The Question

I entered this story into a contest earlier this year. And it won, although I’m not really sure it deserved to.
All people appearing in the essay are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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A few years ago I was invited to a birthday dinner party at a huge farmhouse in Tennessee. The farm was at the end of one of those mountain roads that winds up and up and up and when you turn a corner you have to hold your breath because you feel like you might hit another car or just go straight off the edge. A clean drop. The house itself was the kind that you would see in a magazine. Probably on the cover. Ridiculously huge, the kind you could get lost in. I walked in the door and met my boyfriend’s aunt and uncle for the first time. Less than an hour after I was introduced, his uncle called me by the wrong name. I knew right away that it wasn’t a mistake. I remember the cold feeling of distrust washing over me as I realized he really knew my name.
The dinner was for a friend of my boyfriend’s family. Everyone was at least twice our age. We ate seven layer bean dip and carrots from a huge platter. We all ate standing around the island in the kitchen. There was a lot of drinking and talking. Wine bottles everywhere. Someone was always in the process of opening another. I talked to an old man about our mutual love of coupons. I talked to a woman about her bright red boots. I didn’t really know anyone, but I was having a good time. I forgot the strange interaction with my boyfriend’s uncle. Later on, I noticed my boyfriend and his aunt in animated conversation across the marble expanse of the island. Suddenly I heard my boyfriend’s aunt ask loudly, “Yeah, do you love her?!” And then she laughed. She wouldn’t stop laughing. My boyfriend looked away from his aunt, he looked down and said “I do NOT love her.” Then he took another drink. I remember feeling petrified, and understanding that they were talking about me. I remember smiling, and I remember pretending like I didn’t care.
Shortly after we left. We were both drunk. I drove. Down, down, down the winding mountain road.

Love is a funny thing and if I ever pretend to understand it I will remember this and I will know that I am lying.

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One response to “The Question

  1. Great story. In my opinion, in order for us to remain active and happy participants in the structure of “love” there needs to be an inherent level of ignorance. This is similar to the idea that in order for us to enjoy our freedoms (to walk around at night downtown, to go places by ourselves without wondering if we are going to be murdered or mugged), we must remain ignorant or unaware of the structure of punishment in place for people willing to commit crimes against others (a structure of violence and oppression to be sure).

    Therefore, I would argue that this fictional character in your story was caught between images: images he perhaps felt it necessary to maintain towards his family and his girlfriend (even if this was a delusion on his part). This, I argue, will always occur with relationships, and is actually built-in to the very dna of them to a large extent. The tough guy that acts a certain way around his buddies that’s different than they way he acts around his wife is an example of this idea of images (of what we think others want to see when we feel them looking at us). The gaze of the Other is a stronger motivator than that of the other.

    However, I do think this story deserved to win a contest. It is a perfect attempt at exposing the absurd repetition of human system building. We try so hard to construct legitimate systems of thought, society, understanding, law, etc. that end up being unveiled as ultimately pathetic in the end.

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