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Wake to Sleep | 2017 | What I Do On My Summer Vacation


You couldn't hurt an angel but I would have been happy to know that I had dirtied his feather.  

-Flannery O'Connor

Dancing Instructions from the Beyond

Since Melissa died, the lack of her in my life -- even as a concept, even acknowledging that our relationship around the time of her death was more contentious and distant that it ought to have been - has been palpable. I wonder if this isn't her sending me messages from the beyond and can think of few more interesting guardian angels.

Two men with whom she had relationships - I'm hesitant to necessarily call them both romantic relationships, though one might assume so if one squinted while walking past - have recently and independently appeared in my life with friendly overtures.

One appearances is my fault. I recognized a man on a social network/dating site's occasional "Here's a person you might like!" emails, then immediately realized my most significant exposure with him was when his wife and he had dated Melissa for some months. Since it involved Melissa, this relationship was overdramatic and ended poorly. Melissa confessed that she loved the husband and only liked the wife, then threatened to end the relationship as a sort of ultimatum, though I cannot imagine what positive outcome she could have expected. They called her bluff. She bordered on harassment until they cut off all contact with her, because she would not otherwise let them go. ("You can't argue your way out of dumped" was advice I gave her a dozen times, but she couldn't listen.)

I never had much contact with this guy. We shared a creative writing class in college, but Melissa wanted no one near the people she slept with. In a way, I think she was more comfortable most of her life with being someone's dirty little secret. That couldn't happen if the people she slept with had conversations with the people she cared about. When she admitted being in this polyamorous relationship, I made no effort to try to get in contact with them and she didn't try to connect us, maybe because she knew the conversation would veer toward a warning of how badly this was likely to end and to please be gentle on all concerned. To be honest, I wanted nothing to do with him then because he was a part of a looming disaster, a relationship that I suspected would grow septic and make her retreat into self-loathing and mental illness. It was not fair, but I did not feel they deserved my attempt. They wouldn't have listened. I had been down this road with Melissa before. She wanted her mistakes.

I deleted the email with his picture, then almost immediately found it again. No matter how Melissa told me it ended, in his position, I would want to know a former lover had died.

I dashed off a message apologizing for doing it this way, then link him to her obituary as confirmation, since I worry people will assume I am making up a story to get their attention. In part, I worry this because I know she did mislead to get attention, from time to time. She didn't mean to - Melissa wasn't a liar as a rule and to a fault - but her need and her illness sometimes didn't give her a better way of expressing herself.

He quickly suggested we ought to be friends. I write back to him but am uncertain that having known Melissa is foundation enough to justify building a friendship.

Yesterday, while I ran, a man coming out of the convenience store shouted my full name. I removed my earbuds to cease being rude, but struggle to recognize him - lip piercing, tall and angular, wolfish smile, looking like the lead singer of an alternative punk band. He shakes my hand and it all comes back to me. His relationship with Melissa was violent, not in the way of outright spousal abuse, but in the way of Sid and Nancy, though Melissa implied she would be the one killing if it came to that.

With him, she blacked out on Four Loko, or said she did, even though she didn't pass out from any of the higher-octane substances she put in her body. To hear her tell it, she broke his nose once, but he did not hold this against her. She slept with him more often than was wise and, more than likely, overlapping other more stable romantic attachments on both their parts. As if knowing I am thinking this, he says, "Rob--" Melissa's fiancÚ "-didn't like me very much."

He knew that sleeping with Melissa impacted Rob, that it kept her from being committed or faithful in a challenging time in her relationship, but his loyalty couldn't be with anyone but Melissa. I understand.

He shakes his head, eulogizing that she was a cool person, one of the coolest he had known, a statement I can echo without reservation.

I blocked him on social media when Melissa and he were having their affair because I didn't approve of their relationship. It isn't that I had any puritanical ideas about how Melissa should get a ring on her finger before putting out - that was so distant a concept regarding Melissa that it would be laughable - but that I knew how this would end and I wanted to blame him because I could not stop Melissa. I didn't know him well. He was a close friend of someone I loved and then started a tumultuous affair with Melissa, but I had few reason to let him otherwise into my life then. Even when Amber and I ran into him a couple of times at the grocery store, I kept my distance because he was by then an anathema to Melissa. She cited him as the reason she was shy to come to see me in Red Hook, fearing she might see him. It was not that she was scared he would hurt her. He received ten times worse than he ever gave regarding Melissa. It was that she would be weak or apathetic enough to have sex with him, no matter what it took from her, because maybe he would love her this time. Then again, she only really wanted men who didn't want her.

(I know I am making Melissa sound horrible. She wasn't. She was amazing to know, adventure personified for much of her life. The only reason everyone is still hung up on her is because of how marvelous she was. She simply was complicated and mentally ill and that translated into a moral code that hurt her - and other people - more as she nestled into her thirties. It was impossible for me not to root for her, even as she did the sort of things that would have provoked horror and dismay in me if anyone else in my circle attempted them. You never stop loving family, but you have to accept what they are and, with luck, why.)

Talking to him now, covered in sweat from my run and looking a mess, I notice for the first time his genuine affection for her. It wouldn't have been enough for the sort of relationship she craved from him years age. He didn't love her and the trite end of that sentence is to state this was because she didn't love herself. I don't think she did, at least not full-time, at least not how she deserved to be loved. She wouldn't have been satisfied or would have tried to kick the relationship to the ground to make him prove himself for the tenth time by putting it back together again. She needed to know that someone would always pick up her messes so maybe she wouldn't have to keep making them. That could be where Rob came in, because he put up with her being awful and loved her totally, even when she was scathing to him. I will always be impressed with him for that, because she wasn't easy to love, even as she deserved someone who would.

"You like bocce ball?" he says.

I smile. "I can honestly say that I don't think I've ever played."

"We should. I live just over there," he says, waving vaguely.

I nod. "We should," I agree, and resume my run.

When I get home, I friend request him, wondering if this isn't want Melissa would want.

Soon in Xenology: The nature of happiness. The sound of silence. Underutilization. Infinite consequences. Fireworks. Daniel.

last watched: Galavant
reading: Another Roadside Attraction
listening: Temple of the Dog

Wake to Sleep | 2017 | What I Do On My Summer Vacation

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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