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09.03.03 2:27 a.m.

In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.

 -Bertrand Russell  

Previously in Xenology: Zack and Conor inspired self-reflection in me. Zack and The Betsy and Conor and Marina met and wooed, respectively.

Tripping On A Hole In A Paper Heart
The day after Zack showed me Madame Brett Park, home of the cliché horror set and lonely talking bench, I again sought his company. We were nearly directionless, unless "away from Beacon" is a specific enough direction. I placed the choice of activities in Zack's metaphorical lap.
"What about Conor? Is he home?" suggested Zack.
I scoffed. Conor is never home. He is the Schroedinger's cat of homebodiness, existing in a state where he is never in the suspected place. Radioactive isotopes probably play a part in some fashion. Still, the worst thing that could happen is that Conor's mother Elizabeth would apologize for him, thank me for understanding her scattered son, and congratulate me on some small deed I had accomplish (such as my having graduated from New Paltz or my deciding to become a teacher which, in the words of Elizabeth, "looks so good on [me]!") It's actually not a bad incentive to call as I can always use additional mothering.
"Hello, Elizabeth," I greeted warmly when I heard her voice, "is there any chance Conor is home?" I raised my eyebrows awaiting the inevitable confirmation that he was not, that he was off having strange adventures with Flynn and would not be back within the foreseeable future.
There was a pause, "Yes, dear. He is. I'll go get him."
"Wha... What? He is? Zack! Conor is home!" I turned the car toward Cold Spring in an instant, not waiting to hear more.
Conor joined us and, given that we had no ability to make plans, we decided to walk the streets of Cold Spring. People do not walk enough anymore. This is not a condemnation of the lack of exercise in our country, though that is certainly an added benefit. The only way you can ever really talk to someone is when you are wandering from place to place without a specific destination. It is nearly inexplicable, but then everything seems to reveal your soul. Maybe it is because you do not feel the need to fill up awkward silences, so you only pour the important, worthy stuff out.
Conor confessed to us with a humorless laugh that he and Marina broke up in an awkward fashion. The story is something to this effect: Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl ache and quiver, boy neglects to call girl for three weeks because he is unsure of his quivering and massively absentminded, girl returns boy's stuff at a party, girl is still in love with boy, boy got drunk at a party as an experiment and likes singularity better for the moment. No, it doesn't have a terribly happy ending, but so few of these stories do.
Conor, singular  
Zack, too, is suffering under relational uncertainty, though not to the extent that would cause him to cease contact with The Betsy. I am not quite certain what would cause Zack to take this step. A coma, perhaps.
Conor was as unchanged as the winds. While his parting of ways with Marina likely affected him on some level, he was the jocund center of the universe I have ever known him to be. The only time a zephyr disturbed his demeanor was when I asked if he was in love with her. It is not my habit to ask such brunt questions as it engenders confusion and defensiveness, but that is only for non-Conors and Zacks.
He counted a few stars. "I don't know, really. It was something, but love? Hmmm... she loved me. So, yeah. There's that." The thing one must remember in Conor's defense is that he is an artist of love. He loves with a greater breadth than anyone I've yet met. He knows love and walks in its garden. However, the question arises and is left unanswered if this vast and overwhelming love can be narrowed sufficiently to satisfy romantically. If I may venture a guess - and I may - I would say that Conor did and does love Marina slightly better than he does a night in May when the moon becomes full and the stars throb in their deep pockets.
I've yet to touch Marina and I care for her and would defend her honor. She is astounding and rare enough that I foolishly thought her kind extinct. The intelligent, passionate teenage poetess was said to have been all but slain when Ezra Pound diddled HD's heart apart. Yet Marina remains and aches in an Imagist way. She takes the step beyond the trite and contrite and actually lives in her words. If she can so exist to me, who has only read the products from her keyboard, how can she be any less to one who has had the privilege to be loved by her?
We happy few, we band of brothers walked toward the water's edge. On the docks, we saw a couple exchanging the predictable pleasantries on a bench. The vista of the Hudson lit by West Point does not inspire traditional notions of romantic vistas, but it was clear these two had painted the night sky in the watercolors of fatuous love. It was admirable, actually. He was a balding thirtysomething and she, likely the postmodern equivalent of the steno girl, had found one another and the synchronized the beating of their hearts. It was unpretentious and denuded of necessity. The sky phosphoresced for me as well, in reflection of this simple act.
I walked past them, trying not to intrude upon their moment, and cast my eyes upon a scattering of flat rocks on the shore. "There," I confessed to Zack and Conor, "is where Kelly Iversen and I sat for an hour and just talked. In the whole duration of our affair, that is where I was closest to being in love with her." Kelly Iversen, as was known to Zack but not Conor, was a small lesbian with whom Zack and I had gone to high school. She and I had gone on a few dates, but I had always cut the potential relationships short (as in, neither attempt lasted more than three days) because... I honestly cannot remember now. I am certain my reasons were hardly stellar, especially in the glaring light of hindsight. I have a vague recollection that it was because a sluttish girl within my social caste didn't like Kelly and the harlot's opinion seemed important to me. Perhaps I was intimidated by her sexual experience (in that she had some and I did not) or that I didn't think her smart enough to keep me interested so I didn't bother trying. Or, possibly, because she committed the unpardonable sin of continuing to be infatuated with me even after I told her I couldn't be with her. All of this is really digression, though it does provide a foundation for the moment in question. She and I were best friends for one summer. I think I justified it to myself in the face of the strumpet that Kelly had a car and could drive me on adventures, but I really did enjoy her company. I cannot remember all of the things we did together, though I feel I was cruel by desiring other women openly. She, of course, openly desired women as well and likely thought it no more than par for the course. Then again, she was more emotionally involved in our affair than I was. More than I care to count, she and I ended up sharing passionate kisses and embraces in the backseat of her car. We did not have sex, though it nearly occurred once and it terrified me. Weeks later, when I had recovered and a small errand turned into deep kissing and heavy petting, she got her revenge when she introduced the idea of "guilt" to our affair be telling me she couldn't kiss me because she was in unrequited love with a girl named Joni. But no matter.
The moment on the rocks, we had just return from casting some sophomoric but honest-hearted spell. We sat on the rocks, my arm fraternally draped over her shoulders, just looking at one another. We didn't kiss for a very long time and when we finally did, it was light and sweet as the day itself. I kissed her again and again under the endless sky. We giggled and spoke in hushed tones, taking photos of one another on the rocks. She actually managed to take the best photo of me I had ever seen, the kind where it is exactly how you imagine yourself at you best moments. I never saw the photo again, nor her, once she went to college.
Being so near this innocuous spot with Conor and Zack caused the few hours of magic to flash before me in saturated colors. I hadn't remembered her in so long and now that I had, she was in my blood. Yet another good friend who has a part of me within her. Yet another person I had lost to the casualness of time.
I know I am making the night take a significance never intended and you should realize that it was nothing more than three friends spending time together. However, when two of the friends are Conor and Zack, everything seems infused with importance. Walking by rivers and train stations and talking of web comics and fake vampires feeds into these holy moments.

Soon in Xenology: Damned if I know.

last watched: The Medallion, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
reading: Ender's Shadow
listening: The Laramie Project soundtrack
wanting: Kelly Iversen to reveal where our stories diverged.
interesting thought: People disappear, but not because you necessarily need it.
moment of zen: remembering myself on the rocks with a twist.
someday I must: rediscover what I lost.

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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