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Knowing Jess | 2009 | The Tale of Mr. Morton

06.07.09 12:38 p.m.

I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their own happiness or satisfaction.  

-His Holiness the Dalai Lama




(Before beginning this entry, I should note that I am not upset with anyone described below, even if you think I ought to be. However, in confronting my issues as I must, these situations should be described.)

Melanie had warned me, upon seeing a picture of Jess, that I had better keep a "tongue length" away from my new friend, ostensibly owning to her resemblance to my celebrity crush, Felicia Day. When I tell Jess this, she laughs and I stick my tongue out, emphasizing that we have a table length in addition to my tongue. But I am abashed to admit that Melanie is not wrong to make this vague threat.

When I return from watching Jess and her friends role play, I ask Melanie to get on Skype and I spend the next two hours sobbing out my confession. Melanie will later say that it was almost cruel to see what a short leash I keep myself on to honor my fidelity to her, referring to this as my "choke chain". I call it a crush, which feels more apt when I realize how it is crushing me to harbor it. I hate being in this position. I hate knowing that I am in any way treating Melanie as Emily treated me at the end, though I make my feelings overt, talking about them to ease the pressure accumulating within my chest. Keeping them a secret from her seems more sinful than having them at all. It isn't that I expect Melanie will dump me for being infatuated with someone, but I do feel that I owe Melanie the option of anger at my truth.

"How long have you had this crush?" Melanie asks, calmly.

I pause, realizing this is not a question I was asking myself. "A day or so... but time moves a lot more slowly without you. It feels like a month." Jess has most certainly been my friend for a lot longer than a week, no matter what lies time tries to tell us, as though feelings can be parses out in segments of night and day. Melanie

Throughout the conversation, Melanie never even frowns except to pity me for the pain I'm in. When I call her on this, she fakes crying to meet my expectations, which renews the flood coming out of my eyes and into a nearby paper towel. She states that her composure is because she knows that she wins and that I won't do anything that would hurt her.

I want this crush on Jess to stop because it threatens the personal mythology I hold close. I am a faithful boyfriend who is worthy of my amazing girlfriend. I am the one whose head wouldn't turn in a roomful of naked women. I am not the one whose heart drifts because his girlfriend is indulging in some educational adventure thirteen time zones away. I am not one to prize convenience over commitment, loving the one you are with rather than waiting for the one you love. My mantra has been that I would rather not be with Melanie than be with anyone else. The way parts of my brain are spinning seems to contradict this.

At Jess's, I took out my tarot cards and twice did a reading for myself. I almost never use my cards, the Phantasmagoria Theatre deck, not because they are inaccurate and silly but because they are so accurate (and silly) that I have to begin giving credence to concepts like fate. Both readings ended with me totally alone, having hurt both the women concerned. And, honestly, I'm not sure which scares me worse, hurting others or ending up alone.

When I tell Melanie I would be wrecked were she to confess having the kinds of feelings I do for someone else, she brings up my abandonment issues and says that she isn't scared of losing me because she won't let that happen. While she has been through breakups, including one that made her feel lost in herself for a few months, they haven't marked her as mine have me (whether or not I am consciously aware). Ever leaving Melanie, especially like this, would cripple her worldview that world can be bright and good to her, that cynicism can give way to delight. She threatens to become a bag/cat lady and torment me to the end of my days with trash and kitten corpses should I dump her, trying to defuse the situation with humor as I would. Knowing how tenaciously dedicated she is to our happiness should make things feel better.

When it doesn't, I realize that this was only part of the confession I have to make to be unburdened; that I have to tell Jess much as I would prefer not to. I want her as my best friend and I cannot fall into the sitcom pretense of cloistered emotions for dramatic effect. Plus, I feel I am rather transparent, so I would be shocked were she not at least casually aware already. As confessions go, there are worse ones than "I think you are so awesome that I get a little tingly, but don't worry. I won't do anything because I love my girlfriend." Melanie

I would feel even more awful should it turn out that this infatuation presents an insurmountable barrier in our early relationship. Even with the tiny amount of time I've known her, she puts me at ease. I adore her in a way I have not in a while, a sort of instant kinship as though we've shared a life before. I even like her friends, both as an extension of her and independently. Melanie says it is like in high school, when you feel cared about and purposeful with a group of people, something I have only had occasional flickerings of since my own time in school (though these groupings were tellingly extinguished by one party pushing others away to pursue ill-advised intimacy with one). Jess has begun to represent something greater than herself, she is a community of friends into which I could slip, she is a new world of possibilities.

I feel betrayed by my head, by its willingness to bring me to harm because it was given certain cues. It is as though my innate conditioning has been manipulated, like those birds that cuddle up with a stuffed predator because a speaker inside is playing the cries of a baby bird. I should be more evolved than this, but it is just as easy to trip my circuits.

In essence, I am forced to realize that I am subconsciously projecting my abandonment issues onto Jess not simple because she is my type (sweet, adorable, friendly, funny, attractive, intelligent, geeky) but because she is available. She lives twenty-five minutes away, she won't leave for other countries for months at a time. While she is a crucial component of it, the crush really isn't about Jess. Once I realize this aloud, the weight of the crush lifts, unfortunately replaced with the mortification that I couldn't fully process all of this until I'd told Jess that I had a crush on her.

Despite this, Jess seems to take this all well, saying that, as long as nothing more than my confession happens - and it won't - there is no issue between us, which I dearly hope she means and which all of her behavior after acts to affirm. From my writing, I think she has begun to tender Melanie as a friend she hasn't met and she certainly likes the idea of my relationship with Melanie well enough to want to preserve it.

I am further embarrassed by the sudden clarity of my realization, springing fully formed like Athena from Zeus's head (armor and all) within five minutes. Even if I stated I had abandonment issues prior, this attraction to Jess (that never goes below her neck) is what finally makes it concrete. All my misery last summer was too abstract, self-improvement without admitting what I most needed to improve. I struggled and grew, but wasn't aware of the core of why I needed to. I said I was getting over the trauma of being dumped by Emily, but the underlying issues were barely affected.

Despite what the above might imply, I can't wholly blame Emily, as is facile and false, though she was my first real experience with someone leaving for months at a time. She led me believe from the outset that she was the one who would stay with me forever, even as she found excuse after excuse to spend increasing time away from the life we were supposed to be building. Even as, every time she mentioned another competition or decided she needed to train with additional coaches, I heard the echo of her telling me how she escaped from her ex-boyfriend by training as many hours a day as she could. I very nearly married her because I had convinced myself that she would stay with me, even as she had already left and had yet to tell me. For that alone, I need to conquer this phobia, so I never again let it be the deciding factor in my life.

But Emily was not the source. I asked my mother why she imagines I have abandonment issues, since she might remember some trauma in my infancy, some Eriksonian crisis I missed, but she cannot remember anything before my foolishness with Emily. I recall my bad behavior and controlling urges because I thought my high-school-to-college girlfriend Kate would leave me, because her predecessor Jen did. Even Jen isn't the source, though is a contributor in a small way still. I've taken enough psychology classes that I want to pin this on something more primordial, but perhaps it is just the accumulation of bits of baggage from dashed adolescent affection. Melanie thinks I am being stupid because I am

But I am unequivocal on the fact that this isn't their issue, it is mine. All those times feeling a distance when someone returned to me, I was the one who was yards away, not them. I was saying, "You left me. You will leave again. And one of these times, you aren't going to come back, so why should I keep giving myself to you?" I need them - both partners and friends - to prove to me that they won't make that final departure, leaving me alone, and will be prickly until sufficiently reminded. Even as I let someone go with ease, I was occasionally annoyed by their return and wouldn't acknowledge why. How dare you do this to me, my demeanor asked. How dare you leave and think I could forgive you immediately. I don't know why being alone is the most horrible thing my brain can conceive, I certainly manage well on my own. But I am a little more invested with each return, and I lose a little more every time I am left waving at tail lights.

My fear of abandonment extends past romantic relationships, plainly. One look no further than my resentment at those friends who just picked up and left without explaining themselves or succumbed so deeply to their own fears and worries that they cast me off just as surely as those who are states away. I read recently that friends have a seven year half-life, that every seven years, half of those people who one was friends with vanish and need to be replenished. And, as has been a passive struggle throughout my writing, I have tried to stake these people to the ground so they couldn't leave or cling to the shreds of what was once a friendship because it used to be something I wanted. But you can't will nature to reverse and I am coming to accept that it is natural for people to drift out of my life, one of my first steps to facing my fear of abandonment.

It is also telling who is immune. Hannah is leaving in a week for a six year stint in the Navy, but my issues are not riled up. She said proper goodbyes, she said she cares about me and will keep in contact, and she has implied that she will visit. Boot camp in Chicago means nothing more than that she is not currently here, but not that she left. She will not cease to be my friend and is not abandoning me as much as exploring what her life most needs. (This is not to say that I didn't freak out a little when first she announced her decision and misplaced why I was doing so.)

A small part of this reinvigoration of my issues, to my shame, is that I needlessly worry it is only a matter of time before Melanie decides that I was just a phase where she found someone closer to her intellectual level, but not someone she shows off to her friends. I fret that she will change in a way that she will want something else in her life than me. She misunderstood and thought I meant that I considered myself static, which couldn't be further from the truth. But the fact remains that, in my past three significant relationships, time apart meant that they grew away from me. They realized, in an absence of my breath of the back of their necks as I help them, that they wanted different breaths there or none at all. That, in breathing the same air as them, I was suffocating them. Of course, Melanie doesn't at all agree and would fondly but firmly tell me I was being stupid and should stop saying such things when she can't kiss me to shut me up.

I am disappointed because I truly thought I was over this, as everything had been so wonderful. Instead, it turns out that Melanie's presence soothes but does not obviate my issues, so I am in for yet another summer battling with my core neurosis. But it is as if, knowing the monster's name, I can now fight it off. I have seen how insidious it is, how easily I am its prey, but it relies on my not realizing any of this. If I can label my behavior as maladaptive and shatter my ignorance, I can crush it first.

Soon in Xenology: When I was a girl. Morton's List.

last watched: Pushing Daisies
reading: Fables
listening: Garfunkel and Oates

Knowing Jess | 2009 | The Tale of Mr. Morton

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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