Readers Report: Wants/Needs

By

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He used to call all the time. Not anymore. Sometimes I whip my paranoia into a storm; it becomes a compulsion I cannot ignore and can’t do away with unless I pick up the phone and dial one of the last phone numbers I know by heart. Usually I am at my desk at work with printouts and spreadsheets piled around me, giving evidence to the working girl I’ve made of myself, the woman I was expected to become. For this, he says he is proud of me.  I used to call him at his work all the time. Over the summers, when I didn’t have anything to do and I’d suddenly have a question that needed answering: “How do I get the VCR to work?” or, “How can I tell if the milk is bad?” and he’d walk me through the process of setting the TV to channel 3 and switching the input to “video;” he’d tell me to stick my nose in the milk carton and see if it smelled funny, or pour a little into the sink and look for lumps. I needed to know he really existed, that he wasn’t a figment of my own creation, vanishing once he left the house only to reconstitute himself around quitting time, bringing the musky odors of cologne and freshly smoked menthol cigarettes back into the house with him.

Often, he wouldn’t say goodbye at the end of our brief conversations. He’d hang up without any acknowledgment that we’d spoken to each other and I’d listen to the dial tone and imagine him saying goodbye, string together an aural collage of his voice, the many other times I’d heard him say that word, or “good,” or “bye” in the lilting, rolling accent that has never left him.

So I call him and if he doesn’t answer I picture him sprawled out on the stairs leading into the basement with his limbs bent at odd angles, or slumped in his recliner, dead long enough for the flies to have laid their eggs, leaving their offspring to creep out of his nose. I call again, and again, until he picks up and offers a sleepy, “Hello?” When he does answer, his voice is soft and raspy, the way it often happens to men as they age. I tell him: You sound old. He says, “Everyone gets old.” And he laughs.

— Nana K. Twumasi

* * *

When I was little, I believed if I wanted something bad enough, I could make it happen. I used to press my face up against the wall of mottled yellow, white, and brown tiles in our bathroom. This tiny window above it let in the most saintly light. It would float in and drift onto the floor next to me, curled up in the dark hoping no one was home. The tiles were so cool against my hot cheek. God, they felt good, like a crystal clear glass of water at the perfect temperature. I would press my eyes together tight, as tight as they could possibly go, tighter than I ever had tried to close them before, please, if I close my eyes tight enough everything will go away.

I have a lot of moments like this: I’ll be sitting in a chair that’s so tall my feet don’t hit the floor, and something about being suspended in air is hypnotizing. My legs stare back at me and I realize that they still pair together at the knee like they did when I was a child; my feet swaying back and forth ever so slightly, with my palms grasping the edges of the seat so I don’t fall into the invisible gaping hole in the floor and become swallowed alive. I know if I finally let go like I want, just that will happen.

It’s so stupidly simple. Life is overwhelming; it’s achingly beautiful and alternatively terrifying. There are monsters with gnashing teeth coming at you to eat your face, but there are also lovers to hold it while you cry about how you can’t live in this world when everything is so fucked up and torn apart all the time. When all you want is to go back in time to when you could leave the house whenever you wanted, when it wasn’t scary to be touched, and you wanted to wake up in the morning. But, actually, that’s not what you want at all anymore. You want to feel alive, excruciatingly alive, going through the day with an habañero pepper searing into your swollen tongue or feeling the way it looks when someone gets decked in the face but doesn’t go down. Your chin trembles, and your heart beats faster every time you realize that all you want anymore is just to want.

— Nicole Beckert

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For me the line dividing wants from needs is blurry. It could be because I was always drunk when doing cocaine and couldn’t see clearly . . . or maybe it’s because wants often turn into needs. Actually, now that I think about it, everything I ever wanted to do has now become something I need to do.

wanted to snort cocaine because I always dreamed of writing for Saturday Night Live. Then I stayed up all night trying yet failing to catch a stray cat that needed a home and I became depressed. Now I need to do cocaine to get depressed because my brain chemicals have balanced out from eating fish.

wanted to eat fish because I heard the fatty acids in them were healthy. Then I fell off a fishing boat and swam three miles to shore without having a heart attack. Now I need to eat fish to avoid having a heart attack because my organs are getting damaged from drinking too much malt liquor.

wanted to drink malt liquor because I couldn’t afford beer. Then I played Beirut and threw vomit up instead of a ping-bong ball and felt stupid. Now I need to drink malt liquor to feel stupid because I’m getting smarter and smarter the more I watch CNN.

wanted to watch CNN because I was interested in our world’s happenings. Then I learned that the United States invested a few hundred million dollars to support genocide in Sudan and I bought Honey Bunches of Oats. Now I need to watch CNN to buy Honey Bunches of Oats because I get hungry from those commercials and am only interested in the world’s happenings when I’m smoking weed.

wanted to smoke weed because Bob Marley inspired me. Then I quit skateboarding and spent all my time making music with bongos. Now I need to smoke weed to make music with bongos because if I’m not high the music sounds like shit and I go skateboarding.

wanted to skateboard because I enjoyed destroying public property. Then I broke a few bones and got laid. Now I need to skateboard to get laid because my girlfriend isn’t impressed with my writing.

wanted to write because I didn’t want to get a real job. Then I got published in The Rumpus and felt great. Now I need to write to feel great because I no longer do cocaine.

— Christopher Forsley

* * *

They had been together for ten years, faking monogamy and fighting constantly. They had been in love, but somewhere along the way it had changed into regular, enduring love. He didn’t want to give this up, but he needed more.

He approached the subject cautiously, charting her reactions and holding onto her tense body. He was mathematical and convincing, and she had always hated this. She could never win an argument. His logic always beat her feelings, and it left her feeling beaten.

Think of it as a Venn diagram, he explained. I can’t be sure how it will work exactly, but we will overlap the most. You see, if it were just you and me forever we’d run perpendicular for a while, but it would lose its charm entirely. We’d become parallel lines just running alongside each other. I want to keep things just as they are right now before they go sour. I need to be close, but not tangled, he explained. This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s still you that I need. I also need freedom. And variety.

I can’t bear to go on pretending anymore. I want this to help us open up to each other. I met a woman, and I want to be with her and tell you about her. I’m done lying. I love you too much to lie, and I need you to still know it’s you I will always adore. Maybe I’m foolish, Beautiful, but, I think this will help me appreciate you even more.

I’ve seen the way men look at you with desire, and I think this will help me spark mine again. I know I’ve let you down, and I miss when you used to look at me with lust. We need to find others to fill in the gaps we have, and be each other’s glue holding it all together. Please consider this, dear.

She had two options, neither of which could satisfy her demands. She needed commitment, and yet, she still wanted him desperately. But polyamory?

— Kristen Kramer

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Rumpus original art by Christina Weidman.