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Emi Benn

Case Study (No, I Don’t Remember That)

1.   The Presenting Problem

He lumbers through the house in his thick, towelling robe. Hairy, white knees peep out from the bottom like ugly children peering from behind a curtain. He’ll loiter in the kitchen, reading a newspaper or munching on something from the cupboard. If he’s lonely, he’ll expect you to talk and turn your life into digestible bits. As you do, you can feel him waiting for what he thinks of as the “real news”: romantic intrigue, the gossip of your ninth-grade life, hints of hurt or stew. But when he’s absorbed by the paper and says nothing, you steal into the refrigerator like a ninja and make a getaway.

His bleary fish eyes are bored. They’re set so deep into his head that sometimes you don’t catch their empty gaze. Around you, his weedy, nasal voice echoes off the dingy, white walls—“Your mom cares more about her work than either of us. Isn’t it true? You can’t deny that that’s true.”

As much as you try, you can never not take it personally and sometimes, you privately agree. Then you aren’t sure what bothers you more—you or him—when suddenly, you’re aligned the wrong way, both you and him together on one side against everyone. But you know not to trust any alliance.

You try to hold in the sticky rage: that way he doesn’t win. But you can’t help it; he baits; you argue, even though you know that you’re doing exactly what he wants, conceding a little bit of yourself each time. You once sent a half-eaten banana flying across the kitchen. One moment, you were eating it, the next, it was sailing through the air in a perfect arc before it made contact, mashing against his knees. He acted as if you threw a knife.


2.   Course of Action

Never let on that you don’t like him.

Find a boyfriend. Have him over as often as possible so he feels monitored by that younger, white, cis-gendered, heterosexual replacement and he’s ashamed of his barely covered, middle-aged body.

Don’t be afraid of waiting in the dark when he forgets to pick you up. When he finally arrives more than an hour late after you’ve called three times, store up the humiliation of looking foolish and uncared for. Hold onto it until it becomes a cold, hard thing.

Make him scared that you are getting smart—maybe smarter than he is.

Over and over in your head, practice kicking him where it hurts.

But smile. Make conversation when you can stand to; make him glad that you are being civil. Let him be grateful that you, unlike your mom, are reasonable.

Allow him to think that you are friends.

Reward him by saying something nice, very occasionally, when he deserves it.

Let him see you as the sweet, harmless girl that he thinks all Asian girls really are.

When he asks for advice and tells you that it’s not working with your mom, be ready to tell him to leave.

Be kind but firm.

Do not remember that you were ever scared.

➥ Bio