Thursday, October 13, 2011

Short Story, Part Five

A work of fiction, with a few elements of truth.

Thus far, you have viewed my better side, my better qualities. I would be negligent now if I did not show you a few glaring mistakes. Forget your perfect offering. A crack, as Leonard Cohen notes, is how the light gets in. You shall see the darkness and the light and judge for yourself.

In the beginning, it is as if every relationship exists in isolation to the rest of the world. Infatuation drowns out everything else. But sometimes the outside world interjects itself rudely and action is necessary. I made the perfectly excusable mistake of inadvertently stepping into a long-running marital feud raging between two of our mutual friends. She was lonely and wished to talk, so I struck up a separate conversation with her upon a visit to their home. We spoke about nothing especially memorable, parted ways, and I thought nothing of it.

His behavior towards me changed overnight. I could feel the anger and resentment radiating off of him in the way he walked past. A year’s worth of jovial discourse was cast aside in an instant. If I tried to initiate the most banal of discussions, he ignored me and quickly departed. I wasn’t quite sure what to do aside from keep my distance. As is often commonplace, the source of the conflict had nothing really to do with me, per se. I was merely a dual projection of animosity and jealousy. It's never comfortable to be in such a situation, but I made it clear through surrogates that I didn't find it especially fair to be caught in the middle. Once the gunfire died down, I assumed that their troubled marriage had resolved itself, but found that only a brief armistice of hostilities had been declared.

It was when they started advertising their feud via Facebook that the tension reached a raging boil. The petty churlishness was on display for the world to see, or at least self-selected friends. There were no shortage of red flags now, but I regret that an impulsive part of me sometimes enjoys playing with fire. I should not have interceded in someone else’s civil war. One of my weaknesses is a desire to vindictively force the shoe on the other foot of someone who has wronged me. Maybe I’ll always be the lonely little boy, the easy target for bullies. Getting even has been the downfall of many and I ought to have known better. I can recognize my motives but not excuse my foolishness.

A relationship is in trouble when both parties start keeping score. Bitterness leads to a thousand impulsive decisions, few of them anchored in good sense. I was hoping she’d jump at an opportunity for retribution. I made the most innocent of inquiries, suggesting she might wish to meet for coffee to talk it over. She got back to me quickly and a time was established. My e-mail had dropped a thousand subtle and a few not-so-subtle hints. I knew what I wanted, but I have learned since then that we’re not nearly in control of the process as we think. Courting danger only promises to release the furies. A jealous man is never a trifling matter, but my irrational side won out.

Once we’d said a hello and selected a table, our talk was by turns flirtatious but also cagey. She saw right through my intentions from the outset, though I had not disguised them. It is clear she enjoyed the attention, but in her mind, I had never been much more than a chess piece. Staring across a table from each other, she moved forward a space, then sideways, then sideways again. I chased her around the board for most of an hour, and then conceded the game based on weariness. When asked if I’d like to meet again, I mumbled something indecisive, than left the table with some haste. I wasn’t interested in another lengthy period of courting. I did not and had not ever envisioned this as a romance or a multi-step process. I wanted instead to see if I could achieve a particularly childish form of evening the score and some harmless pleasure as well.

I recognize you may think less of me now. My motives were a means of seeking to punish the past, to give it a good lashing, if you will. It was payback for every schoolyard taunt, every instance of omission, every hurtful remark based in ignorance. It’s not as though the present is a particularly effective target, but it happens to be the only one available. An eye for an eye is one of the easiest of motivations. After this experience, I watched the continual disintegration of the marriage from a semi-detached point of view. My interest remained, but with most of the mystery removed, the pleasure of idle speculation was no longer possible.

They put their divorce proceedings on Twitter. I know few people who would choose to broadcast such a thing in such a way, but they did. Along with an updated progression of the case, seemingly to the minute, the two also gave running commentary. Never before have I seen such a copious display of He Said/She Said. By the last rap of the gavel, I found it impossible to understand who shouldered most of the blame. They were, at a base level, a supremely bad match who had gotten married for all the wrong reasons. By the end, I regretted I’d stooped to their level. I’ll call it a lesson learned.

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