43. Twentyseven Inches

26 August 2022, 19:06

EZRA: How long is my arm, do you think?

ISABEL: Why do you ask?

EZRA: No reason. I’ll tell you; I measured. My right arm is twentyseven inches from the tip of my middle finger to the seam of my t-shirt where the sleeve was sewn to the body. My left arm is the same, so either I am a proportional human, or TJ Maxx lied to me. I am thinking the latter because, after two washes, the green stripes of this shirt bled into the white spaces around them. Another one bites the dust. Another dayshirt becomes a nightshirt. If I asked you to walk in the day with me, would you?

ISABEL: (sarcastically) That remains to be seen.

(Merriam-Webster and the Legal Information Institute, riding crops tight in their armpits, march up and down the lane. Their horses nicker, whicker, and fart.)

MERRIAM-WEBSTER: “At arm’s length” is an idiom that refers to individuals who “act independently and without one having undue influence over another.”

LEGAL INFORMATION INSTITUTE: “‘Arm’s length’ is an expression which is commonly used to refer to transactions in which two or more unrelated and unaffiliated parties agree to do business, acting independently and in their self-interest.”

SHAKESPEARE: (shrewridden) I hate my wife, allegedly.

SOCRATES: (henpecked, misogynistically) My wife, Xanthippe, is much younger than me. She is a yellow horse and an ill-tempered woman.

ARISTOTLE: (allwisest) My lover, Herpyllis, rides me like a horse. I rest on my hands and knees while she places a bit in my mouth, sits on my back, and whips my behind.

PHYLLIS: That’s not my name, brute! And you said you wanted me to ride on your back. This was all because you told Alexander to avoid me and look! how the tables have turned. Even a great philosopher like yourself is no match for a woman’s charms.

GRAVE-DIGGER: (singing) There was a gorgeous governess, known ‘round town for her stubbornness. She met a pretentious poet; he composed a sloppy sonnet, trying to earn her attention with cleverness.

THE CORPSE: (disgusted) If I were not already dead, that rotten limerick would have done me in for sure.

JOHN LYLY: (speaking to Isabel) “Ah wretched wench, canst thou be so lyght of love, as to chaunge with every winde?”

ISABEL: To all you madmen, with your sickly ideas about women, allow me the final word. I keep him at arm’s length because it is my choice to do so. I tolerate him. It is easier for us to be friends than enemies, or worse, nothing at all. He buries his meaning too deep for any reader to discover it. He writes me into and out of existence. He loves me; he does not love me. I will not play his game. Let him lie still, six feet under, for all I care.

Tip to seam

40. Sunny Rises

Occurred 28 July 2016, afternoon
(Recorded 17 August 2016, 11:49)

He turns twentyone, and the next day she takes him on a twentyone-mile day hike past Ramona Falls and up to Yocum Ridge near Reid Glacier of Mount Hood. It is glorious. He is struck dead in his tracks more than once. By what? Her and her surroundings. It feels like a positive experience, though there is one problematic scene. They are on the way back down, nearing the end of the trail, when she asks, “Do you have a best friend?”

“No, not right now. I’ve had best friends in the past, but I’m kind of on the market. I’m looking for a Jonathan to my David, y’know? Someone to knit my soul to. How about you?”

“No, I don’t either.”

They walk a little farther, and he asks, “Will you be my best friend?”

After a noticeable hesitation, she says, “Maybe, we’ll see.”

. . .

Occurred 12 August 2022, around 15:00
(Recorded 14 August 2022, morning)

The two of them are concluding their conversation. They are placing laptops into bags and cleaning up after their four-hour planning session when she says, “When have I been known to make good choices?”

He does not answer straight away. The retort in his mind needs to be edited, cut away from the script. He laughs and mutters, “Well….” He pushes the door to leave; she is behind him. “I was going to say something sassy, but all I can think of is, ‘You’re friends with me; that’s a good choice.’”

He thinks she laughs, too. Then, she replies, “That remains to be seen.”

. . .

Recorded 17 August 2022, 20:15

All he can do is write. He cannot be honest. Given the unlikely chance that he could speak his mind, what would he say?

“No shot, right?” he shouts aloud, in his bedroom, at his desk, listening to “Theme for Ernie” by Gábor Bolla. The memory dots are connected: “Maybe, we’ll see” and “That remains to be seen.” And that the date of realization is the same: 17 August. Six years later. Ducking irony. No wonder those five words have so occupied his mind. A sarcastic dagger, most likely. She did not mean anything by it. Taken literally, which seems unwise, they indicate indecision. An accidental slip of truth, perhaps. Who knows? She does. He does not.

He has written nothing much but prose recently. James Joyce has captured his attention; he is practicing for the Olympics in boat-rowing on the stream of consciousness. An open faucet. Say what comes to mind. “Men need to address skills deficits to meet healthier relationship expectations” (Matos). Alright, Mr. PsyD, show me how to use outdated statistics to make an argument about how men are emotionally immature compared to women. Gadz, the double standard! An article could never be written about how women might be less skillful in an area compared to men. That would be sexist. The doctor is touching a nerve in him. Fight or flight, baby. How is his emotional intelligence? “The problem for men is that emotional connection is the lifeblood of healthy, long-term love. Emotional connection requires all the skills that families are still not consistently teaching their young boys” (Matos). Why does he find this offensive? His own father, while not being very expressive of his emotions, taught him the importance of emotionally connecting with others. So did his mother. And his parents are living a long-term love. So, what gives? C’mon, Matos, why are you calling out men everywhere? Why paint with so broad a brush? Where is the fineness in your psychological arts? You want men (only?) to do the following:

Level up your mental health game. That means getting into some individual therapy to address your skills gap. It means valuing your own internal world and respecting your ideas enough to communicate them effectively. It means seeing intimacy, romance, and emotional connection as worthy of your time and effort. (Matos)

Mental health is a game? Holy Christ, man, these are people’s minds and well-beings on the line, and you are telling them they can “level up” like it is some virtual reality composed by programmers? Whoa now (pulls back on reigns). Except for the bit about therapy, check, check, and check. Everyone needs it, apparently. What trauma might he address in therapy? (None that he cares to admit in the open.) Is everyone traumatized, or is it possible to escape childhood and adolescence without gaping wounds from parents, siblings, friends, and romantic partners? If it was universally free, he would go. He would sit in a room with a credentialed stranger and say, “I am fine. My mental health is good. I am not depressed or anxious. My parents and my community did not defeat me. I do not think I am psychically damaged.” It is true, but there is no way to say it without sounding like he is boasting. Time for a poem. Let us play.

When Sunny smiles
It brings out the best in him
When she laughs, it is like
The world will never end

When Sunny dreams
He dreams with her
The two are determinedly un-
Conscious, blissfully aware

Of the state of their relationship
They are appositionally opposite
In their personalities and would
Be incompatible if not for

The truth is he loves her
He does not love her
She is a series of contradictory
Statements with a tight waist

Facing east while he faces west
They pass in the night and wave
Hello in the morning at work
Teaching teenagers to read

When Sunny is silent
It allows him a unique
Opportunity to imagine
What she thinks about

She does not think about him
Thankfully, whatever feelings
He has are not reciprocated
She is sericated, queenly

He is plebian and does not
Know how to dress himself
Having never determined
A suitable clothing style

Nothing ever fits
Nothing is ever easy
It all takes so much work
But the Sunnys of the earth

Are covered with pearl-like drops
Of dew and tears, waiting
For themselves to uncurl
From being world’d too much

A poem is a made thing
Art should encourage mannerism
Her stylish style emphasizes
Artifice over realistic depiction

We tread in the footsteps of Old
Masters and paint nudes in comp-
Licated and contrived poses
Have you got acid color in your cheeks?

She breaks with unity
He retains it
She is dynamic
He never moves

The autopsy ends and
The moon coroner packs
Away his saccharine utensils
As Sunny rises.
Somewhere in Central Park

Works Cited

Matos, Greg. “The Rise of Lonely, Single Men.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 9 Aug. 2022, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-state-our-unions/202208/the-rise-lonely-single-men.