The Full Swing Swung | Sean Hennessey

My buddy, Scimon, was looking at me—this was a long time ago and we were in his mother’s house, in the kitchen making PB&J sandwiches, which were his favorite meal, he had them every day, so there were a ton of jars of peanut butter in the cupboard, easily five, which is sort of crazy because it’s peanut butter, but they go through it, and he was opening a new one even though he knew he already had another jar open but that one was in his bag, which was in his room waiting for him to have to take the bus back for his week at his dad’s, and it had become his in transit jar, his safety jar just in case, just in case, he would say, wink, and nod like we were conspiring—but then he stopped for a minute, something extra-dimensional caught his attention, and then he said, This is the way madness lies, more or less. He nodded sagely when he finished but he looked sort of weird when he did, kind of fake, like the curls of his hair clashed against the pinstripes in the kitchen’s wallpaper and became detached, so he looked like one of those 3D films where they cheat and try to layer 2D pictures so everything seems like a cartoon. Or like the shine on a pleather jacket. His context sort of demolished his intent. He looked like a Jewish stereotype in a ’70s variety show. I was an exclamation point losing its battle with gravity and I—

What way does this lead to madness, I was forced to ask. I hadn’t a clue. We had reached that stage of a friendship where you don’t really have anything to say to each other anymore, you just feel better when occupying the same space, so I really didn’t know much what he was thinking at anytime anymore, though now I think much of it would be described as some word with “-pathic” appended to the end of it—No, no, don’t stop me, I’ve always liked making those air quote shapes in front of my face when I pontificate, though I’m doing that more now, these days, when telling this story, not then, when it happened, but I think it says something. It’s hard to stop, anyway. I don’t like to be touched.


He answered, finally, head still bobbing like a rabbi’s does when reading from the Torah. The peanut butter, he said, it will eventually take over.


By college it had already started to get worse. We both had single rooms because no one else wanted to room with us and they couldn’t put us together because we each had “special” needs that sort of butted up against each other—what with him becoming prone to rage when anyone disturbed the equilibrium of his “sanctum sanctorum”—yes, my air quotes are in a flurry with that one, just … aaaa—and me sort of tending to spaz out a little bit. We agreed it was wise for us to spend our common time together on more neutral ground.

Even then, he had begun to implement his plans of a geometric layout for his bedroom that would allow for him, no matter what his orientation on his bed, to reach out and grab, with either hand and without due straining, a jar of peanut butter. By that point, the whole PB&J entity had collapsed, the immediacy of the salty spreadable in its jarred incarnation superseding any need for complimentary sweetness or edible delivery devices because scooping it out of the jar was enough. That’s what Scimon said, anyway, that’s how he said it. He was studying structural engineering.

He had his whole room laid out based on this concept so that, if you could sort of pull back and up, and look at the room like you were a camera hanging from a crane above it, you would see his bed centered in it, a rectangle within a rectangle, and if you superimposed over that the image of the Leonardo da Vinci drawing of the guy with all those arms and all those legs and scale it so it would fit—the guy lying in Scimon’s bed—and then, if you follow the arrows of its limbs, toward all of the bits of the room they were pointing, right at the very tips, Scimon had put a jar of peanut butter, each in a stand of its own that he had designed expressly for them and were bolted to the floor so they couldn’t be knocked over. By the time it was finished, I was allowed almost all the way into his room because even I couldn’t knock the things over, and whatever else Scimon owned was folded, stacked, and organized under his bed.

I was an art history major. I guess not a lot of it stuck. I didn’t stick around there very long for it to, anyway; no classroom could contain me. I had no future in it. I was already banned from all the museums in the city because I couldn’t pass up impasto—I could not not touch—and then I’d get excited for a while before all the energy started to freak me out and I’d start curling into a ball even while I walked and I’d have to fight it to stay upright and keep from falling over, my brain circling the wagons because I’d expended so much energy and was now so ashamed. The full swing swung, Scimon called it one of the times when he was there with me and it happened. That was embarrassing. When I got to my dorm I curled into an even tighter ball than usual.

So I left and started collecting books instead, from which I tear out the parts I don’t like, so everything is a little fractured and kinda hard to follow but far less agitating. And I’m a big re-reader, so that matters. Scimon stayed, he even finished, though he told me once in a letter that he had to stay an extra term to get the financial aid to cover the bills for the damage he did to the room in securing his little towers to the floor. And I think he got a double major because he took classes all the time once he discovered he could eat during them as long as he was quiet.

We sort of drifted away from each other after that. It got hard to see him, what with all of his classes that became jobs designing things, where he worked from an isolated office, accompanied only by his towers, his drafting equipment, and an aide who nightly replaced empty jars of peanut butter while Scimon slept draped over his desk. I spent time away, with help, sometimes in protective custody, more to protect the world around me than me from it, it felt, and I spent most of what time I had free wandering the city, counting cracks in the cement, and apologizing to the objects I walked into. I had already turned into a question mark, so that happened a lot.

It was a surprise when I got the note that Scimon wanted to see me. He wanted to tell me he was unwell and dying, but by the time I finally got there—my caretaker taking forever to get me permission to go—he had already gone. I was led into this massive apartment by his mother, who was good enough not to mention my posture and said warm things about the Scimons and the Mes from our childhood. He would have loved to have seen you, she said, his end wasn’t easy.

You would have thought his life wasn’t that hard, if you’d seen the place, and I saw as much as I could from bent over nearly double. The living room was ginormous, but mostly empty and kind of gray. One of the long walls was covered with a mural—a muted reproduction of the soup cans by that hipster guy, but with jars instead of tins. When I touched it, it had texture, not like the wall, but like tiny, even strokes. His mother didn’t yell at me so I spent some time exploring it, feeling the compactness of its movement, finding remarkably few eddies in its flow. There was no signature but I knew.

The rest of the room was either empty or stainless steel, empty bookshelves, a desolate bar, a gleaming couch in the center of it, surrounded by towers, a television that sunk into the floor so you could choose whether to watch it or the painting, and not much else. Even though the steel couch had real cushions on it, it didn’t look like it was asking to be sat on, so I sort of stood there, staring at Scimon’s mother’s shoes, wondering if there was anymore art that I could touch, and waiting for her to say something, listening to her breathe, deep and slow, with a sort of stutter to the air coming back out. Finally she said, well, we should go see him, and we went into a hall that took an abrupt right to run back alongside the wall with the mural on it, this side with jar-sized sconces every few feet along its length. The other side of the hall was dotted with doors, all closed but the very last one, which brought us into another small hall and then his room.

It was almost as subtly furnished as the living room, only the most necessary of fixtures were in place, and even these were sculpted into odd shapes because they had to allow for the dozens and dozens of towers rising from the floors of the room or descending from the ceiling, like stalactites and stalagmites in a cavern, making it all but impassible and immediately forcing me to jump back through the door, afraid of the closeness, and, in the middle of it all, in a space that seemed carved out of the natural order of the towers, was Scimon, laying with on his back, his arms spread out to his sides, his legs ajar, on a plinth that followed his limbs, itself set upon a number of minitowers because, as Scimon had written in that final note, you are what you eat.

In it, he had apologized, as if anything that had happened to either of us was really our own fault. He said he’d always known I was a question but that he wasn’t a good answer and had spent his life trying to figure out what it was. And so he made things and slowly erected the scaffolding that would separate him and lead to his death. He had just wanted to tell me what he’d found out.

You have to understand the peanut butter is the sum of its parts, it has to have the right amount of peanuts and the right amount of salt and the right amount of oil, and no sugar or anything like that—but most important is its consistency. It has to be of the right texture. Anything less and the balances are thrown off. There’s too much salt or there’s not enough salt, or there’s no flavor at all and it becomes nothing more than a sticky goo. There’s that balance and, if it holds, what you have is beautiful, but all of it is standing on a tight rope without a net, suspended above dissolution.

And, after all, you are what you eat.

I left the place as fast as I could, boomeranging back to my room in assisted living where it took three helpers nearly four hours to get me sedated and into bed, where I could just lay there, lay there, lay there—lay there and think. About being young and then failing school and then being alone and then just how much I really really really wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Sean Hennessey writes little poems and short stories in a small house in Northeast Portland.