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" Place Settings | 2009 | Hope Personified "

02.04.09 10:38 a.m.

Two things a man should never be angry at: what he can help, and what he cannot help.  

-Thomas Fuller


Bits of Broken Hearts

Melissa looks with trepidation at the task to come, the remains of their individual possessions stacked on the floor and the stained floors. "I have to go to Spanish class now," she states. "You two should clean and move as much as you can. I'll be back with the truck after class." This had not been my plan - I imagined that it would be the three of us or, failing that, just Melissa and me - but I am adaptable. I simply want to accomplish task that will expedite the end.

Late in September, Melissa called me, saying she had just gotten hand surgery and had left Stevehen - the two pains unrelated but concurrent - and she needed help moving out. I wanted the exact details of what occurred, details she was in no position to give then. She was pragmatic, concerned only with getting her stuff out of her old apartment and - presumably - back into her parents' house until she planned something more lasting. I said I could be over after work, but that was not soon enough.

"If Stevehen calls you," she said, "pretend you don't know anything. I don't think he really gets what is going on yet."

I was braced for fallout, for him to call me and tell me what I already knew, his voice a cocktail of sarcasm masking pain. I intended to act surprised and sympathetic. That call never came.

The next time I visited Melissa - clarifying that she wanted me to go to her apartment and not her parents' house - Stevehen was there. I don't know that anyone present noticed that this threw me for a moment. It was a week later that I caught her alone and she admitted that she reneged before he internalized the breakup. She would continue to live with him and date him for the immediate future. She intimated things might change when their lease was up, but she wasn't definite. I resigned myself to the fact that this would be drawn out, that they might breakup and resume dating several more times before it stuck. I believed, however, that it would eventually stick. They seemed to want to draw blood from the other more than either wanted to draw a life together.

Around Christmas - a good time for breakups - they decided that they would break up pending how they felt after living separately. However, their lease would not be up for another month, so they again continued cohabitating.

When Melissa walks out the door tonight, Stevehen surveys the mess before him and seems unsure of where to start. I feel the same, but I am referring to my gentle interrogation rather than how to proceed in cleaning and evacuating the apartment. I find a bucket, a mop, and cleaning fluid and decide this is the best way to resolve both. Once the mop head falls off and I am reduced to scrubbing the floor by hand, my Cinderella plight brings Stevehen to my level and he grabs a sponge to help. On hands and knees, it is hard not to open up.

It isn't that their breakup strikes me as a surprise. That they were ever together is what shocks me more. That they lasted for years - surviving living together for even a few months, to say nothing of a year - and seemed relatively happy startles me. Mutually deciding that they did not work out as a couple seems natural in comparison. I feel callous for writing it, but I wouldn't be taken aback were they both to admit the same with the benefit of hindsight. Sharing space and bills is considerably more difficult than sharing bodily fluids.

They always said they blamed me for their getting together because I happened to be the catalyst to their meeting. Going back through old entries, there are dozens of times I tried to get them both in the same place at the same time to economize on spending time with people and because I wanted all my friends to get along. While they lived together, the amount of time I spent with either one of them dwindled until a month or more could go by between speaking. I remember that the first significant meeting between them happened, outside of a bowling alley while we were drizzled upon, but don't recall any interaction that would have remotely led me to believe there was an attraction, and not only because I assumed Stevehen was content with his then-girlfriend Tina (whose failing at that point seemed to be that she wanted him to move out of his parents' house, get a good job, and get a car, though I acknowledge that there may have been quite a bit else that would begin to justify what came after).

As I scrub stains from the walls, all I know is that they are both moving into apartments in Wappingers. I need to subtly get confirmation that they are not merely moving into a different place together, one with two bedrooms. But no, Melissa is moving up the street with her friend/coworker Krista and Stevehen is moving a few miles away with a woman named Naomi. Neither of them seem to have any romantic inclinations toward their new flatmates, which is truly for the best (plus, inasmuch as I have any idea what their types might be, I don't think they would be Krista and Naomi). I expended undue psychic energy trying to reappropriate an apartment that I shared with a lover, one I knew I was giving up in under a year. They both need a fresh start, to leave the debris of their life together and proceed without any more attachments to the past than are necessary.

Stevehen can't focus on this situation too closely yet - I think the ache of it is beyond his characteristic cynicism - instead bouncing ideas off of me for potential comics for Cave Drawing Ink. It is a safe ground and I am interested. He says he wants to start writing again, that both WarCraft and a relationship detracted from that pursuit. As it is how I cope, I nod vigorously.

The subject returns to the focus of my inquiry, if briefly and without antecedent. "Naomi is great. The other day, she asked if I wanted dinner and said she was making chicken. I said sure and when I came out of my bedroom, there was chicken and noodles and vegetables."

"Just like an adult meal!" I proclaim sincerely, though I know Melissa was not averse to making food. She is Italian and this translates to an ability to summon forth delectability from tomatoes and pasta. I think better of mentioning this to him. Now is certainly not the time to mention anything about her that he is likely to miss. In his position, I would need to talk up the life I would be living now rather than mourning over what I had to leave behind.

Stevehen asks after Melanie and I assure him that we are great, but change the subject. I am so happy, talk of her thrills me, and that is nothing he needs to endure right now. I am here to reestablish myself as their friend, ease this transition, pluck out what stories I can, and clean. That is all I intend to do, not gloat among bits of broken hearts and shattered expectations about how in love I am.

We finish off kitchen and bathroom floors while he explicates more characters for potential comics, ideas he has tossed around for a decade but now has a chance to pursue. He lights up as he discusses fantasy based on physics. He behaves differently than I would be in this situation, as I would be more inclined toward introspection, therapy, and nostalgia. Perhaps he has spent too long in that world while this path dragged out for four months.

We cart the first load into Melissa's new apartment and I am actually bewildered by how big it is.

"How much are you guys paying for this?" I ask her roommate Krista.

"$1200," Krista replies, the same price Stevehen and Melissa were paying for their one bedroom that was not half the size. There are boxes everywhere, but this looks like a home. I covet this place much more than I would their old apartment. When I drop off some clothes in Melissa's bedroom, it is already completely set up. It looks as though she'd been living here for weeks, as if this had always been her bedroom. It was comfortable and settled, already beginning to smell like her.

As we return to the car, I mention some little fact from Stevehen's previous relationship with Tina, something private but which I assumed he knew as a rather crucial participant in the anecdote. He did not and this becomes the temporary focus of his anger, that he was made to feel horrid when Tina had other plans. I grow quieter the angrier he gets (he told me that I could describe it as having witnessed the very edge of madness), because I have poor timing in letting him know this. When Melissa returns and he shares the reason for his anger and distance, she defused him in a matter of sentences in a way I could not. She knew it, she tells him, and what on Earth does it matter now? Had things turned out differently with Tina, he would have been exponentially less happy with his life, and being annoyed at it now wasn't going to do him any good. His anger depletes him and leaves him emptier.

We haul want little remains of his possessions out of this apartment. When we return to get the rest, Melissa asks him to please give her his keys to the apartment, the fitness center, and all the other fobs and cards that allowed him movement in this life. He hands her everything she asks, including the engraved keychain the complex gave them both, as he no longer wants it. The color drains out of him. It is another layer of permanence that he had been trying not to allow into his reality. I truly understand.

I hug Melissa with one arm, the other occupied with some plastic shelves that will be going to Stevehen's new apartment. Stevehen, as he is loaded down with the rest of the cabinet, has no free hands to hug her though he wants to. I think he wants her to come into the cold to hug him, to make that effort. She bids us goodbye and locks the door instead. This is the closing of this chapter; Melissa is not one for such gestures of permanence unless she means for it to be.

"Yeah," he says, his voice high with derision before we are properly out of earshot, "we are going to be best friends."

I drive him back to his new apartment so he does not have to burden Melissa with another trip tonight and he tells me that he thinks everything will be okay as long as "we stay friends". I agree and then realize the "we" refers to me, not Melissa. Of course we will still be friends, but he had read some previous entry where I detail that hurting someone to whom I have priority and seniority would put me in the awkward position of taking sides, in reference to a different couple. But that isn't what happened. Their relationship was hardly blameless on either side, but he is the one hurting more than Melissa. I know that this breakup was much more her idea, no matter if they are claiming it is mutual (and I don't know that they are). I am not taking sides, I am not cutting anyone out of my life. I can think of few people who I've excised utterly.

"I should've stayed in Boston," Stevehen says, referencing where he went to escape from the malaise of cheating of Tina with Melissa years go. "That would have been better. I wouldn't be in this situation, I would never have worked at Sears."

"No, Boston wouldn't have been better, just different. You didn't like it there either." It doesn't behoove him to wonder at hypotheticals, no matter how natural it is right now. This is a bad end, as faintly amicable as it seems, but it could be worse. I don't imagine that they will be getting back together, though I'd heard mentions that Stevehen was planning their first date once they lived apart for a while. They never had a proper first date, going from her indulging his infidelity and her lust to a relationship to cohabitation. Melissa does not seem the sort for proper dates, so this may be for the best.

I help him bring his belongings up a narrow staircase, minding to be as silent as possible so as to not arouse the crotchety landlady who lives under him. I only scan the apartment, as I am loaded down and both physically and emotionally exhausted, enough to see the aforementioned Naomi resting on the sofa watching Juno and to drop the shelving in Stevehen's room. All I see within the dark is a mattress on the floor, though I assume there is more. I'm sure I will be back when he has had a chance to make it more to his liking, so I withhold any judgment. It isn't a return to his parents' house, something I believe was everyone's fear (I know I didn't want to live with my parents last year and was grateful for the basement flat I occupied for a month).

In many ways, this is a new beginning for both of them. I'm not sure that they will retain a friendship - most people do not feel my need to continue dialogue with people who reject them - but there is a possibility once they have time to breathe. They got along well when they slept in separate beds in different houses. More than that, I think they need this. I never am forced to grow so much as when I am dumped (though I am well satisfied with my capacity for continual growth by now, so Melanie and I can just endure in our mutual adoration if the universe does not mind terribly). If I may be hypocritical in a friendly way, I feel it is best that they take some time alone to not date. This relationship rather exploded, though in a slow fizzling way, and they should enjoy some time to pick up the pieces and move on in a healthy way.

Soon in Xenology: Surgery. Aquariums.

last watched: Red Dwarf
reading: Pride and Prejudice
listening: Jonathan Coultan

" Place Settings | 2009 | Hope Personified "

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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