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Late for the Love of My Life | 2017 | The Lake of Better


We are told that people stay in love because of chemistry, or because they remain intrigued with each other, because of many kindnesses, because of luck. But part of it has got to be forgiveness and gratefulness.  

-Ellen Goodman

Benevolent Dictator

Our marriage has become a benevolent dictatorship. This wasn't the arrangement I would have preferred. I have been lectured by lovers as to how things ought to be. I have been carried in the wake of surer spirits.

With Amber, I offered and attempted a democratic oligarchy from the start. "What would you like to eat?" "What do you want to do this weekend?" "What do you want to watch?" Instead, there was a bloodless coup, installing a dictator against his will.

Amber has never been decisive. I noted from the beginning that this was her greatest flaw. She was not raised to make a firm decision, since it was better to let other people to do the deciding when one is going to be fine with the outcome either way.

This is not a satisfying way for me to interact, though it is how things often default, both with Amber and with several of my friends. I was once this way, until I realized "I dunno, whatever" was much more annoying than helpful in any given situation. I wasn't being easy-going; I was being lazy, refusing to lead my life. When someone asked me my opinion then, they were telling me that my decision was important, that I was crucial to the outcome. When I shook my head meekly, I was telling them that not only was I not important, I was not willing to engage them as an equal.

Getting on medication only made me more decisive, so much so that it felt like a superpower. When my friends would be wishy-washy, I would tell them what we were going to do, knowing they would not disagree with me, plans could commence, and everybody would be more satisfied in the long run. My instinct is still to ask their opinions, ask for input, because I understand this to be the courteous and respectful thing to do with people about whom I care. I understand too that they would shrug their shoulders and leave the entire decision in my lap yet again because they have been conditioned to.

Since Amber has started back at school, she has lost all capacity for decision-making. Or, rather, she makes a hundred decisions about her schooling daily. She decides to devote hours upon hours to studying every night. She decides to make and maintain her corona of cast-off papers I am not allowed to remove from the living room floor. She lacks the energy to contribute to a discussion of what she would like for dinner or how she might want to decompress on the weekends. Like making dinner, rinsing and washing dishes, taking the recyclables to the depot, cleaning the kitchen, changing the sheets, and doing the laundry, the chore of deciding and planning has fallen to me.

When I am going through a crisis, when I am traumatized or wounded, I tell Amber that she has to make the decisions for a little while until my head is together again. She tends to fret when I ask this of her. When she tries to hand the reins back to me as though they were too hard to hold, I feel hurt that she cannot help me feel a little better by shouldering this chore for an hour.

I am not comfortable as a dictator, though I understand that she has as much right to ask me (or not ask me) to step into this role as I do when I am bereft of the emotional energy to handle decisions for a little while. I want only to be her partner, to be able to have a discussion of the options without her abdicating all part in the conversation, because of course she is fine with whatever I say always (except she nixes my dinner plans half the time. She can't make the decision, but she can check my power after I offer her Chinese when what she really wants is pizza, but she won't say that first.)

It isn't just her. There is an epidemic of this indecision not only with my peer group, but with my generation as a whole. We are all indecisive iconoclasts desperate for someone to tell us what to think and do, because we were never forced to commit. Of course, the moment someone tries to lead us, we tear them to shreds. We want to be led, but not like that.

It is the little things, to Amber's way of thinking, that she doesn't want to decide. The big ticket items--that we would marry and when, which of a few apartments would suit us, being an artist/farmer/student--she stated firmly. She relishes deciding things that will impact the rest of her life, will possibly place a heavy burden on her months or years, but she cannot be bothered with anything that isn't earth-shattering. The world is made of the tiny decisions, the zig where we could have zagged. Life is made of the everyday, of the mundane decisions, the yesses or noes the world hands us.

I don't mind independence--I wanted and expected it after my last breakup--but that isn't what this is. It is an escort mission, where I make all the decisions and try to keep Amber alive, while she stumbles after me. (At least she is Elizabeth from Bioshock: Infinite, tossing me useful items, but still not making a move toward doing it on her own even though she is much more capable of kicking ass. I have a Skyhook, she has portals to another dimension full of bullets and bombs.) I cannot and will not just leave Amber behind while I do my own thing. I want to be around her. I want her to choose to be around me. I do not want her to only follow me around. I want her to decide, every day, that she wants to be with me and she has, with certainty, even when I do not feel lovable. Amber chose me. I was a seismic shift to her life. I claimed her uncertain trajectory for my stronger one. She chose me and acceded to what that massive choice entailed, so maybe I can make a chicken dinner without complaining so long as she is working so hard on cutting her path through this jungle.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Spring.

last watched: Black Mirror
reading: The Great Gatsby
listening: Letters to Cleo

Late for the Love of My Life | 2017 | The Lake of Better

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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