John Estes

You Are the Person You Most Want to Be


It’s not difficult, to fall in love with a woman who has a husband. But once learned, how do you unlearn the malleability of the world, or pretend it’s sturdy again for the sake of love? Either way requires violence, aggression of purpose; the triumph of principles is but a euphemism for brute force will applied to an abstraction. You have to stop asking questions, if you want to endure. He’d met her in Newton, Kansas, at the office of his chiropractor, a country doctor who had, through an accident not worth going into, learned acupuncture from a disgraced Chinese healer and practiced it on the uninitiated and newly aligned with evangelical zeal. He preached the efficacy of “surround the dragon,” then hooked up the needles to a most un-Chinese-like stem machine and left you to chat up your neighbor on the next brown padded slab as current pulsed through your muscles. They discussed their signs under the Chinese zodiac—Tiger and Snake—which did not align (at all). His lawyer, to whom he had hinted such a thing happening, counseled against acting. Not worth the trouble, the lawyer said (and he should know). But some people don’t understand love, he told himself, some people see these conventions, these forms, and no further. A little trouble is worth something, if you account in units of experience rather than in units of pain. And sometimes you can get lucky. Sometimes hate—the most likely residue to soak your heart when it’s over—won’t take hold. Love in this life is rare enough you should learn not to say no to it. (But maybe that’s the problem, when people don’t say no instead of saying yes.) But, as he eventually found out for himself, the work of this kind of love is to seek its natural end. Even the best-intentioned dreamer can easily break against the solidity of a marriage; most of them don’t just dissolve away and he, anyway, this episode confirmed, was not inertial enough for marrying. He liked having a lover; it’s volatility suited him. As a gesture of finality, she wanted her best grouse-hunting shotgun back, which he’d stored in his closet for safe keeping. The transfer from trunk to truck complete, this was it, an unceremonious and surgical farewell in the parking lot of a convenience mart. But she had a question before she drove away, a hesitation: “Can I hit you? I want to hit you.” He stared at her, there in her pickup—what would that mean? he thought even as he imagined it, even as he said yes and revised the ending with a nonchalance that belied how it cut through sadness and aroused his spirit. What he saw through her moist eyes, however, an ancient burden shifting in his chest, was a kind of horizon line he’d never been right enough to see, drawing his gaze toward what until that moment had been what it could no longer be.


John Estes directs the creative writing program at Malone University in Canton, Ohio. He is author of Kingdom Come (C&R Press, 2011) and two chapbooks: Breakfast with Blake at the Laocoön (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and Swerve, which won a 2008 National Chapbook Fellowship from the Poetry Society of America. Find more about him a