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In situations like these, it is easy to see one part as the enemy, depriving of what we want most. But it isn't a war, it is diplomacy, hearing the other side and trying to reach a consensus. If you can't do that, yes, it will end. Very likely, it will end badly to catastrophically, because you are casting the person you are supposed to love most in the world in the role of your primary adversary. How can trust be rebuild, how can there ever again be a productive relationship when one it salting the earth and poisoning the wells as preemptive punishment, apparently ignorant that these now dead fields are the only place when one can grow anything?

I know the depths to which I love Melanie, that merely seeing her is enough to make my troubles drop away. Almost three years into this relationship and I cannot get enough of her.

Jinx is the closest thing I can get to talking to the angel on Melanie's shoulder. Though one should keep in mind that everyone sees the world through their agenda, Jinx's agenda seems to focus on Melanie's continued happiness and growth, which makes us allies even were we not close friends.

I imagine the world, only separated from this one my cellophane, where Melanie made good on leaving me. How all media would be closed off to me for a long time as I projected my own relationship upon the happy couples to make me miserable, where everything reminds me of her. Beyond the typical breakup falderal, I try to imagine my life. I would go to work, that's certain. Maybe I could see friends, though I would be useless to them for a while, just a puddle of neuroses. It is dangerous to give someone so much power over your emotions, so I feel it is important to state that it wouldn't be Melanie doing this to me. However, having had the relationship we shared, a world where I cannot have her with me is like having see glory and then being sent to perdition; so much worse because one has comparison, one know what one lacks now.

The eggshells were so fine that I barely realized I was walking upon them until this conversation made me examine myself. It was so easy to for them to slip underfoot while hiding in the tall grass of everyday existence, all of these assumptions that one makes and takes for granted. No matter how irrelevant they are to reality.

She is not delicate. She has her moods, influenced by hormones and insomnia. She has a fringe of insanity over much she does still, and may for a while yet. But she's can handle my feelings.

I know she assumed I was something I am not. Less worthy of her, and I know how snotty that sounds. She thought I was less intelligent, less powerful, how insightful I am, how I know her better than she knows herself. She talks about how I have been through this, though I don't know everything. But I know enough, I know that we can make our way through this. And I realize that I have always wanted to be her escort into the adult world. And she is mine, in a way.

Daniel spoke of how Melanie has been a good influence on me, though I was not aware that he was cognizant of the frenzy in my head, the jealousy that came from my abandonment issues. That even looking at my apartment, he assumed it was Melanie's doing. Melanie has made me more real, could get me out of my shell. Though it was hard this time, thinking I almost lost her.

I realize that Daniel is not the most intuitive choice. He mentions often the reptilian part of his brain, the one concerned with logic and survival instead of sentimentality. But he ranks as my best male friend at the moment with the added benefit of being dear of Melanie. Also, I can't deny that having listened to Hannah's conversations of her life after college, the flitting from beds to aid in finding herself, made me believe that he and I share a certain congruence.

That he is willing to drive to me is kindness enough, though I sit in the parking lot, talking to Jinx (who assures me that she is on my side, as much as there can be sides when both parties seem to want the same thing, and that she won't let Melanie disappear from my life) until I see him.

We get a booth and I am flustered for a moment for where to begin. I am operating on less than four hours of sleep and the stress of the situation periodically makes me begin to dissociate, so my ability to remain focused on the specific facet of the topic is limited. Within the five hours we sit there, I am sure I tell him everything that needed telling, but it feels a bit as though I have dropped all the pieces of a puzzle on the table and then tried to get his perspective on the picture he can't see all at once. I know that, for five hours, he talks with me and drinks his tea, ignoring the sandwich growing to room temperature and the soup coagulating. My body vacillates between Breakup Mode, where anything more substantial and flavorful than water is stomach-churning, and Normal, when I look to the waxing and waning line and wonder aloud if I should eat. I don't because this interaction with people outside the sphere of knowing about my trauma is too difficult. I doubt that I would start shaking and crying before the girl at the register, but I also doubt I could articulate myself.

It feels a little hollow to boil down Daniel's five hours of counseling to a pithy aphorism, but that is precisely what I am going to do. According to him, the ultimate prize is worth the ultimate risk. And, really, what sort of a love story would this be if I quit fighting because things got a bit dark and rocky?

I am grateful that Daniel sees and treats Melanie as a discrete individual instead of Hannah in a Melanie suit. It would be simple to project onto my situation his own years expired, but he is too good for that. He is not one to take the mentally easiest track.

Coupled with Jinx's pep talk, I almost feel like a human being when I leave.

The intellectual part of me is aware that, if anything, things are better than they were the day before. However, a more emotional part thinks this is utter bollocks. Yesterday morning, she was holding my hand, gazing at me, kissing me in the parking lot of the diner, seeming like a part of the nature from which she took samples for her senior project. Today, I am half insane with sleep loss and concern. How can this be a better place? But it is, because she spoke the words she needed to, she vented her concerns, as painful as they were.

I called anyone who I thought would listen to me. It wasn't so much getting good advice, though some of that was dispensed incidentally, as it was about getting the words out so this situation felt less intolerable.

On one level, I am not sure why this steals my sleep. Our conversation, while among the most stressful I recall, was productive. She saw my side, could understand the world a little better from my perspective, and remembered who I was through the muck and mire of her senior year in college. The conclusion, aside from that she would seek out a therapist to help her deal with her stress and fear of failure and disappointment, is that she is staying with me. That is, after all, what I want, yet I am terrified and devastated. As I will tell Jinx and Daniel later, the dissociation robs from me the positive things she said (such as that we should write to the dating site where we found one another to tell them of our success story) and only remembers the agony of slight comments.

I accused her of making me a symbol, a scapegoat for her stress. I wouldn't allow this. If she were going to end things with me, she would have to look me dead in the eye and not believe she was leaving the personification of her current troubles. If I am deprived of illusions, it isn't equitable that she get to pour more on.

I acknowledge that this was a conversation that needed to be had and perhaps it couldn't be if the stakes were not so high. If I wasn't backed into a corner, if I wasn't forced to see how much I could lose if I let her misery persist, I don't know that I could have broken out of the thin shell surrounding me and shout for survival.

There is a decision that has to be made. They aren't equal choices, one is "wrong".

I faced a crisis in my relationship with Melanie. One path involved her going alone to confront different crises, to have a life bereft of me because, once I had loved her, I would destroy myself wanting her if I wasn't strong enough to be cruel. The other path was us staying together, which we've chosen. She realized she was using me as a family member to whom she was affectionate, that our relationship was trapped at an immature level, both of us walking on eggshells. She wants me to be part of the vehicle that will bring her to adulthood. I lost a lot of sleep trying to imagine my life without her. It was a bleak world.

I think I will never fully know how close I came and how unlikely his outcome is, but I couldn't be happier.

Mantra, ultimate prize is worth the ultimate risk, which is every day. It is good to see that it is understood this is the ultimate prize. Because of this, because of the advice of Suzie, Jinx, and him, I hung on and now I get to endeavor upon an adult relationship with the woman I have loved for years. I'm exultant.

For me, no matter how I may wish I had the relational leverage to say otherwise, there really could be only one answer. I would stay with her as long as my soul could stand. With her decision to bring our relationship to a more mature level, it did not become a matter of enduring. I can think of few moments with her that were not a pleasure and that alone says everything that really needs to be said.

She'd forgotten how powerful I am. Because we were walking on eggshells, so in love in person and avoiding any issues that might interrupt our falling into bed.

Part of this evolution of our relationship involves painting the walls of the apartment I had erstwhile considered my holding cell until the next move. I had rearranged furniture to make it cozier for when friends come over, so that friends could come over, which I think further spurred this on. It isn't that the walls couldn't use a good coat of paint, simply that this isn't where I would begin my repairs. My landlord, aside from hiring someone to eventually patch the hole in my ceiling one of his trees made last winter, is largely negligent, going to far as to promise repairs prior to my moving in that he did not begin to attempt. I have been caulking and spackling, though, because I am not sure what my apartment might symbolize to Melanie and I won't have my metaphors being messy.

She comes of this analogy, that I am like a warm towel when she comes out of the rain. But she had come to resent that she had to carry this towel around with her, even when things were sunny, not realizing that it wasn't necessary to bear it as a burden (or, I suppose, that the towel took up almost no room).

I don't know how close I was to an edge of my own, if I had it in me to allow a life without her in it. In the last thirteen years, I have never left a relationship, aside from needing space to reevaluate my relationship with Emily half a year in.

For the past week, I have been leaning heavily on Erik Erikson's concept of the psychosocial crisis. Crisis, in this context, might better be seen through the Chinese language, where the kanji for it is also the kanji for opportunity. In brief, there are certain forks we come to in the road of life, from the initial Trust versus Mistrust when we are preoperational infants to the Generativity versus Despair that afflicts us on our deathbeds. One path gives us a worthy life, the other is what happens if you fail the test life presents to you. Of course, it isn't enough for Life to mark down the F in its ledger. Instead, one has to confront that conflict again and again until one chooses rightly.

Prior to the last two weeks, it had not occurred to me to see relationships through this lens. Mostly in her head, Melanie was seeing an end to our relationship, a sentence that genuinely pains me to write.

She sends me a message telling me that she has made the decision to try her damndest to make our relationship work, because if we cannot do it, there is no hope for humanity at all. In her words "we've got cultures, we've got civilizations, we've got indoor plumbing, and I don't see why we can't have true love, either." With some sleep, dearly needed, and the acknowledgment that she hasn't failed every class ever, she returns to her baseline. She can't promise there won't be struggles, but wants us to work these out together.

(12:30:52 PM) Melanie: hes very wise, though. hes said some other things that are equally true and good.

(12:32:06 PM) Xen: I know! He's quite the romantic, underneath the vest.

(12:33:06 PM) Melanie: I should get some lunch. But believe me when I tell you that I'm growing up. Meaning that I'm dragging you along with me, because you're going to be the vehicle of my growing up, in a certain sense. You have already, I mean. But I think I've been behaving towards you, in the past, a lot like a child would behave around an indulgent and adoring relative (aside from the sex). But I'm not so much like that anymore, or at least I don't get the urge. So we're going to do grown-up things together. I'm going to bring my guitar and play it while you do something else. we're going to paint the walls, and I'm going to read Doran Grey and we'll talk about it.

(12:33:15 PM) Melanie: some of our best conversations have been about books.

(12:33:49 PM) Xen: This is absolutely true.

(12:33:51 PM) Melanie: Which is not to say that I don't want to cuddle and watch TV with you and make you bring me marshmallows that you've roasted on the electric stove

(12:33:58 PM) Melanie: but there's more.

(12:34:02 PM) Melanie: and we'll have it.

(12:34:05 PM) Xen: Yes, we will.

(12:34:43 PM) Xen: Anyway, I am glad that the resolution to this is that we get to be in love on yet another plane.

(12:34:46 PM) Xen: Oh dear.

(12:34:52 PM) Melanie: yep.

(12:34:57 PM) Melanie: I'm leveling up. you're coming with me.

(12:35:01 PM) Melanie: you may already be at that level

(12:35:11 PM) Melanie: but I feel like you've already played this game, and I sometimes forget that you have

(12:35:25 PM) Melanie: so you can tell me when the zombies are sneaking up and how long to wait before jumping

(12:35:28 PM) Melanie: and stuff like that

(12:35:49 PM) Xen: It's a different game. I may know a relationship Contra Code or two, but our relationship levels up as a discrete entity.

(12:35:56 PM) Melanie: ah, okay.

(12:35:58 PM) Melanie: well, either way

(12:36:00 PM) Melanie: come along

(12:36:05 PM) Xen: I promise.

(12:36:06 PM) Melanie: we have to save the princess

(12:36:20 PM) Melanie: and break things in other people's houses because we want to find money.

(12:36:27 PM) Xen: I love you so much.

(12:36:32 PM) Melanie: I love you too, darling.

(12:36:52 PM) Xen: Daniel loved my Doubting Thomas/candy in wounds analogy when I related it to him.

(12:37:04 PM) Melanie: hmmn?

(12:37:04 PM) Xen: Anyway, you go eat, I will be here loving you.

(12:37:07 PM) Melanie: okay!

(12:37:16 PM) Melanie: no, no, go live your life. don't be static and loving me

(12:37:22 PM) Melanie: read books

(12:37:22 PM) Xen: I do both.

(12:37:25 PM) Melanie: yes

(12:37:26 PM) Melanie: both

(12:37:34 PM) Xen: I am going to work out, write, and read.

(12:37:40 PM) Melanie: or even forget for a little while that I exist, and then come back to it when you have a moment to devote to thinking about me.

(12:37:50 PM) Melanie: that's a good way of going about it...

(12:38:06 PM) Xen: Don't fret, I'm having a handle on this "loving you" thing.

(12:38:19 PM) Xen: I test out different realities and have a lot to do.

(12:38:25 PM) Melanie: sometimes I think of you that way. like you're a warm towel waiting for me after I've been out in the rain. And sometimes I'm a little peeved that I have to carry my towel around everywhere, but I don't

(12:38:38 PM) Melanie: I forget that I don't

(12:38:50 PM) Melanie: that we shouldn't, unless hitchhiking through the universe

(12:38:57 PM) Melanie: which we sort of are, but not literally

(12:39:06 PM) Melanie: so anyway. I'll be your towel if you'll be mine.

(12:39:21 PM) Xen: I will suck on your corner.

(12:39:24 PM) Melanie: this metaphor is getting out of hand!

(12:39:27 PM) Melanie: *grin*

(12:39:46 PM) Melanie: the red stripes are protein and the yellow stripes are vitamins and the brown stripes are...

(12:39:47 PM) Melanie: filth. .

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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