I couldn't possibly be as stupid as she was looking at me like I was. No one is. It was, I grant you, very late, and I may not, as it often is, have been talking very well, but this look did not say "you're tired," or even "your brain appears to have shut itself down for the night," but rather, "you have the cranial capacity of a 1+3/4 inch finishing nail that's been bent and pounded back into shape so many times that it has not only metal fatigue, but metal bloody well chronic fatigue syndrome."
Well, maybe I was reading more into her expression than was really there, but she did have an unusually expressive face. It was the kind of face that can make itself disproportionately important to a man's ego, the kind you notice briefly in a crowded train station and can still remember four years later. I had never believed this kind of face existed; I thought it was my mind filling the holes in its representation with idealized projections. But here was one looking across the tortellini bolognese and garlic bread at me, making me feel like a pebble who's forgotten the most basic lessons of rockmanship. Furthermore, it was a face I had known for several months now, and had plenty of time to form an accurate mental model of. What could I do, when the mere existence of this face, expressions disregarded, disproved one of my pet cynical theories? And now this face, which had begun to convert me for the first time into a sort of begrudging optimist, was telling me that I had been unpardonably stupid to ever be anything else, that this made me unworthy... and that I therefore no longer had any reason for optimism. I began to roll up into a foetal position from the sheer paradoxicalness of the whole thing.
"Hey, what's wrong? A moment ago you looked like you were just discovering happiness for the first time."
Yeah. Actually, what had happened was this. We'd gone out to the North End to celebrate our 0.25th anniversary (traditionally known as the "recycled aluminum anniversary"--- I was planning to give her some surprisingly attractive earrings made from the "pull here" tabs of old Coke cans), and I'd been about to rupture a major organ from enthusiasm for this vague new idea that had been forming in my mind. Something about the absence of a purpose in life being a good thing for some reason. I'm sure it was nothing original, but at the time it seemed like a major revelation, because I had never understood it before. Since then I've come once again to not understand it.
So we had ordered dinner, and I had started trying to explain this thing to her. She had always laughed at me when I tried to discuss philosophy, but before that I had thought it was because she believed philosophy had no bearing on real life. Now it suddenly occurred to me that it might be because she had figured out all the answers by the time she was twelve. Still, it was worth it just to make her laugh. I plunged on ahead, not being as clear as I would have liked but hoping that she could see through me anyway, just like she could whenever I tried to hide something from her intentionally. (This, too, tended to make her laugh, but in this case, it was not worth it.) About the time our food arrived, I uttered what I hoped would be the culminating statement of my new theory, but came out sounding like one of those obnoxious little gems of folk wisdom they use to fill up the blank spots in Reader's Digest.