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" Merry Christmas From The Family | 2007 | New Years Even "

12.29.07 1:54 p.m.

Take away love and our earth is a tomb.  

-Robert Browning


The Breakup

This is the hardest thing I have ever had to write.

Emily left me yesterday. She had it all planned out, had been planning it for weeks, at least. Very likely, much longer. She is moving in with her friend Alison to an apartment in New York City. She said that she just wanted to give me a happy Christmas but that she couldn't manage to be with me anymore. (I've been saying these things so often to people that it is getting mechanical to write them.) She said she needed to know what it was like to be alone in the city, after having spent the entirety of her adult life in relationships, a more than a quarter of my existence in her arms. No matter that I am about as least restrictive as relationships come, even though I flat out told her I would have been willing to let her live in the city so long as we were still together, even though I suggested this be a trial separation. She was no longer interested in compromising with me, no matter how much she assured me that this wasn't my fault and that I had been an ideal partner always, no matter how sure she had been that she would spent the rest of her life with me, no matter how much the universe agreed.

She says she loves me and that the last thing she wants to do is hurt me. That is the same thing that Kate told me, even as she was spending her nights in other boys' beds, though I am not remotely suggesting any equivalence. Both of them did what was best for them in the short term, let a problem foment inside rather than trying to work it through with me. When I told my friend Jill about this and said that I must be a romantic fool because I assumed that people with the kind of love we shared could work through anything, she retorted that they can if they want to.

A lot of other people apparently saw this coming. My family, especially, was surprised it lasted this long and that I didn't see. Their comments to the effect that Emily put a spell on me should have been taken less as a twee commentary on how in love I was with her as that they saw me as acquiescing to her unreasonable expectations. They thought that it was headed in this direction for at least six months, truly believed Emily would return from India and dump me on the spot. They thought that Emily hadn't treated me remotely like I deserved to be treated in the last two years. They feel that this is really the best possible outcome, that I otherwise would have spent my entire life waiting for Emily as she darted from one activity to the other, that I would waste my life as the Penelope to her Odysseus. There was a lot they have said to me in the last thirty hours that I disagreed with or discounted. But not everything. It is hard to argue that I was not appreciated when I am so recently dumped. Zack says he is annoyed at how Emily treats me like I can't function without her, though it feels especially true right now. How she dumped me and then told people they needed to come and spend time with me. Emily has stated that she believes she left me in the most compassionate way she could, giving me one final Christmas together before ending it, and she means it.

From a storytelling perspective, I can retroactively see the foreshadowing. The night before Emily left me, I spent time with Kate. She was in town for the holidays and I happened to have the good fortune of catching her the day before she was to leave for Mexico. We saw an inscrutable movie and then had a late night snack at a diner. She told me of her life and loves and I thought how far we had come. There was a time when I couldn't be in her presence because she was my ex and provoked in me a slurry of contrary feelings. Now, I looked at her and realized how possible it is to one day be friends with one's ex, no matter how messy and sticky the breakup was. That was as far as I extended the thought, just that I now felt that I would easily consider Kate one of my best friends were we even slightly more geographically close. I had finally proven that I had made total peace with my ex.

It is both utterly unique and totally commonplace. I never thought Emily and my union was so banal, but everyone goes through aching breakups. We aren't as special as I had hoped, no matter how much people told me that we were the one couple they looked to, the two people who were always going to be together. I wore this designation as a badge of honor for all the world to see. I was proud beyond all reckoning with Emily, I bragged about her ceaselessly. I never felt as deeply for anyone as I did for Emily and, not to put to fine a point on it, had no doubt that my love for her would only increase with the months and years. I was and could be devoted to her because I observed so much that is amazing in her. As I told friends in her presence - even as she was leaving me - she made me be a better man and I think that I had a similar effect on her, though she didn't need much help.

My emotions flicker and I don't trust my decisions. One moment, I consider just cutting her out of my life totally for a few weeks or months, advice I gave myself after the quagmire that was my interactions with Kate after our breakup but that I cannot fathom implementing now. The next, I just want Emily to understand the full depth of my love and devotion to her. But, if she has left me so resolutely and premeditatedly, I can't keep being devoted to her. I can't stop loving her, but I have to protect my soul as much as I can. I want to be her friend, but I need to be mine.

How am I supposed to face this job that I only took to provide us with a home? How am I to deal with the students and faculty asking about my wife, as they do every day? I can't tell them word one of this, that much is certain. I keep my private life to myself, as much as my writing this in a public forum might suggest otherwise. I just wish they would somehow know not to ask, but I wish more that I felt close with or confident in any one of them. What I really want is someone close by, someone who will understand. I won't be renewing my contract for next year, but I was not really intending to do that anyway.

I anticipated so much of my life as existing with Emily by my side. Even to the final hours, she spoke to me as long we had a future. Last week, she was talking about wanting to have a baby with me, to which I replied something to the effect that I needed to at least be engaged to her to even consider that. She laughed and nodded then. We spoke of going to Free Spirit together this year, of her working at Summer Institute for the Gifted with me. I was eager for the life we would have after this semester, when she finally graduated and got a job and out adult lives could start in earnest. When we would move wherever she got a job and be together, our first real home as a married couple. We'd get a dog, something she has wanted ever since her beloved Quest died. We'd contemplate adding to our family. But now I realize why she hesitated so long to make New Years Eve plans with me.

I have the hardest time with basic things. Jacki and Kevin come over the night that Emily left because I exhorted them while she was busy trying to convince Dan Kessler or Zack to be my shoulders to cry on. They'd never been to my apartment, so I try to show them around. I open the mediation room, the space in our home that was most Emily's, and suddenly it is like I am underwater, breathless and slow. I show them the wedding dress, the band she bought, and try to crack jokes so brittle they scratch my throat. I can't conceive of eating the comfort food they brought to soothe me, though I guzzle water as through I had just come from the desert. They take me to breakfast the next day - a meal that will give Jacki food poisoning - and I force myself to eat a pancake because I know that I need to keep living however much my body seems to want me to starve.

Time slows down to a crawl, since my head is a flurry of thoughts, most self-pitying and destructive. Three hours honestly feels more like ten and I am surprised when Zack corrects me as to how long it has really been. I see that Emily has changed her status on a social network and, in that, changed mine as well and feel a stab. Every action she takes pushes her a little farther from me and a little closer to a future of which she wants me not to be a part. This woman who has been my best friend and lover, who has been my family for over seven years can walk out the door because she just can't be with me a moment longer and, to paraphrase Pablo Neruda, my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Soon in Xenology: New Years.

last watched: Juno
reading: The Great Gatsby
listening: The Moldy Peaches

" Merry Christmas From The Family | 2007 | New Years Even "

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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