"under pressure" by Matthew Yates
by Tim Duffy
He knew the first day would be the hardest to get through. After years of struggling, begging, they had finally told him it was time go.
The first thing he knew he would have to do is remind himself that he was a body. Still, a body, even if every thought would ache with the memory of this failure.
He would shower first. Hoping to melt away like honey into the drain. He might remark on how hairy and large he had become over the years, a mammalian spectacle. He would debate selling all his books and deleting every email.
He will tell everyone he is not available for drinks. They will think something is wrong, but he won’t tell them exactly what.
The email says clearly he had been given every chance. He knows what he has wasted. He wonders if he will ever be happy again, if the waves of panic will ever subside.
“We gave you permission to proceed to the doctoral program and you have not met expectations,” the email says. “We wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors, even though we regret you cannot continue here.”
He will burn one book. To show that he can. He will close his computer forever to not look at the dissertation he never wrote. He will burn another book. On a grill. The neighbors will think he is barbecuing ineptly.
What else have I done ineptly? He thinks.
He remembers when he drank with Seth and hugged him shirtless. They both were breathing a bit too hard. He moved away to pursue a post-baccalaureate pre-med program and left him alone. He went on with his life.
He will have to go on with his. Maybe call Stephanie? She had gone through a disaster like this last year after the Dean fucked up her Title IX complaint. A worse disaster.
He must call Stephanie. He will soon.
When he was a graduate student studying Petrarch, he thought of the old Italian poet weeping over his manuscripts, shocked that in 1348 his love Laura and a third of Europe had died.
Remembering this, he burned so many of his papers except for a few Latin letters and Italian poems.
I will burn one book, he thinks. I will call Stephanie. I will text Seth. I will learn to love a body without a future, my body, my nothing of a future.
Seth had asked him once if he knew of a lake in the mountains. They drove there for over an hour and a half. When Seth removed all his clothes, he did the same and plunged into the cold water. Seth hugged him and the trees of the mountains swirled around him. He knew then what it was to be a body.
I can be a body again. I can be a body that burns books.
He will never burn a book. He will box them up and keep out only the ones that remind him of a different life from the one he had been working to make.
Stephanie will come over and they will drink three bottles of wine.
In the morning, he will still be a body, slightly more broken, slightly hungover. He will mix eggs, milk, and flour. He will pray to the skillet. He will monitor the motions of the sun.
He thinks of the gods of money and cries out “all you do is keep the flour and eggs and milk and fridge and walls and bed and wine together.” He smiles.
Can I be just a body?
You always were.
Exhale. Open the door. Your phone is in your pocket.
Tim Duffy is a writer, poet, and teacher living in Connecticut. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Longleaf Review, Cotton Xenomorph, Entropy, Rain Taxi, and elsewhere. He is the founder and editor of 8 Poems Journal. You can follow him at @Tim_Duffy_PhD.
Matthew Yates is an artist & poet from western KY. His work can be found in Memoir Mixtapes.