Photo: Darren Braun

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How Can I Know My Loved Ones So Well—And Yet Not at All?
My cat, at least, is another species, so I don't pretend to know why he sniffs chairs or chews plastic bags. It is enough simply to share our love of shrimp and napping. But the humans I live with? In some ways they are utterly familiar: I know that my daughter has a fever because I wake to some invisible molecular disturbance in the room, that my son hates his frittata though he insists he doesn't, and that when I bend to sweep up the spilled oats, my husband is ogling my behind. And yet everywhere, there is evidence of their otherness. I discover that one of them has Googled "Jamie Lee Curtis" during the night. I find a cupful of rocks in the freezer. Billy Joel's "Piano Man" comes on, and my daughter sighs: "This song makes me sad. If all those people are putting bread in his jar, how is he going to get his tips?"

They are strangers. And thank goodness! Otherwise there would be no awe, no suspense, no exquisite wonder—even though if I could, I would jackhammer into their heads (carefully!) to peek inside. I would shrink down and roam around their brains, opening file cabinets, looking into bedside drawers. Instead I just stare at their sleeping faces—beautiful mysteries—as their dreams flicker behind dark lashes, and the pussycat snores gently at the foot of the bed.

Catherine Newman is the author of Waiting for Birdy.


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