A Storyby Andrew Porter
The other week my wife, Natalie, and I went to a lecture at the university where she teaches. The lecture was on the idea of the real self and whether or not such a thing as a real self exists. The lecturer, a young woman in her early thirties, who apparently teaches at the University of Texas, concluded that while no, such a thing as a real self does not exist, many people believe it does and therefore the concept of a real self is a very powerful thing.
There was more to the lecture than that, of course, but that was the gist of it, and as we left the small auditorium where the lecture was held and headed back along the wooded pathway toward our car, I could tell that Natalie was bothered by something. She had been invited to a small reception afterward—some sort of informal thing on the other side of campus—but had decided not to go. Instead she said that she just wanted to get home, pay the sitter, put the kids to bed, and have a drink. She looked worn out, like she hadn’t slept in several days, and the whole way home she just looked out the window absently, tapping her fingers along the dashboard or, alternately, resting her hands in her lap. I tried my best not to look at her hands—it had become a bad habit lately—but couldn’t help myself. I noticed that the right one was fine, but that the left was trembling slightly, though not as badly as it had been that morning.
At a stoplight, I asked her how she was feeling. She shrugged. “About the same. Mostly just tired.”
I nodded and looked out the window at the quiet, wooded streets of our neighborhood, a small, secluded neighborhood near campus where we have lived for almost seven years now, one that reminds me so much of the Connecticut neighborhood I grew up in that I often forget we live in Texas.
“You know,” she said after a moment, “no one at the lecture even looked at me.”
“You mean from the department?”
“I think you’re probably just imagining that,” I said and reached over and touched her hand.
“No, David,” she said and looked out the window. “I really don’t think I am.” She sighed and straightened her dress. “You know, I can take a lot of things, but pity—that’s one thing I can’t take.”
“I don’t think anyone’s pitying you,” I said, and reached over again for her hand. “Besides, what if they are? Let them. What does it matter, anyway?”
“Well, you’re not the one who has to work with them,” she said, and then she looked out the window again. “You’re not the one who has to deal with their stares.”