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" The Breaststroke | 2008 | Burning Bright "

01.26.08 12:44 p.m.

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It is simply too painful to acknowledge - even to ourselves - that we've been so credulous.  

-Carl Sagan


Use Your Disillusion

Emily talks about how I plainly saw this all coming. It is more than possible that I did not let myself see the truth, though she did not help. A potent warning sign, one friends and family have delicately thrown in my face a few dozen times, is when I repeatedly - almost proudly - mentioned that Emily could deftly lie to other people at a whim. I did not care to acknowledge that I am an "other people", and that I would also continue this statement by admitting that I would not know if she was lying to me, so I simply had to trust that she would never abuse my confidence because I could not thrive in this relationship without complete faith. From my present - erstwhile benighted - perspective, this reads like the confessions of someone in a battered women's shelter, but I repeated it because it was easier than confronting what I meant beneath the words. I wanted to believe that she could lie to the world, but I was the person to whom she was nakedly honest. Even as she was breaking my heart, I begged her to come clean with everything because I finally began to see the degree to which I was being kept in the dark. This one rare moment when there was nothing to lose and so much liberation to gain by finally divulging, and she chose not to.

There is no comfort in finally seeing evidence, in seeing what so many others did with wide eyes and hushed lips because they feared not even their concerned words would penetrate the mist of love in which I more than willingly engulfed myself. How I helped her contrive stories to protect herself, hoping against hope that I was not then her enabler. How foolish of me, how human. I have finally allowed myself to see these things not with bitterness, but with an inner honesty that was not previously my providence. It will have to be a struggle for me to continue to see the truth behind illusions, to will myself to look lies in their cool blue eyes and say, "You can't beat me." Of this, I am grateful, but I am more grateful that I have you. You, my witnesses to the truth as best I know it, you who have my exhibits at your fingertips. You may not choose to believe every word I write - though I swear I write as best and truly as I can - but you saw it all. You have full access to the time-lapsed footage. You keep me honest when much else is otherwise. When so much on which I thought I had built the foundation of my life crumbles because I took candy for stone. And I see that, even with these foundations dwindling, my tower does not break. It is too organic for that, too alive. It put down roots beyond the sugar, to real things, nourishing me still and always.

I said, and totally meant, that finding out a single deception after the breakup would force my brain to examine seven and a half years. More than one appeared and my brain began slowly pouring over issues I had forgotten, acknowledging what I should have let myself believe sooner. The whole relationship wasn't close to a lie, but there were more deceits than I would let myself see as they happened. And, in time, I know I will come to realize more and that pains me. But in the pain, there is the antiseptic of healing.

When Emily met me, she was, as far as she told me, in an abusive relationship with a boy not worth mentioning. She says she tried dumping him more than once, but he would threaten suicide and she would come running back again to forestall his death. He sent me an email soon after Emily finally dumped him to be with me, a letter I deleted unread at her behest as a statement of my confidence in Emily and the relationship I hoped then to build with her. And since Emily dumped me, I have received similar letters from parties hurt in all this, letters I have read because they were unavoidable. It was, in fact, only through these messages (as unsolicited and painful as they were) that Emily began to tell me some version of the truth that I welcomed her to tell me much sooner. Only when she knew she would be otherwise revealed did my emotional well-being become her priority, as she wanted me to know her version before I could get theirs (which was mostly a letter Emily had sent to her romantic interest Tim, so still her version of events though one she hoped I would not discover). Had this letter not been illegally uncovered, I don't know she would have seen this truth as her precedence.

I know people will now choose to disbelieve me, though I've been called the most innocent party even by Emily, because they are closer to her and it is more convenient to rely on her every word. Trust me, I've been there. I believed her even over my own wants and needs. I don't know what stories are being told about me, what justifications others are using to validate her amputation, what misinterpretations and outright fictions are being noted as base truth. Who feels that I victimized Emily in some way, though I do gather this is being said. She can't be properly pitied if she isn't a victim, if her role in this is anything more than conflicted ingénue. I stood bleeding from this hole she put in me when my arms were unfailingly open to her and they put bandaids on Emily's self-inflicted wounds, treating her again as something too fragile instead of the twenty-eight year old woman who can more than fend for herself. That was, after all, the original conceit in dumping me, that she needed to go off and discover who she was as an independent being in New York City, that she needed to try the tightrope without a net for the first time in her adult life. At least, that is what I was told. How she will manage to discover who she is alone in the city while living in a house next door to her friends in Warwick, cuddled up to Tim, I can't imagine and it isn't for me to have to imagine anymore. She has made her choices and, though I initially thought I was in the wrong for telling her to take the furniture, I now realize I was in the wrong for not insisting and giving her another way back into my life. She made so many other huge decisions under my nose, I do not doubt she could have found a home for the cats and another few feet of space for the furniture, except that it was inconvenient for her at that moment to do so. I compromised so much of myself to make her life more comfortable and she can no longer expect that.

And, perhaps, one of the reasons I would prefer to know how often she misled to me is because each lie is one fewer thing I love about her. If she lied often, I've lost even less in her exodus. Then the beautiful woman who I adored existed only in Emily's stories. But I don't buy it. She was honest for so long in the ways that mattered. I can pick arbitrary milestones that changed this - her father's illness and death, her matriculation at New York University, the beginning of wedding planning - but it doesn't ring true. I have told people that Emily just blew a fuse and this is how she rebooted, which feels closer, even if is does not feel not completely accurate.

It should be easier to think that I was deceived in why I loved her, but it isn't. One sincere moment, even one arrived at though a half-truth, blows the lies to dust. One ruby in the rhinestones is still precious. In my arms, she was naked more than physically. At best, if she was only ever a character Emily played, I would feel foolish that I spent seven years being strung along. At worst... I don't dare imagine. I am still struggling for my own truth against the lies I told myself for protection and to continue a relationship in which I had invested so much of my time, money, effort, love.

I wish it were as simple as calling Emily a mean name and detaching from what I still feel toward her. She wasn't honest to me, told me stories when I would have been impressed with simple truth about her, but I am not close to hurling the word "liar" as an epithet. I even understand why she lied to me, but that comprehension changes little of my disappointment and hurt because it is not solely Emily who did this. I did this to myself, too. She couldn't have done it without my (not so silent) consent. The lies I've told myself scar me so much more.

Soon in Xenology: Coping. Dates. Ideal Wives. Melanie.

last watched: Juno
reading: Franny and Zooey
listening: A Light of Some Kind

" The Breaststroke | 2008 | Burning Bright "

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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