we know who you are
Like everyone who worked in his department, Howard tended toward paranoia as the best defense, particularly when traveling abroad. While he would never be as desirable a target as a diplomat or an agency operative, the enemies would surely rather kill him than some random American tourist. He was certain his name was on some lists. It did give him a certain edge, the idea that at any moment he might be within a sniper’s scope, the notion that at any moment he might be struck down. In the end he was just another bureaucrat, but sometimes when nobody he knew was around, he’d order a martini shaken, not stirred.
we know where you come from
Howard tended to be prepared. When it rained, he had an umbrella. When the restaurant didn’t take credit cards, he had enough cash. He had a living will. He knew how his resources would be divided and under which conditions the doctors would be legally obligated to pull the plug. Though he had grown up in California, he retained his grandparents’ sense of middle-American pragmatism.
we know what you did
Though she understood Charlie’s deep sense of guilt about the loss of his child, Helen tended towards a more Zen-oriented interpretation of the events and her personal involvement in them, and wished that Charlie did too. Though few worse personal catastrophes could be imagined, was the universe not also freeing him, in a sense, as well? Was it not an opportunity for him to make a clean break with his attachments to Anna and the East Coast and his work, and a way to make a new start, perhaps, with her? She realized how ridiculous this sounded even as she verbalized it and breached the topic with him only once. Nevertheless, she wished he’d lose that hangdog look and see the open sky in front of him.
we must ask you why
For the rest of her life, Anna tended to avoid beaches, and to regard people in flip-flops and bathing suits, carrying their aluminum folding chairs, oversize sun umbrellas, coolers, and boom-boxes to the sands as so many lambs being led to the slaughter.
we need you to be different
On assignment overseas, Howard tended to adhere to protocols strictly limiting interactions with the native population. He was enough of a loner to begin with that the rules didn’t really bother him. If nothing else, it gave him an excuse for his solitude. Still, sometimes a woman would turn his head, and he would wonder what it might be like to talk with her, or even to kiss her lips.
we could learn from you
What Dave tended to admire most about the Europeans was what he’d call their “freshness.” Their food had no preservatives and yet it was rarely spoiled. They made fresh loaves of bread every morning. And even though their countries and cities and institutions were older than American ones, they somehow didn’t seem trapped in them. People were out in the streets, walking around, and trying new things. The people seemed somehow younger, more colorful, more new.
we are your America
While most things in his own life were going fairly well, with good reviews, new commissions, travel around the world, and opportunities to reconnect with friends, Roger tended to think of the past decade as the saddest time he had known, as a period in which idealism was finally and irretrievably lost, or at least in America.
we can try
When it came to relationships, Helen said, Charlie tended not to see the forest for the trees. She said things like that when she got angry with him. Charlie didn’t really dispute that, though he never knew exactly what she meant — if the trees were meant to be people, or relationships, or concepts, or whatever, in her analogy.
we need a hand
Charlie and Anna tended to avoid confrontation, while for some reason he and Helen often had heated arguments, often in public places. The strange part was that he felt closer to Helen after they had argued, while the muted agreements and silent daggers Anna would sometimes shoot his way only made him feel like he was living in a gauze-covered world.
we need you with us
Though he tended to avoid unnecessary human contact, Howard did sometimes go on dates. He recognized that the saddest people on the face of the earth are those who die alone, and he enjoyed sex as much as the next guy. He wasn’t the best at approaching people, that’s all. He tended to do better at making conversation in libraries, where brief quiet exchanges are encouraged, than at bars, where people tend to favor brash garrulousnesses and tall tales.