Making a Case
My husband loves a game called Apples to Apples. Every player is dealt seven noun cards. One player (the judge) turns over an adjective card, everyone throws face-down whichever of their nouns they determine is the best fit, and the judge selects a winner.
I could like Apples to Apples if it were played in silence. That is, if whoever was the judge determined on their own, without input, which card (Princess Diana, moonlight, Las Vegas, a red rose, chocolate cake) was best encapsulated by “Beautiful.” But that’s not how my husband wants to play. The whole appeal of this game, for my husband, is that each player “makes their case.” He feels most victorious when his card is chosen if the noun-adjective fit is at best a stretch: when “poison ivy,” for example, is selected for “Terrifying.”
But that’s precisely why I hate this game: the irrationality, the way it rewards those, like my husband, who dominate others with words. The first time I played Apples to Apples was with a bunch of my husband’s colleagues, all intelligent, eloquent, and vociferous people like himself. I remember the adjective was “Creative,” and I was sure I would win that round because I had “Shakespeare.” I smiled when I played that card. My husband, then my new boyfriend, was the judge that round, because he’d won the last hand—the most recent winner is always the judge. His friend Fernanda, a beautiful Portuguese woman with short, clipped hair, played “silk.” “Shakespeare isn’t creative,” Fernanda insisted, in her lovely accent. “Most of Shakespeare’s plays recycle plots of earlier stories and fables.” I don’t think I said anything in Shakespeare’s defense. Well, it seemed unnecessary, ludicrous even, to defend Shakespeare. Yet my husband, boyfriend at the time, chose “silk.”
He teaches our children to be, like annoying, beautiful Fernanda, what he calls “advocates.” When our daughter starts high school, he wants Annie to join Debate. At dinner, when I say, “What movie should we all watch tonight?” he’ll tell our kids, “Make your case.” After Annie rattles off a litany of why we should watch Legally Blonde, he laughs and says, “Well done! Legally Blonde it is!” Who appointed him judge, I want to know?
When I’m angry or upset, the first thing to go is speech. I stutter; my words trip and tumble. But just because I can’t express myself forcefully, or can’t object when others roll out smooth, ornate arguments, like unfurling decorated scrolls, that doesn’t mean I consent to what they say.
I’m reading to our son, Ethan, one night; Ethan still likes to curl up inside my arm and be read to. He’s the child who resembles me. And it occurs to me that my husband is like the hare in the picture book we’re reading, the hare who over-relies on his talent (speed). I wonder if this is true of all people with skills, that they overestimate how that skill will safeguard them. I read to Ethan about the plodding but reliable tortoise. “Deliberate” means both ‘slow’ and ‘intentional,’” I tell Ethan. He also likes adjectives. We both prefer to contemplate words in isolation, to hold them up to the light.
My husband is a professional talker. But does he ever listen to himself? Does he realize how specious and unconvincing his net of words are? “She meant nothing to me.” Does he believe I’m actually persuaded? It’s foolish to read the absence of a comeback as capitulation or assent. I stroke Ethan’s soft hair, it needs trimming; I read to him about the tortoise, marching right past the dozing hare.
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