-Diane di Prima
I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
-Diane di Prima
-Diane di Prima
Holly arranges a housewarming upon her return, inviting Daniel, Amber, and me. Though she has lived in this apartment some months, she spent much of the summer attending a Master's of Fine Arts program in Boston. While she was away, Dan, her boyfriend of six years, cheated on her repeatedly with a woman he met online. Holly kicked him out of the apartment, sending her friends to make certain he was properly evicted before she arrived. She does not wish to see or hear him any more than was necessary for the rest of her life.
The apartment is far sparer when we arrive bearing salty snack foods, less cluttered than when last I visited, distilled down only to what belonged to Holly alone. Earlier in the day, she had finished trashing anything remaining that had to do with him, including an overabundance of designer mustards. One of Holly's friends is here to smudge the apartment with sage to chase away any lingering ghosts of her ex, a request that suggests to me at a stroke that Holly has sides of which I was previously unaware.
Holly's father is here, too. He had been helping her get new housewares to replace those trashed, as well as providing moral support. He is affable and ostensibly at ease with the party, such as it is. He confides that he never really liked Dan. In fact, he popped champagne when he found out about the breakup, relieved that his daughter would be untethered from a person he saw as ballast inhibiting Holly's stratospheric rise.
When I found out about the breakup, celebration was not at the forefront of my mind. I had just arrived back at my apartment from my wedding, having unpacked tens of pounds of uneaten food and very few of my complicated emotions. I was still aflutter with my marriage when she sent me a brief rundown of the last few days and asked if we could speak, since she struggled to type as she cried. I was saddened for her in the moment, but I think this parting was inevitable. He had little interest in long-term commitment and had made clear he did not intend ever to marry Holly (or anyone at all). That Dan lasted six year without cheating on her might be chalked up to lack of opportunity rather than lack of impetus. I am grateful for her freedom and it is hard to say Holly won't be better off in the end, even if this severance initially seems like a disaster to her.
Taking a step back, a more amoral and parasitic stance by imagining the very worst of Dan's potential mindset, I admit to finding this a supremely clumsy move. Holly paid the rent (though he promised in writing-and without any follow-through-to recompense her for years of living expenses) and supported Dan through a series of limited part time jobs, which has to be worth more than random sex. If not for that, Holly is lovely, driven, well-employed and an astoundingly talented artist who is unquestionably going places in life. She is not the sort of woman one willingly estranges for something disposable, since I gather Dan had nothing even bordering on affection for the Other Woman (or the subsequent series he mentioned to Holly once booted out).
Daniel informs us that Dan flirted with several of the women at my wedding. At one point, Daniel played that role made famous by bad screenwriters where he inserted himself between Dan and a potential conquest and asked after Holly. It's easy to say that none of this comes as a great surprise from the outside, though the betrayal rings more suddenly for Holly. When one is on the inside of a destructive relationship, much mental effort goes into justifying one's decision and turning a blind eye to warning signs. I have been in the country where Holly now finds herself: cheated on, betrayed, and feeling foolish for having put up with it this long. But she isn't foolish, simply trusting, loving, and taken advantage of for those virtues. If by my efforts I can abbreviate her pain even a day, I will do all I can.
There is an urge whenever a loved one encounters a massive breakup to project onto them our own experiences. I've never liked it when it was done to me, so I will not subject Holly to the experience of attempting to set right in her life what went wrong in mine. However, simply because I cannot make my hard won lessons hers by osmosis, it does not follow that I cannot make her the beneficiary of what I've learned. I will treat her as I would have liked to have been treated, letting her know we are here whenever she needs us and that she need never apologize for crying, but giving her judgment-free and agenda-less space and time to figure out how she wants to progress from here.
When Holly left for Boston months ago, I vocalized to Amber and Daniel the earnest wish that she might not return. It was not that I did not want her back, but that I could foresee a better life for her away from Dan. Maybe she would meet someone more suitable (it was a Master of Fine Arts program, after all, and there ought to be some compatible men on that horizon), maybe she would be offered a better job than community college instructor. Whatever improved her life enough that she moved on from a man who resented commitment to her. I did not hope he would cheat on her, of course. I wanted this next stage in her life to be born of her decision, as she stepped toward a life she deserved. However, the result is that she is unburdened, righteous, healing, and still within a ten minute drive of Amber and me. There are far worse outcomes.
To Holly, I try not to go out of my way to disparage Dan, though not out of any lingering loyalty to him. One reason is that her story is no longer about him. She embarks on a new chapter to which his name does not deserve purchase. Another, more personal one is that a laundry list of his faults only reminds her that she put up with the wrong man for her for six long years. I have been there and know how much that knowledge may sting. What she does now, she will do on her own, not as a reaction against insufficiency.
Holly warns that we have never really gotten to know her as she truly is, only in counterpoint to Dan. However, Holly is who I first spoke to. Holly is the one I considered worthy enough to get to know in person. I tell her, and Amber echos, that I cannot wait to meet her in her fullness, without inhibition. Given how long this relationship went on and how long maintaining his welfare was her priority, I imagine that Holly will look forward to getting to know herself now, filling her home with things that represent her alone.
Soon in Xenology: Work. Neil Gaiman.