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" A Fine Day | 2009 | Caste Party "

01.25.09 11:11 a.m.

You should know
How great things were before you
Even so
They're better still today
I can't think of who I was before
You ruined everything
In the nicest way

-Jonathan Coultan


Bumps in the Road Remind Us

This is not how I imaged the night of our reunion. We are supposed to be glowing with post-coital bliss (as we were the first time) after a month separated, but instead Melanie is crying into her knees. Crying about missing her home and parents already, of being categorically unsure of what she is doing with her life, of being anxious about returning for another semester at Bard, of worrying she is going to ruin my life by being nineteen and ending up spoiling everything between us. I am sympathetic and assure her that this is all perfectly normal, that it has been a long day for her and that she will feel better after she has slept. But she doesn't want to sleep. She wants to resolve that which cannot be in one night. After I make her promise me that she isn't going to use any of this as an excuse to leave me, because I have to assert my preservation before I can return to altruism, I hold her and let her talk it through.

She is spending a week at my apartment. We have our nights together, but I need to tiptoe around in the mornings so as not to wake her as I am going to work. Until a few minutes before 7pm, she is alone. She draws and bakes, watches movies, decompressing from her month with her parents before she has to face the reality of returning to college. Her luggage explodes, covering the floors with clothes and papers. She needs this respite and I want to give it to her, a neutral territory between stressors, because I would want it in her place.

This is the closest I've come to having someone live with me in a long time. It isn't like our near vacation in August, as I have to continue about my responsible daylight life toiling in the word mines while leaving her in the highest room of the tallest tower. I have come to be used to having my own space where she is certainly welcome whenever she wishes, but it is mine to give. I have worked very hard to have my sanctuary, a place where children cannot knock on my door, a place where I can be alone if I wish it, a Shoebox of Solitude. I fidget at the mess she's made and, though she suggests she will clean it up, she opts to instead draw a near photo-realistic picture of David Bowie. (I can almost excuse the disaster when I see how talented she is, unbeknownst to me.) I need to learn how to compromise this week rather than catastrophizing, assuming only the slothfulness of relaxation represents how a real life with her would be. (Indeed, I know for a fact that she is considerably more fastidious than this week suggests, as she offered to wash my dishes on our first date and did scrub my bathroom while I hid the clutter of that apartment.) And I remember with discomfort being lectured by a partner about not keeping an apartment clean when I was without a job a life ago and promise myself I will never do that to her. Melanie bakes an amazing chocolate cake for me and greets me at the door wearing little but her grin. For this, I can forgive the stack of dishes and the dirty clothes on the floor.

Friday night, I have my breakdown to bookend hers. I tell her the majority of what I am saying comes from sleep deprivation, but I list my issues so I can begin my catharsis, mostly what I have stated above with a dash of fear of abandonment. The conversation expands and meanders, Melanie saying wrenching things and then stating that she will sleep on the sofa in penance for being awful to me. She tells me that she doesn't see the point in my journal writing, that I am dwelling in the past and that I put up some embarrassing entries between gems. The roots of my breakdown come from the day before she returned, when she told me to delete my internet presence if I ever expect to be employed again and I misunderstood and thought she wanted me to stop writing online (she merely meant that I ought to stop using my surname in a way that connects to my writing - that anything I write can and will be used against me by potential bosses with boundary issues - but I couldn't hear that initially). I don't ever want to lose her, but I won't stop writing. I don't see it as clinging to the past, but rather fun anecdotes and ways to learn from the past and keep the lessons, to retain perspective. My stories inform who I am and, as I relate them, I make them something outside myself that I can observe in the wild rather than something infecting me and weighing me down. She eventually concedes that her issue is that she is judging me by the standards she would judge her own writing - which is why she writes so infrequently - and that it isn't fair, since I am not writing these entries to necessarily create art nor do I at all hope any one entry is read wholly without context. This is an exercise, a whetstone that make my style sharper and more original, a way of purging unneeded prose and discovering what in me can be beautiful. And perhaps, as it is not a new argument of those who love me, it is something I need to learn to express more exactly and learn from to forestall future confrontations.

I'm so used to dissociating when there is a conflict in a relationship and I fight to remain in the moment, as painful as this is. If I dissociate, I will lose what we are arguing about and I need this. I can't allow the amnesia, no matter how much easier it would feel. It took hours of crying and measured words - I don't yell because that kills my ability to resolve conflicts productively and foments further issues in the future - but our relationship is cured and lovelier by the end. This is a milestone, a week before our first anniversary, a statement that we can voice our concerns, legitimately see the other person's and concede misunderstandings, and continue to love and grow together. It isn't hiding from the truth but facing it and saying that it isn't at all as bad as we irrationally believed. It makes me much more confident, hurdles to our love crumbling to dust.

This entry paints an unfair portrait of a week we spent cuddled together being in love, showing only two dark patches in the light because they provide contrast and depth. I've skipped over the tender fervor of her embraces when I returned each night, my being enamored with how affectionately she dealt with my nieces and nephew at my brother's birthday party, her insistence that I wake her every morning so she could kiss me goodbye. It was a week I would not trade, not the feel of her head on my arm as she finally fell asleep each night and not grumbling in my car that we were having issues that barely extended past my skull. The former, hours after the latter, was worth the bumps in the road it took to get there and will always be.

Soon in Xenology: Jenn's party. Underestimation.

last watched: Death at a Funeral
reading: A.S. Byatt
listening: Jonathan Coultan

" A Fine Day | 2009 | Caste Party "

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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