In Which We Answer His Pointed Questions

paintings by Joseph Peller

My Binaries

by ANGELA LIPSCOMB

Kyle had this quiz he thought each individual should administer to themselves at important moments in her life. He always asked himself the following:

Who do I want to be with right now?
Where do I want to be with them?

It is not that he did whatever it took to make this happen. But if his current conditions did not match his desires, he became profoundly upset. After a year with him, it occurred to me that this was the only way he ever knew he was not happy.

The sociologist Alfred Schutz divided the reasons for behavior into two possible spheres — one is the in-order-to motive, the ostensible reason for an act, and the other is the because-motive. This reflects whatever incident in the past is inspiring that behavior. Kyle had both — he was, after all, a human being — but whether he was unable to relate the second, or purposefully kept it hidden, I don’t know.

Sex with Kyle was like this: imagine the top of a wave. You think it’s coming down. It is going to crash, obliterating you. Instead of a loud noise, a crushing impact, all is silence, and your head knocks against a rock.

This is therapy for me, both because I cannot afford to see an actual therapist like my friend Susan, and because I cannot imagine telling any of this to an actual person. It would just hang in the air, like a thought balloon in a comic.

Susan has been very concerned for me, so she runs my situation by her psychologist. This woman who advises her likes to frame most human situations in a binary, since that appears to be the only way that people with a graduate degree in the humanities are able to understand the world. She always asks the same questions: What are you giving? And what are you receiving?

I like to do this when I am checking out at Banana Republic, or riding the Metro. It reminds me that some people think every situation is like the one they are in, and other people think no one could ever be exactly like them.

In fact, I know there are other men like Kyle. I know there is a way to operate from impulse alone, and I even value that, and probably envy his modality to some degree, but above all, I do not really understand it. It may be that we need more of that — of acting without knowing why we are acting. Or maybe, Schutz writes, we just think we know why.

I still see Kyle quite frequently. He went back to working as a waiter — he was too used to the money and I have to admit he is good at it. I wave at him when I walk by Cafe Almonte and he gets this screwed up look on his face, like he is thinking really hard.

Last week he actually came over. “I just want to talk” is what he said, for what felt like the thousandth time. At sunrise he woke me up by playing my guitar. Well, not playing, just plucking at the strings.

I just read back what I have written so far to Susan. She told me that he does not sound half-bad. I will try harder.

You see, a because-motive is necessary for me in everything that I do. I think of the first time I was ever humiliated quite often. It was in second grade, when I refused to wear my eyeglasses. I can’t help but think it is highly relevant that I was shamed because I could not see clearly.

There is this woman he knows — I want to call her a girl, but she is even older than I am. She buys him things. She bought him a nice watch when we were dating. I said, “Doesn’t it feel weird to accept a gift like that?” He took the watch off his wrist and handed it to me.

What are you giving? What are you receiving?

Of course he was with other women, but at the most cynical times, like when he told me he wanted something else instead, or suggested a short break. I remember him asking me if I thought we were too close; I never felt farther away. Schutz actually believed it was easier for us to know other people better than we know ourselves, since we were able to observe their subjective reactions to events.

Lately I feel I know what he meant.

Angela Lipscomb is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Washington D.C.

Paintings by Joseph Peller.

“Back To You” – Meg Baird (mp3)

“Past Houses” – Meg Baird (mp3)

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