“I felt like a fairy tale character in a state of suspended animation who suddenly realizes that the clocks in the kingdom are working again.”
Allison, a fact-checker for a national magazine, announced. “My boyfriend from college and I had discussed marriage from our second date onwards and even though we weren’t officially engaged I still took it as a given that we were in an exclusive relationship despite the fact that he stayed on at the university for a graduate degree in creative writing when I came here to New York to work. As far as I knew, everything was going fine. I spent tons of money on phone calls and would shop for the perfect cute cards to send him. I even baked him his favorite cookies and express-mailed them to him weekly.”
“Then I get a letter which tells me that for the last three months he’s been seeing this girl in his class on a regular basis, and that he felt he should write and tell me how deeply he felt for her. It was a really painful letter for me not only because he made me realize that I’d been a sucker for three months but because he went into detail about why he was making the right decision in choosing her--how wonderful she was, how she eschewed (his word) all commercialism and would tease him about the cards I sent, saying how adolescent our relationship was. He told me he had come to agree with her. The letter was incredibly smug and self-indulgent even as he was trying to make himself sound hip and adult.”
“ He ended it by telling me that I must find a new life for myself, that I must broaden my circle of acquaintances (since many of our old college friends were more his buddies than mine, he said) and how I shouldn’t weep too long after reading what he called ‘this missive of misery.’
"I read it over too many times and even though it’s been a couple of years now, I hate to admit that I still remember his words by heart. It was a miserable experience.”
Allison, who had been fairly subdued as she told her story suddenly brightened. “But I decided that I was going to take his good advice and not weep. Instead I made photocopies of his letter and sent the pages around to my pals in the office, friends at home, and our old friends from college, asking them to comment on it’s style and critique the prose generally. Most of them were wonderfully scathing, calling his writing ‘turgid’ and ‘sentimental.’ I sent him copies of their responses. I knew that the most important thing to him was his over-inflated sense of himself as a great writer and that these letters would land a punch. He thought I would be ashamed to admit to people that we’d broken up. Instead I celebrated it, and invited the people who knew us to join in the celebration. I have never regretted convening that impromptu editorial group, because I no longer felt like a sacrificial victim in someone else’s script.” Allison’s story is an interesting one for several reasons, not the least of which is its emphasis on her need to renew her own sense of worth by making a pompous, hurtful letter answer to a bevy of critics.
Allison got to add her own finishing touches to the story, and not remain alone with an inappropriate sense of rejection. She focused on what would make her feel better--and, significantly, make her feel the support and loyalty of her friends--and did not allow an undue amount of time to pass before acting. She dealt a swift blow to her desire to withdraw from everybody and by doing so she ensured that the process of grieving over this loss would not be something she would have to endure alone. Achieving closure in these cases is paramount. The drive toward both symmetry and closure are at the heart of most revenge tales. There is a love of precision that informs the need for revenge.
Allison could well have patterned herself after a long line of accomplished women of various periods, living at various times, who managed to break the stranglehold of socially enforced feminine passivity long enough to make themselves heard when the occasion demanded it. Her story reminds me of one about the early twentieth-century writer and actress Ilke Chase.
Chase had been married to Louis Calhern, who divorced her in order to marry Julia Hoyt. “Sorting through her possessions shortly after the unhappy episode she found some visiting cards she had had printed for herself with the name Mrs. Louis Calhern. Generously, and bearing in mind her own experience, she sent them on to the new Mrs Louis Calhern with a short note: 'Dear Julia, I hope these reach you in time.'”
Only an intimate would be able to strike so precisely into the heart of vulnerability.
AND that's why revenge, when done properly, is sweet!