by Joanna Bettelheim

Honorable Mention – Flash 405, June 2017: “Nemesis”

Debate by Joanna Bettelheim


Andrew Weber. Why is it that the enemies we make in our youth tend to be remembered by their full names?

I was a self-declared agnostic feminist in suburban Texas, tenuously grasping at what either of those declarations actually meant. He was a conservative Christian who found my views an intellectual novelty. Abortion, the death penalty, feminism, God. There was hardly a topic that wouldn’t initiate heated discussion, and they almost all ended the same way. Me, exasperated and struggling. Him, chuckling smugly to himself.

Eventually I realized why it was I always “lost” these arguments. I saw each debate as an opportunity to better understand myself and the world around me by defending my opinions and why I held them. Part of me wanted to be persuaded. Because wouldn’t it make things so much easier to agree with him, and thus everyone else? He was not debating opinions. He was reciting facts. He was not looking to understand the way that I thought, much less felt. If this were a sport, I was playing tennis; he was an English lord hunting foxes.

“This made me think of you,” I said during a spare moment in Chemistry class. It was a keychain that read, “I’d like to see things from your point of view, but I can’t get my head that far up my ass.” He smiled, amused that he had driven me to insult.

Six years later we attended the same wedding. I was back in Texas after graduating from a small liberal arts college in New York, with an emphasis on liberal, and working retail. He was a civil engineer and happily married to his high school sweetheart. After awkward hellos, our conversation was sparse.

“Kevan’s still in New York, right?” I offered. He gave a sideways glance towards the floor.

“Yeah, I haven’t really talked to him since he, you know, came out.” Thirty more seconds of awkward small talk allowed him to politely return to his own table.

Maybe it’s unfair for me to assume that he walked away thinking that he had won yet again, that he had the better life. But at least that time, I sat there thinking the same thing.


Judge’s Comments:
This feels like a very accurate snapshot of the polarization of today’s political environment. This situation is so relatable, though I will say the participants in this debate are far more respectful to each other than what is seen on Twitter these days.

Joanna Bettelheim is currently living in Bronxville, New York and pursuing her MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She can knit and run, but not at the same time.

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