, she taught us to sing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” which, in retrospect, was weird. The other thing I remember about her is that she told us that Mozart could hear in his mind’s ear an entire symphony in a single moment. Every beat, phrase, and measure, from the allegro to the adagio to the rondo. His mind could collapse it all into just one second. It was then only a matter of unfurling his masterpiece and bringing it to the page. This was the nature of his genius.

No one on the internet wants any part of this story, so I guess it was just another one of Mrs. Jackson’s pedagogical flourishes. That didn’t stop me from declaring myself the Mozart of Bitterness that evening, late this summer.

I spot a name in my inbox, and, in a single moment, I can conjure every wrong ever committed by the possessor of that name. I relive the pain of that time she stood me up at that one coffee shop with the fruit-free scones; that time she was thumbing through a stack of cropped pants at J. Crew and, just for my benefit, sighed, “I suppose I’m up to a size 6 now”; that time at the party in that warehouse when she gave me the look that I know meant I was talking too much about my ex and, further, that I’m a self-involved person generally and lucky to have anyone who’ll listen to me carry on at all. Yes, I can experience all of that in a single moment.

To be clear, my bitterness is not reserved for any one person in particular. It’s for anyone. It’s for everyone. And I conjure wrongs both big and small, both real and imagined. I relive them all.

This is the nature of my genius.

*

The Mozart of Bitterness. I chuckled at the thought in spite of myself. I’ve been depressed.

While I’ve always had the trappings of depression–extreme introspection, a tendency to leave rooms suddenly, a personal narrative blog–only recently did I start feeling depressed. Years ago, after my then-fiance summarily dumped me over the phone, my therapist suggested that I let myself feel sad. I tried to convince him that I simply didn’t know how.

“I don’t own sweatpants, and I don’t listen to Bon Iver,” I said.

“I can’t eat whole pints of Ben & Jerry’s. I’m lactose intolerant,” I said.

“I like Beyonce and pizza and jokes,” I said.

It seemed that grieving would be so much easier for me if only I knew how to feel sad. I dreamed that one day I would develop the depth of emotion and character to fully experience loss, to sit with it, to just be with it.

I’m here to tell you that dreams really do come true. Five years on, I’m not just an expert at experiencing loss. I’m a virtuoso. After all, I’ve managed to achieve this state of grinding hopelessness and despair in response to the most ordinary of disappointments. Friends of mine are divorcing, breaking up, falling out with me or with each other. It’s true that I’ve had my share of medical trouble, but, if anything, cancer wound up being a good excuse to start a blog and a great way to get people to show up to my birthday party. I don’t know how I got this way, but at some point in the past few months, life started to feel like nothing but an accumulation of burdens.

To wit, my mind can twist a monosyllabic text message into a grievous offense, a routine interaction with a customer service agent into a referendum on her character, a friend’s suggestion to keep a gratitude journal into cause for a 2,000-word e-mail laying out a critique of the neoliberal sham we call positive psychology.  

My imagination, once applied to daydreaming about being surprisingly good at karaoke or delivering stirring speeches before an audience that happens to include everyone I’ve ever wanted to impress, is now used to stretch my capacity to be cruel. I use my imagination to develop and refine diatribes, rants, condemnations, denunciations to suit all occasions and tastes. I select and arrange words in ways ever more punishing to their imagined target. In my daydreams, I’ve become as sharp-tongued as I was inspirational. I am, no doubt, the Mozart of Bitterness.

December 2014

Three months ago, I wrote that I was the Mozart of Bitterness. I liked the idea. It felt very me, but I couldn’t figure out where the piece was going. It needed a turn of some sort–a sign of hope. I wanted it to end with a breeze that felt just right on my forearm or a bit of sunlight breaking through the tree branches. I waited for the turn to come.

But as it happened, my life turned in the most utterly ordinary way. I was suddenly no longer depressed, and it was because of nothing grander or more poetic than 50 mg of Zoloft a day and a new boyfriend. It’s a hard thing for me to admit. I just hate to be so basic.

How to Breathe Again

Wisconsin

I was so honored to spend the week in Wisconsin teaching and writing personal narratives with some of the best in the business. This is a one-night Dinosaur Sweaters engagement. I’ll duck back down after this, at least until Thanksgiving. Thanks to Patty, Leah, Nikki, Kristin, Dani, Amy, and Marissa!

*

I always wanted to be the kind of person who’d know how to answer the nurse’s questions. I mean, I knew the answers to her questions by heart, but I didn’t know exactly how to answer them. She was asking me if I was having a mastectomy preventatively or if I had been diagnosed, then when I was diagnosed, then why I chose not to have a lumpectomy. And I assumed she was asking in some official capacity, that she’d print the answers neatly in the little boxes on the forms clipped to her clipboard. So I answered clearly and succinctly, staring straight forward, no trace of anything in my voice. “I was diagnosed with cancer. Two months ago. I have a BRCA mutation.”

Apparently, though, she was just trying to make conversation, trying to make me feel comfortable and cared for. I always wanted to be the kind of person who would know how to pick up on cues like that, but I wasn’t.

She gave me this limp little smile, rubbed my shoulder, and said, “Don’t worry, honey You’re in really good hands here.”

*

A few months earlier, I stepped onto the elevator that would take me many, many times to see the breast specialist at St. Luke’s. And because I knew I’d being seeing a lot of the people in this office, I fantasized about being Everyone’s Favorite Patient, who, in my mind, was kind of like the patient version of Patch Adams. I’d walk in, and the receptionist would show me a picture of her daughter in her dance costume, and I’d gush about how big Skyler’s getting and how cute she looks with her hair like that, and I’d high five the other patients in the waiting room. I’d have in-jokes with the technicians, and we’d pull pranks on the doctor. I would be Everyone’s Favorite Patient facing cancer with humor and fortitude.

But the elevator ride was only six floors up, so I had to face pretty quickly that I have neither the cheerful disposition nor the folksiness nor the off-beat sense of humor nor the interest in other people’s children to pull off this character I’d created. For me, it was always about how I’d play this role. Who would I be, or who I should be, as a patient?

And I guess that’s why I felt so disappointed with myself, answering the nurse’s questions all wrong, making her think I was one of those patients who needed to be consoled.

*

When I woke up from the first of what would be three surgeries, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had an oxygen mask over my nose and mouth. I’m sure it was meant to help me breathe during surgery, but it seemed so much in that moment like it was suffocating me, like it was keeping me from breathing. I wanted to take it off or yell out to the doctor to take it off. But the eight-hour surgery had sapped the me out of me, and, like in a dream, I couldn’t get myself to speak. And even if I could have summoned the energy to say something, I was afraid to. My body seemed so fragile. My whole being was held together with stitches. I was afraid that if I moved the wrong way or spoke too loudly, my body would come open and fall apart.

So I just lay there and listened to her tell me that they biopsied my lymph nodes and nipples during the surgery, and that they came out clean. And, even though it was wonderful news that I’d get to keep my hair and my nipples, I just needed that lady to stop saying things to me. So I just looked at her with big eyes, the only part of my face I could use, until I fell back asleep.

*

By the time I had my third and final surgery a month ago, I was surprised to discover that I had learned how to be a patient. I knew that the nurse was talking to me about the octopus salad at Kefi so I wouldn’t notice the needle going into my vein, and, that third time around, I hardly did.

I knew they’d roll me up to the operating room, but not into the operating room. I knew that I’d have to walk in on my own. In the operating room, I knew to gather the gown up around my waist and sit not in the middle of the operating table but a little bit higher. I knew to sit forward and grab my ankles while the nurse put patches on my back. I knew to let go of my ankles so the PA could wrap the compression devices around my legs. I even knew that Maggie’s little boy was born a month before Sam’s, and I knew those babies looked damn cute in the photos.

And it felt so weird that this was all so normal. Did I really want to learn how to be a patient? Did I really want this to become so routine? I didn’t cry or even look like I was about to cry because I knew they wouldn’t put me under like that. So I kept my eyes dry for just a few seconds until I fell asleep.

*

When I woke up from that final surgery a few hours later, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had this oxygen mask over my nose and mouth. I didn’t want to get used to all the bad stuff about being a patient. I didn’t want it to become normal, and it did. But so did reaching up and ripping the oxygen mask off my face, waking up from surgery and remembering how to breathe again.

The Last Dinosaur Sweater, Part Two

A year ago today, I posted my very first Dinosaur Sweaters post. Rereading it now, it’s like re-watching the pilot episode of my favorite show (The West Wing). It has the familiar look: there’s the communications bullpen, the Mural Room, the Oval Office. It has all the characters you know so well: there’s Toby mumbling, Donna whining, Bartlet pontificating.  But it all feels a bit uncanny.

I wrote:

I propose that, if we imagine that our life is our art, then our days are our medium. We can craft our days as a sculptor carves away all that is not essential to the form or as a poet writes, stripping her poem of its excess language. Our days are our medium; they’re how we commune with ourselves and decide how we are to spend our lives. What we wear, what we eat, how we get from here to there, and, above all, how we make plans and either carry out or abandon those plans are our material to shape.

That’s definitely me there, but it was definitely me…then. I still like to “propose” things, both here and in real life, but I’m not sure I’m as earnest as I once was in my entreaties. “Commune with ourselves” sounds like something I’d say, but these days I wouldn’t say it without immediately undercutting it with self-deprecation. (By the way, I feel obligated to mention that several close friends have told me that I’m not nearly as hilariously self-deprecating as my old therapist and I think I am. So, there’s that.)

I wrote the post before the blog existed. The idea came to me early one morning. I called it my “functional minimalism manifesto” and sent it to Sarah. She dutifully complimented it and offered some advice on functional minimalism:

One place I think you could go next here is to talk about the systems that were working in your life, e.g. whatever the opposite of the forgotten fennel is.

How brazenly I ignored her advice! Case in point: a couple of months ago, a blogger commented, “Your definitions of functional minimalism are too vague to be functional and too multiple to be minimal.” I gave him points for being right—and for wishing me “continued success” at being me—but rejected the comment. I never cared to define this philosophy of mine more clearly. I’d rather just invoke it when I feel like it, which is what personal philosophies are good for, right?

Earlier this year, I figured I’d do one of two things with the blog. I’d either fix it up and make it more professional or abandon it entirely. I wanted to work out specifically what I was doing with it. Did I want to become, like, a “blogger”? Do I look like a blogger? Do I sound like one? Or did I just want to get some practice at this genre so I could go on to write elsewhere?

I talked to people who could help me fix it up, and I started really waffling. I didn’t want Dinosaur Sweaters to look all sleek and perfect. I didn’t want it to be like the time the record company made that “Smelly Cat” video with the wind machine and the back-up singers. I imagined that they’d make my dinosaurs look sexier and less pear-shaped.

So, maybe it’s that, or maybe I’m just getting antsy, but I’ve decided to abandon it, at least for a while. After all, I do have a dissertation to write, a book chapter, some poems, and I have an idea to write some flash fiction. And I think blogs should be more like TV shows anyway. They should have seasons, and each season should come to an end. Let’s call this my season finale. And so begins my indefinite hiatus. I’ll be off, doing all things. Thanks for reading, everyone.

The Last Dinosaur Sweater, Part One

When I was a kid, I always had to be right. I mean, literally. In our family, being right was one’s ticket to enter the conversation, to be part of the group. My brothers were always right. Even the story of how Zach thought the lobsters at the grocery store were meant to be pets was about how he’s always right, minus that one instance. The story was told to throw his otherwise infinite rightness into relief.

I wasn’t often right. Instead of rightness, I offered a mostly positive attitude, occasional melodrama, and off-brand peppermint patties as birthday presents (especially wrong, I was told). I wasn’t right in thinking that the people in the TV could see us or that all of the planets, gaseous or not, a bazillion miles from the sun or not, were inhabited. And Santa Claus—I wasn’t right about that, but, oh, how I tried to be.

*

Once, Rachel and I were sitting around discussing our respective wild days of yesteryear—hers spent in Michigan and mine in New York. We were seven.

“You won’t believe this, but, one Christmas in New York, it actually snowed,” I said.

“It snowed pretty much every Christmas in Michigan,” she said.

“No, it didn’t. A white Christmas is really unusual. That’s what my mom said.”

“Maybe in New York, but it was really common in Michigan.”

I didn’t want to have to do this, but, at that point, I told Rachel that, when we were living in New York, my mom and I woke up every Christmas morning, turned on the national weather report, and recorded the snowfall in both New York and Michigan. It was our tradition. We did this in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988, and, if she’d just excuse me for a minute, I’d go into my closet and retrieve the records.

Rachel excused me for many minutes. When I reemerged, I produced the unimpeachable records of New York’s and Michigan’s Christmas snowfall.

She was too nice to say anything, but I sensed she was on to me. I didn’t want it to be obvious that I was worried, so I waited a couple of hours before asking, as if just to make conversation, “Do you think I’ve ever lied to you?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Like, earlier today when you went into the closet and wrote all that stuff about the snow.”

I had to admit to the lie because it was too funny not to. I didn’t judge myself too harshly. As far as I was concerned, my greatest obstacle in life was persistent wrongness, and creative falsification was as suitable a substitute as any for rightness.

*

I was never as achingly wrong as I was about my plans for the future. By ninth grade, it was decided: Rachel and I would take on high school together, separate for college, and reunite in a New York City suburb, where we’d raise our kids down the street from each other.

When she called me one Friday night and told me she was moving to Phoenix, I couldn’t bear my wrongness. I just moved on ahead with the plan and corrected for the new information.

“We’ll talk every other night on the phone. We’ll alternate calling each other, and we’ll tell our parents that we’ll pay for the long distance. We’ll IM on the nights we don’t talk. And we’ll take turns visiting each other. I’ll come to Phoenix over Christmas break, and you can come to Dallas over spring break. We don’t really take the same classes anyway, so it won’t be a big deal. It’ll be like you just went to another school.”

There are moments when the fineness of Rachel’s wisdom demands respect, and this was one. She said, “Mia, we can’t just pretend like I’m not moving away.”

I wished there were some records I could retrieve from my closet. I wanted to tell her that Marty McFly had come to see me and written down everything that would happen between us. I wanted to tell her that pretending like she’s not moving away was exactly what we could and should do.

*

Eventually, I became an arbiter of rightness, a teacher. I put red x’s over wrong answers. I calculated the rightness of literally hundreds of tiny people. That wasn’t enough, so I became a teacher of teachers. I told teachers that they were right or wrong to tell students that they were right or wrong. I was the Meta-Rightness Grand Master, but I hardly thought of rightness, as such, at all.

My desire to do good work pushed my desire to be right to such a depth, over such a period of time, that, when whatever remained of it resurfaced, it was hard and smooth and shiny, something more like righteousness.

Then, on a family trip to Miami a few years ago, Zach told Ashley and me that he evaluates the accuracy of everything everyone says to him. “Everyone gets a new chance every time they talk to me. I don’t care about anything that happened before. If what you’re saying is accurate, I’ll listen to you. If not, I won’t.”

It was our night out, and this is how we spent it, walking down Ocean Drive through bands of hot and cold air. We talked. Each in turn, we accounted for ourselves.

At first, I maintained the absolute wrongness of Zach’s obsession with rightness. What kind of life is that, going around evaluating everyone’s accuracy? I don’t care about accuracy. I care about humor, generosity, soul.

Later that night, back in the hotel room, I sat on the edge of the bed next to my mom’s, silently running my feet over the sand on the warm tiled floor, waiting for her to fall back asleep. I thought about what Zach said and started remembering the peppermint patties, the people in the TV, the planets, Santa Claus, snowfall, all my grand plans–a childhood spent being wrong. I’d assumed that my desire to be right had long ago transformed into righteousness, into a desire to do what’s right. But I realized then that, more likely, I had managed to arrange a life in which I was always right, and, in that life, the desire itself lay dormant.

*

Over the next couple of years, I dated two men who had their own fraught relationship with rightness. (One of them stormed out of a family gathering because his mother served farm-raised salmon. I’m just saying.) When I shared my thoughts on big, important stuff and little, unimportant stuff, both would invariably tell me I was wrong. Farm-raised salmon guy did so rather cruelly and the other less so.

On a road trip, the less cruel man’s friend was telling us about the measures his high school took to prohibit school prayer.

“I’m impressed by your school’s commitment to the first amendment,” I said.

“No,” replied the less cruel man, “school prayer has nothing to do with the first amendment.”

Mind, the less cruel man is Canadian. Over the course of the ensuing argument, it was revealed that he didn’t even realize that the first amendment included freedom of religion. He didn’t relent. And I didn’t relent until I felt the heat and tears gathering behind my face.

I decided to spend the rest of the ride taking silent refuge in my rightness. How would I know anything about this? I only grew up in the Bible Belt with an atheist lawyer for a father. Why would school prayer ever come up at our dinner table? It’s not like I, like, actually know what’s in the first amendment or anything.

Back in the city, he took me to the Restoration Hardware by Madison Square Park (don’t ask me), and we had a little talk about the argument on the tufted Kensington sofa in taupe. I hated that sofa.

“I feel like you’ve been picking on me. You’re just tired of me, and so you’re picking on me,” I said.

“It’s not that,” he said. “I always evaluate fact claims.”

This account—“I always evaluate fact claims”—was a red flag I refused to see. If I recognized it, I’d also have to recognize his obsession with accuracy, with rightness. I’d have to recognize that he wasn’t the free-spirited artist I thought he was, and I couldn’t bear to be wrong about that.

When I got home that night, I looked up court cases. I called my dad, and we discussed how people on both sides of the school prayer argument invoke the first amendment. I watched the episode of The West Wing in which Toby soliloquizes on school prayer and freedom of religion. I was right. I was so, very, freaking, extremely right. But it didn’t make me feel any better. I felt embarrassed about the argument and pessimistic about the relationship. There was no comfort in being right, only distraction from the discomfort of needing to be right.   

*

The less cruel man and I broke up. When Rachel and I went to Spain last summer, I was still swimming back up to the surface. One morning, late in the trip, we were eating churros and discussing Morocco. Neither of us remembers what was said, but it went something like this:

“You know the guide book said that Morocco is X.”

“No, I think it said that Morocco is Y.”

“Rachel, no, it said that Morocco is X.”

“I think I remember that it said Morocco is Y.”

“You’re insane. How can you even think it said that?”

“Why…” Rachel said, and in that word the whole question was foretold. “Why do you always have to be right?”

I was right about the Morocco thing, but, as always, in all the ways that matter, Rachel was much more right. I was disappointed in myself. I thought the desire to be right had been purged from my mind. And maybe it had been, but, apparently, it was still in my muscle memory.

Long after Rachel and I made up, as we boarded a 9 PM flight out of Barcelona, I was still demanding an explanation from myself. Why am I like this? What does being right really do for me? I knew there was nothing in it, but I reckoned it gave me a sense–if only the most temporary sense–that I possess some knowledge and wisdom to which I have no real claim. Rachel was asleep as soon as we took our seats. As I struggled to cram my head and shoulder and elbow into sleeping formation, I made a mental note to remember the feeling the high of being right left behind.

*

Our family spent Christmas in New Mexico last year. We were back from dinner one night, and Zach and I walked up the driveway together.

“It’s so creepy to be out here in the country at night with the stars. Who knew they even existed?” I said extravagantly.

Right then, I remembered who I was talking to, recognized my mistake, and pulled myself in. I expected him to correct me. I expected him to say that there’s nothing creepy about being out in the country at night, that there’s nothing creepy about stars. They’re a natural phenomenon, I imagined he’d say. Just because we can’t usually see them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Nature designed them to be there, and there they remain.

“Yeah,” he said. “It is pretty creepy when all you’ve ever known is the city.”

Even Zach learned to concede the limits of rightness. Even he learned that we can’t always see everything from where we stand. Damn him for his progress. I thought I’d always be able to define myself against him. I’d have my imagination, and he’d have his rightness. I guess I was wrong about him. Wrong, wrong, wrong.