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05.26.02 12:42 a.m.

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.


 -George Washington  




Previously in Xenology: I tried to end my association with Kate.

Lost and Lonely
As you actually do not know, because my web host is an evil, hateful, contract-breaking troll, I have somewhat been speaking with Kate. Yes, I know that I essentially said I was done with her and needed to cut her out of my life for the time being if I were to be healthy and happy. But, see, I missed her a bit. Not a lot, but certainly enough.
 
A sketch of Katie I drew a few years ago.
I am not the codependent emotional packrat idiot that some of you have likely decided I am based upon this turn of events. I certainly did not turn a blind eye to what I had said and how I felt. I merely realized the ridiculousness of speaking with everyone in her household, save her.
It had been brief notes. I inquired as to her plans for the summer. She is going to New Zealand from July to December, for those Kate fans out there. These epistles had hardly been of note. Not ever verging on intimacy and quickly adding edges of subtle arguments over petty things. I think it is most valid to try to reconstruct a dialogue based upon these letters. Bear in mind, this scene did not occur, but I am being dramatic for the sake of storytelling. It is loaded heavy with dialogue, because that it the raw material I must make palatable.

I sit upon a stone bench at New Paltz, quietly studying Spanish before my final in an hour. I see Kate approaching, ranked on both sides with associates I cannot place but who seem generic in a college sense. I smile despite myself, because my heart heals rapidly and tends to react to the fondness we once held for one another before the brain can give a metaphorical jab in the ribs that we have shared pain as well. Now all we exchange are five sentence e-mails with the depth of a wading pool.
She looks at me and we exchange brief greetings and the typical banter of awkward meetings. I ask her plans for the summer and she remind me that she is taking a semester abroad on the other side of the world in New Zealand and will be leaving the States mid-summer. A part of me is honestly satisfied with this, as I recall the warm letters we exchanged while she was in New Mexico getting fired by the Boy Scouts of America. I mention that I hear things are expensive there, owing to having to import most everything. She shoots back that she hears alcohol is cheap and I sarcastically rejoin that I hope this isn't what she means by "everything."
The air feels thick with the sudden tension between us. I expect that she is going to walk off and only send me daggers in her eyes when we pass. She begins to turn to leave but thinks better of it and says, "I just wanted it to be clear that the us-emailing-gesture was on your part, as it had to be, as I had already attempted unsuccessfully to make said gesture. And I am concerned that we can't send a few emails off without already getting into argumentation. And while I don't believe in this artificial stopping of things, there does seem to be a very real and threatening lack in our ability to communicate constructively (or even neutrally for that matter). And I am wondering if it is really possible for us to negate (or positivate) this lack."
My eyes widen slightly, as this is jumping into the depths. I can tell that she has thought through this speech for a while and just got up the courage to unload it upon me. This is not something to be entered into lightly and it concerns our relationship. Both the one we currently have where words are as few, cheap, and unexpected as empty bottles of clamato at a vegan alcoholics anonymous meeting. I explain carefully, "Yes, I acknowledge that I began writing these letters to you partly because I missed talking with you and thought it was a bit silly that I was having conversations - albeit brief ones - with everyone in your apartment, save you." She seems to consider this carefully, but it not yet ready to unfurl her thoughts further. I endeavor to answer her in more detail in hopes of provoking a satisfying response. "We do not seem to have a medium setting in our interactions with one another. We are either lovers (which is not to say romantically, though that is a residual component, but that we are fonder than we should be as friends) or opponents. There is really no switch for 'casual friends' between us, and that is a big part of the problem. I know that I want to be important to you, when I don't want you to disappear, and I think this might be mutual. In failing to fulfill one aspect, the other is sought. 'I can't be fond of you, so I'll be distant.' and vice versa." I feel that I am pleading and overplaying my hand, if indeed I have one to start with. I spin the silver claddaugh ring around on my finger nervously, starting to feel tremors of fear well up under in my chest.
She takes a pack of cigarettes out of her side pocket and considers the box, trying to concentrate on its sands and pyramids to give her the distance to listen to this and the serenity to respond without lashing out and aggravating the situation. Not looking at me, she confides in the drawing of a camel on the box, "I mean for a while when you didn't want to talk to me anymore I was pretty upset, but then I began to think if maybe it wasn't for the best. And while I don't think anything less than an acquaintanceship would be for the best, I do see the point of it all and I do see it clearly." This admission wears on her, but it is certainly honest and that is about the only thing we have going for us.
I don't think I expected her to agree that I was even slightly right to want to stop interaction between us. It was one of the most difficult decisions I had ever had to make, as I remembered every day I spent by her side as lover and as friend. I didn't want to never see her again, but I couldn't stand holding such negative feelings toward someone I know I loved and for whom did still have love, albeit far from the romantic sense. I was startled by her claim to have truly understood my position and her expression of empathy. This was new. "But where can be go from here?" I queried. "When we had our last conversation, it was almost entirely quarrelling that would not occur between friends of many stripes. I have to say that when I finished, I felt decidedly negatively about our interactions and, as you well know, sought to not have a repeat of this stress. Aside from Zack and Conor, I believe my friend hold negative feelings toward you and I believe your friends rather reciprocate toward me. That kills group interaction. We certainly do not work at all well alone together." I shift uncomfortable on the bench, having unintentionally invoking intimacies long past. "School will be out as well, since you'll be in New Zealand. We are already snippy to one another in letters..." I look to Kate in hopes that she can offer some way for us to build a friendship, but her eyes possess the pained hopelessness I knew so well from my own when I considered this all.
She squint back what could be the tears or could be the sun and wind trying to invade her eyes. She sighs deeply, thoughtfully, looking at the sterile building across the way. "I don't know if you ever met Chris and Julie... but they were living together in my apartment this year... and they had been together for over a year... and Julie broke up with Chris just before she moved back home for the summer." She pauses to light the cigarette she had removed from the pack and drank deep the smoke before continuing. "Chris had been one of my real good friends this year so I've kind of been trying to take care of him because of the break-up and all, which mostly involves a lot of ridiculous drinking and absurd arguments about whether or not God is a person." She looks like she is considering offering her perspective on this point, but recalls her point. "The thing is that, while Chris is the person that I really care about and want to support, I really as far as the relationship thing goes identify with Julie, because there are certain similarities. But well the real point is that, I was trying to make Chris feel better one night, and I ended up making myself feel awful." In the pause between sentences where a period would traditionally belong, I constructed this horrendous and elaborate fantasy involving ugly rebound sex. To my relief, she explained, "Because all of a sudden I understood how much I had fucked up in the process of breaking up with you, and I realized how much wrong I had done you then, because I saw it in Chris and well.. I felt pretty shitty about myself. And I guess I want to give a over-a-year-and-a-half-due apology for all the shit. And that's all."
She starts to get up to leave, as she has surpassed all she needed to say and treaded into words she hadn't totally meant to reveal. I sit, vaguely shocked. There was a seemingly interminable period of my life that really only took a handful of months when I wanted nothing more for her to really understand what she was putting me through. I couldn't fathom the conditions that would give her this perspective. Actually, that is not true. I had pictured the circumstances, and they tended to involve her having her heart metaphorically drop-kicked by a brief lover of whom she was fatuously fond. I certainly would not have wanted Chris to be hurt for Kate to understand, though I could tell by Julie's demeanor that he loved on borrowed time. I looked up at Kate, standing slightly above me and croak, "Tell Chris I am sorry. He seemed like a nice guy and... he didn't deserve to be hurt like this. I know he loved her very much." She nods her head sympathetically, mentally reliving a conversation with him. Kate returns to the present situation and looks to me curiously.
I cock my head to one side as though I am listening critically to a strange sound and evaluate how I feel about her apology. It would have meant a great deal more had it been delivered when I actually needed it. Of course, she was not in the proper place to give this to me; to understand how it feels. Nor can I honestly say that I would have understood the apology as it was intended without self-servingly misunderstanding it. I try to convey to her how I am feeling, saying the words before my brain can evaluate their meaning and stop my tongue. "I do not fault you for leaving me. I came to understand a long time ago that this was something you saw need to do." She slightly nods her head to this statement, sadly. "However, I did fault you for not leaving me completely and I think this may be part of your point. I guess I am glad that you know all of this now. Is it trite and pathetic if I say I am sorry if this situation that was born of your consolation of Chris hurts you and makes you feel bad about yourself? After all, I have confessed to wanting you to disappear at times and of lashing out and causing you pain. So, I am not sure if it matters to you that you induce compassion in me and I don't want you to hurt, but this is the case." I touch her hand lightly with these words and she gently smiles in the direction of the bench. I bite the side of my lip as I say, "I don't know if I am exactly ready to give sweeping forgiveness to you yet, if this is what you wanted. I don't know if my forgiveness would affect you one way or another. You hurt now because you caused me pain in the past, which seems like a means to self-forgiveness but not an end. You atone. You feel that you have done something 'wrong' and you wish things had been different. Remorse. That may be all you need. Philosophers - don't ask me which ones as I am taking this from The Simpsons - believed that a soul had to be earned through suffering and struggle... I guess the end result is something to the extent of: I truly would like to forgive you, but am not honestly ready to do so and to do so now would be premature and would likely cause future problems in our friendship... if a friendship is what you wish to build toward." I add hopefully, "In the future, when I am ready, I think I will forgive you, if this is indeed something that you desire." I go over the words I have said, trying to sort reality out of them.
She weights my words as well, taking a deep drag off her cigarette and watching the bluish-gray smoke spiral out of her mouth. "While I very much appreciate what you have been saying, I was not asking for forgiveness when I apologized." I frown, as I have been made vulnerable. I bite my lip hard to avoid letting the emotion ooze out of me or explode. "I guess my point in apologizing was partly to acknowledge my wrong to the person that I wronged - you - and partly in the hope that, as it is helping to straighten me out, it will help to straighten you out, and to stem your pain." I begin to tell her that that wound has been healed for a while and the time away from her has shown me that but she silences me. "There is a Velvet Underground song, of which the lyrics are: 'Jesus, help me find my proper place. Help me in my weakness because I'm falling out of grace.' It is a fucking amazing song and it is something that I have been praying even before I heard it. I guess when I am apologizing I think that in some way I am putting my past actions into their proper place: in my mind and in yours." She gives an emotionally charge glance at me, meeting my eyes for only a second. She grabs her stuff and walks quickly to the nearest door.
She does not look back.

That brings us to right about now. As to where we been brought, I haven't the slightest clue. Emily had this to say about the whole affair (liberally edited because I can.)

 
She is baffled by Kate.
I do not completely understand Kate, though I never have. It is possible that this is a real step and it is also possible that you are setting yourself up for a blow as you said. I think, however, that it is immensely good that you are not simply willing to forgive her and get on with things. I think that that would be ultimately hurtful to you and dishonest for her. Thus I commend you in this matter. I simply cannot understand this though... not you mind you, I completely understand/stood your part of all this. But her? I cannot fathom this. It does not seem that she has undergone some intense and mind-altering change and yet this letter is completely breaking from the character that I understand to be Kate in this time period. She doesn't apologize for anything that has happened recently only for hurting you then and for handling things badly. This also seems odd to me, though at the same time I think that perhaps accepting past transgressions is much easier than dealing with those that are closer to home and more recent. I also believe you to be right in the fact that there are very few ideal environments for the two of you at this point and also that seeing each other before she leaves for New Zealand would and could be significantly rushing whatever has the potential to redevelop. I am, I realize, not telling you anything that you do not already know, but still I am keeping myself awake and thinking all this out.
You do of course realize that there could not not be any interaction that you have with Kate that I don't have some feelings about and since everyone is being so bloody honest I will follow suit, though I admit its not as exciting as one might think. This interaction doesn't really concern me overly much. (I know that's not juicy in its honesty but its true all the same). I think that perhaps there is a glimmer more hope for you guys than there has been previously, but I am not 100% willing to make that judgment. I admit that there is smallish fantasy (kind of like smallish bees up one's nose, the ones that make you itch and feel like you need to sneeze) that worries that all of a sudden Kate will be Katie again, she will repent, you will realize what I've been convinced you knew all along and you will return to her. Then I wake up. Seriously it's a small part that I'm willing to disregard in its possible stupidity. So that's my honesty. Earth dinging isn't it.
Well, as I don't really feel I need to state but will all the same, I think she is largely right. Except for the part about returning to Katie. Kate will not revert to Katie. She is on her path and progressing as she sees fit, though she seems confused as to her place. But I can tell you that this place is not with me. I noted, half-jokingly, that she seeks change to such an extent that she has subconsciously chosen to develop herself in places that have "new" in the title (New Paltz, New Mexico, New Zealand). In addition, I am certainly not the same person that was with Katie and I am thankful for the change. It was difficult, as you read, and Kate certainly did not make it easier for me in the past. We are both very different people and to return to Kate expecting she reverted to Katie would be disregarding a year and a half of progress to myself.
Plus, you know, it's bloody ridiculous.

Spinning on That Dizzy Edge
The end result of this story is that I got a DVD player. For some, the end is the only important facet to a story. If so, you need read no further. Though, if you could, send me your old DVDs.
Last night, Emily and I hung out with Melissa. We had wanted to watch horror movies with her, as she has quite a collection. However, it she desired to watch movies on Zack's huge screen TV. At least that was the reason we were given.
No, this isn't Zack. This is OtherZack. He is a rather recent addition to this whole story. When she had suggested we all go to his house, we had never met him. What we knew of him was that he lived with Mike (whom we consider something like a pimp without the hoes), he had taken a shine to Melissa, and he was slightly snarky in a geeky way. We really had no idea what to expect and imagined he might be very similar to Mike.
We had been led to believe, through numerous stories that Mike's house was buried in three feet worth of weeds and was surrounded by the very air of partying. When we arrived, I was a bit surprised. One, that this was actually a house. It was bigger than my house. That's not fair. Two, the weeds were only a foot high.
Inside this domicile, it is no hyperbole to state that every inch of the walls was covered with movie posters. Whether they be the little transparent plaques that announce where a movie is located or the twenty foot long, canvas posters reserved for big budget films, they were preventing me from seeing the original shade of the paint.
OZ was not as we had been led to believe. I could certainly see how he could be construed as attractive. He has longish brown hair and a goatee. He was thin, which was a little surprising as I was expecting someone stout. He reminded me of someone who would collect horror movies, which (of course) he did.
Emily, OZ, and I seemed to click rather quickly. As he is a fan of horror movies and seemed somewhat laid back, this does not come as much of a shock. Melissa assumed we would be around his level and M and I are reasonably intelligent in a book learnin' way. We played several rounds of Dr. Mario, because combat in the field of primary colored digital pixies bonds anyone.
During a smoke break on which I escorted Melissa, we discussed OZ. I told her that he seemed to be approximately what Melissa would determine as "cool," though she has a personal vendetta against the very word. Evidently, while I was talking with Melissa outside, OZ and Emily were left to converse. She more formally introduced herself, stating as he probably guessed that she was my girlfriend. He told her that I am very lucky, which was a very sweet thing to say and earns him a shiny silver star.
Around the time we returned Mike and his girlfriend Laura reappeared from their "walk." Either they were fighting or boinking, given the way "walk" was said. I am voting on the former, frankly. She was a remarkable sweet girl. Quiet, but friendly. From what I was told, she works very hard at her relationship with Mike and he does not quite reciprocate. Mike doesn't seem like the sort of boy a girl like her would be with, but I do mainly know Mike through his interactions with Melissa as the Playstation 2 stealing wannabe pimp.
Zack asked what movie we wanted to see, as we were there under the pretense of a horror movie marathon. I was appointed to go with him into his room and pick one, as I would be able to pick something that would scare Emily senseless. Well, he did have Jacob's Ladder. Emily seems to have issues with anything that moves too slow (The Gentlemen on the Buffy episode "Hush") or too fast. Jacob's Ladder actually gave her her first panic attack. You know, on second thought, maybe scaring her that much is a bad thing. I just watched the trailer and I was spooked.
We eventually settled on Mystery Science Theater 3000 - Eegah as it was technically a horror movie and we had planned on mocking whatever movie we put on anyway. The action, as far as I could understand (in that I was paying no attention) centered around some sort of slimy cat puppet that was supposed to be a werewolf.
We ended up talking well into the night, when Emily wasn't asleep on my arm, clearly dreaming that my bicep was something like a squishy teddy bear. It turned out that OZ was more than aware of the first thing we had ever seen that scared us (an episode of Punky Brewster where Punky and her friends get trapped in a haunted cave searching for the ghost of Owatta Gusiam and turn into ghosts one by one. I had to sleep dead center in my bed for years for fear someone would come out of the wall to kill me), which seemed like a strange but definite bond. OZ and M played a game of Othello while they talked and Emily kept unintentionally cheating because she didn't know the rules. Melissa sat at the head of the table at which we were sitting, taking in a substance that could make it difficult for her to drive home. She was still very much active in the conversation, however. She shared stories of Chris "Slept-With-His-Cousin" Dunn that seemed to make Zack uncomfortable given his sardonic remarks. Seriously though, Chris "Slept-With-His-Cousin" Dunn is quite far away and Melissa completely understandably despises him. After all, he slept with his cousin.
Around three in the morning, Emily was thoroughly exhausted and Melissa wasn't exactly interested in leaving. We suggested that we could walk to Emily's apartment and she could drive us back to my house tomorrow. Eventually we just decided that it would be a lot easier to drive us home now. She brought OZ along so she would have someone to talk to on the way back.
Flash forward to the next day. Emily, of course, had spent the night and we attended my family's Memorial Day barbecue. She gleed that this was the second Memorial Day she had spent with us. It was not much of note and we largely spent the day relaxing and playing Chrono Trigger (one of the most amazing video games I've played and the entire reasons I have a video game system at the moment). Around eight, Emily suggested that we go to Barnes & Noble. I was a bit irritated with this, though I couldn't place why. I just knew that I felt it was a waste of time to leave the house and that this had something to do with Melissa. Given that I had no good reason and assumed it was just because I was to go to Pine Bush with Melissa and Evan later in the night, I agreed to go with Emily.
We got about halfway to the store when I got a page from Melissa. I called her and she croaked out that she was too tired to drive and needed a ride home. She offered to pay us. I told her that I had to talk to Emily about this, as she would be the one driving Melissa's car home. Emily reticently agreed after some discussion. We couldn't just leave her there. Melissa said she could drive herself home, but I cursed her with my worry by saying, "I don't want this to be the night your luck runs out." Her safety is quite a bit more important than our book-buying needs.
I called Melissa back and said we would get her. She again offered payment to assuage her guilt of making us drive to get her. I recalled that she had a DVD player that I had offered to buy when I was at Emily's party. I suggested this as my price and she begrudgingly agreed. Fine, second-hand consumer electronics kills anyone's guilt. She also offered Emily five dollars for gas, because the DVD player could not be split in two. At least not without a hacksaw.
We had to sneak around my parents, whom I didn't wish to think ill of Melissa. I don't actually think they would have thought ill of her, but it seemed like a good idea. I sneak so little.
We were a wee bit worried, though we considered this one of those experiences one should have. Earlier in the day, I asked Emily if she was glad that I provided her access to an aspect of life she would not otherwise have experienced. She claimed to be grateful. I reiterated this statement in the car driving up to Melissa as a means of apology, but Emily said she was still grateful to be living this. I looked out the window after she said this and noticed that there were fireworks, which we watched for a few miles of our excursion and which made us feel a great deal better about the whole situation.
We arrived at Mike's house and scapped Melissa up shortly thereafter. She seemed lucid, just exhausted. Emily told me that Melissa was quite talkative on the way home. She said that she attempted to leave the house around noon, but that OZ pleaded for her to stay because he needed her there. So she is excused.
I guess this was better than hunting aliens as they never have good stories. And I did get a DVD player out of the deal.


Soon in Xenology: M's belief in fairies. Trying to hang out with Venessa. New claddaugh ring. Loving M more. Being on a diet. A wedding.

last watched: Thirteen Ghosts
reading: Ufo Headquarters
listening: New Miserable Experience
wanting: an RF adapter.
interesting thought: I can disagree with your opinion and still be right.
moment of zen: Seeing Melissa home safe.
someday I must: run a marathon.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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