Friday, April 24, 2009

Breakup + Breakthrough = Still Broken

Once, if I remember well, I had to end an intensely demanding relationship with someone much younger whose native language was not English. We had been playing at breakup for several weeks, and the time finally to commit to severing all ties approached. I knew when I walked out that evening that I would never return, but leaving so many things unsaid propelled me to that last door on the second floor.

I stood in the hallway and began the well-scripted yet nevertheless still spontaneous speech. After an hour of speaking through clinched teeth and tightened fist, he offered me water, and I refused: I would say what I had to say and owe him nothing for the effort.

Perhaps I was waxing poetical. Perhaps, after so many words under so much duress, I was becoming incoherent. I said something complicated, and he asked me to repeat myself. Instead, I refused, sneering what amounted to an insult of his grasp of my native tongue. I had become wholly other than what I was. I had been so pushed and hurt and bruised that I might as well have ridiculed him for wearing glasses. Or being tall.

I recognized the monster I had become, the monster I had allowed him to make me. I choked out a disbelieving “wow” though my stubbornly dry mouth and headed for the door. I never returned. I neither saw nor spoke to him again. Now, several years later, when he has even surpassed the age I was when we were lovers, I think about that final conversation, what I became on love’s final battlefield. Despite the maturity and sensibility I had hoped to exude, I now pity the pitiful me of so many years ago. I was so certain of being right before turning into something so wrong.

While I do not wish for anything otherwise—certainly not a continuation of a romance blinding us to the distance between our lives, our ages, our ideals—I do wish I could have remained human when confronted with such raw and pained humanity. Despite the attitude of the jerk he postured, I would have liked not to become a jerk myself. But such is the game of love when the only players are losers with everything to lose.

I have just finished rereading André Gide’s The Immoralist. One particular passage made me smile to myself, when Ménalque tells Michel as one immoralist to another, “Let them be right. That’s all they have.” But I too know that the reverse is equally trite for fellow immoralists. And true: being right doesn’t make anything right. Even when one is wronged.

I’d like to order a round of apologies and forgiveness. For everyone. And while you’re at it, pass the Shiraz.

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