Fear and Indolence in 2006

M. A. Istvan Jr.

Try to shake these thoughts by getting up. Undress. She agreed, remind yourself, that you would pack for the move to Pittsburg at the end of the summer, and that you would do the cooking and cleaning in the meantime. Lie back down on the air-mattress. Find yourself supposing what you wish you were not supposing (even were it true): that she holds the dreaded thought. Inquire, “What’s wrong?”

Hear the above apartment’s washer vibrate the windows. Lose yourself (willfully?) in the memory of plugging the seams between the panes with playdough to muffle the rattling. Regain yourself (willfully?) in guilt over how this summer is going to be like the last few: only her working a job. You already asked, but solicit again the “Yes” with: “That was fun tonight, huh?” Wait a moment after her distant response before asking “Whatchya thinkin’?”

Just as the spin-cycle stops, long to prove yourself right about knowing what thought hovers behind that nail-focused face. “Tell me—whatever it is.” Yet, as you voice this question, hope—and even begin believing (slightly)—that her response of “Nothing” indicates just that. Do not believe it, though, goes your feeling; probe, unveil lest you torment both her and you. Catch yourself hoping that her response was a lie. Catch yourself longing to be saddened. Finally, nudge her. Nudge her with: “Sumpin’s wrong.”

Just as she indicates that she is about to speak, clench your teeth for the blow. With closed eyes, repent that longing to be saddened. Hear her reveal what you feared—but did not believe entirely—that she had in mind and was going to reveal: “I know we agreed that you wouldn’t work this summer, but I think you should.” Recognize at once that here is a chance to conquer fear, that she is motivating you to fight against your life-long enemy: cowardice. An instant later, though, succumb to the numb, stomach-sinking, detached, this-isn’t-happening feeling.

Remain stunned that what you feared might be on her mind was on her mind. Screw yourself up with the worry that she did not have this issue on her mind all along, but spoke as if she did only after picking up from your nagging that this is what you were worried was on her mind. Realize, in turn, that even if it was on her mind all along, you still should have kept your mouth shut: getting her to voice it not only makes it tough to convince yourself that she might not have it on her mind, it also hinders the undertaking of keeping the issue out of mind. For—and make sure to think this out carefully in your head—the person voicing it, your wife, knows that you have heard and (unlike the bearded guy in the starving-children commercial who disappears with a button) there is no escaping her presence—the presence before which you must handle the news, the presence that will be watching you handle the news, the presence that you feel you cannot let down.

Contrary to your want for this all to have never happened, or at least for it all to go away, notice commenting with a tone of pride about having guessed right: “I knew that was the matter”—this not just to say something to fill the already too-long silence, as well as to make it her turn to speak, as well as of course to flaunt that you knew what was up, but also to strike your own self with a blow. For with these words—and make sure to think this out carefully in your head—you acknowledge it as something significant enough actually to be “the matter” with her, which is a blow that will increase your distress (something you unconsciously want to do since your usual aim out of such binds is to receive pity from her for making you so distressed). Since she offers no words, words to give you at least some respite from your downward spiral, feel panic begin flowing in. Sit there, feeling panic build, waiting for an idea about how to respond to what she revealed, to what was barely tolerable being merely thought by her, to what you hoped would never extend beyond the privacy of her mind.

After a few endless moments of silence, leave the bedroom without explanation. Notice that your pain increases when she does not stop you or ask you for an explanation, since this means—well, at least take it to mean—that she is not going to take it back, that the issue is not up for debate, and that she does not care if you are upset. Not really hoping to find anything online, search “jobs in Nashville.” Work yourself up when your feeble effort unearths nothing. Feel that urge to rebel, that urge arising anytime a situation threatens to exact something of you.

Walk past the room that she is in. Give her another chance to do something to make this all better or even just to say anything so that you can be at least temporarily distracted from what you are feeling (and perhaps even so that you might find in her words some hope for a line of flight from death ground). When she does nothing, says nothing, picture yourself punching a wall, throwing a flower pot out the window. Lacking the energy and the trigger, and knowing that you lack righteousness, do not do any such violent lashing out. Violent lashing out in these circumstances, understand, will provoke anger, not pity. Just lie down in the closet of the guest-bedroom like you do. Numb, want out of this.

Return upon hearing another load start. Complain, “There’s nothing!” Keep prodding her in subtle ways for a response—any response. As she dozes, having never spoken, spoil for a quarrel despite your own exhaustion and lack of ground to stand upon. Do not let this go unresolved to plague you! Throughout the night, offer suggestions that you know she will dislike since she wants to see you nights and weekends. “Maybe a night watchman or weekend retail.” Feel that this tactic to punish her for speaking the never-to-be-spoken is ineffectual, especially since she is likely asleep. And know that it is sick, that you are sick. Know that you are sick not only because money is needed for the move and that you working would be fair since she’s working, but also because you are scared to do what it takes to develop.

Wake up. Try remaining asleep like a drunk does when he knows that he faces a day without alcohol. Be visibly depressed today in order to earn pity. Keep verbalizing your worry about what job you can get. Finally, go—both of you—to the Kaplan website. Search for a position as a tutor, this being her first interaction with you since the revelation. Hate her for helping you search as opposed to bargaining with you (as in fact you have been doing with her in your head: “I’ll massage you every day in addition to cooking, cleaning, and packing if you just take back your demand—indeed, if you just make the universe rewind to before you voiced your demand.”) When you see that applicants must audition for the position, yell: “I don’t even agree with this bullshit company.” Kick the shelf of LSAT books from last summer’s studying, not trying to keep covered, to your surprise, that your fear of the audition is the reason.

Lie down in bed. Roll off with a thud. Swoon and moan on the floor. Go back into bed. When she finally states, “You don’t have to work,” which she does perhaps after letting into her mind the fact that cooking, cleaning, and packing counts as a real job (a point that you did not bring up because you did not believe that it did and you knew that you guys needed the money), be happy and saddened at once—happy because she finally let you off the hook, thus taking off some of the pressure spurring you to challenge yourself, and yet sad for various reasons, such as that her statement does not change the fact that she wants you to work, that her statement testifies to her acknowledgement of your cowardice and that she is your enabler, and that her statement has taken off some of the pressure spurring you to develop. Then, strangely made confident by her statement (precisely because the pressure has eased off a bit), find yourself responding, to your surprise, “No. I must.”

Build up nerve to do Kaplan. After all, I’m an aspiring lawyer, say to yourself in your upward climb out of bereavement. Grudgingly apply by nightfall.

Awake confident. Actually get excited about the origami design that you will teach the evaluators. Receive Kaplan's call, proud of yourself. Get depressed when it is revealed that visual aids are not allowed. Get happy that Kaplan's schedule does not work since it is during nights and extends through August when you would already be living in Pittsburg, gearing up for first-year law school study. In short, get happy that this is helping you duck the chance to face your fear. Get sad that this is helping you duck that chance.

Feeling that you are letting yourself down, that you are your own enabler, and yet somewhat empowered by the fact that your wife has already let you off the hook, search more. (Actually, know deep down that you are searching more only because you know that your wife letting you off the hook entails that you will not be working. Know deep down that the search, supposedly motivated by your desire to stop enabling yourself, thus is but a way to deceive yourself about having made some headway in your project to conquer cowardice.) See how to make money blogging. You can blog for money only if you are a successful blogger already, so get disappointed. Apply online at Borders. Undermine the application by inputting that you are only available weekends.

Feel sad for yourself. See that you are sad being in this apartment all day since here you are nurturing cowardice, ensuring (by restricting your experiences) that you will be the bungling idiot you fear you are—a fear that has you intimidated about work in the first place. Yet desire to maximize your time inside, where you are most likely to be alone and secure, where you are most likely to let your bowels drop, where you are most likely not to be challenged, where you are most likely not to be placed in unfamiliar situations that expose you as the bungling idiot you fear you are.

Lie in the bed so that when your wife arrives she will pity you and feel bad for having you, someone she loves so much, feeling so sad. Spoil for pity. Spoil for an experience in which she reiterates that you are off the hook, which not only will appease you, but will help her feel better for having you feeling so bad these last few days. Enjoy head-rubs and tell all that happened (except, of course, for details like the application-sabotage). Pray that she will repeat, “You don’t have to work,” after hearing about all your good effort.

When she does repeat this (excruciatingly later), still avoid verbally agreeing to take her up on her offer even though you are sure now, at a conscious level, that you will. In order to stop being pained by the victory of cowardice here, try to block this victory out, put it out of mind. When the victory does manage to pop up, remind yourself that you did at least try to get a job and that cooking, cleaning, and packing count as a real job anyway. Such reminders should prove effective since—and make sure to stay aware of this (although only at the fringe, not at the center, of your mind)—if by the ridiculous means of the comb-over a man can hide the degree of his own baldness from himself, then by the much-more-reasonable means of these reminders surely you should be able to hide the degree of your own cowardice from yourself.

Standing at the door the next morning, when you give her the “Have a good day,” make sure to avoid the “at work” ending. Then do the bravest thing you can within your safety net: in your journal write a self-deprecating comment for women with men like you. “You know how he complains that he has no time to focus on his art, how he cannot concentrate on his devotions, with you around, needing attention—or even just sneezing or brushing against him? Well, to limit his outward blaming of you for his inadequacies, and to have him spend more time with you, remind him on occasion—by saying that he should work—how he is dependent on you for ensuring he stays sheltered. For sure, he will still feel like throwing tantrums and snapping at you and wanting to get away, but his guilt, his indebtedness, will check him.”  


M. A. Istvan Jr. has been a university instructor for a decade. He feels completely free in front of a classroom. He could confess his deepest secrets to his students even on the very first meeting—and often does—without feeling vulnerable. His susceptibility to complete abandon in that domain will not be good when he starts carrying a handgun to class now that Texas students will soon be able to come in strapped. His ecstatic invulnerability, and his disregard for his own person while on the stage, skyrockets the odds of death when everyone is locked and loaded. If the disindividuation he feels on that stage is so intense that he could easily pull the trigger on himself just to make a point about the material of the day, what horror will one day befall one of his classrooms? Visit his page at https://txstate.academia.edu/MichaelIstvanJr.

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