Thursday, September 23, 2010

Creation Is The Best Revenge

From desire and regrets, revenge will sometimes follow. Here, I need to share a bit of personal experience, albeit reluctantly (yes, I'm writing a memoir and I'd have no problem publishing it, but I find the abundance of personal information displayed on blogs and other Internet sites somewhat excessive). It, is once again, a personal story about love—or a distorted semblance of it.

Once upon a time I had a relationship with a man from an "exotic" country, the one where Vikings originated from. Though in its current, rather Euro-centric connotation this word is most often used to describe "oriental", "Eastern", or "non-white" (I must use quotation marks because all of these terms bear scrutiny and re-definition), in its original etymology "exotic" simply means "introduced from another country: not native to the place where found"; the word is derived from the Greek exō, meaning "outer". I was a 5-foot-short Southern Italian girl with dark curly hair; he was a 6-foot-4", russet-haired, blue-eyed man. We lived in England, where his ethnicity and the odd visual impression our couple produced were somewhat exotic. Our relationship, however, was anything but exotic—it was instead that all-too-common blend of neurotic, sometimes violent, often destructive "love" where one person's most awful traits play (or rather, grate) off the other's most awful traits. 
The boyfriend was narcissistic, selfish and self-absorbed beyond belief; he felt an almost constant need to flirt with women, to threaten an imminent betrayal; and I, from the intelligent, educated, feminist woman I had been before meeting him, was reduced by his behavior to a petty, nagging, jealous shrew.
In the end, this man left me, after we were engaged to marry—a few days, in fact, after he'd given me an engagement ring, and only weeks after we'd started the paperwork necessary to get married. It happened out of the blue, after a drunken night in which he kissed, right in front of my eyes, a woman who was our neighbor, who lived with her husband on the top floor of the Victorian house where I owned the basement apartment. This couple had been our constant companion of dinners and evening drinks for many months, during which I had noticed a steady progression of my boyfriend's flirting with her, and of her reciprocating.  

For a few months after he left me, I was a wreck, in the throes of desperate depression. Then one day I realized that his leaving me was the absolute best point in our fucked-up relationship, pulled myself together and started writing a short story. In it, I wrote almost the entire truth about our relationship, except that, as the protagonist of the story, in the ending I exacted my own little revenge against the cheating, lying and womanizing boyfriend. 
The story got published in a feminist collection of women's tales of revenge; following the fate of many other similar small press outputs, this book eventually got remaindered, though it is possible from time to time to find a copy on Amazon.

These days, I don't often think about my short story—for me, it was primarily a way of getting rid of my pain by exorcising the past: not just by turning it into a creative product, but by re-writing it altogether. 
I am not (at least not in the present) a writer of fiction, but I know that—even though one must be careful with the re-writing act—in memoir and personal essay writing there are equivalent ways to exorcise the pain of the past: by elevating it to the kind of experience that speaks about more than just one person's life; that speaks to more people than just me and my close friends.

Eight years ago, out of the blue, the exotic boyfriend started emailing me; I'm not sure how he tracked me down, but against my better judgement I wrote back, even cordially because I had no more feelings for or against him, apart from amazement at his resurfacing. Then for four more years we fell out of touch again, and I had forgotten all about it when he reappeared again, this time with a cryptic email that talked about all the things "left unsaid" in our relationship. I replied that there was nothing left to say, really: we'd had one of the most fucked-up relationships; at the time, we were both wrong, headstrong, immature; and I hoped we'd both learned from the past. His ego must not have liked this answer because he disappeared again, only to reappear a few months later, when he tried to push my buttons and I reacted badly, writing  a curt email saying "no more correspondence". He replied but I  refused to read it and it all seemed to end there. But, oh no. Apparently this man who is now in his late forties still needs... what is it exactly? The validation, the distraction, the escapism produced by an Internet liaison with an ex-lover of over a decade past? 
At any rate, a few weeks ago here he was again, in my junk mail box, with the unrequited, 18-years-too-late confession about something I'd always suspected and he'd always denied: at the time we broke up, he had been having a "torrid" (his word) affair with the neighbor.

All this is not terribly interesting in itself, because only Woody Allen and a few other male artists are capable of describing their own shallow, banal, conceited, selfish immaturity and get away with it—and with a wonderful artistic product. 
I am confident that a good writer (perhaps à la Philip Roth?) could still turn this story into a great novel, but I'm not the one to do it (to you writers of fiction out there: feel free to use this plot—I won't sue you, just give me an acknowledgment in your book if you get published).

The only reason I'm telling this story, is because I know myself—and I know that, despite all my protestations to the contrary, I would have been hurt by this sudden revelation had I not been in possession of one more ammunition against the willful cruelty of my ex: the knowledge that I had exacted my revenge in a story; that I had exorcised him, his memory, the memory of our relationship with all its pain, absurdity, fucked-upness, in my writing. 
And, while out there in his frozen country the ex-boyfriend is probably wringing his hands in the petty satisfaction of the very idle and the very bored, thinking he has caused me to suffer—or even to pause from my present life for a moment—here in my rainy city I can smile mischievously, knowing he doesn't know that I took my revenge against him 14 years ago.

"Creation is the best revenge": I said that, or at least I think so.


  1. If creation is the best revenge + living well is the best revenge, creation = living well.

  2. well-told and engaging, Amalia! I probably wouldn't call it revenge, but I know the deeply satisfying feeling of writing something out of my system, of that powerful release that can happen and is so, so satisfying. And if I don't write regularly, I also know that it starts to feel like I could use an exorcism--know what I mean?

  3. Thanks to both of you, Judith and Jen.

    Judith, I looked up your website and your work and life are fascinating—the kind of creative eclecticism I personally admire. I agree with the equation living = creating. What would otherwise be the point of life?

    Jen, I myself have no quarrels with the word revenge—it may get a bad press and seem too strong but it is what one needs sometimes... nothing more or less. Although I would never, ever advocate writing only for the purpose of revenge, or for exorcising one's ghosts—rather, to confront and eviscerate them is more the point.