One of the driving fears of having a website like this is that it paints a huge target on my back. Really, on my front. It reminds me of the old “frontstabbing” technique that Schneider & Gris used to use in Diplomacy in those early years in New Mexico. It was so predictable and obvious what was coming that they didn’t even need to backstab other of Europe’s great leaders (our friends) when it came time to dispose of them. They could inform them the turn that they were going to do them in and by that time, the victim would be haplessly powerless to stop it and half the time make the job easier in exchange for the dignity of knowing it was coming.
That’s a bit of a digression, but one that I think illustrates the profound vulnerability I subject myself to by putting myself out there this much. And yet it’s been my insistent reaction to experiences that have dictated that I either give up essential parts of myself and my being or simply find a way to not care about the vulnerability that remaining myself engenders. It’s easy, in some ways, to not care about being vulnerable, especially in times like the last few months, when I am newly liberated by the idea that I’ve hit rock-bottom and have nowhere to go but up. Or at least sideways. But it also makes me wonder at what cost I might be able to dig myself out. There is a fear, for example, that someone could contact me through the site and claim a connection of one or another kind with me of incredible depth that was the product not of sincerity but of research. And I am particularly susceptible to such claims of connection at the best of times, let alone in this desperate madness of profoundest rejection. And yet, it all seems worth it anyhow.
It’s worth it for a couple reasons. One came in tonight, not long ago, a detailed and thoughtful communique from an anonymous person who may have known me long ago. Experiences like that alone are worth the price of admission on this blog, worth the tormented risks of returning to the mill each night to pour my soul out in measured vials of linguistic distillation. But of course, there are larger issues to discuss when one talks of vulnerability, of the original sources of that vulnerability, of the whole historical reason that drove me to be so passionately committed to living in public, in truth, in the first place.
The artist, if you will, formerly known as PLB. Formerly? I’m trying here. We met, yesterday, Friday night that is, for a four-hour coffee split amongst two places in my new hometown. Her former hometown. You know, where she lived for years before going to Princeton. Because that’s reasonable. Insert repeated platitudes here about my writing fiction so I have something believable in my life.
Of course, there are those among you who’d be forgiven for finding a more nefarious explanation for her life path. That was always the trouble with her – it was never clear whether she was the Black Magic Manipulator or the Helpless Reckless Confused Child. There were always clues in each direction, plenty of fodder for speculation and further ambiguity. The fact that one among my friends actually went so far as to say she placed herself in Princeton in the anticipation that Emily would someday return is a testament less to the paranoia of my friends than the powerful example set by a person who convinced an entire elite school she’d penned a 900+ page book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict slated for publication by Harvard University Press.
The coffee itself was remarkable. Here I do not refer to the liquid proffered by Highland Park’s various caffeine dispensaries. It was remarkable for its strangeness, its ease and comfort, its ability to take assumptions and narratives about life and turn them sideways like a coin on its thin end, then give them a good spin till everything was blurred. It felt, ultimately, like a timeout from life. Perhaps I’d spent too many years imagining the fateful meeting, imagining replacing her final phoned reassurances before she flew to Scotland with language that wasn’t about our permanent future. None of them, of course, looked like this. This felt more like a discussion out of the bounds of reality, out of the bounds of life, maybe at a crossroads in some post-mortem purgatory or dreamlike missive dispatched after a spirit quest. Not a mundane overlit table at a Dunkin’ Donuts where not 24 hours earlier I’d joked and chewed with my debate team a few blocks from my new house.
We talked about most everything. She apologized, profusely and with apparent sincerity. She acknowledged, fully for once, all the things she’d done and, far more importantly, the real significance of the emotions we shared. She cried a lot. I cried some too. She had not drawn up this meeting to come at a time of profound imbalance in our relative romantic lives, but rather as a meeting of two people ensconced in loving and permanent marriages. But a funny thing happened on the way to this year, and the rest is history. Emily asked me, when we spoke about it this morning, whether I’d discussed with her how much of her shadow cast darkness on aspects of our marriage. I realized that this was something we’d talked about almost the least, for while I found it difficult to trust Emily in the wake of what – gulp – Gwendolyn had done to me, it’s a pretty sorry excuse Emily’s trying to use that this contributed to her need to betray me and disappear on me. The fact is that Emily was just mean and thoughtless sometimes. Did I react to this worse than most people would have because of my history? Of course. Should Emily have still not been mean and thoughtless, even if I’d never had an issue with trust in my life? You betchya.
This little vignette and my mildly wounded declaration of dignity illustrates one of the most darkly upsetting aspects of the whole meeting with Gwendolyn and its historical conflict. As I told her, crying, toward the end of our hours together, I’d spent time in May discussing with Emily what she was thinking and whether she was crazy. And now, that night, I’d spent time discussing with Gwendolyn what Emily was thinking and whether she was crazy. I don’t know what it says about me that these people who I have loved so deeply have found such deplorably massive ways to hurt me and have been so uncaring about their decisions to do so in the moment they did them. Both, now, have spoken about the nature of assumption in play. Gwendolyn assumed I had no idea she was lying about anything and that I would correspondingly be unable to forgive the lies, when in truth I’d spent almost two months trying to figure out a way to confront her about what I knew without chasing her away or putting her on the defensive. Emily contrived a way to assume that I would leave her someday, convincing herself that the dissolution of our marriage was not only inevitable but that I knew it to be so, thus making her actions somehow excusable or unsurprising to me. What both of these speak to, more than anything, is a lack of confidence so deep it can override any and all evidence of love, affection, hope, or solace, no matter how much I was willing and able to offer it in both cases.
Which is not to draw too many parallels. While the emotional depth reached is at least similar, a one-year relationship does not measure to a seven-year marriage. Which helps explain Fish’s remarkably callous comments as he was falling asleep last night that nothing I could get from talking to Gwendolyn matters much because I “have bigger fish to fry.” Which, ultimately, is probably about a lot of things, ranging from her doing a good job convincing everyone that ours was just a trivial high school relationship devoid of serious meaning, all the way to the fact that I just have a more thorough emotional memory than most people seem to care to. But to not see this point in my life as a time to examine all relationships and all love I’ve experienced, to reweigh and take stock, to examine on a plane of new perspective, seems foolhardy at best. After all, Emily herself tried to convince me that there was something about the way I communicate with people that just makes people want to betray me. That I am at fault for being left overnight, twice, by the two people I’ve thought I’d be with forever.
Which I guess gets us back to vulnerability. No doubt Emily will be upset for me baring so much here, will try to take things away. I told Russ a long story a couple nights back in an ultimately revelatory conversation about my parents taking things away to protect me in my upbringing and the fiercely resistant attitude which ultimately culminated in utter disaster at a place called Broadway Middle School. Now my parents will be upset with me about this post. And Fish too, for he’ll probably say I mischaracterized his comments. He was pretty tired, after all. Why do I write all this about people again? Why do I live so openly when it only seems to provide opportunities for alienation and discord?
Because you all know that I feel and think these things. All of you. And I can’t live any other way. I don’t want to live at all, really, but I really don’t want to live with the feeling that I can’t tell you what I’m thinking. And I do this in the hopes that it becomes a two-way street. A seven-way street. That everyone opens up to this extent, fully and without reserve. If everyone had in my life, I would never have been betrayed. Maybe, at worst, I would have been frontstabbed. But even that seems unlikely. I’m with Kant and the categorical imperative on this one. There may be some extra bumps and bruises upfront, but they’re so much less significant, hurtful, and deep than the wounds we carry from the secrets others hide from us.
I am perhaps too fragile and weary and uncaring about my fate to close this ramble with a message of “Bring it!” to the universe. Perhaps too superstitious, too, or at least wanting to refrain from being wanton. The real message, the real pulsing mantra I would broadcast from my own personal SETI dishes, is more that I don’t care what the cost is. That seems inane, crazy, totally bizarre in the wake of losing a marriage and confronting the prior ex whose psychic impact was so damaging. But it’s true. I’m not going to live starting to care what people think of me, or how they could use me against myself. I’m going to live the way that I feel is necessary, would stand up to the categorical imperative, would give this species the best chance of living, loving, and somehow not destroying itself. Even if it destroys me. Damn the torpedoes.
It doesn’t look pretty most of the time. I can be as defiant as I want, but the truth is that I didn’t leave the house today and didn’t answer most of the phone calls that came in. I didn’t have anything to say, anyone to see, anything to do. I didn’t bathe, didn’t change clothes, didn’t do a single thing that could be labeled as productive. I wasn’t even spending a lot of mental energy processing things, so much as just defaulting. I was, in all ways, a wreck today. Not a crying-on-the-floor-in-a-heap wreck. More the depressive numb wreck akin to my sophomore year in college self who didn’t leave bed for days at a time.
Maybe it’s good that tomorrow I’m planning on leaving New Jersey for a bit, on staying with friends for the first time since the worst of the early days of this now fully three-month-old crisis. I’ve lived alone a lot. It feels like years already.
There is no final summarative conclusion, still. Not for a meeting that broke a thirteen-year audio silence. Not for a crisis that continues to unpack itself to me in new stripes of denial, bargaining, anger, fear, and resignation. Not for the commitment to be vulnerable in the wake of continual battering. Not for me. Not for you. Not for any of us.
There is only today, the way that I feel, and the probability that there will be a tomorrow. And for all the days I can imagine ahead, that’s all there will be. And the pale numbness of that low ceiling, that probably makes me feel the most vulnerable of all.
Postscript: It is worth noting that I was almost killed one year ago today. I was so happy to live through that experience, so grateful and full of hope. Many times since this crisis began, I have told people, including Emily, that I wish that car had hit us more directly, had knocked me into the next world. It would have spared me so much, would have ended our marriage in a way that both of us could feel infinitely better about. But, believing what I do, there has to be a reason that is not how things happened. Maybe it is merely to provide this realization of how quickly and vastly things can change. I hear you in the back there, what you’re saying. It could change back just as easily. Maybe. Who can say? I look forward to the day when I can once again relate to the jubilant relief that my year-ago self wrote about early in the morning of last October 24th.