eyes

In the backyard, a hammock stretched between two trees like a fishing net. It was just before our speech communications department’s welcome potluck with fruit-in-wiggly-Jell-O and foil-covered casseroles and jalapeño-cheddar burgers. Amy, the director, was sick. So, Christopher, the assistant director, had hosted it. Out by the hammock, he asked one of the new graduate students if she wanted to have a threesome with him and his fiancé. She walked away.

When it happened, I was looking through the porch’s screen. My girlfriend Lauren and I were ready to eat. The evening tinted darker despite flames licking out of the fire pit.

***

I found porn on my computer, Lauren texted.

I had checked the time on my phone as I made copies of rubrics for class. I wondered what the porn was and how I hadn’t deleted it. I didn’t use my laptop for the Internet, only Lauren’s which was always on. I always covered my tracks by clearing history, emptying cookies, and refreshing the cache. I never downloaded anything and never paid for anything. The laptop had pop-up software and virus detectors. It almost would have been easier to deny the porn if I could pass it off as randomly appearing. Without more information, I needed to be vague.

Do you know anything about this? Lauren texted.

What?! I texted back and then turned off my phone and shoved it in my pocket.

***

One of my students was advocating for emergency poles on campus. Her plan for installing poles in the line of sight all around campus made sense. Then she began to list off other colleges to support her argument. While our university was a public research school, the ones she used were historically women-only private institutions.

I’d had another female student attempt to turn in a persuasive topic calling all women to not walk alone at night. In office hours, I had asked her if our town was unsafe. And were only women at risk? I didn’t ask if all crime—want of money, want of flesh, want of power—was mostly done by men. The girl changed her topic to suggest every college student not walk alone.

During the emergency pole speech, I didn’t interrupt. I let her finish. The class applauded as they always did. I wrote on the notes section of her rubric: So, are men the real problem?

As the U.S. soccer team desperately played for an equalizer in the waning moments of extra time against Ghana, I thought that the outcome of the game and my reaction to it might make for an interesting essay. In fact, I was already quite certain of the general tone and themes that would be presented in a piece about either a win or a loss. They went something like this.

Scenario #1: Victory

In this version of the essay, Team U.S.A. ties the score and goes on to win in a penalty kick shootout. I describe the victory with cheesy, predictable platitudes such as: you have to keep on believing in yourself despite seemingly insurmountable odds and success ultimately trumps any hardships one must endure.

The essay then diverts into a deep, introspective tangent, in which I have the epiphany that life trudges forward with predictable monotony no matter how joyous a single accomplishment is. I go on to describe how unadorned moments comprise the essence of existence, not the occasional supernova of the ego. I end this section by stating a maxim, for example: After the flames of temporary glory have turned to ash, one must resume the search for contentedness in the small, poorly-lit corners of life.

This version of the essay concludes with me witnessing something outdoors, for instance, a bird landing on the feeder and pecking at the suet. I smile and bask in the enlightened perspective that no great achievement can replace such a moment of simple beauty and connectivity with the universe. And then winning a soccer match doesn’t seem so impressive anymore.

Scenario #2: Defeat

In this version of the essay, team U.S.A. loses. I am crestfallen, which prompts a comparison between following a sports team and being in a relationship. I talk about how, with both, there is a strong tendency to root your emotional well-being in an externality. Then, I equate winning with being in love and losing with heartbreak by writing something to the tune of: When times are good, you feast with the gods. In bad times, all the world casts long shadows. I complete the metaphor with a witty one-liner, such as: But with love and sport, even when you direct a string of obscenities at your beloved, throw the remote control at them and storm out of the room, vowing that this time you’re tuning out for good, you sheepishly return and give things another shot.

After a weak transitional paragraph, the piece assumes an angry tone and I lash out against the profit-driven, mainstream-media-controlled consumer culture. I construct a pointed argument about how the sporting industry is just bread and circuses and Team U.S.A. is a bunch of gladiators used to distract people from the issues that really matter.

I can barely contain my rage; I seethe and flecks of spittle fly from my mouth as I write about America being currently engaged in the longest war in its history, the thousands of lives that have been ruined by pedophilic priests, and the millions of gallons of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, among other topics.

In the following section, the tone shifts from angry to somber. I realize that, in a way, this loss is an awakening. I declare that I now understand the proper function of sport is to deflect reality and will never again buy into the corporate-hype advertising machine. The essay ends with me characterizing the masses as bovine for continuing to be duped by the sporting world’s high-production stagecraft.

Scenario #3: What actually happened

Team U.S.A. loses. My friend shuts the TV off quickly, before we are forced to see the other side’s victory celebration. We sit in tense, awkward silence for a few moments and I break it by saying, “Fuck it. Good thing I bet on Ghana.”

On the ride home I can tell I’m a little tipsy because whenever I drive drunk the car’s hood appears superimposed on the road. When I operate the vehicle in this state I’m not really driving, but rather guiding the hood in the appropriate direction.

I arrive home tired from drinking midday beers so I take a nap. When I awake the sting of defeat lingers. To deflect it, I go for a bike ride, channeling my frustration into climbing the biggest hill in the area. It is a 15 minute uphill charge of pain and sweat and grimacing.

Upon cresting the hill I turn right around and fly down at breakneck speed. I yell out, “Fuck you motherfuckers.” But I don’t really know who the motherfuckers are or why I’m mad at them.

As I’m riding I wish I had a pen and paper because I have a wonderful idea for an essay. I want to write about the absurdity of predicting how you’re going to feel about something before it happens.

 

­She’s been out now for seven hours without a phone call or anything.

I’m worried, but I’m not worried.  I mean, I know nothing really bad is going to happen, but I’m worried because it’s been seven hours.

More than that, I’m pissed because if she wants to play that game, then fine.  I’m not going to call first.  She needs to call first.

She’s the one that’s out.  And, yes, it takes two people to have an argument, but she’s the one who has always got be right and I have no say in whateverthefuck it is.

It’s okay for her to bring up irrelevant shit, but not me, ever, and it’s only at her convenience do we get to ever talk about it, but fine.

So, yeah, go ahead, go out and have margaritas and I’ll just sit here alone.  Fine.

Fine, fine, fine.

I search the kitchen for tequila and then the fridge for lime and some mix, but there’s nothing.  And I don’t feel like going out.

Instead, my fantasy is my wife comes home and we hash this thing out and fix them, because I don’t like being mad and I don’t like not sleeping next to her, but, fuck- she can ruin a day.

And maybe it’s me, but it’s not all me.

We both need to find a better way of talking to each other. I imagine me saying to her:  “You don’t like how I talk to you, I don’t like how you talk to me, we both do shit that drives one-another up the Goddamn wall, but we have to fix this if we’re going to spend a lot of years together.”

I see myself saying this.

Not placing blame, not taking blame, but making this an equal thing and telling her this in a way that makes sense and makes us talk and figure all of this out.

And then I fantasize that she doesn’t come home tonight and stays over at Deena’s and that when she finally does come the next morning, I’m calm.

I say that I would never not come home.  And she would feel bad.

And I’d say that by not coming home she started on this path that’s a bad path.  That we don’t want to go down this path because it leads to the end.

The end of us.

And no matter how mad I am, I certainly don’t want that. Even though I fantasize about that, too.  I love her and she drives me nuts.  And stupid arguments like this shouldn’t make us want to go down that road.

I don’t want to fight with my wife.

What happens to us humans that when we get into relationships, we need to fight about insignificant things to the point where the fight itself becomes significant?

Anyone who says that relationships should be easy, that they shouldn’t require work, is either a fucking moron, or has never had a real and serious relationship with real and serious feelings and emotions.  Or they’re full of shit and won’t admit how they really feel.

Relationships are work.

They’re a full-time job, and like any full-time job, sometimes we feel like quitting.  But we don’t because this is the best job there is and the benefits are huge.

So sometimes, no matter how much we feel like we’re in a shit hole, we stay because we can climb out and wash off and just enjoy each other’s light.  But finding the light when we ourselves feel dark and dim is difficult.  So I end up in a shit hole because I want it this way, she wants it that way and who fucking cares anyway?

I mean what difference does it make?

None.

Absolutely none, but I want it this way and she wants it that way.  And I don’t want it that way, so I yelled and I screamed and I said that she was bringing old shit up so I began bringing up old shit and that’s how I ended up in a shit hole.

And she ended up going out without me to what is undoubtedly the best Cinco de Mayo party ever in the entire universe for all eternity.

How could she be out celebrating the Fifth of May when, clearly, it didn’t go so well for us?

The fourth of May was fantastic.

Maybe she’s crying on Deena’s shoulder about what an asshole I am.

And I am and for what?  Because I like it this way?  I don’t even really care.  I don’t even really know what we fight about most of the time.  I suppose whatever it is, what’s really going on is that I’m very controlling because the rest of my life feels so out of control.  So it has be her fault, right?

We were supposed to have a nice dinner tonight but instead I have leftover Pad Thai and cold wonton soup with shrimp.

Not a bad dinner, actually, just not one that I’d planned on.

How does she put up with me?  And how do I with her?  Because we work at it.  This is part of the process.  We work and we get through it and we’re good for a while.  Love is hard work.

Love is not loving the person for the things you like about them, it’s loving them despite their faults, and sticking by them no matter what, even when you’re really mad at the insignificant whatever-it-is.

I don’t think I could live a day without her.

If she left or something happened, I don’t know how I’d be able to function.  She is everything to me.  But goddamn, she frustrates the hell out of me and how do I get past all the little things that frustrate the piss out of me? They just build up like a snowball rolling down a hill, and it’s all the little things which become this one big thing and it drives me bananas.

How the fuck do you reconcile that?  It’s like an old one-two.

Love me with the left, bruise me with the right.

That’s a deadly combo.

It can kill relationships.

Just kill them.

But she has to call first.  I always feel like I come around first and this time I want her to.  Which is stupid.  I love her, I should just call.  But, no.  I just want to feel right.  Which is even more stupid.

So I’m alone with the dog and she’s out.  I was supposed to be out, but I’m not.

She’s out and good for her.

And all I can think about is sleeping next to her with the dog at our feet, all warm and happy.  I don’t even know what we were really arguing about.  But we both want to be right and it seems so important to be right.

I just sit on the sofa and the fantasies of being single swim inside my brain.  What would it would be like to be single again?  I like to think that I’d be fucking any chick with a pulse.

I also think about how miserable I’d be, how we would both be so unhappy.  How dating sucks and how lucky we are to have each other, and, if that’s true, what the fuck is wrong with us that we get so mad at each other over nothing.

My Dad likes to say “Do you want be right, or do you want be happy?”

I want to be fucking right!

Just once!

Right or happy.  I really want to be happy.  And I want her to be happy.  I want us both to be happy and not fight about stupid shit.

The thought of being without her scares me.

The dog trots into the room and stands in front of me.  He tilts his head to one side like he’s trying to figure me out.  Good luck, I say.  He inches closer, jumps onto the sofa next to me, and just stares at me.

“What the fuck do you want?  Isn’t it bad enough for me right now?  You’ve got to make me feel like an asshole, too?”

He nudges my hand with his head.  I stroke his furry little head and pet his back and he lays down on my leg.

What the fuck is he doing?

I think it’s got to be one of two things:  He’s either plotting something and trying to distract me with kindness, or maybe he just knows I’m sad and maybe he doesn’t want me to be sad.  He licks my hand and lays his head down on my leg.  I sit on the sofa for an hour just petting him gently.  His fur is soft and he’s warm against me.

I start to cry a little.

It’s a bit off-putting to think that maybe I fucked up so bad that even the dog knows, but he’s here to tell me it’s going to be okay.

And it will because I want it to be, so I will do what it takes to make it right.

“Happy Cinco de Mayo, buddy.”

What I discovered in my attempt to select books for this month’s column is that there are more books for me to read than I have time. So, I’ve decided this month’s focus would be about the “little press”. To me every independent press is a champion in its own right, but there were a couple presses in particular that stood out for me this month. While these two selections are only two among many worthy titles, I really felt like these were outstanding. I like books of all shapes, sizes, styles and (okay, sorry non-fiction, you . . . not so much) I try to be as well rounded as possible however; I do tend towards shorter books when in a pinch for time. I’ve come to learn though, shorter books are equal if not more time consuming than a novel or short-story because they are replete with thought-provoking sentences, images and often, complex paragraphs of poetry. A shorter text requires a bit more commitment from my brain. I cannot flip the pages as easily, partially because I want so much to savor the words and sentences, so I read slowly (that and I seem to have horrible reading comprehension or ADHD) and thus, a fifty page book takes me almost as long as if it were two hundred and fifty. What does all this mean? Quite simply put: Good writing is good writing regardless of length.