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Madeline, Who Makes Zines | 2017 | Benevolent Dictator


But I was late for this, late for that, late for the love of my life
And when I die alone, when I die alone, when I die I'll be on time  

-The Lumineers

Late for the Love of My Life

We tell ourselves that the good things in our lives happened the soonest they could. Otherwise, we mourn the moments that could have been better spent.

I wish I could have given Amber more of my past. We should have met nine months earlier at the Samhain ritual I meant to attend, but to which I was late because I was depressed and lost. My girlfriend then at the time did not want me - wanted other beds with members of her own gender - but she loved me (or loved something in our relationship) too much to resolutely let me go for another seven months after introducing the topic of leaving me. She was too worried of hurting me, even to the extent of it making her miserable and desperate.

Had I met Amber then, maybe I would not have stayed so long in a relationship going septic, one whose firm time limit loomed despite our pretended ignorance. Would I have been ready for something healthy with Amber fresh out of that relationship? I could have been, but maybe my emotional convalescence would have proven too burdensome.

Maybe I tell myself this only to give an excuse for those missing nine months. Amber was in Pennsylvania prior. The only time we could have met before then - excepting Christmas and summer breaks - would have been before she went to college, when she would have been far too young, I would have been far too old and engaged to a different woman, and neither one of us were the people we needed to be for the relationship to count for much. It is only with my immediate ex that I finally figured out how to love instead of merely acting to abate my abandonment issues. I would not want to have subjected Amber to anything other than my honest romantic intentions-and am sorry women prior had to endure anything else-so I would not have cared to meet her before this overdue epiphany. Amber was not a local when I finally began to figure myself out, having her own wrong relationships predicated by her own issues.

I could have had another year with Amber, if the stars lined up, if my ex left junior year and me all in one go. In retrospect, I suspect she wanted to then, because she could not ignore her true sexual orientation and romantic preferences much longer. I would have needed a month or so to get my head together, but it would still have rounded to over a year more, another summer.

It was not the best year of my life that Amber missed. I was perpetually poor, living in a studio apartment next to a drug dealer and seven Indian men in one room, half of my possessions destroyed by an intrusive tree limb and the fire cure of a bedbug infestation. I would not find the job that made our home for a year and a half, but I hazard it would have been worth it on the bottom line for the chance to have another good year with Amber, another year of learning and beginning.

But I could have blown it. I may have let my ex get in my head and spoil things. I may have gotten distracted by another woman before I found Amber. I may have still been too much of a snob and would not have tendered Amber properly. A thousand things may have happened but among them all, we could have had another year.

Looking back at an index of those entries, I see a lot of perseveration about the woman who wanted to leave me and my struggles with depression and anxiety--not new ground there--but not much meat. She could have been the one excited for me because We Shadows was getting published. She could have prematurely attended a different vacation. She would have briefly had the opportunity to meet Hannah, whom I think she would have liked.

The rest was not a life I built, but one that existed in reaction. I cannot pretend I would have to think long about sacrificing all that angst. My ex would have been far happier with a senior year unburdened from reaching for my hand, however hard I may have found that at first. It is hard to begrudge a hypothetical world where everyone concerned seems to end up happier.

I don't want this to sound as though I did not love my ex. I did and do love her, thought the shape of that love is necessarily a different one now. We are no longer in contact, but I genuinely wish the best for her because she deserves it. She is a fascinating specimen and the world--and my life--is better for her existence. Until she decided our relationship was growing toxic for her, it was a treasure. Not untroubled, but largely salubrious until the slow end. So, when I talk of this imaginary sacrifice, it is not to cast aspersions as to this woman or our relationship, but to acknowledge that a mutual liberation would have done us both some good.

Of course, I think of this largely as an intellectual exercise as to how I could have gotten more of Amber and, in that same stroke, less of the anxiety that tainted me. Since I can only gain one day at a time with her in this direction, I can't help but wish I could have earned a few more in the impossible other.

I wouldn't dare to lose most of my relationship with my ex, no matter how ill-advised it may have been in the beginning. Though it was unsteady and we hardly saw one another after, she was a fine friend after the smoke of the breakup cleared, one of the few I thought understood me. I do not think she would begrudge me trading in our end, not when she would gladly have done the same if she could have. (At this point, she might cash in our whole relationship for an undergraduate career of exhilarating hookups, like many of her classmates enjoyed; I do not think she would have exchanged our multi-year commitment for another at that point in her life, however contented she is now.)

Amber would have gladly given me that year. She was single, living with her mother, trying to make it as an artist, hanging out mostly with her sister's friends. I believe I could only have improved her life if I could have found her. I could have taken her on (cheap) dates after I was done substitute teaching for the day. I could have introduced her to Daniel, whom she adores. I could have fallen in love with her slowly, then all at once. We could have enmeshed in one another longer before having her move in with me. Others sensed in the texture of our earlier relationship that it should have been older. Maybe they saw through to the world where it was.

When my ex wanted to leave, I should not have clung to her. Once a relationship gets to that point, so long as there isn't a legal reason to stay, it should be allowed to end without struggle. If I had learned the lesson prior relationships tried to instill in me, if I practiced the use of my backbone, my life could have been brighter when I instead let it be predicated by fear and anxiety. I am to blame. Fate played a part in removing this year from me, from giving me instead experiences that drove me to over-the-counter remedies that only made me worse. I didn't know my other options, or if they would have been options had I played my cards more bravely. It's all forever in the subjunctive, a tense in which no one can live sanely. It doesn't bear even the amount of consideration I have given it here because that year exists only in an untouchable maybe.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Spring.

last watched: Black Mirror
reading: Stardust
listening: Letters to Cleo

Madeline, Who Makes Zines | 2017 | Benevolent Dictator

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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