Thomm Quackenbush, author

White Elephant | 2011 | New Romantic: Saturday

04.22.11 1:16 p.m.

If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark.  

-St. John of the Cross

 


September and Beyond

Melanie  
Mark my words.

Cuddled in bed, about to fall asleep, Melanie continues explaining her plans, "...And I'm possibly going to go to Ireland with my friend Sophie for a few months in the fall."

My own sleepiness, earned through ontological pillow talk about how much life can mean on this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam (to appropriate Carl Sagan's phrasing), evaporates. "Wait... aren't we moving in together?"

"Yes," she yawns. "When I go to grad school, but not in the fall."

"But I thought..."

She grasps in an instant that something is wrong. I tell her I am upset, but correct this to "disappointed". I am upset, but that is not the highest truth. More importantly, I am upset with the situation and not her. I had mistaken a handful of innocent comments - that we would get a queen-sized bed, her making sure I understood that she wouldn't be moving in with me after graduation (which I took to mean we would after summer), her looking for jobs in the area - for a plan, but I realize all at once that no remark set a timeframe before "grad school". Perhaps there had been some wistful hoping on her part, how lovely it would be to wake up with and come home to me, that I took to be more than fondness.

It was hardly a conscious action, but this expectation was born. I had this certainty that, no matter where life threw me, I would be thrown with her. Sharing a home with her, I could handle what came next. But in doing so, I set a contrapositive: without a home with her, I could not handle what came next. These last six months have been terrible inside my head, though I have outwardly behaved fairly normally and tried not to overburden my support system. I conflated living with her with living contentedly, something that seemed easier before I abandoned being fictional for the struggle of living authentically.

I went through a minor crisis last summer, as I considered whether I were ready to move wherever Melanie got into grad school. Given the choice between moving with her and staying somewhere without her, the only choice my soul could abide was to throw caution to the wind and follow. I will always work largely to fund my contentment (my work-life balance will be hopelessly life heavy, as it should be) and she and our love are at the core of that. But now, I am staying without her, or at least without her physical presence.

I understand in reality nothing changed between us. Melanie, if anything, loves me more than she did even a few months ago, when the idea that we would cohabitate ever was almost past my imagining (though it was among the forefront of what I wanted most). We love better, a resumption of our adoration from last summer with a generous helping of the strength that comes from surviving the turbulence together. Owing to this and my relief that we had endured, I unwittingly built my conception of September and beyond as featuring a home with her.

Instead, we will be having a long distance relationship, as she spends the summer in France and Ohio (as assumed), then potentially bounces to Ireland, then back to Ohio, then I-do-not-know-where. She says she will stop in to see me every few months, that she will be certain to get me an amazing webcam for our Skyping sessions, but this is a world apart from what my heart had let me hope. Still, no matter how hard this transition could be, I cannot deny that I revel in being hers, even separated by an ocean.

Her reasons for leaving are solid, however I may wish they were shakier so I had room to convince. Most pressing among these is that she is not in a place where she can financially detach from her parents. There is an emotional component as well, as she has reached that point where she genuinely likes her parents as autonomous people and feels an obligation that she occasionally pretends centers more on the wallet than the heart (they did pay for four years at a pricey private college, in addition to buying her a new car a few years ago to facilitate her trans-state trips from their house to college). Her father continues to age and, though he is by all accounts healthy, she cites him specificially as another reason to stay in Ohio. At nearly twenty-two, I can't fault her this. I wouldn't have been ready to part from my parents and move in with my partner at that age without an elaborate support structure in place (I was nearly terrified to move into a four-day-a-week apartment where I mostly only paid for groceries at twenty-three). I also see the pleasure in wandering about yet another European country. It is not an opportunity one can easily pass over and I would never want to be the man who took Ireland from her.

It is not in my nature to hold someone back, but a part of me wants short-term selfishness. As mature and confident as I try to be, there is that inner child throwing a tantrum because his favorite playmate is moving and he does not have green paper enough to either go with or support her. It makes me feel a touch inferior because I lack means to back up my desires.

I want to be her home base. I want her to come back to me, I want to deal with bills and wash her dishes and fold her laundry. I want to always smell the scent of her hair on the pillows. She says we will of course do this in a bit over a year but I crave that as soon as possible.

Immediately after Emily left me, I wanted nothing more than for someone to move in with me, to fill the space left in my home so I did not have to lick at the wounds in my heart so fixedly. I fell in love with a college student with a dorm room and no need to move out of it. (Also, it should be noted that I lived with thirty teenage boys at that point and worked a job that owned my time from waking to sleeping most days a week; I did not have the luxury of feeling lonely.) From there, I moved into the bottom floor of a house with a loving family, who were foreclosed upon a month later. Only then did I find my current apartment and seclusion, both of which I assumed to be more temporary than they have proven.

Misreading my needs in this situation, Melanie mentions how busy she will be when she is getting her PhD and how she will hardly see me when she starts working. Her words were to the effect that we would share a bed through grad school, but nothing else. I think she is too extreme. I've known PhD candidates who manage to have full lives, but, to her thinking, great scientists are loners (something I know to be factually unfounded, e.g., Feynman, Einstein, Curie, Lavoisier, etc.).

I want to be Taoist enough to let go, to accept the reality with which I am presented and work within this paradigm, to trust that this is the Way and it can flow in no other direction harmoniously. There is nothing I can do (or would do) to change Melanie's mind. Most actions beyond discussing all this with her - and I did, though it took me days of conversation with Melissa, Emily, Lauren, Jinx, and Amanda before I understood my own perspective and needs enough to open up completely - would make her resent me. It is not in my character to use our relationship as leverage, it deserves far more caring treatment. I told Melanie that it bothered me that I did not have the nuclear option, that she could decide not to be with me (though she won't) but I am imprinted on her such that leaving her would be something I regretted on my deathbed. I trust that she loves me totally, even as we are at different places in our lives for the moment.

It isn't a question of whether I can survive this or if we can. I can survive most anything, but I cannot claim contentment with our coming physical separation. I would imagine and hope we can survive as well. Indications seem good, we have spent summers apart before and returned loving one another even more. These are the sorts of trials that strengthen worthy relationships, even as they obliterate weak ones. Yes, I want her in my life as more than fraught letters and a face on a screen, having spent three years increasingly marginalized by her coursework, but I can't deny that I would rather have her loving me at a distance than begrudging in person that I kept her here.

When we talk, she explains herself as she had not before (because she was not thinking about the future as something concrete, as something that could influence me, as something I did not know through oscular osmosis). If she goes to Ireland - and it is far from definite - she intends to act as a tourist for a few weeks before getting an internship somewhere, assuming one is available. Likewise, when she is home with her parents, she anticipates she will work. If she cannot find a job - and the unemployment rate in Ohio is reported to make New York look positively flush - she is going to take courses in physics and calculus in preparation for grad school. This is not a psychosocial moratorium - a regression to life before the pressures of college - as I feared but did not explicitly say to her.

I tell her that I still feel a bit slighted because she did not see cause to discuss this with me earlier. No matter how busy she is or will be, I have the right to make reasonable demands of her time and attention, in Jinx's phrasing. At the very least, since I have proclaimed time and again that my future will prominently involve her, I wish to be clued in.
Melanie
Soon.

I think, despite everything above, that Melanie's part in this is minor. She is taking the best action she can imagine right now, but my reaction is what bothers me. My mind is given to obsession and stress at present, as is well detailed herein. Just as I recovered from work related fretfulness, I discovered that Melanie would be gone so long and the melancholy switched masks. If my mind were properly focused, her exodus would be unpleasant, but it would not be the sort of thing that steals my sleep. It never has before. I would (and will) miss her as I have never missed anything, but I will okay.

The essence of the issue is that I've been constructing this coming future - apartment with her, real job, weekly social engagements - for mental buoyancy, even though it does not exist. The only thing I can depend on for happiness is the present moment and myself. I can rely on Melanie's love - she has proven herself sufficient for my abandonment issues to no longer doubt her veracity - but having expectations of her and growing attached to fantasies distances me from reality, causing this angst.

I will enjoy the here and now, Melanie in my arms, in my bed for a few more weekends before graduation, as hungry for my kisses as I am for hers. That is all there truly is, aside from the belief she will return. Everything beyond that is illusions to keep me from contentment. .

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, parties, zombies or aliens.

last watched: Easy A
reading: Water for Elephants
listening: Green Day

White Elephant | 2011 | New Romantic: Saturday

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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