In Solving for X

No one wants to hear bad news. That’s axiomatic, but the real truth is that no one wants to hear your bad news. It doesn’t matter about the particular bad news, whether it’s your heart attack or you’ve been fired or your mother finally has to be put in a home (although that one’s not quite personal and has a few logistical concerns plenty of other people will have in common, so, as long as the discussion’s confined to nuts-and-bolts issues, you might get away with it, for a while). Once you mention the bad fortune on more than two, at the very most three, occasions, attention will drift. If you fail to recognize early that you are a bore, you will be dismissed.

That’s the hard equation you must accept. In solving for X, you are X, as in Xed out of the picture and X marks the spot, except there is no treasure.

You’re not allowed to complain. You may not even cite the fact of whatever’s wrong, meaning the simple fact that anything’s wrong. It is your fault, you are to blame, and if it’s not, if you mention it, it might as well be your fault. You deserve it for opening your mouth.

That’s the hard equation you must accept. In solving for X, you are X, as in Xed out of the picture and X marks the spot, except there is no treasure. The X is the target. The designated area is haunted or tainted or corrupted or doomed. Take your pick. It’s a quarantine zone, and you, at its center, are the source of all the ill radiating outward.

It’s not simply that friends or colleagues will shun you. Your family, too, will write you off. Shirt-tail relations, if they hear, will not care because you’ve never concerned them, but if there are factions in those outer, familial ruins, you’ll be proof to one side of the other side’s worthlessness if not disgrace. Closer in — among aunts, uncles, and cousins — your case will engender harder, more personal disapproval. Siblings will hate you. Parents will stand up for you out of duty, but a spouse, who will hang on the longest, also will turn the hardest if you don’t stop whining and get on with your life.

So, to review, one or two mentions at most. Sympathy will be yours, but only of the mildest sort. Keep your misery to yourself. Let it fester. With luck and, yes, diligence, you’ll forget about it or it will go away. If it’s part of your daily or even occasional conversation, you won’t be party to many conversations at all. You’ll be buying those doughnut packs and chocolate milk cartons with your spare quarters and sitting at a far table by yourself or beside the accounting drone who smacks his lips and looks sideways every time he tries to talk, which is all too often. Check with anyone who’s been stuck with the guy in an elevator. He’ll tell you his life in two-minute bursts.

It’s just like your own. No wonder he’s scared.

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