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" One Art | 2007 | Merry Christmas From The Family "

12.08.07 5:07 p.m.

Families are about love overcoming emotional torture.  

-Matt Groening


Year and a Day

I have to do today that which is going to allow me to live with myself tomorrow. Right now, that means supporting Emily, even when she breaks off our engagement.

Friday, just after Emily came home from seeing her therapist, she said we needed to talk. I immediately closed the lid of my computer to signal that she had my undivided attention. She said that she didn't want to get married, possibly ever. She had been thinking about this for months, she said, though I am not certain how profoundly. She claimed she had been throwing herself into wedding planning as a means to quench this fear, but it only grew more insistent. I told her that I could handle this, as long as it meant that we were still together. A ceremony has never defined my relationship to her, she is my wife by degrees, simply because she is and has come to be. I wish she had clued me into these feelings sooner - I could have done without dropping so much money on my titanium and diamond wedding band and coming to think of it as an impervious representation of our love - but she said she simply didn't have the words until she finally did.

Her therapist, mother, and sister were all referenced as people who told her not to go through with the wedding, which hurts but she isn't ready to be married since it has now become so frightening and oppressive to her. She, who urged us to get a puppy or a baby in the near future, isn't ready for the commitment marriage requires, the lifetime in each other's arms. I made her promise that this was not simple her way of gradually breaking up with me, first our engagement then our relationship entirely. She swore that she wasn't doing this, that she wanted to be with me, just not get married. I would rather have her by my side than have a ring on her finger and for the law to understand that she is my family, so I consented given that I didn't imagine I had any other options.

That night, she fell asleep shirtless on my chest, having done little else to justify her semi-nudity.

We spent Saturday together, she treating me to lunch and I treating her to a movie. We did some futile Christmas shopping, but then things began to get awkward, as I passed the jewelry store where I'd bought my ring and began considering whether it could be returned, then realizing that I didn't want to return the ring because that would be a final step to admitting that this wedding wouldn't happen. Somehow, the casualness with which she said she would sell her ring and her having already planned out the logistics of returning the dress and canceling the caterers we'd bothered with endless menu changes, her looking into getting our money back for our honeymoon to an all inclusive resort in St. Lucia, stung less because I was not the one doing it. When I had to consider taking an active role in ending this wedding she couldn't be a part of, I grew cold.

When we came home, I told her what I had been feeling in the mall and she told me that she didn't want to be with me, that she had spent her whole life in relationships and couldn't be in one now, as she tried to recover herself back to emotional and psychological health. She told me that this would all be easier if she could just point to something I had done wrong, but I had been unfailingly perfect in dealing with her, an ideal partner for her right now. She was almost furious at the degree to which I was trying to give her what she needed, especially since she has no idea what she wants. I called her on this, raising my voice to inform her again that I thought she was simply too far in her own head to actually see an objective reality. Telling her that she was trying to hurt herself by cutting herself off from yet another support system, something I had seen her do with too many of her friends. But never before did I think she had considered excising me; I had always been the best friend to whom she could and would confess anything.

I need to try to keep things light now, so as to not scare her away. Come January, she may decide to leave my life, to go off and explore what it is like not to be in a relationship, what it is like to be utterly alone in the world. I told her that this talk of not being in a relationship didn't make sense to me, that it would be like deciding she was going to try to recover without thinking about the color blue. Being in a relationship with me has absolutely nothing to do with what is going on with her. If anything, knowing that she has someone waiting for her who loves her and will help her should be a source of great strength.

I don't know how to state these things without sounding like I have the sort of genuine angst emo kids covet, but I will write them anyway. I have never loved anyone as I love Emily, a fact that should become increasingly obvious with each entry I write about her. She is my best friend, my lover, my family. She is in agony and trying to push me away when I only want to hold her closer. She is considering leaving me, though her warm, coconut scented body in my bed would suggest otherwise.

She thinks she is going to receive a lot of anger and I will get pity for the cancellation of our wedding, neither of which we want but both of which we likely need. Both waves of emotions have already begun. I told my parents - I had to since I needed my father needed to get his money back for our hall reservation. My father was shocked, as was my mother. She promptly called me back to tell me that she worked with a nice girl named Julie and would be happy to fix me up. I immediately and resolutely declined. She advocates just forgetting about Emily, stopping any potential pain in one drastic move before Emily can. After much crying on my part, I wrote to my father and told him, "I spoke to Emily and to Emily's mom. For now, I am not going anywhere. Emily and I are still dating and trying to work through this. This is unbelievably hard for me and I have done a lot of soul searching today, but I do think that staying with her for now is what is for the best for me. I love her more than enough that I was confident about marrying her and I can't let her cut herself off now. She is family. I hope you guys can support me in feeling that way." He told me that they supported me in whatever I decided and just wanted me to take care of myself. This does not mean that my birthday party at my parents' house this weekend - or Christmas soon after - is going to be an easy feat for her to surmount.

Emily expected this reaction, and yet it fills her with understandable dread. My family acts as an additional support network for Emily and now she thinks that they will come to hate her for being so utterly lost in herself and for considering losing me in the process. It is from them that I was asked to keep her secrets the longest, at least a month after I was given carte blanche to tell most anyone else I needed to talk with about it. I told her that they wouldn't, that they loved her as a daughter and accepted her as part of the family, but I can't deny that they might see her as the part of the family that can leave forever with a few careless words. To them, if not to me, Emily may be a replaceable member of the family.

But she isn't replaceable. Love is not a fungible commodity; each real love I have felt (not the petty affections of my early adolescence) was utterly unique and, at its end, devastating. And never have I loved for seven years, stronger with every experience, every kiss and night cuddled against her. Emily and I have discussed the positive conclusions, how I feel getting through this will only make us stronger. I like to think that I keep the "if" out of my words, the scintilla of doubt that won't allow its own extinction. Even as she said words that would have been fatal in another relationship, even as my body lost all its heat and I shivered until she covered me in a quilt, some part of me was detaching and planning what my next move should be in any number of the potential situations. She said I should foster this, that she would feel better that I would not be crushed under the weight and consequences of her indecision.

She says that she wants us to get couple's counseling when this is all through, which sounds like hope to me. When, not if. I am not so perfect as all that - I know, I was shocked too - and our relationship needs work enough if it is still to be comfortable for Emily. In the work we have to do, I see a future. Our caterers righteously told us that they will be keeping more than $4000 of our money for the trouble we have caused them in the two hours they have actually dealt with us and Emily addresses in as our money they are stealing. Likewise, she advises that I return my wedding ring because we now need the money. Everything does not so inspire these glimmers in me. She tells me that she hates our apartment in Anemia, hates its seclusion, hates how distant she feels from the city that sustains her delicate metabolism. As I work in Anemia only to provide her this home, as infrequently used as it is by her, this is precisely the sort of O'Henrian irony I hate but will have to endure.

I begged for the end of November, for its painful losses, only to see December as too finite a month with too fragile of cost.

Soon in Xenology: Recovery, I pray.

last watched: The Golden Compass
reading: The Night Listener
listening: Mirrormask

" One Art | 2007 | Merry Christmas From The Family "

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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