“Move Fast and Break Things”

Marty had said to her: “It sounds like you can’t accept your fate,” and while meant as a reproach it resonated with sufficient accuracy to stir up a nervous craving for chocolate and cigarette. But far from vexing, she took strange comfort in the turbulence. She couldn’t bring herself to believe in some original, no-frills innocence, whether as australopithecus or Edenic god-children, and it seemed to her that any presumption to spiritual or psychological health hinged on such a belief, on returning to a state that priests, shrinks, and swamis embody (or claim to, or appear to) which they proffer as superior: pure, holy, harmonious, supple, whatever. She preferred, intellectually at least, divided and neurotic nature, the wrenching fights with and for and against, so much interrupted, unfinished, destroyed, even the traumas, the unforgivable things (she tries to forget poisoning Gavin G. in middle school), the obsession with bodies and food and sports, the intractable ambivalence, inertia, and suffering (all things equal, she’d feed starving children and cure AIDS) before the final outcome. Still, she considers herself an optimist, expects if she plays it smart life will work out even if being with Ray feels pivotal to that, despite his kids and wife LuAnne, despite her kids and Hank.

Is this what Marty meant, that she doesn’t absorb losses, can’t let hunger and the past or a future (or a past future) go? She’s positive if she and Ray were together alone she’d make a go at him. She fantasizes about that encounter, and would certainly not classify it as betrayal, but rather the settling of a debt and nobody else’s business. This hard won knowledge came with succor, this security knowing she would not deny herself. The middle-management job, the split-level house, even the textbook-beautiful family—in moments of intensest desire she knew she’d risk everything to possess what she needed, even if quenching one want fueled another. Some would deem it preposterous, but her brief (ok, torrid) affair with Gunther from IT served, she tells herself, a salubrious purpose: it kick-started stagnant, noxious energies manifesting in passive aggressive, self-destructive, or merely depressive behaviors. She’d been a frigid bitch to Hank for years. But now stress triggers a pleasing, impatient arousal that prompts a kinky imagination, suggests to her hazardous satisfactions like Gunther under the desk eating her out (what they code-named ‘inspecting the usb’) while she makes sales calls, and it’s substantiated by science that we’re most productive and content with tension released, with breaths deep and from the diaphragm.

Fucking Gunther in the server room (didn’t kiss for shit but blessed with endurance damn near clinical) for those two months gave her more clarity and insight than a year of hot showers, helped her get a bead on the age-old conundrum philosophy pretends to but can’t prepare us for: how to keep a thing going. Those romps saved her marriage if not her life. Blake said it: tygers of wrath are wiser than horses of instruction. A no-brainer. Few things aggravated her like human fragility; bonds so easily severed, the heart stopped. And yet we carry within us these catastrophic appetites capable, at any turn, of destroying it all, of unleashing a hurt best filed under tragedy. Yet we do it, and we budget for it: how many billions of tax dollars go toward public services to contain, suppress, or mop up the mess from human passions? These cynical thoughts made her want to be a libertarian, or one of those anarcho-syndicalist, to compassionately invigorate the masses with less fear of themselves. She thought about friending Ray on Facebook, but knew she’d obsess about it, would be devastated if he failed to message her back or ignored the request altogether. The downfall of the social network would be the first thing she’d engineer after her revolution, exacerbate as it does so many annoying cries of petty hope and vanity while giving vent to the complex anxieties that we’re not doing anything right. Sure, information flows, disintermediated hook-ups and meet-cutes lead to weddings, a few folks prove good for a laugh or inspiring word, but at the wholesale level it wastes time the way one could say taking the pipe from Gunther wasted time, the way her fantasies about Ray waste time. Then again, on reflection she’s sore pressed to say what a good use of time might be in contrast, what would be more worthy of her valuable mindshare. In good moments she felt sufficient constructive power to channel her most spectacular qualities, to improve upon merely waiting out the inevitable wane of chemical processes sponsoring her rage for sentience.

She wondered whether accepting one’s fate amounted to any more than that. Inconceivable, that any organism deserving the name Homo sapiens should lack this lust, this ferocity—thankfully the cavewoman-Eve succumbed to the call of restless labor and overcame for everyone’s sake any temptation to vegetative simplicity. A Star Trek-style utopia held zero attraction for her; she’d not choose a world where cooperation and fellow-feeling eradicate the need for money or struggle, for interminable debate about proportionality and permissibility and justness in war, where all peoples—or a sufficient number anyway minus Klingons and Romulans—operate happily on a rule of friendly self-limitation, hospitality,  and water conservation, having re-wired nature’s base rule legislating competitive self-expansion, of staking out a defensible territory and defending it. Who or what dictates that peace and not conflict should govern the interior life any less than the political one, or that union and wholeness describe our most perfect state? She entertained the proposition that endeavors under the aegis of “ordinary (or even extraordinary) ________,” of “happy (or even ecstatic) ________ ,” anything seemingly agreeable you’d put in scare quotes, served this insidious falsehood. Some days she couldn’t wait to be dead just so she could haunt those she loved with the truth.

About John Estes

John Estes is author of three books—Kingdom Come (C&R Press, 2011), Stop Motion Still Life (Wordfarm, forthcoming) and Sure Extinction (forthcoming), which won the 2015 Antivenom Award from Elixir Press—and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve, which won a National Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America. Recent work has appeared in Tin House, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Crazyhorse, AGNI and other places. He directs the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.