“I’ve been in here for seven hours with the voice recorder program open but not on,” I said, into the voice recorder, slowly and clearly in preparation for the real voice recording, “writing down a list of things that might have made Lynn stay in her bedroom, leaving me in this room. Six hours ago I was watching a video, let’s say, that I shouldn’t have been just then, and with my luck Lynn was still in the house. When I looked over to meet Lynn I grinned, in a panic, a grin that felt familiar, one I’d made in my youth; I am unable to describe Lynn’s face, but it did not mesh like a face should, it reminded me of those cobble bricks everywhere in New York, the crooked ones jutting into the jagged ones, the jagged ones similarly jutting into the crooked, and after she’d made the face she went inside the bathroom and slammed the door. I cleaned myself up and went to the door and tapped. ‘Lynn,’ I said. The faucet trickled and, in a panic, I thought that the faucet shouldn’t trickle, the apartment is new but new apartments, I’ve heard, can be rife with small, unexpected issues, like running faucets, and Lynn has had trouble peeing in the past. Maybe she is peeing, I thought. ‘Lynn,’ I said again. Will you go away, she said, I’m peeing. She turned off the faucet. I tip-toed back to this room, where I have been for the last seven or so hours, unable to believe that Lynn was capable of making such a face as she did, a face unfathomable in its pure distaste of me.
I know you’re gong to watch them anyway, she’d said to me, double-clicking the video to play it as if to publicly shame me, and as the video started, she’d said: I expect all boys to watch them. Lynn gave me permission to watch these, let’s say, videos. Despite that permission I never watch them if she is present, not even when she is in the apartment, out of consideration for her. A girlfriend shouldn’t watch her boyfriend watch these videos, even with permission, but she’d been gone for so long it was as if she’d left the apartment. Perhaps it is simple as a misunderstanding of my permission: one gives permission, the other takes, or receives, the permission, but the given permission is often, and only, given if there is a complete and true understanding between two people, which, I believe, there to be. The same way that Lynn gave me permission, I let her give it to me, let myself have it—I received the permission in the first place by saying nothing, by grinning when she'd said "be considerate," and she had permitted me to watch the videos, permitted herself to posture me into watching the videos which postured me into this room. It's as if my permission, my let, is being given for me without consent, me, so to speak. Punished and permitted into ungratefulness. It's absurd but in one way, I wonder if Lynn finds me ungrateful regardless of how I really feel, which is one item on the ‘un-Lynn’ column of the two-column list titled ‘Lynn/un-Lynn,’ a device I have constructed in an effort to understand what Lynn has misunderstood about my permission: a ‘script’ of sorts for the voice recording that will extract Lynn out of the bedroom and back to me, for if the right things can be said in the right way and sequence this whole business of the so-called videos and her misunderstanding of my permission will be nullified—forgotten—and Lynn and I can continue with our relationship as if no permission had been given to the other in the first place. I started the list roughly six hours ago, and have since tried to resolve the problem of the list—which I admit is a stupid yet ultimately necessary prerequisite for the voice recording, for the right things have to be said in the right way with no um’s or uh’s for Lynn, who demands things to be heard in a clear, unaffected manner not ‘clouded’ by my feelings, which is another item on the un-Lynn column—of which its two columns invariably—inevitably—share items with each other to an extent that I cannot help. In one way, Lynn exacts and demands the utmost quality of human behavior unknown to me, which brings out the best in people, I believe, but in another way she is the worst conductor. Some three months ago, well into the relationship, Lynn and I were naked on the bed and before anything happened, I thought to go to the bathroom, so I went, and then Lynn went to the bathroom, so she went, and when she came back she didn’t lie on the bed like before, but sat, and said, Next time you go to the bathroom, flush twice. This is a prime example of Lynn being the worst conductor. How was I to know that the toilet would not flush everything away on the first go, to predict physics when all my life I have been taught to flush, close the lid, wash the hands, dry them, turn out the light and return to whence I came, when Lynn wants to me to check to see the toilet has done its job properly? In this case, I was not given permission to check the toilet twice, nor would I let the permission to be given—actually, this is not a situation of permission. I did not expect the Lynn column entries to go on for this long in the same way that I did not expect them to bleed over to the un-Lynn column, that they would have notes in the margin denoting what to move over to the un-Lynn column, and vice versa. ‘The toilet episode,’ for example, starts in the un-Lynn column but bleeds over to the Lynn column, for after all the discomfort, shame, and embarrassment Lynn gave me I came away knowing something new not only about myself but about Lynn, and about people, Lynn said, [about] the stages of life one goes through to become an adult; feeling ashamed and embarrassed about yourself is probably the right reaction to have in this situation—adults talk about these sorts of things, it’s normal, she said, and I see at this point on the list I have written in the margin ‘Move over to un-Lynn column.’ When I wrote that, I thought, I remember thinking that Lynn, in an effort to love me feels as if she must shame me into a corner for that is the only way I will learn, and I realized an unintended second additional function of the list: by organizing the necessary content for a voice recording, which will perfectly articulate my regret, that I will play for Lynn while we sit on her bed I will also have found out why Lynn finds me so, let’s say, loathsome in this moment, and all previous moments where Lynn has chosen to erase me from her presence. It is what Lynn does, I realize, in effort to love and punish me. During our first fight, at the beginning of the relationship, before either of us referred to it as a relationship, Lynn accused me of being too greedy, but wouldn’t anyone after ten consecutive nights of orgasms expect an eleventh? It seems unreasonable now but in the strictest, most elementary logic all people learn before the age of ten, when one repeats an action a number of times he expects to repeat it again. Lynn said I was being greedy, and presumptive. She said I reminded her of when she was 19, and that I needed to realize the relationship had to built on more than just sex. Since I drove her to my house, which belonged to my mother, it became my duty to drive her back home, a car ride which passed in total silence and equally total rage, and when I drove myself home my rage reluctantly passed into calm, almost relief. I could not be mad at Lynn. I realized that she was right, in her way, and despite having my way, Lynn has hers. I immediately felt regretful for my conduct and behavior with Lynn, who acted wisely who, in this case, was the best conductor. And since Lynn has always pressed me for affection, pushing me out of myself to new ways of loving, I must learn from Lynn how to push her into new ways if the relationship is to continue. But this is exactly it—I realized that at 19, how could I push Lynn; should it not, I thought, be more like pulling Lynn into something she must, I thought, want to be in? Up until then the list I had in front of me did not have the design it has now, it read like a list but it didn’t feel like a list, as in it did not help me gain a greater understanding of what exactly I had to say. I tried all sorts of sentences. ‘Lynn, I will put a Hot Pocket on a plate on top of the microwave dish so cheese does not leak onto the plate,’ and ‘Lynn I promise not to whisper-sing “You Are So Beautiful” as we fall asleep’, and ‘I won’t use the British accent during sex, especially when referring to anatomy.’” But I knew, I thought, these weren’t the kinds of things that should go into the voice recording.
Ryan Chang is originally from Orange County, California and lives in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Art Faccia, and elsewhere. He tweets at @avantbored.