Thomm Quackenbush, author

Partial Eclipse | 2011 | Cake Faerii

05.14.11 8:41 a.m.

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

-Thomas Fuller

 


Angels and Demons

Melanie  
Sorry, this is the closest I have of an angry picture of her

When Melanie's letter comes, I have just returned from attempting Second Saturday in Beacon with Daniel, Suzie, and Dan P. They had come over to console me, and admit to having expected a tearful breakdown that did not occur. I mostly just said "I mean, really?! Who does that?" between anecdotes because I feel no need for tears in these moments. It has been a fairly good day and I still feel buoyed from meeting promising new friends swing dancing days before. We all had pancakes together and discussed how the faithful are taken for a ride by hucksters, which is all I sometimes require for happiness.

Melanie left me, that much cannot be argued. I love her as a person, that too is true. I am sorry that she hopped directly into bed with [Miss X], but it is not really my place anymore, as familiar as I find it. She is gone, it is irrevocable.

But then there is this letter, harsh, the sort that would be transmitted in a growl were it a phone call, telling me that I can write what I damn well please about her (I won't and I can't) but I had better delete - and this is her term - her new squeeze's name and a detail I felt important to the story but at which Melanie takes offense. (It later comes out that she is irritated that I used excerpts from a couple of the letters she sent in the aftermath, which I did only to try to balance my perspective and show how genial things were between us.) Given that I did not and will not say a word against [Miss X] - I was given no opportunity to know her, compartmentalized away like most of Melanie's friends, and she is not the one who caused my breakup even as she directly benefits from it - I did not feel that her first name was a problem, especially since I have no idea what her last name might be. Melanie has spent over three years with me and she would know that simply asking me to revise an entry works much better than roughness, than insults, but I also know that the simplicity of a request is not the whole point of the letter.

My friends advise me to reply to the request with vitriol and refusal. They argue that she strung me along, she played with my emotions, she took me for granted, she cheated, she left, what right does she have to behave this way? As I am crafting a retort, Dan P. sketches a realistic portrait of Melanie's sad, severed head onto the back of a restaurant receipt and I realize that no reply is better than degrading myself in fighting. I don't want to regret my actions by reacting angrily in my pain, as I regret nothing that I have done in respect to Melanie.

There is this urge toward demonizing the other party in breakups, something I have never really abided. If this person was such a horrid specimen, why were you with them in the first place? Unless they assaulted you, unless you were scared for your safety, what is the point in now casting them as the Devil now that you are rid of them? I have avoided it with Melanie, beyond some retroactive explanations of the relationship concealed to show why my loss is not so overwhelming or inexplicable. Worse is when the person doing the breaking up maligns their former lover as infernal, to assuage remorse.

I get it, doing this makes the parting easier. You can hate so you don't have to be reminded that, yeah, you still love this other person. Maybe you do not love them the same way, but love does not just wink out like a candle flame. You can try to feel righteous in your rejection to snuff out guilt, but it is false and almost certainly beneath you. If you have wronged someone, suddenly you feel entitled to your misdeeds. From the anecdotes I am told in the aftermath of this breakup, this is a common defense strategy, one that I have witnessed firsthand in the past and am sorry to be seeing now, where I had such hope that there would be no reason for it. I had long threatened Melanie that I would be unable to be her friend for a long time after the breakup, partly because it was the only threat I could manage to levy against her, the only leverage I ever felt I had, and partly because I could not imagine her leaving as anything but enormous. Not that I would hate her in the long term. Not that cutting off contact with her would be permanent or, hopefully, even long lived. Merely that I would need time and space to establish my new life that did not feature her so heavily, that I would unfollow her where I could manage to remember we were connected, something that does not seem necessary at first because the interactions had been positive between us and I hope for a peaceful (if slow) transition. As long as I did not have to hear her gloating about [Miss X] or the subsequent people she takes to her bed, I did not have to really care. I could continue to read what she writes and feel as though we were friends. She would be leaving the state for the indeterminate future, after all, which would naturally ease the translation to friendship.

A few people who saw us together have pointed out flaws in her character in my presence, but none I imagine she would not have copped to in the light of day, if not boast about openly. No one suggested she was an especially bad person for her actions - just young, confusing, disappointing, and insular - and I did not require insults. She is still Melanie, the same person I loved for over three years. Yes, this distance allows me to see different facets of her personality, these actions sting enough that I can force myself to take a step back as I never wished to before. Without calling her epithets - and I have no reason to do so, feeling she is probably being far more cutting to herself than I could be on my worst day - I can say that she isn't for me any longer and I can be okay with this. (I joked with Dan P. that what I find most attractive in a woman - aside from my tongue - is wanting to be with me. Thereby, dumping me is rather a fatal flaw to my continued adoration.) A week ago, I would not have been able to admit this, having the necessity to convince myself most of all that there was hope and I should go on a bit longer because she could come out of this psychosocial funk soon and we could begin the next phase of our relationship happily. The Melanie I knew, the facet that appeared in my presence (even if it were less prominent when she was placed in other company and settings), was someone whose goodness I doubt even she herself realizes now. I think it will be years before Melanie can see the version of herself I knew so intimately.

She has needed to become angry with me and I know it ultimately has little to do with me. She needs to pretend that she suddenly does not care at all for me, to cut off contact as I had said I would. Short of acting like the Angel of Doormats, she was going to find a reason for this because what she did cannot sit completely right in her stomach. She hurt someone she loves out of selfish desire. It would pain anyone. And, yes, her becoming angry at me does make it a bit easier to know that we are through with the chapter in our lives where we were lovers. It gives me a little more strength in my step (one that, truth be told, wasn't particularly weak, likely because this had been such a long process and my brain had prepared for the possibility far better than it had let me realize, such that I had ordered two items to ease the transition before I had any conscious indication she was leaving for good this time). I expect her anger will ebb, though I do not anticipate apologies. As long as she is furious with me, she does not need to acknowledge remorse for having hurt me and ended our relationship.

I wonder if, in a sense, she was not fully prepared for the aftermath of what she was about to do, if she thought I would linger and dote. But, as I told her in a letter, I would be restricting myself to only crucial calls for a while. Even when one of my friends has a major crisis Friday that shakes me, I do not turn to Melanie for support, though I do feel the urge to cry to her about the awful night as I would have a week before. It is not a severing of connection so much as an awareness of what has become inappropriate between us so rapidly.

I have heard secondhand stories, how she tells people she was with me only out of guilt and how she says the opportunity of two weeks with [Miss X] is worth more than a lifetime with me, a proposition I find ludicrous and like revisionist history (and which I am not certain are things she said or merely stories I am told to make being away from her easier). As is detailed in my writing, we were having problems, but she remained with me out of love and affection primarily, not guilt. I see no evidence to the contrary.

People defend their decisions, both the good and the bad, even when they don't have to. I want her to remain the Melanie I knew, the one whose virtue I have long defended, because for her to cease being this woman would make me feel that my caring was wasted on a ghost. I don't think this is the case, however much people throw around the term "borderline personality disorder" where I think they mean "not mature/experienced enough to appreciate what she is doing". She has a lot to figure out and I mourn that she will not do it at my side but I can't dedicate myself to her struggles in leaving me a moment longer.

I do not want mud-slinging because I am still very clear that I love her and have no need to taint the romance we had and the friendship we could have with harshness that cannot be taken back. That is all I can care to defend now. We are too good - individually and collectively - to fall to trite bickering. I refused to deal in power dynamics when I was her partner and now, at least for a while, our relationship is little else. We will have to make treaties, cede land, fire warning shots, until we can broker lasting peace between our nations.

This was her first attempt at an adult relationship and certainly her first adult breakup. It is bound to be clumsy, especially when heaped with the issues she scavenges for the pile (gender identity, sexuality, personal identity, etc.). She will have much to learn from this experience, how she would like to be treated and how to treat others. The important thing, at least for me, is that it is no longer my problem. I love her and I always will, she gave me an amazing few years and taught me more about myself than anyone else ever had, but these are all things she needs to work out for herself. I cannot lose sleep that she has reached anger in the process of grief. I have been there for several days, but I am angrier at the situation and the uncertainty of the future and the slowness of healing than at her.

Soon in Xenology: More dancing. Coping.

last watched: How I Met Your Mother
reading: Tao of Pooh
listening: Tom Waits

Partial Eclipse | 2011 | Cake Faerii

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

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush