6. The man accompanies his father, who's in mental decline, to see a neurologist. The man’s father, once a brilliant professor, is forced to take a mini mental exam. The reason it’s called a mini mental exam is it's intended to make the man’s father feel small. The exam is administered by a woman who, by dint of administering the test, is insulting his father, the man believes. The woman has administered many of these tests before, and she will administer many more in the future. Until five years ago, the man thinks, until two years ago, the man’s father could have run mental circles around this woman. For 50 years, the man’s father taught constitutional law. The woman asks the man’s father who the president of the United States is. It’s George W. Bush, but the man's father doesn’t know this. Or maybe he knows it, but he can’t come up with the words. The man's father tries to fake the answer, because faking, the man has learned, is the last thing to go. The man's father says, "I liked the guy before him better." The man's father once knew the answer to everything, and in having all the answers, he assured the man that all was okay in the world. The man is terrified for his father. He's terrified for himself. The man now knows what lies in wait for them both.
7. When the man started to see his future wife, things were stop-and-go and then stop again. One of their early dates was a camping trip. The man's future wife was going camping with eight of her closest friends, and the man was welcome to join them. It seemed the man’s future wife didn’t want a date. She wanted a friend—a friend who liked camping, which the man didn't. But the man went along because the heart is foolish.
One by one, the man's future wife’s friends pulled out of the camping trip, so that soon it was just the man and his future wife and one of his future wife's friends, who happened to have the same first name as the man and had known the man’s future wife since they were 16. It was the three of them in a pup tent made for two; the man was the odd man out. The man’s future wife had forgotten her toothbrush, so the man offered her his. It was the single romantic gesture in a wholly unromantic weekend. The man and his future wife, the man was sure, would never see each other again.
Two weeks later, the man ran into his future wife in the rain, and it was as if they'd had a one-night stand. Here was a girl who had used his toothbrush, and now they couldn’t so much as speak. When he got home, the man phoned his future wife and said, "What happened? I thought we liked each other. I thought you liked me." The man was so scared he thought he might hyperventilate. Because what if his future wife didn’t like him back? The man wouldn't be able to live with the humiliation. You need to make yourself vulnerable, the man told himself, because there is no love without vulnerability. That was why the man made that phone call.
This is the part of the story that's not true. It was the man's future wife who made that phone call. She was the one who said those words. But the man, being a man, wished he had said them. He was thinking of them, but he needed someone to show him how.
Joshua Henkin is the author of The World Without You.
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