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A Very Full Sentence

“Your mother knows you’re back on drugs.”

            These were the words I heard on a cold spring morning in Boston. I was there to watch family run the Boston Marathon, and had ventured out of my hotel on the racing route near downtown to get a coffee. Walking fast, I approached a young couple with a woman pushing a stroller and a man walking dejectedly beside her. As I hurried past in search of breakfast, I heard the woman say in a rough Boston accent…

            “Your mother knows you’re back on drugs.”

            Never in the history of language have I heard a sentence with so many implications. Hemmingway himself couldn’t have crafted a fuller story. I nearly collapsed with the story this single sentence summoned into my mind as I wandered into a coffee shop just up the hill. Let’s unpack this sentence.

            First of all, we know this man had been on drugs, quit, and started using again. We also know that he’d been keeping this information from his mother. Which means he did not want her to find out. It also means he told her he had quit, otherwise her knowing would not be a revelation. And now, this deception has failed. His relationship is clearly strained with his mother, because him being told this is implied to be a bad thing that will lead to future problems. We also know that there is an invisible party present in this story who has informed the mother. Was it the person saying this sentence? Was it an unnamed character? Or was it the mother herself, who discovered her son using drugs when he thought he’d kept it from her? The mind wonders. And this is all without understanding the person who is delivering this information. From the sentence alone, we know that it is not the mother herself sharing this information. A third character, not the man, not the mother, is delivering this information. And she knows that his mother knows, and now she’s telling him, which means that she knew before him. What could her motivations be to share this? Is it to warn him to stop? Is it to be spiteful and mean? Is it to prepare him to do better at hiding further use from his mother? AND THIS IS WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING THAT THIS WOMAN IS PUSHING A BABY STROLLER! Knowing this opens all sorts of familial drama, but taking the sentence as a singular, isolated entity is enough to require a full novelization of words to play out.

            Why do I share this? It’s to illustrate my appreciation for the city of Boston. Where else would a sentence so full of drama, life, and syntactically well-constructed word choice be uttered in public, loud enough to be heard, and without any hint of self-conscious restraint. This sentence should be plastered on websites, social media pages, and on a giant billboard at the airport beneath the words “Welcome to Boston.” I make no sweeping generalizations here. Bostonians are wonderful people, I’m sure, and these are hardly representatives of the city as a whole. But bravo to a city that produces people who can create such a sentence and share it with the world.

            Hemingway himself famously once wrote a story that read, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The implications of that six-word sentence are grand. But Hemingway must bow to the seven words in “Your mother knows you’re back on drugs.” Bravo Boston. I can only pray that my city is ever capable of making a sentence like this.