Monday, January 17, 2011

Word of the Day

Today's word is "anguish."

The word comes from  Middle English, via Old French, from the Latin angustia  "tightness," (plural) "straits, distress," (singular) angustus, "narrow."

What it means is, severe mental or physical pain or suffering. 

I remember the first time I associated the word with something I heard (and saw) somebody say aloud. 

It was the summer I was either thirteen or fourteen. We lived in a nice neighborhood in the 'burbs. I know I was younger than fifteen, because if I had been that old, I wouldn't have been hanging out on the corner with other kids in the neighborhood, I'd have been in my mother's car prowling the roads, and since I got my driver's license at fifteen, and since we didn't move there until I was thirteen, then it was one of those two years.

Many times in my life, I wish I'd kept a diary, so I could peg these events to a date. Alas, I did not. 

There were six or seven of us with nothing to do. It was hot, damp, and we were standing listlessly and talking about this and that. As I recall, the group consisted of half a dozen of us. One of my classmates, call him "Rich," his little sister, "Susan," who would have been eleven or twelve. My little brother, and a pair of brothers who were a year or two younger than I, "Ted," and "Thomas." Might have been another kid. (Names all changed, of course.)

As teen and tween conversations sometimes do when groups of them gather, at some point the subject veered into a discussion of sex. It was just talk. There weren't any of us there who knew enough about it to offer anything other than theory -- or so I figured. I mean, I had experimented as much as I could, it wasn't for lack of trying, but at that age, I'd only made it to third base a couple times, and had struck out a lot. 

Somebody brought up the f-word, to sniggering amusement. At which point Susan said, "Oh, Rich does that to me all the time. On his bed."

It so happened I was looking right at Rich when his sister tossed this little nuke into the conversation.

"Susan!" he cried. 

One word, that was it.

Both his voice and his face shined with anguish. You could feel the pain, betrayal, fear -- especially the fear -- in his single word, and his face was what I later saw demonstrated in one of those books on micro-expressions as total surprise: Eyes wide, mouth open in an O-shape, deer in the headlights. 

What he didn't do was call her a liar. What I got was that he was stunned -- that the secret had been so off-handedly revealed. It wasn't as if Susan had pointed her finger accusing him of molestation, it didn't seem all that big a deal, she was ... just sayin', you know? 

Yeah, yeah, I know, you are gonna say, well, it was Louisiana, where your uncle is your father and your sister is your mother and all, but it was quite the shock to me. Why would anybody want to do that with his sister? I could barely stand to be in the same house with my little sisters. The notion of having sex with them was beyond comprehension. Was he crazy

I don't know what happened to Rich and Susan. Their family moved away in the next year or so, and I never said anything about it to anybody, nor, do I think anybody else in that gathering mentioned it, at least not to any adults. But I remember the look on Rich's face and the sound of his voice as if it were yesterday. 

Anguish. Today's word. Use it in good health. 


Ed said...

I wonder what the look was in a year or two when he got her pregnant - I bet it couldn't have been astonishment.

Justin said...

I grew up in the midwest, and personally witnessed two different incidents of incest in my youth.

They tend to make for funny/outrageous stories I tell in more discriminating company. Keep in mind, I was an only child.