As it is with Pique columns, so it is with conversations. There are good ways to begin and there are not-so good ways to begin. This concept, simple as it is, is perhaps best illustrated by an old joke.
Having reluctantly moved out of state to attend college, Jocelyn called home. Her younger brother answered. "How's my darling Fluffy," she asked. "Your cat's dead," her brother answered. Shocked and outraged, she lit into him. "How can you be so cruel? You can't just come right out and tell me something like that. You have to break it to me gently, you moron."
Dumbfounded and disinterested, her brother pleaded ignorance. "Well, what am I supposed to say?"
"Tell me Fluffy was out playing on the roof and fell off. Tell me she was hurt and you took her to the vet. Call me later and tell me the vet did everything she could but Fluffy's in heaven. Jeez, you're such an inconsiderate brother. So, how's mom."
"Mom was out playing on the roof...."
While the content of bad opening sentences has changed over the course of my life, the chilled-to-the-bone feeling they trigger has remained constant. "Share your toys with your cousins" gave way to "Everybody put away your books; we're going to have a pop quiz," as opening lines I hated hearing when I was a kid. A couple of years later they paled in comparison to the heart-stopping, "I think I missed my period," which, ironically, was the first time I fully grasped that old chestnut about watching your life flash before your eyes. I like to think the shock and sadness I felt at the brevity of its flash had more to do with youth than with a pathetic lack of content.
For most of my adult life, that aching feeling of impending doom has accompanied the opening line, "We have to talk," and its workplace variant, "Close the door; we have to talk." There's an ominous, Mobius-like redundancy to beginning a conversation - a talk - by saying, in effect, we have to have a conversation. Nothing good ever followed, not that I heard half of it, having gone into survival mode, scanning all possible escape routes and wondering how much of a career/relationship-limiting move projectile vomiting might be and whether blaming food poisoning would really get me off the hook.
That old, familiar feeling began gnawing away like a ravenous badger the other day when my Perfect Partner said, "I think we should get a new car."
"We just bought a new car," I replied. "Don't you remember, we drove down to Squamish to save a buck a pound on a Thanksgiving turkey and bought a car instead?"