[Note: I wrote this post almost a year ago when I was in the throes of grief from a very difficult time for me. I’m happy to report that things are much better now.] My latest fantasy adventure centers on a character called “The Betrayer.” The book is Katie Macallister’s third installment of her Dark Ones series called Sex, Lies and Vampires. It is quite entertaining, as were the first two in the lineup. This one has a slight twist from its predecessors—instead of the vampire trying to convince his one and only (the “Beloved”) that she should cleave to him for eternity, in this story, it is the Beloved who pushes for the Joining (a kind of eternal marriage for the Dark One and his Beloved), against the protestations of her vampire lover.
The aspect of the book that has captured my attention is this concept of the Betrayer (the Dark One, Adrian) being redeemed. Poor Adrian is in thrall to a Demon Lord, who, as you might guess from his title, is not a nice guy. This not-very-nice Demon Lord has forced Adrian to do many things over the centuries until Adrian is reviled and ostracized among his kind. Moreover, Adrian has some fairly deep self-hatred and despair going on, so he’s not the most cheery vampire ever portrayed in fantasy fiction. Be that as it may, Adrian’s Beloved, Nell, is convinced her love can redeem Adrian and that maybe her supernatural skills can lift the curse binding him to the Demon Lord. Given the inevitability of an HEA this kind of book, my money was on Nell from the get-go.
Back to how all this relates to me (cause that’s what it’s all about, never mind that hokey pokey shit). Reading about the Betrayer has sparked some thoughts about the nature of betrayal generally, and what betrayal means in a love relationship specifically. As it often is in fiction, a situation or event is exaggerated to make sure the reader gets the point. Adrian’s betrayal involves the rather grandiose transgression of providing a steady stream of vampire sacrifices to satisfy the unholy appetites of his Demon Lord. This is admittedly on the far end of the moral bankruptcy scale. In human terms, such actions would be akin to a spouse stepping out of a marriage to get his thrills and chills in the arms of another. I think we can all agree that such behavior constitutes betrayal from any perspective.
But what if the nature of the betrayal is less extreme than sexual or romantic dalliance? What if the Betrayer earns his (or her) appellation though acts singular—or repeated—that don’t cross the line into indisputable immorality? What if the betrayal that transforms the beloved into the betrayer involves disappointed expectations or needs? What then? Is the betrayer redeemable or doomed to eternal exclusion and isolation?
What am I talking about here? Well, I’ll tell you: I consider it a sign of disrespect and maybe even passive/aggressive acting out when my husband doesn’t pick up after himself and maintain our shared living space in some semblance of order (not to the level of my OCD-influenced standards, but somewhere to the right of dirty underwear and socks left to mold in piles on the floor and dishes left to wash themselves in the sink). I really didn’t think it was that much to ask, given the fact that he is well aware—because I’ve told him at least 100,000 times—that physical clutter and actual filth makes me palpably anxious (see above comment on OCD tendencies). And, while it took several sessions of couples’ counseling to help him understand the seriousness and depth of my needs, he eventually got with the program. More or less.
But what happens when my needs are less concrete—but even more elemental to my overall well-being and he can’t—or won’t—meet them? What do I do with that? This situation is perfectly reflected in my current novel, so the issue is front and center in my psyche at this moment. Adrian is convinced that Nell can unmake the Demon Lord’s curse, but Nell is afraid to tap into her abilities because of the potential cost (frying her brain circuits) and the probability (in her mind) of failure. So she begins by refusing to do it, but of course she comes around in the end.
In my world, the analogous circumstance is that I need my husband to meet my needs for emotional connection on a deep level as I grieve the deaths of my mother, my mentor and two others who were like a mother and father to me growing up, all within the space of a few months. Each of these deaths was expected and congruent with the circle of life. They were all old and sick and it was a blessing for them to release their spirits from their physical tethers. Good for them, but it leaves the rest of us behind to put our lives back together in a place our loved ones no longer physically occupy. It’s a process that is, at heart, a solitary pursuit. But it’s also a journey in which the felt presence of those we love can keep us connected in a positive way to the here and now.
To walk this path with another is to deepen the intimacy between two individuals and create a shared experience that binds the two together more securely. In such a dance, it’s the one grieving who must lead. It is the task of the witness to be present and aware and provide a physical and emotional anchor to help ground the one who mourns in the world of life and of love.
But what happens when the efforts of the witness fall short, through ignorance or inherent limitations or even a subconscious desire to withhold what comfort can be provided because of perceived hurts or other such emotional payback?
I feel betrayed by the one who’s supposed to love me the most. And I wonder what to do with these feelings and whether the betrayer can be redeemed by my love and whether I can be redeemed by his. In the book, Nell overcomes her self-limitation to help her vampire husband restore his soul, defeat the Demon Lord and live happily ever after.
I’m not sure what my HEA looks like here. I predict that I will rise above this hurt, which I have to assume is inadvertent (or I wouldn’t be married to this man) and we will go on and be happy in all the myriad ways we are, because he is, in truth, a wonderful person. But the potential—and reality—for true emotional intimacy will have taken a hit for sure, and my inclination and ability to turn to him for emotional support during the tough times will be stifled. And that will constitute a betrayal of my own.