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In the morning, I heard a familiar voice downstairs. I lay still for a second and listened to be sure. It was Penny. She'd decided to show up after all.
Within the next two hours, relatives large and small trickled into my parents' house, nieces and nephews, my sister and her lesbian lover, their chow-chow. Penny was as cheerful as I'd ever seen her, passing around bean dip, making small talk. She could really turn on the charm when she needed to.
Needless to say, the bean dip got offered to everyone but me.
So I sat in the corner and talked to my sister, who had just finished a popular large-group therapy session with boot-camp-like tactics and cartoonish jargon. Instantly she sensed the tension between Penny and me.
"Can I coach you?" she said.
"That's the term we use."
"Okay, fine. Coach me."
"What's broken here?"
"No, here," she poked me hard in the chest. "You. You are what's broken here."
"Well, Penny too…"
"Right now we're talking about you. Take responsibility. Now what is the one thing you most fear about yourself?"
I paused for a moment.
"That I'm just an ordinary, average guy…?"
"That you're worthless?"
"I didn't say worthless. I said ordinary."
"You don't think you're worthless?"
"I don't think so."
She frowned, disapprovingly. "Are you sure? Most people are afraid they're worthless."
"No. I think my fear is of being ordinary."
"Okay, fine. Ordinary. So what's wrong with being ordinary?"
I thought for a long time. She was staring at me—wide-eyed, evangelical.
She exhaled with deep satisfaction and hugged me hard.
"What I hear you saying is that you think you're worthless. I'm so proud of you." Then she got up, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye, and took my hand in hers.
"Wait. What are we doing?"
"There's someone I want to introduce you to." And then she began walking me across the living room, toward my broken and beautiful wife.