Issue #17 |

Practical Argument: A Love Story

Prompt for Causal Argument essay:

Using the techniques we have discussed this semester (thesis statement, active verbs, unity and coherence, refutation of a counterargument, the “funnel” approach to introductory and concluding paragraphs, etc.), trace the causes and effects of an issue. Potential subjects include: climate change, the unemployment rate, the cost of health insurance or medical care, U.S. immigration policies, the pandemic, etc.

Be sure to choose a topic that interests you, to support your claims with evidence and specific examples, and to avoid the first-person pronoun. Your essay should be no more than six paragraphs in length. Have fun!

English 68
West Los Angeles Community College
Professor Bartman
10th November 2020

Causal Argument Paper

In recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on lots of romantic relationships. Media outlets like the New York Times and The Atlantic are full of articles about how the virus has challenged couples who have been forced into lockdown together, and a quick scroll through Instagram is all it takes to see that many relationships haven’t survived the pandemic. But it’d be a mistake to confuse correlation with causation, when for some couples, the pandemic wasn’t really what led to a breakup. To take one example, Alan and Lisa, who’d been together for nearly five years when the pandemic hit, ended their relationship in May. While some would argue that this breakup was due to Lisa’s father’s death from COVID-related complications back in April, on closer inspection, Alan and Lisa’s other, more longstanding problems were to blame, including their persistent communication issues, their sexual incompatibility, and their conflicting attitudes toward marriage.

Alan and Lisa’s communication issues were one main cause of their breakup. For example, take Lisa’s parents’ 25th Anniversary Bash last September. Lisa’s father’s family had flown in from the East Coast for the occasion, and Alan worked hard to charm them, telling corny jokes and doing his impression of Robert De Niro, which always went over well at parties. As soon as Alan and Lisa left the Disneyland Hotel to drive back to their apartment, though, Alan started worrying about all the mistakes he’d made. While talking with one of Lisa’s aunts, Alan had said, in passing, that the Democratic Party had cheated Bernie out of winning the 2016 primary, only to find out that the aunt was some kind of big-wig in the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Also, there had been the moment when Alan tried to congratulate Lisa’s parents on their anniversary. Lisa’s father, who did some kind of venture capital thing that Alan didn’t understand, and who had these unblinking thyroidal blue eyes that Alan found deeply unsettling, had made a point of checking his Breitling, while Lisa’s mother had gazed past Alan with her usual thousand-yard stare. These were just a couple of the moments Alan mentioned as Lisa drove them, in Alan’s beat-to-crap Corolla, from Anaheim back to their apartment in Culver City. Nowadays you had stop-and-go traffic even on Sunday nights, although that might also have been due to the fact that it was raining, the first rainy night in months. Lisa did her best, while stomping the gas and the brake and the gas again, to reassure Alan, to say that it wasn’t that bad, that it wasn’t the end of the world that Alan had knocked a glass of water into Aunt Bernice’s lap, even if it was true that Aunt Bernice was Lisa’s father’s favorite sibling, and even if she notoriously hated the cold, hence the reason she’d moved from Boston to a condo in Palm Beach, Florida ten years ago. And Lisa also insisted, for maybe the hundredth time, that her father didn’t hate Alan, it was just that he’d always been especially protective of Lisa, since, after all, she was the eldest of her parents’ six children and her father would’ve held her boyfriend to an unreasonably high standard no matter who he was. To Alan there was something sort of condescending in “no matter who he was,” the acknowledgment that Alan was, in fact, a failure. And whenever Alan started to feel even the slightest bit self-pitying, he’d sort of pull into himself, and would get quiet. This might not have been such a big deal in another relationship. Lisa, though, had spent most of her life seeing this exact dynamic play out with her mother, who whenever she’d felt overburdened by her children would get quiet and distant in the exact same way that Alan would. In fact, over the years, Lisa had developed sort of a sixth sense for when her mother was doing this. Sometimes it’d be possible to head off her mother’s retreat by getting her to talk about something unrelated to the kids or the household, such as Madonna or Jerry Seinfeld or Jersey Shore. Other times, though, it didn’t matter what Lisa did, her mother would still go into the master bedroom and shut both doors, and stay there for three days, shouting at Lisa to get the hell out whenever Lisa tried to talk to her about anything that wasn’t an absolute emergency. Which left Lisa, whose father was pretty much always out of town on some venture capital-type business, to help her siblings with their homework and order takeout for dinner and put the littlest ones to bed. Each of Lisa’s siblings had a name that started with the letter L, such as Lars, Lyman, Leopold, and Lausanne. Anyway, it was this experience of watching her mother pull back that caused Lisa to try desperately to re-engage Alan whenever he got quiet like this. The rain on the 10 wasn’t that heavy, but Alan had never replaced the Corolla’s wiper blades, meaning that the wipers didn’t so much wipe as squeal loudly and smear dirty water all over the glass. Alan knew it was hard for Lisa when he got distant. But at moments like this, he’d feel anxious about being misunderstood. Growing up, his sentences would often come out as long, jumbled-up word scrambles, which had caused his classmates to think he was a total idiot, and to pick him last for kickball, even though he was the second-fastest runner after Daniel Gonzalez. When he felt stressed like this, he’d need time to think through what he was going to say, and couldn’t just force himself to talk in the way that Lisa wanted. There was a bolt loose somewhere in the Corolla’s dashboard, and it’d rattle around whenever Lisa hit the gas or the brake. In a desperate bid to draw Alan out again, Lisa began to recall her own experience of the anniversary party, recounting in painstaking detail the conversation she’d had with Uncle Patrick about the difference between biased and radial aircraft tires. Meanwhile Alan found himself leaning away, at first just a little, then more and more, until he’d flattened himself against the passenger-side door, pressed against the spot where the handle would’ve been if it hadn’t snapped off a year prior, and where he’d since jury-rigged a loop of yellow nylon cord that’d pop the latch when you tugged on it. The wipers squealed, the dashboard-bolt rattled, and as Lisa explained that a biased tire consists of multiple rubber plies that overlap each other, Alan pressed his cheek against the passenger-side window, surprised by how cool it felt. It was possible, Alan knew, that Lisa wasn’t actually talking all that much, that it was some internalized misogyny causing him to feel overwhelmed by Lisa’s speech. This thought only made him feel more anxious, though. For her part, Lisa could see Alan slipping away, which caused her to feel lonelier, and therefore to talk faster, explaining how a radial tire’s sidewalls are independent of the tread, while she wondered to herself why it had to be like this. Why couldn’t she ever keep Alan with her when he’d started to drift, after all they loved each other, and couldn’t Alan at least try to stay here, in the Corolla, rather than pulling back like a snail into its shell? The more Lisa asked herself these kinds of questions, though, the worse she felt, in a pattern that culminated only after they’d reached their apartment, when Alan fell asleep on the sofa during an episode of Gilmore Girls as Lisa stood over the bathroom sink, crying into a hypoallergenic makeup-removal sheet. In this way, Alan and Lisa struggled with communication.



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Jake Bartman’s stories have appeared in Ninth Letter, Booth, Columbia Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review’s Mixtape, and elsewhere. He lives in New Mexico.

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