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10.08.03 2:01 a.m.

Don't let your sorrow come higher than your knees.


 -Swedish Proverb  




Previously in Xenology: Dan and Corinne were a couple. Emily injured her knee. Emily became a National Champion.

Hold Your Breath
Emily's Tae Kwon Do had been put off a month ago owing to her the parts of her knee taking separate vacations, thus rendering her unable to break patio blocks with the sheer force of her will. It had been rescheduled and my presence was duly requested on pain of... pain.
Emily was dripping sweat when I arrived at the gym, obviously having run through her form for the tenth time to iron out any slight deviation from total perfection. She walked over to me after another, ostensibly perfect run-through. "I am so fucking nervous," she quivered.
"You'll do fine. You always do, Ninja Girlfriend."
"No, you don't understand. My physical therapist decided to 'test' my knee for an ACL injury. The test involved seeing if I could slide back and forth. If I fell to the ground, screaming in pain, I had an ACL injury that hadn't healed. I fell. Now my knee is in such pain, I don't know if I can test. I think I have totally reinjured my knee."
"Oh. That was terribly responsible of your therapist, as he knew you had to test tonight and we going to team qualifiers in a week. Bastard." She eyes grew large at the mention of team trials. If she were unsure of her success before, a fresh injury made her terrified. I noted to myself to not use the words "team," "trial," "Las," and "Vegas" in the same sentence.
Sad knee  
She is sad because of her knee
Emily was the second person to test. My camera batteries mysteriously died, so I am afraid I have no proof of what followed. Essentially, at the apex of one of her best and favorite kicks, her right leg ceased to exist from the femur down. And down was exactly the direction she went. The entire audience stopped breathing, though it was clear some thought she was inept. Her master explained Emily's injury (and thus bravery) to the audience and Emily bowed out of the room, though her knee only allowed this formality though force of habit.
I joined her in the master's office where her cheeks were already pink from a steady stream of fresh tears. She sobbed, "Do you know what sucks?"
"Your knee. And your physical therapist. And that you fell during your test."
"No. Well, yeah, but no. It sucks because Sharon Williams is fighting heavy weight. Which means I would only have to fight one girl. Who I beat at Nationals. Who I will now have to bow out to." This caused the tear stream to renew itself twofold. Implicit in this rather germane complaint was that, while Emily and I had spent quite a bit of time and money on our trip to Vegas, she would be unable to compete in any event. She would have to watch from the sidelines as other girls got kicked in the stomach repeatedly.
"Well," I meekly offered, "we could always gamble a great deal?"
She tried to manage a smile, but it ended with her lip thrust out, pouting. "How am I going to not train for the months it will take to heal this? That's like asking me to stop breathing. What am I going to do?"
"Hold your breath."
Indeed, she has few other options. She visited a doctor who confirmed that Emily's injury would require surgery, the extent to which will not be known until she is already on the operating table under local anesthetic. If she is fortunate, all it will require is an act unsettlingly referred to as "scoping." This would only mean a month of painful recovery before she could again train. At worst, her knee will necessitate eight months to a year of recovery. This is not a scenario that we can ask her to consider if we wish for her to remain whole.
Training is her life. The analogous situation, though it is hardly the same, is if I were physically prevented from writing or reading. I think I would go completely mad within my skull. No exercise? No pushing herself to exhaustion? No completing kicks that break through cement? She is not being dramatic to say that this is like withholding breath.
Worse, she would come back to the gym and Beauty School Drop-Out would be at a higher level. This alone is a reason to fight for the shortest recovery period.

Forgetting Is So Long
"Whasup?" I asked groggily of my mother, wiping the sleep from my eyes. She had a look on her face that screamed that she wanted to tell me something big. Nonetheless, one should not try to tell me information until I have officially proclaimed that I am awake, else I am little better than a sleepwalker and will nod and return to my bed on the edge of Lethe.
"Dan and Corrine broke up," my mother replied quickly, relishing in being able to supply me with such juicy information. The information itself was secondary and not exactly pleasurable to tell or hear, but it did provide privileged divulging.
"When did this happen? What happened?" I was now, officially, awake.
"Last night, Dan took Corinne to fix her sister's car. When they went home, he told her that he only wanted to be friends." I could tell that she thought this was ridiculous; they had been together for the better part of a decade. It isn't so simple as to say "we are friends" and it is so. I nearly laughed.
I bit my lip in consternation. Corinne is like family. "How did she take this?" I wasn't merely baiting my mother. It is entirely possible that Corinne would have any number of emotions. I would have preferred she be indignant and welcome this. Then I would not feel familial guilt, as though I caused this or thought it prudent.
She continued, "Corinne said she would apologize to Kevin." No, that's not indignant. "She said she would apologize to everyone." That's not at all indignant. "She said how she was just getting to be friends with you." Oh. "She asked Dan if he could not date anyone for a few months and she could get her life together, then they could try again." And? "He said no. She is moving out at the end of this month, since she paid through the month."
They are going to live together until the end of this month. That is so unnatural. I can only gauge Corinne by how I have thought and reacted in similar situation (i.e. with Kate) and I couldn't handle the idea. Remember how much I tormented myself trying to win Kate, just wanting her to love me? Imagine how much worse it would have been had I lived in closer proximity. And were it the same house? No. That is beyond all reason.
He does not exist straight on  
Dan, in profile
My mother, as though guessing my thoughts, continued, "I don't actually think she is living there, but her stuff is. I think she is at her mother's."
I guess these things happen. Half of all American marriages end in divorce. They were together for eight years, far longer that so many contemporary marriages. They did say they would never get married, but... They were totally different people when they met, only children. They were seventeen. So I suppose this is not the end of their world, only a chapter. I don't know, it all seems so pat. I was telling Marina a few weeks ago that I am hyper-analytical over why people break up, as though isolating the reason inoculates me against it. Now this break-up and... I feel as though all of my words on the subject ring hollow.
I have seen Corinne a few times since I learned the news. The first time was after our family pumpkin picking. I had half expected she would be there because it is hard to recall a time she wasn't. I know there is no logic to this, it is merely that my brain clings to patterns. Were she there - I was later told that she asked Dan's permission and he promptly denied her - it would have been understandably awkward for all concerned. Still, there was a strangeness in the smell of the hot dogs and cider, because she was not to complain of the scent of the former.
This is compounded by the fact that she had left a heartbreaking card of general apology on our front porch, swearing that she would make up her unspoken sins to my family. I do not see many sins worthy of her atonement. I could barely look at the card and not be lachrymose.
The pumpkin picking itself was surprisingly lighthearted nonetheless. Dan behaved in no fashion as if he had just broken up with his girlfriend of eight years. If he cast a thought her way, he did not share it with us. I don't suppose he would, but such is a far different mindset from mine. Even when I was, as my father put it, a gadabout, I mourned every slight affair I had to end because the girl disliked a band of which I was temporarily fond. The mourning period was not always particularly long, but I needed to speak of it until the sting of my act faded in my heart.
Corinne came into the library hours later, in the midst of Spirit of Beacon day. This is one of our busiest days, though only because we provide a free restroom to people too oblivious to read the signs directing them to our lavatory. I was in the midst of pulling up Satanic curses on a computer for one of our patrons when I heard her voice greet me. I turned around with a smile, my programming still set on "friendly greeting" in reference to her. She was wearing ovoid sunglasses to cover her tear filled eyes, but the trails down her cheeks betrayed her.
"I just love him so much," she gasped between sobs. "He won't even talk to me."
I held her and assured her that I knew she loved him, though I was not aware that he had broke contact. I didn't really know what to do. My Satanic patron was flabbergasted and asked to make sure Corinne was okay. I just nodded yes and shot a glace to the Satanist to tell her this was a personal matter. "Corinne... I don't know what Dan is thinking..."
Before I could continue, my coworker intruded because some routine transaction hit an inevitable snag. My coworker was either oblivious or indifferent to the girl crying on my shoulder, though the patrons seemed acutely aware something real and honest was occurring. Such things are like floodlights to the unbalanced and their eyes fly to it like moths. My order of priorities shifted ("Corinne is sad... Corinne will still be sad if I help coworker... Coworker is dealing with patron... Patron is irritated at stopped transaction... Coworker is panicked... I can fix the computer problem, stop patron from complaining and coworker from stressing"). I returned to the desk between the sentinels of Corinne's tears and the Satanists protest that I return to find her hexes.
When I returned to the Satanist after hitting two keys on my coworker's keyboard, Corinne was already at the desk and trying to check out Pride and Prejudice. Corinne's card was old and my coworker was beginning to harass her about her current address. I nearly jumped over the desk to stop this line of questioning before it dislodged the composure damming Corinne's tear ducts. I nudged my coworker to the side and consoled them both, "It's okay, I know this patron." This didn't clear up Corinne's current address, but it did stop the Mid-Hudson Library System from caring for another three years (which should be ample time to find the solution) and Corinne from breaking further.
She has visited my home a few times since. I have only been here during one visit and I was certainly not the focus of her confessions. She spoke for an hour to one or both of my parents, giving voice to hidden fears, entreating their advice or intercession. Always she leaves with a heavier heart, unable to convince herself that her chances have improved.
I left my room during tonight's visit just in time for my mother to lightly ask if I had noticed that Corinne has had a haircut. Corinne turned my way, face puffy and pink with despair, to show me her coiffure.
"It looks nice," I said with all the effervescence I could muster faced with this scene. Thereafter, I alternately sat, stood behind Corinne, or dashed to my room to clean something. I felt rightly effete, yet I felt waves of sadness come off of her so much so that I began to silently cry companions to her tears. It's not my place, I know. But she has been an older sister to me for much of my life, with all the frivolity and angst that entails. I don't quite know what she is to me know or what she is allowed to be.


Soon in Xenology: More Keilaina-y fun. Viva Las Vegas. Dave and the chumpkin.

last watched: Secondhand Lions
reading: Speaker for the Dead
listening: Aimee Mann
wanting: To serve the greatest good in this situation.
interesting thought: I will touch the city of Angels.
moment of zen: The shock of a the unexpected inevitability.
someday I must: Publish.

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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