Tag Archives: Creative nonfiction

What we talk about when we talk about the economy

Recession, the end of fun

Recession, the end of fun

We talk about numbers. Hundreds of banks per month, hundreds of thousands of layoffs, unemployment and unwillingly idle statistics. I theorize that in allowing the corporations to set the tone of journalism, we’ve lost site of the fact that stories should both give us facts and highlight the humanity behind the story. In an attempt to provide this illumination, here’s a story.

As desired entry-level positions are replaced with internships and other “opportunities” slaves wouldn’t consider worthwhile, the number of young people deciding to attend graduate school rather than settle for mind-numbing internet-addicting laze jobs is rising. Well, a lot of that is my theory: the quality of entry-level positions is dropping such that people won’t choose to maintain the position for long, and rather than take another job just like it, they move back into the academy, hoping to bypass the schlock with a graduate degree. Whether the schlock ever goes away or simply becomes more refined I have yet to see.

As the unemployment percentage moves to break 10% and underemployment moves to break 5%, people like my parents fear for their jobs. Articles such as this one, which makes it sound as though the layoffs were lagging behind and have finally caught their stride again, make me worry for my parents. My father is in mainframe software sales support and my mother in middle-management quality assurance, both software related fields. And my mother’s company is military-based, so as we argue over the Lockheed Martin F22s, look to see other military-funding decisions like it that will directly impact my mother’s security. My father has already been laid off four times in ten years and has no fantasies about the security in his current position, though he loves the flexibility of his current job.

Idle grandparents watch the news and don’t know which fearmongering to listen to and which to let roll on by. They fear for their banks, for their children, for their grandchildren. They fear for their savings and for their children’s social security, which they’ll be able to collect on within the next ten years. They watch the news, and a faceless fear that is the abuse of our current media oversaturation takes hold, an ignorance that’s both attacked and perpetuated by the media status quo. In their houses alone, they wait for phonecalls from the people they love that will turn their whole world upside down, that will interrupt the forced peace of their retirement.

Broaching the subject

Broaching the subject

**

“How are you, man?”

The question took me off-guard. So busily did I contemplate how I would make everything work, I didn’t give my status second thought.

I paced the dark, broken street. Construction barrels blocked my natural path, and I dodged them unconsciously.

“I’m fine, Steve. Fine. I got to see Ashley and I side by side with my parents this weekend. That was creepy.”

“Yeah?” His voiced buzzed through the phone, old and tired and needing replacement.

“Yeah. I never realized how similar she was to my mother. I couldn’t deny it, though, not side by side.”

He laughed but didn’t reply.

The broken down Boston neighborhood hovered like a menace. People didn’t linger in the street but to smoke; no sounds of life or celebration. Those were reserved for the bars. How could Ashley do well in this broken down West End neighborhood, lively only when BankNorth Garden held an event? But it was packed tonight, Trivia Tuesday.

I saw her bounce out the door, smiling after all. “She’s coming, I’ve got to go. Thanks for the chat.”

“No problem, man. Anytime, you know that.”

I closed the cell.

“I made a hundred and fifty tonight! Oh, it was so hectic! I ran that whole room myself!” She was all beams and glee, and my world shifted up a notch in brightness.

On the way home, we discussed for the first time not how to make ends meet but what to do with the extra money. We splurged on sandwiches at The Federalist, an expense we could finally afford. Our relationship was filled with expenses we couldn’t afford; clothes at the Goodwill to keep her in good spirits, a brownie for me with lunch, a personal-sized French press for her to use at work, a Virgil’s rootbeer to make my nights a little sweeter. A trip to New York when she just couldn’t stand Boston’s rain anymore, and a trip to the North End when both of us just wanted out of town. We couldn’t afford a dime of it, and yet somehow all our money came together. That night, we discussed Harry Potter; we should buy tickets before they sell out. We didn’t; they sold out.

She, feet and, I would imagine, cheeks, fell asleep. I checked my email, my blog stats, facebook, and then played Bejeweled Blitz while waiting for my mind to surrender consciousness. In between games, I received the following email:

I am afraid I won’t be sending any more bonds for a while, maybe not till next year.  I have just read in the paper that my bank is losing money and is trying to get some of the “bank stimulus money” from the govt.  I really feel nervous about it and I am not sure how it will affect my checking and savings accounts, so I am going to hang on to the bonds in case I need them for emergency funds, etc.  I am not sure if they will be able to get a loan from the govt. and how it will play as far as getting cash, etc.  I hope it won’t put you in too much of a bind.  The bank is Guaranty and it is not a local bank, I believe the main office is in Austin.  I may have to open a checking account with the local Community bank.  We will see.  I will hang on to the bonds and hope that I won’t have to use them to tide me over.  Love always, Nana

Take our rags, sponsored by Guaranty

Take our rags, sponsored by Guaranty

I turned away from the computer, ashamed. But it wasn’t our fault that we couldn’t make ends meet; we were relying on so many things, banks staying open, savings holding out, social security. I looked at Ray, my husband, and I knew that we were making the right decision, and yet shame permeated my heart, and I could see a similar sadness in his eyes.

My grandson is in graduate school. He went away to Boston, alone to chase his dreams, and we’re all so proud of him. I’m so proud of him. I bought a five-thousand dollar savings bond for him in 1987, when he was four. I had planned on giving it to him when we passed away, Ray and I, and while he’s been in school I’ve sent him five-hundred dollar sections of it every other month so that he doesn’t blow it all at once; youth has its irresponsibilities. He sends me emails every now and again to tell me how appreciated the money is, that it makes the difference between making ends meet and living a comfortable life. I know he appreciates them, and that he loves us, and we love him.

But with my bank on the verge of closing, depending on whether it gets this federal loan or not, how am I supposed to send away the money? We may need it; Guaranty has all of our savings! How could things get this bad again? They tell us about mortgages and stimulus packages on the news, but I know we’re not getting the whole story. I know that something insidious is happening right now to bring all of this back to us again. America the brave, the true. Sure. I’m still scared, and so is my husband.

At least my daughters are alright. Donna and Curt are alright. No matter what happens to us, even if we need the bonds, Donna and Curt can look out for Greg.

**

“It doesn’t make any sense,” my father said, “but there’s no reason to tell her that. It’s all FDIC insured, so she won’t lose a dime.”

“I know that, but I don’t want to confuse her. It does make me wonder how I’m going to make rent in August, but we can talk about it later.”

I heard the conference call he had muted drone on in the background; a symptom of our economic failure is lodged deep in that unrecorded conversation and its hardly conscious participants and all calls like it. I remember something my mother had said earlier in the week, that she wasn’t a trust-fund kid but a work-until-they-kick-you-out kid. My father had laughed, had said that he hoped he could work another four years without being laid off again.

“Yeah,” he said, “let’s talk about it later. 10 o’clock on Friday might be too early, but I think I can work it out.”

“Don’t worry, I can wait at the station. I’ll bring a book or something.”

“Alright, I’ll talk to you later.”

And we hung up.

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Fiction, Journalism, Writing

Garden Part Two: Concerning man and beast, God and man

I used to go to this unused farm up in Allen, TX with Kalli. It took about fifteen minutes to drive there from my home, and when we’d arrive I’d let her out of the car and we’d walk down the tree-lined dirt road towards those untended fields. I never did find out the story about how a farm fell into being just a dog park, but a golf course and suburban neighborhood had grown up around it, which always made me suspect that the farmer was waiting for some development company to offer him a price perhaps a little better than fair. While he waited, the fields grew stiff yellow grass and wild flowers and weeds, and trees stood blocking out the houses and the golf course and the roads. Other off-leash dogs and their walkers gave the only evidence that I hadn’t actually left civilization behind.

I wonder whether walking in Allen with Kalli would be like walking with God in the garden. Out in nature, commands nearly cease to exist. Kalli chases field mice and jack rabbits, and I do not worry for her. I take pleasure in the puppy-like qualities she hasn’t outgrown, the smile that so plainly lights up her face when she looks back at me: she’s always fifty feet ahead, just fifty, and she occasionally looks back to make sure that I’m following her or that she’s preemptively following me. If I change directions, she’ll run past me fifty feet, look back, and smile.

Sign of the times

Sign of the times

How different would life be if  Charismatics and other emotive religions could actually fulfill the promises of spiritual awareness with God, if I could know that God was looking after me like so many claim to know it? But I can’t prove that he is; that’s the great trial of faith, to believe that he’s looking even in the absence of proof. But their universal and bland rhetoric states that you can feel it, that you can know for sure beyond the trials of faith; how different would life be if that were the case?

Therefore, how can I help but be happy that she feels so thrilled at these little and simple joys? The best days for her are those when we go out into the field together, and I can tell just by her acknowledgment and constant awareness of my presence that the experience wouldn’t be the same without me. The field wouldn’t bring her so much pleasure if I weren’t there to share it with her.

I have thoughts about leaving civilization, and they’re so tempting since—to an extent—civilization can actually be left behind. Would I more actively pursue happiness if I were to leave my thoughts and the thoughts of men behind in order to participate in this daily happiness with Kalli, or would her elation wear off or my happiness at her elation? I took her out to Allen often enough when I lived nearby, and the pleasure of it never wore off. I can’t imagine it ever waning.

Or am I talking more about hermitude than of abandonment? Could I forget Socrates? Assuming so, would I want to leave my doubt behind? Would I abandon my spiritual resignation?

What would it be like to walk in the garden with God, to always know he’s there, to turn my head every few feet just to make sure that he’s with me, that he hasn’t turned in a different direction, to give chase once I found he had? If my relation to Kalli would be like God’s relation to me, could I sustain that pure, simple happiness that she has in my presence towards God and His presence? Do I really need to leave the city and go into nature to pursue God in this way? Would such simple happiness really require me to stop being me, to sacrifice my self the way in which Kalli has never had to sacrifice her dogness for me?

If the story is true and the knowledge of philosophy came into man after his nature was made, then yes, I suppose I would have to sacrifice the unnatural part in order to participate in walking with God in the garden. But Christ only talks of nullifying the curses laid on us, of freeing us from the burden and yoke of sin. What Christian would say that by becoming like Christ he has lost the knowledge of good and evil but rather gained the ability to always pick good over evil? Would even Christ have said that he knew neither good nor evil but only the will of the Father, as opposed to saying that the will of the Father is good but his actions without the will of the Father are bad, thereby admitting a knowledge of good and evil? But, of course, my phrases give away my opinion on such beliefs, If the story is true and What Christian would say.

A new way to view an rusted triumvirate

A new way to view an rusted triumvirate

I would like to participate in a relationship with God in such a way as Kalli participates in a relationship with me, but the truth denies me: man has the ability to abstract, which separates him from other animals in general and inspires doubt; I abstract, therefore I doubt. Obviously I have said that my dog is rational, a creature which can be taught and cared for, so I do not define man as a rational animal, rational being what distinguishes him from other animals. Rather, man is an abstracting animal, and I would set forth that even if the story of the fall is true, man had in him the ability to abstract before the apple, which led to doubt, which led to a distance from God, which led to the eating.

Could I sustain the happiness of walking with God in the garden as Kalli can sustain her happiness with me? Could I sustain my happiness with her the way it’s claimed, without proof, that God sustains his happiness with me? I don’t know, but in truth I don’t believe so.

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Filed under Criticism, Philosophy/Theology

Garden Part One: Kallion, my dog, my child, my love

My first two-parter, now with picture goodness! I’ll post the second section on Thursday. Thanks for the feedback, the shares, and the views. 🙂 Also, just because you CAN post anonymously doesn’t mean you SHOULD. ;-p

**

I have a dog. Some readers will wonder what breed she is, what her attitude, etc. Others will stiffen slightly, remembering the times they brushed against the wall rather than letting that animal sniff their pleats. Still others will shrug: he has a dog, so what?

I got my dog in college. She had been abandoned in Waco, TX and picked up by the SPCA. She arrived in her cage six hours before the first time I saw her. Her youth and her timidity appealed to me, as did her size. Fifty-two pounds and six months old, the white Husky and German Shepherd mutt backed away from me and my friends in the little play pen. Her color was pure except for the freckles on her nose, and her left ear flopped while the right one stood erect.

I crouched, and her brown eyes looked back into my blues, and I wondered why she was so afraid. Had her previous owners beaten her, teaching her to fear humans? Had she been abandoned, left to struggle for survival still so young? Did she suffer from simple social anxiety, nervous of newcomers and new situations, both of which surrounded her in that moment?

Slowly she came to me. She nuzzled her freckled head under my right hand, and I felt her damp nose against my skin, a wetness I would come to know personally over the subsequent years. She trusted me so quickly, which contrasted so starkly with her fear. Her legs trembled underneath her. But she didn’t whimper, didn’t make a sound.

Photo 159

Her sweetness as I’m writing this post

I couldn’t take her home that day. The SPCA has a policy that animals have to stay with them at least three days, and they had to spay her besides. The day of her operation, I waited in the anteroom, really just little Texas shack attached to a series of tiny monastic cells that a little statue of Saint Francis watched over. The brown wood-panelled walls and dirty linoleum tile muted what light made it through the soft linen curtains, amplifying my worry.

I felt anxious and worried. The procedure had run late, or maybe just the vet performing it, and my legs hopped up and down uncontrollably. I wanted her to be out of that place; I wanted her with me. Already I wanted to protect her from the pain of the world even though, indirectly, I was the one who had put her on the table.

Does understanding these emotions really require a dog person? Do cat persons understand what I went through? Can I ask for a little empathy from parents to picture a little puppy as a little child, afraid and frightened and alone, vulnerable without your care? Or is everyone with me, shaking with me in that stuffy little room?

I already saw myself as her protector, as the one assigned to allow her to experience the world without taking more damage than necessary. I already loved her in some small way, but not as a thing to pet and feed and walk on occasion; rather, I loved her as if I were a parent. No, there is a little abstraction here; I loved her as a guardian. I am not a father and cannot describe the differences (if any exist) between how I feel towards Kalli and how a father might feel towards his child. I love her; I want her with me all of the time. I want to do what’s best for her, and I want to protect her from the harm in this world without sheltering her from the world as it really exists. How do you balance those desires, to protect her and to give her free reign?

I'm chill, daddio. Promise.

I'm chill, daddio. Promise.

The second I got her inside the industrial loft I lived in, she puked a yellow liquid all over my roommate’s green decorative carpet. We had laid it under the Ikea living room table, about five feet from the front door and in between the two off-white cloth couches, and Kalli lurched for it, begging for anything not cement so that the liquid would drain into it. I laughed, but my roommate didn’t react as smoothly.

I called the vet the same day and asked about her health, but they said that she was just reacting to the anesthetic. Days went by: Kalli continued to vomit, and I began to lose confidence in the SPCA’s vet. Kalli wouldn’t eat at all, either. When I spoke with the SPCA again, they suggested that she was just having a hard time adjusting to her new environment and that I should spend more time with her or leave her alone so she can get settled, whichever.

I stayed with her for four days straight. She slept in my bed with me, cuddled inside my fetal abdominal curve or behind the bend of my knees. I researched several tricks to get her to eat: microwaving the food or mixing it with beef broth. Neither worked. I became frustrated with her when she turned away after sniffing the food, yelling out my whys and why nots with violent hand gestures before sinking back in to resignation that for some reason I wasn’t going to be able to keep my dog alive. She continued to waste away.

After ten days I took her to another vet, convinced that the SPCA had pegged her symptoms wrong. The PetsMart (Banfield) vet took simple stool test and basic blood work, which revealed that Kalli suffered from intestinal worms and stomach parasites, respectively. A shot took care of most of her symptoms within hours; the vet recommended that I feed her bread and baby food for the first few days to get her digestive system on track. She began to eat, and I nearly cried. For the curious, she preferred squash baby food, and to this day bread remains one of her favorite treats.

Kalli in Cambridge, MA circa 2006

Kalli in Cambridge, MA circa 2006

Once she fully recovered, I hardly ever had her on a leash. Those of you not from Texas may feel tempted to think of it by its cliché, open ranges and big trucks and cowboy hats, but I lived in busy college-student filled apartment complex and let her out off the leash. I took her out at two in the morning when no one else was around (Baylor is a fairly boring school, after all) and taught her that curbs were boundaries and that I meant it when I said “Come here.”

I had to teach her how to negotiate stairways because she was so afraid of steps; the first time I walked up a small set of five that I normally bypassed, she looked at me from the bottom as if to say, “Good for you, but I’m not following.” I spent thirty minutes to get her up those little steps. I took the time and taught her what she needed to know. I also learned about her, such as when to trust that she’d listen to me and when to take tangible control (Squirrels and rabbits are a dangers, especially since I’ll let her chase them in parks but not in suburbs.).

Did she learn to obey my commands because I gave them frugally and only with reason? I never hit her to make a lesson sink in, and I never gave her treats—she only ate bread aside from her normal food, and I offered that freely, not as a reward. Therefore, I had no positive and no negative feedback to give her aside from my affection and admonition, neither of which really have affect unless you admit that maybe the ways in which people describe dogs’ emotions aren’t just personification. Did she learn to obey my commands because she loved me, perhaps because she was aware that I had taken care of her during her sickness or because I spent time with her as a family member might, as a friend might, as a pack member might? I’d guess the answer lies in that emotional milieu somewhere, but maybe that’s just me.

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Author: Greg Freed

This post won the WOOF contest from PlotDog Press on July 24, 2009.

Other winner:
Zorlone – After Thought – A poem of regret.
Dragon Blogger – Sweet Songs of Youth – Poem about childhood love and innocence.
Jennifer M Scott – Among Lilac – A poem of decisions.

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Writing

St. Patty’s Day train ride

Thanks for the feedback on the last entry, those who posted and those who messaged me. When I ask for feedback, I’m asking for what Brooke offered by telling me what the piece was lacking and where she thought I could move forward; I’m not asking to hear how awesome I am. 🙂 Constructive criticism is win, so give me some.

**

You’re on the red line subway in Boston, Charles/MGH stop heading south. Green surrounds you, sparkly from hats or shiny on pins or soft on jersey-knit shirts or fluffy on toy leprechauns. It’s St. Patty’s day. For some reason, Irish pride shoves this Joyce line in your head: Ireland, they say, has the honor of being the only country which never persecuted the Jews. Do you know why? Because she never let them in!

The train lurches ahead going slower than normal, but that’s to be expected today. You’re going to the parade, and they say that even the real Irish come over to Boston for this. To be honest, you really expected the train to be a little more full.

You pull into Park Street unaware. Really, you should’ve known. This is like a Red Sox night; the Green line bears most of the burden. You look up from your thoughts. You’re submerged in a sea of green people.

Crack a joke about Tokyo, little Japanese karate masters with white gloves politely cramming you like sardines into the train. You know a girl teaching English in Japan, glad to be away from home.

Your mind goes back to Ulysses. He was in Dante; he tried to do what man just can’t do, tried to climb the mountain that man, without manna, cannot climb. He failed and fell.

Propose a thought experiment. Your mind goes dark places when you let it. Your girlfriend is embarrassed for you, but this is legitimate: imagine that you’re not going to the parade; imagine that you’re afraid, that you’re in Germany and that everyone around you knows just like you know where this train is going, or maybe not where, to be precise.

Imagine panic. It drains the blood from the white faces around you, shreds the atonal wails, broken only by the staccato of the men with the guns, few in number but enough to slaughter the lot of you, at least the majority of you; then, when the bullet cases are done hitting the ground, who will be left of the resistance?

No, you file into the train. The cabin is rank with stale sweat, but soon it will be urine. Soon children will lose control, then the adults. It will stink not just of body fluids. Someone will die because they won’t be able to breathe. The people around them will try to shuffle away through the crowd, and the people they shuffle past will let them, not knowing what new company they’ll have.

The walls are painted now with blood from fingernails that have ripped themselves against grooves. The doors are locked; the train is moving; the air is still, refuses to circulate, to become clean. All is stagnant.

Already a part of your humanity is lost. Already you’re afraid, clinging to your instincts to save you in this strange place, this strange time, to save you from this deadly peril. Some maintain through religion or stoicism, but that will all go away, too, under the tyranny of the camp. The metal rods and the senseless killings and the food rations and the showers; it will all strip away what you had just moments ago, moments ago when all you had ripping at your then-stable psyche was fractured wails. Now there’s the copper smell of blood, the fingernails stuck in the grooves. Soon it will be worse.

But no, the thought is ridiculous. You’re on your way to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in south Boston where the police will march, but they’re not going to arrest you. They’re not the ones who shuttled you onto this train. It’s not the same bureaucratic instinct that leads them to form lines with their concrete barricades that leads you away from the train and led Jews to the train. Let the experiment go. Celebrate.

**

Where I’m thinking about going with this piece:

American feeling towards bankers was German feeling towards Jews, coupled with anti-Semitism left over from Middle Ages. Write up scene involving American rhetoric against bankers during 2009 economic crisis, switch bankers with Jews. Point is to re-humanize the German forces; un-PC, I know.

German Holocaust as related to meat-packing industry

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She climbs into bed

It’s not “new” content, but I wanted to test the waters with using creative works here instead of articles. I’ll be guaging your responses carefully, so please comment.

**

She climbs into bed, lays down besides you. Her hand reaches over and softly touches your shoulder. You’re not awake, groggy and exhausted and altogether not in the moment with her.

“I’ve been putting on my medicine,” she says, “so that we can have sex again. I’m horny, and I want you.”

Your body, with little regard to your perceptions, starts that chain of reactions that desires for release, that empathizes with her plight. She wants you, and your body wants release.

You’ve been fighting, you two, and you’ve threatened to leave. In reality, you know you will leave. You know that it’s over, that she can’t do anything to make you stay, that her every effort at reconciliation pushes you away further because it was inspired by a fight, by fear of your leaving rather than by love of you. You like in the most abstract sense that she wants you, but she should’ve wanted you before that dreadful night, before that explosion of “You used to love me! Where did it go?” and her admission, her response that she knew it had gone and she didn’t know why or where. But still she wants you, to have you.

None of that matters now. She’s crawled into bed with you, and she’s woken you up and told you she wants you. The idea of a blowjob, vague and nonspecific, floats into your mind. Your erection starts to form, causes you to roll onto your stomach, pushes at the twisted cloth of your boxers.

The idea of a blowjob wakes you up, completely awake, and she lays beside you, telling you that she wants you.

“Should I shut up and let you sleep?” she asks. You grunt in response, becoming aware that sleep is leaving you involuntarily and won’t be gotten again until this scene plays out.

You take her hand and put it against your straining hardness, hoping against your ever-increasing cognizance that she’ll do it, that she’ll act on impulse and please you.

“Not now,” she says. “I’m all medicined up. I’m filled with medicine.”

You push her hand away, awake and horny and rejected and annoyed.

“Don’t be grumpy,” she pleads. “I want to have sex with you, but I can’t like this.”

You ask yourself what the fuck she had woken you up for, then.

“I’m not grumpy,” you say. And it’s true. Grumpy is a cute little kids word that can’t come close to describing the ferocious tendencies towards destruction your emotions are encapsulating at this point. You turn away from her, fetal position, your pulled back hips making your arousal increasingly uncomfortable. You spit, “You woke me up at three in the morning to be a cock-tease.”

“Not to tease you! I want to but I can’t!” She’s desperate. She doesn’t know how to stop the spiraling descent of your exhausted deflation. She wants to blame you for this in some small, innocent way. She thinks that her intentions were good when she woke you up. She had just wanted to talk; you were the one that wanted to fuck.

“I’m not grumpy. I’m tired and horny. And I’m awake.” The last one isn’t true. You fall back asleep within seconds.

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Controlling passion

This blog post is complete but is also part of a larger article. Your reactions in the comments will decide how quickly I move on to part 2.

Also, I’m still looking for user submissions for the creative part of this blog. Message me with a real story from your life as brief or as full as you’d like, and I’ll make a fiction story out of it.

**

Look into your lovers eyes, those great orbs in whose depths passion has stirred and whose force has partaken in the greatest moments of your life. Her life is crumbling: run your fingers through her hair and tell her it will be alright. She’s put on weight, and her fear of her mother’s harsh criticism has driven her hysterical: call to her lightly, put your hand on her stomach, and tell her that your opinion is the one that matters and that she looks good to you. Look into those eyes and lie. We convince ourselves of the necessity: sometimes such lies are necessary, sometimes little white lies help instead of hurt.
A girl looked at me once, halfway a woman but not quite and me not yet a man, she looked deep into my eyes, placed her hand on mine in the darkness of her Chevy Malibu, and requested of me, “Promise me you’ll never make me cry.” That’s one of those opportunities we men see at the start of nearly every relationship. You listen to her cry about lost loves and what bastards they all were, and then she turns to you and asks you not to treat her like they treated her, to love her where they failed. You don’t know yet whether you can succeed in this task or not—the relationship is young, unformed, and you are inexperienced with her quirks and she with yours. All you know is that you can make her happy if you agree to this demand, and she may leave you if you refuse.

For better or worse, I refused. I told her that I don’t make promises I can’t keep. Thus started the next three torrential years of my life with Christina, artsy Christina, parasitic flower whose maintenance killed me and whose beauty would made me glad to die in such service.

Perhaps six months went by before she asked me her next favor. Christina and I were driving around doing errands in that little blue Chevy of hers when she asked me to promise that I would never cheat on her. Promise me, nineteen year old boy, that for the rest of your life (for I thought our relationship might just last that long) you will never love a woman other than me. She didn’t even make the promise specifically carnal; she asked me to never love another woman.

We know what to do in this situation. We know that the aesthetically correct response is to blindly say, “Yes, honey. You’re my girlfriend, I love you, and I would never cheat on you.” But I’m a man of principle, and I had already refused her once on the grounds that I don’t make promises I can’t make in good faith. I knew that I could not fulfill this one, and I declined; I said I would not promise it, and I didn’t.

I’m not asking today why Christina asked for such a token: I’ve heard her request from multiple sources and have answered it the same way every time. My response is the issue at hand. I’ve also heard the enough responses to my argument to call some standard or cliché. Let me deal with a few superstitions:

1) Fidelity is not a matter assumed virtue can resist. While traveling, I once found myself surrounded by four muggers. I wrestled in high school and trained lightly in several martial arts throughout my life; perhaps I could have fought back. But in a strange country, I let the mugging occur without resistance; I put my hands up in the air and let them slide my wallet out of my back pocket. Several friends, especially those currently in the armed forces, have said that they would have fought back. Others said I acted rightly by potentially negotiating my wallet for my life; perhaps one of them had a knife, or maybe four to one is a bad enough ratio for a deadly beating. Either out of fear or self-knowledge, I knew that I didn’t possess the ability to fight off my attackers. Others assure themselves in the abstract that they have the means at their disposal to resist such wrongs. Only fortune may provide them with an opportunity to back up their boasts.

2) Sexual acts are not always motivated by desire. Just as with any other human action—in fact, sex is rather notorious for this particular aspect, but people seem to forget its complexity when talking about infidelity—sex involves multiple and often warring emotions, including but not limited to confusion, daring, fear, and repression. When I got out of an asexual relationship last November, I traveled and found an opportunity to have sex with someone I didn’t desire at all, one of my sister’s close friends, and we did. Even in hindsight I can’t really say why; some have said that alcohol was a factor, others that sexual frustration from the prior relationship surely played a part, but neither correctly constitute my frame of mind in that moment. My sister was sleeping in the next room; perhaps voyeurism was the feather that broke my hesitation.Perhaps not; a confusing mist obscures the whole situation. I remember thinking as the scene was building, “I can stop this.” The scene was so fragile that just making an impolite or awkward comment, or perhaps just the no when she asked if she could climb into my bed so politely, would’ve made her retreat. But I didn’t, and we did, and there’s no clear-cut issue at hand except that desire itself had little to do with my part in the story.

3) I am not weak-willed. Friends and girlfriends often ask in relation to this refusal of mine whether I can imagine a situation in which I would cheat on them. Though I’m a fairly creative person, I cannot, never can. Just as much as any middle-class American, I hold fidelity as one of my primary values and assumptions in a relationship, especially once the relationship is official. Just as I can act on the principle of refusing to make promises I can’t keep in the face of adversity, I must suppose that I could hold to the principle of fidelity in the face of desire.

Point three, of course, goes back to the two previous superstitions: A situation wouldn’t necessarily spawn from my desire, and even though I feel confident at a distance saying that I wouldn’t act when confronted with my own passion, I know neither what pressures will appear during the confrontation of another’s passion nor how I might react. I do know, however, a great many men choose infidelity when given the chance and then are at a loss for how to explain their choice. I’m also aware that these other men’s decisions are not a matter of financial or political class; infidelity occurs in middle and lower class alike, in Republican and Democrat alike. This information gives me pause, and I wonder how anyone goes along with the promise in the face of such widespread and misunderstood failure except by ignoring the question and simply responding “Yes” because we know that’s the right answer.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Humanistic