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How to Tie a Necktie

Aaron Newman

I hated learning to tie a tie, not only for the obvious discomfort that comes with wearing one, but because it meant my dad being right up in my face, yanking a silk rope around my neck, his coffee-stained breath making me to breathe as little as possible. 


Contact between us was typically reserved for instruction, like the time he held me by my chest to show me how to swim, or the times he’d swing his belt to show me how to be better. 


As he fiddled with the knot, I worried he could feel the air coming from my nose, could see the way it gently brushed the dark, barbed hairs of his callused hands, the ones that fed and taught me and that seemed unable to ever work enough. I made a point not to look him in the eye; he was so close he was all I could see. 


At some point, I complained about the way boys had to dress for church, how Mom had such a variety of color and things to play with, while it was almost always khaki pants and ties for us. I was coming to terms with the way things had always been: men preaching sermons from the pulpit, women holding babies in the nursery. 


“Be proud you’re a man,” my father said, rather brusquely, making a point not to look me in the eye, and then gave the tie another jerk so that the bottom of it fell to my belt just so, while the knot pulled snug against my throat. 


Aaron Newman is a high school English teacher in Brooklyn and a graduate of Columbia University's MFA Writing program. Originally from Georgia, his work explores the effects of religion and class on family and self.

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