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Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey Read Online (FREE)


I hadn’t called my parents ahead of time. I wasn’t ready to answer questions, and questions are more easily ignored in person than on the phone. Besides which I didn’t need to because the fact is that my parents are lovely people, really very nurturing. My father more notionally as in he’d love to be but mostly he isn’t around, my mother sloppier the later it gets, but well-intentioned, both of them, and kind. Gentle with me, eager to care for me, my mother especially, traits as unforgivable in a parent as in a lover.

So they’d welcomed me in and allowed me to ignore their questions and now it was two days later, early afternoon, and I was in the kitchen making myself a gin and tonic. My whole body, I should mention, abuzz with fury. Drinking an attempt to calm down. Furious with myself because by the time I got to Los Angeles I’d realized, I wasn’t stupid, that I’d done it all wrong.

The childhood fantasy of running away, we’re all familiar, yes? Similar in many respects to the childhood fantasy of being allowed to witness one’s own funeral, the difference is only in emphasis. The child who dreams of witnessing her own funeral dreams of being allowed to hear the unqualified praise that is due the dead; mere mention of her faults is, if only temporarily, if only publicly, banned. The child who dreams of running away knows that in so doing she provokes anger, that her action may in fact be an occasion for the dredging up and reexamination of wrongs committed. But what is this to her? Those wrongs, like the people she has wronged, lie in the past; she has given herself the chance to begin anew.


Of course there’s a reason this fantasy belongs to childhood. Starting over is difficult and painful and the past isn’t dead and buried it isn’t even, etc. And the fact is that starting over becomes more so—difficult and painful I mean—the older one gets, for the older one gets the more numerous the ties to the life one wishes to leave behind, the more ties therefore to cut. The more ties therefore, later, if one is possessed of what is sometimes called a weak ego and what is sometimes called a conscience, to mend.

What I mean is I’d waited too long. If I’d changed my life after leaving graduate school. If I’d changed my life after moving to Lincoln. But I’d waited too long; I’d waited long enough that a change in my life provoked also a change in the lives of others, a violent and unwanted change that I would eventually, I was aware of this, I was not so wholly without feeling that I did not care about this, have to, I think the term is deal with.


Let me try to explain this another way. As a child, my interests, if you could call them that, were the highly regimented activities at which I immediately excelled. The fact that I’m one dissertation away from a PhD in English, this is at least in part because I read easily and early and because grown-ups, teachers especially, do love to compliment a little girl with a big book. If homework can be a hobby it was, throughout elementary and middle and high school, primary among mine. What I wanted was direction and praise for following it. As a child these were easy to find. As an adult I learned that the only people who seemed inclined to give out both were my professors, married men, almost all of them. But you can’t marry your married professor. So instead I married John. John, who was so kind and so supportive and emotionally generous and a good listener, who was everything a liberated woman is supposed to want. But then there was no one to pat me on the head for making the right choice. There was only John, who was so kind. Who was so kind and who wanted me to have desires of my own. Really it was a mean trick that the only one I developed was the desire to leave him.