Verónica Pamoukaghlián

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Verónica Pamoukaghlián is a Uruguayan writer and filmmaker who has been known to divide her time between Montevideo and Seattle. She is a regular contributor for Lento Magazine (Uruguay) and Africa Insider. Her Spanish and English poetry has appeared in The Southern Pacific Review, Words Fly Away  (Fukushima Poetry Anthology, Bay Area), Prism, Naked Punch (London), Sentinel Literary Quarterly (London), Poesía en el subte Anthology (ARGENTINA), The Armenian Weekly, and Arabesques Review  among countless international publications. Her short fiction has appeared on story collections by Seal Press and the Seattle Erotic Art Festival´s Literary Anthology. Her essays have appeared on Naked Punch, El País Cultural, and elsewhere.She currently teaches Narrative fiction and Screenwriting at Uruguay´s Technical University (UTU). English is her second language. 

Blogging and journalistic work portfolio:

The Abandoned Lover


Last Spring, during a book tour around the West Coast, I wrote an essay that started more or less like this:


When it comes to women being abandoned by men, I am more Siri Hustvedt than Elena Ferrante.


  The essay went on about how I had read Hustvedt´s “The summer without men” while the love of my life was in the process of leaving his wife of 10 years because he had fallen in love with me. In the book, the abandoned woman calls her husband´s lover, “The Pause.” I was reading this when my love was asking his wife for a “pause” in their marriage, meaning me.


  When I read Elena Ferrante´s novel, “The days of abandonment,” my then boyfriend was in the process of leaving me to consider going back to his wife. Ferrante´s heroin, Olga, is a woman who experiences her husband´s abandonment like an unshakable tragedy.


  These reading experiences had very different implications for my personal life, because I was at one point the reason for the abandonment and at another point, the abandoned. The essay was sadly lost when my smartphone was stolen after my last book tour reading, at a dodgy train station in Oakland. The story I was promoting was about me and my lover, and it contained some of the thousands of poems we had written to each other over the course of two years.


  The process of identification which takes place during a reading can be quite mysterious. Reading Hustvedt was like being on the other side of the wall; I could get a glimpse of what the abandoned wife was feeling. It was strange to experience the composed bitterness of this woman through Hustvedt´s words:


“The Pause was French with limp but shiny brown hair. She had significant breasts that were real, not manufactured, narrow rectangular glasses, and an excellent mind. She was young, of course, twenty years younger than I was, and my suspicion is that Boris had lusted after his colleague for some time before he lunged at her significant regions. I have pictured it over and over.”


  Because I was several years older than my love´s wife and she is the proprietor of breasts more “significant” than mine, I never identified with “The Pause.” I felt closer to Hustvedt´s heroin, Mia, the abandoned wife, because she is a poetess like me. Nevertheless, reading about Mia´s pain made me feel rather uneasy. I had told my love that we could not exchange words of love anymore until he was a free man. This meant that I was not in contact with him during the process of his abandonment of his wife, and I had Hustvedt´s book to fill in the gaps left vacant by my imagination.


  I devoured “The summer without men,” and hailed it as a masterpiece. When I read Ferrante´s book, I had very mixed feelings about it. I had been particularly taken aback by a moment when the inner workings of the character were exteriorized in a way that seemed contrived: when the abandoned wife decides to force a home-cooked meal upon her husband, her chaotic state of mind causes her to break a glass. As I read that scene, I felt verisimilitude had been sacrificed in favor of dramatic effect; what followed was none the more subtle:


He had begun to chew in his usual methodical way, but suddenly something cracked in his mouth. He stopped chewing, his fork fell on the plate, he groaned. Now he was spitting what was in his mouth into the palm of his hand, pasta and sauce, and blood, it was really blood, red blood. I looked blankly at his stained mouth, as one looks at a slide projection. Immediately, his eyes wide, he wiped off his hand with the napkin, stuck his fingers in his mouth, and pulled out of his palate a splinter of glass. He stared at it in horror, then showed it to me, shrieking, beside himself, with a hatred I wouldn’t have thought him capable of:“What’s this? Is this what you want to do to me? This?”


  This sounded unrealistic and over-melodramatic to me at the time. Coming from a training in screenwriting, I have been taught ad infinitum that this is precisely the kind of scene one needs to avoid: the woman is anxious and has lost her balance, so, she accidentally puts broken glass in her estranged husband´s food. Where is subtext? The woman´s guts are on the table. At the time, I thought the scene was a clear display of a shortcoming in Ferrante´s craft.


  Ferrante´s Olga is an abandoned woman who is completely over-the-top. She cannot think of anything, she cannot function, take care of her children, not even the dog, or have casual sex properly. After reading the scene a second time, I attributed some of the heroin´s melodramatic flair to the idiosyncrasy of hot-blooded Italians, because I had observed their passions on the streets of Naples, coincidentally, the author´s hometown[1]. But her portrait still did not add up. It reminded me of the Venezuelan soaps that were popular in Uruguay during my teenage years. 


  Hustvedt´s heroin, contrastingly, instead of totally loosing control of her life, suffers mostly on the inside, like a good Nordic. After a brief sejour at a psychiatric ward, she overcomes her loss by teaching teenage girls poetry in the small town where she grew up. Much more like a good Hollywood movie, a tale of finding oneself through heartache and loss, than a South American soap opera.


  Mia is the queen of subtext, as demonstrated by comparing the grief of her interior monologue with a letter she writes to her estranged husband, Boris. “If he wasn’t going to write “Love,” I sure as hell wasn’t going to stoop to that devilishly tricky noun,” she tells herself, after writing the carefully calculated letter, in which she dissects the situation more like an attorney than an abandoned wife.

  As I am writing this, my love has abandoned me. We are still very much in love, but he has gone back to his wife. He is currently in how-to-forget-the-love-of-your-life therapy, and I am trying to get over his abandonment by teaching narrative fiction.


  Hustvedt´s character´s poetic transformation through her connections with other women is quite inspiring. Ferrante´s character´s madness, which eventually relaxes into a state of relative equilibrium, may appear less inspiring. However, as I prepare to teach teenage boys and girls what little I know about the mysterious mechanisms of fiction, I realize that all women have a Ferrante and a Hustvedt inside us.


  This was proven to me three months ago, when my love told me he was going to New York for the holidays with his son and his ex, leaving me alone in a strange place where I had no one. Shortly after receiving the news that the trip was a “done deal,” I stood alone in the living room of our West Seattle cottage surrounded by the many gifts I had bought for his child and he had never delivered. Among them was a Uruguayan candombe drum. This was a gift of heritage, because my love comes from a family of Uruguayan musicians. I was trying to offer the boy, who would grow up in America, something that was connected to his roots.


  I do not recall ever smashing an object on purpose in my entire life. But I pulled a Ferrante that day.


  The little child size drum did not break the first time around. So, I smashed it against the floor once more. Now, I believe everyone can become Ferrante´s Olga, all it takes is a sufficiently cruel man. The New York trip was the beginning of the end for my love story.


  After cleaning up the pieces of the drum and packing all my suitcases and boxes to go back to Uruguay, 

I found out my love had never explained to his ex the nature of our relationship or that we had been living together for a year. That day, he wrote me a song entitled, “She's leaving again.” His father, who is considered a musical genius, compared the song to a knife cutting through one´s flesh.


  The cruelties that ensued are too cruel to tell. He did beg me to stay, I did, and he broke my heart again;  it took me a month and a half and three cancelled tickets to leave the home we shared, but I finally did it.


  I am writing this on a sandy beach facing an endless horizon, in the South East of Uruguay. Sunset is drawing near. I have been an abandoned woman for a little over three months now. One of my toenails is missing, because I have been patiently ripping it off for weeks. I have animal print panties wrapped around my hand to protect from the sun the raw flesh of a giant hot water burn; one of my versions of Ferrante´s broken glass. In my beach bag is an iPad with a broken screen, which was rendered useless when I dropped it trying to make a picture of myself, for him. Like Olga, when she cooked her husband´s favorite meal, I wanted my love to see what he was missing.


  I have dark rings under my eyes from not sleeping enough, and I have just spent the better part of the afternoon staring blankly at his new haiku page on Facebook, writing him a poem called “Harakiri Hex” on my own poetry site in response, and looking at IP addresses of my blog´s visitors, to find out how many times he and his ex-turned-wife-again are looking at my articles and pictures.


  I am, for all intents and purposes, a woman under construction. I have to learn to be without the only person in the world who can instantly understand the things I write, even their most obscure references and hidden intentions. Aside from the amazing sex (a tale that could make 10 best sellers), this connection is the hardest thing to shake off.


  In moments like this, we return to writers like Ferrante and Hustvedt to guide us. I am rethinking their books and writing this to make sure I don't keep accidentally hurting myself and breaking things. I am writing it to stay on this side of sanity. The former love of my life works in a neighborhood called Bellevue. When I think of that name, it never fails to remind me of the insane asylum in New York, where some of my musical heroes had a sejour. In more ways than one, I am trying to stay as far away from Bellevue as I can.


  Ferrante´s heroin had to explode in order to restore her balance. Hustvedt´s went on an introspective voyage into what it means to be a woman, a mother, a baby, a teenage girl, and a grandmother. At this moment, I feel like I am still exploding, hoping to explode less each day. If anything, I have learnt that women have to stick together when men want to play with our hearts.


  I do feel that there is a need for an “other woman” perspective of the abandonment of women in literature. My love did make a baby with his wife after falling eternally in love to me. “It should have been you,” he once said, crying and caressing my belly. Somehow, I believe men are more capable of this kind of behavior than women: putting their sexual organ in one place and their heart in another. My summer without men has not erased my pain, but I have stopped ripping off nails and breaking things. I haven´t stopped loving, and I haven´t stopped hurting, but I am writing a book about it, and I am scheduled for insemination soon. I hope it´s a girl.

[1]    Elena Ferrante is a pseudonym. Therefore, the writer´s alleged origin is not certain, but there are enough elements in her body of work to argue that he or she is a kind of connoisseur of the Southern Italian idiosyncrasy.

© The Acentos Review 2015