Thomm Quackenbush, author

Rosemary and (a Good) Time | 2009 | Pants-On Dance-On

06.23.09 1:01 a.m.

If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.  

-Emily Dickinson

 


Radical Excision: A Biff in the Snoot

Focus on the color

The sun is so bright and the air clean after the storm, but the light does not touch Jacki. While she is almost always dressed in a shade of darkness (if that isn't redundant), there is an inner luminescence that she exudes and which is currently absent. She doesn't even seem to be Jacki, just a Russian doll with my friend nestled tight inside. I hug her instinctively, the doll eyes closing and the scent of her doll hair on my face. I remember being like this, so far inside myself to hide from the catastrophe in front of me. I know the basic timeline, but it is impossible to trace the corollaries between what she is experiencing and what the clock says.

We pass our car ride to her therapist in near silence, aside from the intrusions of my GPS informing me where to turn. I felt having the officious voice of a machine telling us where to go was a slightly greater kindness than requiring Jacki to focus on the world outside her skin long enough to direct me. I valued silence in her position, even as I cursed it for giving me the space to think.

She said she needed me to drive her because she would otherwise be a danger on the road. While this in undoubtedly somewhat true, her greater self knows she needs friends now more than ever and, especially given the paucity of my social calendar at the moment, I was more than willing to help her in any way I could.

Here is the story as I know it. I'm keeping it fairly vague and acknowledging my bias. My loyalty is to Jacki, even as my first indication of any of this was a message from Kevin exhorting me to employ journalistic bipartisanship and speak to him before writing about this - something I do not feel inclined to do. The facts speak for themselves and I don't employ hack jobs even when my own heart is the one breaking. For the sake of balance, here is his entry about the affair, which more or less gels with what I have written. So, this is the situation in order as I know it, with respect to the fact that what I know is almost entirely from Jacki and I am piecing things together between sobs and so may have things a bit out of order:

Last semester, Kevin took a class with a woman named Andrea. They apparently hit it off, though I don't have the details here, only that he had a few late nights with her when Jacki was waiting up for him and he told her an easily disproven story (he got in at 1AM and said he'd been at the library, which closed at 9PM). He eventually admitted to having more than friendly feelings for Andrea, who was in his group for some project. What was worse was that, even after confessing this to Jacki, he invited Andrea to social occasions where Jacki was present (including a barbecue and his show at Androgyny). I learned all this when I called Jacki to get advice about my 24-hour crush on Jess, only to be confronted with further guilt by association. However, things seemed to improve between them from what Jacki told me. Around her birthday, they had a talk about how he was coming home less and less, ostensibly because he was caring for his parents (both of whom recently and independently acquired injuries that make navigating the stairs difficult), including one instance where he waited until 11:30PM to call her and let her know that he had a little too much to drink with dinner and would not be coming home at all. He told her that he realized that he was not being the man she needed and he was going to work to change that because he loved and valued her.

If I understand things correctly - I may not - he then lied about going to his parent and drove to be with Andrea to tell her of his feelings for her. She reciprocated and they sealed the deal, as it were, though Jacki was understandably not keen to know precisely what was sealed where and for how long. But, as Kevin tried to defend to Jacki, that was the first time anything physical had ever happened between them and Andrea would only go so far with him while he was still engaged. He said all this to Jacki and told her that he couldn't be with her. As an editorial interjection, I don't think it was wholly Andrea's influence that distracted him from Jacki - it really couldn't be - and he has apparently said as much. I believe that, even as he had been living a life with Jacki for these past years and had prostrated himself to her to be readmitted to her affections after dumping her in a very similar way two year ago, he wasn't ready to give himself over to what a life with Jacki would mean. Just after he first proposed to her and they were relating the story, I saw a glint of fear in his eyes; the gesture of proposing was fine, the concept of marrying her terrified him. I remember this well, as it was how I initially reacted to proposing to Emily, though I acclimated to the commitment and was (unfortunately) ready to marry her for reason best discussed at another time. Much as I wanted Kevin to for Jacki's happiness, I didn't believe he would make it to the altar for her. It feels too easy to say that this was a reaction against the increased responsibility of growing older, finding a way to shape your life around pleasant realities rather than rock star fantasies. That he just finished grad school after a semester of not working might have created the perfect storm for him, one that he was too willing to escape in the Neverland of Andrea's affection. I cannot see how dumping Jacki does anything but exacerbate the underlying issues, though I am distantly grateful he didn't wait until matrimonial plans advanced any further. Returning wedding bands and fighting unsympathetic caterers with a broken heart would much harder for Jacki. You blew it

He is trying to rent a room in someone's house - though they won't rent to him until he can prove that he has more than summer employment ahead of him - and then he will be out of the home Jacki and he shared until a week ago. His parents do not want him living with them again. This complicates things for Jacki because, as I can well testify, getting everything that belongs to the person who dumped you out of the house is a crucial first step from healing. The longer it remains there, the longer she has some tenacious flickering of hope that he will come back, even as she hates him for putting her through this twice. And, really, there is no coming back from this and there should not be. The last time he left her - using nearly identical phrasing and reasoning (because they are so different and want such different things out of life) - he returned with repentance and a Sylvia Plath publication that appears in no bibliography. She brought up how ashamed she felt that she took him back. I told her that she really couldn't have done anything differently. She needed to forgive him and try to love him again, she needed to believe he was the man that could give her a forever. The stakes were much higher this time - he proposed - and so walking out is irrevocable. Until all reminders of him are gone - sadly to be replaced by vacancy - she is having the hardest time even sitting in her home. She cannot listen to music, because Kevin so completely made music his alone.

Jacki feels miserable and so unattractive, despite ample evidence to the contrary. I told her that it is something of a curse, because she is so deep and intense that she can't simply shut off what she is feeling to be a little self-destructive as some might. She can't have a one-night stand, she has to work through this all in a healthy way and let things heal naturally, which hurts more and takes a lot longer. Yes, everyone around her knew how it had to end, but I've been exactly there and will not plague her with anything like "I told you so." You don't acknowledge you see it because you don't want to see it. She had to believe that she could be happy.

We arrive at her therapy appointment and she is nearly silent, only offering that I can wait for her in a nearby cafe rather than waiting upstairs in the lobby until the appointment is over. I follow her up anyway, since I know how awkward waiting for a therapist is, though not quite in this dire of a situation. She is still and mute, not really occupying the same space her body does. I want to say something irreverent, so she would smile again and I could see her for my Jacki, but I resist interfering with her somberness. I realize I am only inclined to do this for my benefit, not hers. She enters the office finally.

An hour later, she emerges, clutching a tissue, her eyes wet. I drive her home. She tells me to shut off my GPS, though does not point out that its every informative interjection cut through us. She suggests I take a longer route and, when I do so, further suggests I get food and come back to her apartment so she does not have to be alone. I had assumed the night might turn in this direction and welcome it. I want to know that my friend will make it to dawn in every sense.

Even as we ate and I started to feel more grounded in the situation, I can't remember what we talked about when we weren't talking about him and what he did. Though I wanted sufficient details to better understand any extenuating circumstances, I also respected the need to talk about a life that didn't just abandon her for some near stranger just to have an escape to latch onto. In all of this, as much as I could, I try to treat Jacki how I had wanted to be treated after Emily left, though I couldn't express it then. I don't tear into Kevin as people seem to think is appropriate, as that isn't productive and know how wretched it feels to have to defend someone who has hurt you so badly.

She manages to take only a few bites of her sandwich before consigning to the refrigerator. Since he left, she has managed to keep down only small morsels of food. When Emily left, I remember not eating for days, only drinking as much water and seltzer as I could get my hands on because it made me feel full without being weighed down. I'm grateful she managed these few bites, it is progress.

We end up on the sofa in the dark, staring as a wall of media that would soon be cherry-picked by Kevin and occasionally engaging in bursts of emotional revelation. In the few hours I cradled against her, I think I learn more about Jacki's history and life than I ever knew before. That she has staved off cynicism so well this long is nothing short of miraculous and I consider it my personal duty to prevent Kevin's leaving being the thing that puts her over the edge.

The hour gets later and later and she doesn't want to be left alone. After Emily left, what I wanted more than anything was for someone to spend the night next to me, if just so I wouldn't have to wake up alone. I didn't even want to touch this anonymous person and certainly had no appetite for anything more, just pressure and warmth on the other side of the bed. Jacki listens to this, but nixes it.

"Don't worry, I wouldn't impinge on your tender virtue," I tease, though I don't know why. Perhaps my need to lighten the situation finally leaks out.

"No, I know you wouldn't. But it would be a bad idea for me."

I nod, understanding her reasoning too well to ask for more. Still, I follow her up to her bed and lay next to her until she, still fully clothed from work, falls into a restless sleep from which she wakes in a bit over five hours. I slip out once I am confident she has fallen unconscious, stumbling into furniture in the dark and locking the door behind me.

Soon in Xenology: Job hunting. 80s Night. Vanderbilt.

last watched: Before Sunrise
reading: Tao of Pooh
listening: Cyndi Lauper

Rosemary and (a Good) Time | 2009 | Pants-On Dance-On

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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