Thomm Quackenbush, author

09.24.04 2:20 a.m.

I can calculate the motions of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of the people.  

-Isaac Newton

 



Previously in Xenology: Many, many years ago, Sarah and Xen wanted to kiss. Dan once dated the wrong girl for seven years because he could think of nothing else to do.

She Said
Sarah arrived outside of my apartment when the sun was about to descend behind the mountains. I had stressed that she not be so hasty, as I was still working my on-line job and (though work was very dry as the hours stretched to dusk on the east coast) I still felt an obligation to be a good employee. As point of fact, this meeting with Sarah seemed all over rushed.
Sarah had called me days earlier and, in the midst of talking, said that we needed to get together as soon as possible. There was no particularly logical or compelling reason, just an impulse Sarah couldn't ignore. I was able to dissuade her from visiting the library during my fifteen minute break, but only if I agreed to her company the evening after. Even this, she gave begrudgingly. Sarah's corybantic voice again underscored, through without definition of gravity, the need for us to be together as quickly as possible.
Sarah  
Older
There Sarah stood, a few dozen yards from my doorway. If I passed this person on the street, would I call her Sarah? She was older somehow, in some vague way. Maybe older is inaccurate, but there was something that distanced her from the girl I once had swooned for as a reward for her music. Her hair was much darker than is once seemed, perhaps the result of dye in one way or the other. This had been its shade at least since out last meeting. She wore a torn white shirt off one shoulder in a style popular in the eighties. She stood in front of an old, cluttered car. I knew that, since her departure from Kristin's life, this vehicle had served as a bedroom more than once and would again soon. At present, from what I could piece together from Sarah's phone manner, she was living with her friend Alexis's mother. She had seemed more than a little pleased at having come to this arraignment while Alexis was away at college, and one can hardly fault her for finding appeal in the thought of being passively mothered again.
Emily was not present this night, incidentally, though she ordinarily would be. However, her father having shoulder surgery demanded her attention.
I shall damn the consequences and tell this situation as straight as I can. Sarah confides that she is currently in a period during which she does not need technology, so I should at least have a head start. After I last wrote about a meeting between us, she fumed that I got it wrong and painted her in shades and shadows that were wrong. I contested then and insist still that I wrote what I remembered and my lens on the evening was soft focused as worst, as I excised some untoward events of the evening that had no bearing on the overall story.
Sarah's demeanor this evening put me on edge. As is so trite, it was not so much in what she said but how she said it, by which I mean "frenetically and without pausing for breath." Though what she said could be equally as cause for alarm.
Sarah and I walked around Walden (as truly and achingly pathetic as this is) as she updated me on her life. I was already concerned about her mental health, though in the distracted way one worries about someone else's cold. When, however, she told in speedy tones that both Kristin and her family have expressed pronounced dismay at her mental hygiene, my vague worry took shape.
"Just what diagnoses do they give you?" I asked as atonally as possible, thrusting my hands into my pockets as a gesture. The night did not demand we protect ourselves from its chill.
"Bipolar personality disorder," she chirped as though telling me the lunch specials. "What they don't understand is that I am not the one with the problem. I totally understand what is going on. They don't."
"In addition to bipolar, you might want to consider that you are schizoaffective." I had done a little research as to what I perceived as Sarah's symptoms as this was one of the conditions I happened upon. Sarah had me define it more fully, though I did a poor job of it. I mostly described those behaviors Sarah was exhibiting that went discernibly beyond her acceptable artistic eccentricity.
"Yeah, well, they tell me I need to go into therapy. I think they are the ones that need therapy. I will even go with them."
This sounded like a good idea and I told her so. I am not in her life, not to the degree I would need to be to more fully understand her present condition and its antecedents. However, if my closest friend and members of my family were outright suggested that I needed mental help, I would take a deep breath and consider why people who know me the best were suggesting such a thing. As the saying goes, if you meet one jerk a day, it is his problem; if you meet ten, you are likely the problem. If I were to accept that I needed help - and I most likely would - I would be very interested in having them there to root out why the situation progressed as it did.
We walked more, my deportment becoming more silent as she became more talkative. I largely felt that it was a futile effort to try to interject anything personal into her monologues. She felt the need to talk and I felt the need to listen between the lines to try to put things together.
As the words poured out, I discovered the events that led to Sarah moving out of her apartment. As she tells it, and bear in mind that this is a third party retelling, Kristin had some medical problem relating to a pre-existing condition. Sarah was being difficult to Andy, who was understandably on edge owing to the situation with which he was being confronted. Sarah was trying to snap him out of it by trying to enlighten him to her level of awareness. He responded to this by attacking her.
About this time, a car slowed down to thirty or so miles and the passenger thereof shouted some Doppler-ized words at Sarah. I will never understand why anyone believes this to be a valid form of courtship as, to the best of my knowledge, no woman has even melted or been legitimately bedded because someone screamed incomprehensible words out of a moving car.
She smiled wolfishly back at them. "I just love the way hicks respond to anything in a skirt. I've been getting that reaction since I hit puberty and it never stops being fun."
The night ended back outside of my apartment where she talked to me about Ben. Ben has been a constant crush/paramour/obsession of Sarah's for longer than I have known her, if she is to be believed. I don't know for certain, as I was fairly deaf about boys in her life that weren't me for a few years. Sarah had held back while Ben had a girlfriend, which is to say that she tried to seduce him and remind him that she could have him whenever she was not doing the same to Jake (who is likely long out of the picture. It is hard to know and I don't dare guess). Sarah had taken to actively harassing Ben and had progressed to breaking into his house to take things and rearrange furniture. So far, he had not commented as to this fact. Ben, she also noted, was the boy on Sarah's shirt. Looking closer, I studied the design of her shirt. There were rows of silk-screened negatives of Sarah and some vague boy.
"Want to hear the song he wrote about me?"
"Very much," I responded. She jumped into her car and cued her car stereo to its proper track. A growling voice began to sing over electric guitars and pounding drums. The chorus seemed primarily yelling, but I couldn't hear the words.
Sarah left soon after with promises to visit again soon.
Days later, I called Kristin. I love and care for Sarah, but I required independent verification of any story involving my friend being abused and called insane. I had, in fact, been meaning to get a hold of Kristin since Sarah involved me that "stuff went down."
Sarah  
Later
Kristin said that she was frankly scared of Sarah and had been giving her as wide a berth as possible. Before continuing on, Kristin asked that I not mention a word of her confession to Sarah for fear of retribution. I agreed on the condition that I would exact the same promise from her, though I was more scared for Sarah's feelings than the idea that she would boil my pet. As Kristin tells it, and this retelling was more striking (ergo more likely accurate) to me, Sarah was actively harassing Captain Andy who did lob an empty, plastic bottle near her. The bottle had the bad luck to hit her, but Sarah shrugged it off. Sarah returned to behaving as she ordinarily does. However, Kristin and Andy later returned home to Sarah behaving more erratically than usual and trying to change the locks on all the doors. At this tableau, Andy decided to honestly tell her what he thought of her actions. This resulted in Sarah leaving morosely.
Ben, according to Kristin's telling, despises Sarah. They are not, as Sarah insinuated, nearly lovers. At best, he tolerates her. At worst, he wishes her pain. The song she played for me is indeed about her. However, it was made because the whole band had such an active distaste for her that they composed a song bitching Sarah out. Sarah was just too wrapped up in a fantasy to see that.
I took all of this in and tried to piece together where both versions of events agreed, but was startled to hear Sarah's ostensible dearest friend saying such things and advising that I try to keep my contact with Sarah to a minimum.
I could and can deny neither the fact that Kristin seemed wholly sincere nor that Sarah's telling was too fast and strange not to be jarring. This does not mean I believe one person over the other, however.
Kristin and I left the conversation saying that we were glad the other party cared for Sarah and with murmurings that we should hang out.
You will please note that I am writing all of this in a very public forum.
A week after I spoke with Kristin about my concerns, I received a voice mail from Sarah informing me that Kristin and she were best friends again. Sarah went on, purring that Kristin had told her everything I confided; about how I thought Sarah was crazy and dangerous.
I rang Sarah back and, at her confrontation, informed her sedately that I had been nothing but forthright. I had told Sarah that I thought she was bipolar and schizoaffective, adding that neither made her a bad person. They did, however, alter her moods.
"Did you think Kristin wouldn't tell me?" Sarah asked flatly. She wasn't accusing nor was she simply curious.
"Given that she extracted a promise from me that I wouldn't tell you what she said? A little bit, yeah." I hate this sort of bullshit drama, it is a waste of breath. I'm going to end up saying or writing what I feel eventually, I might as well just be upfront about it. "Not to worry though. I have absolutely no intention of speaking to Kristin again."
Sarah made noises as though I had not said this last statement.
"Sarah, I feel Kristin betrayed me. I'm not going to be telling her secrets. I'm not going to be telling her anything."
Sarah and I have spoken since then, though I have been more cross with Sarah than I usually am, as I resent having to be in this sort of a melodramatic situation. When Sarah suggested, as is her fashion at least once a month, that Emily is jealous of her for our preexisting relationship, I rather blew up at her.
"Stop being so damned arrogant, Sarah. You matter not even a little to Emily. If you didn't exist, she wouldn't notice. That you do only barely registers on her radar. Get over it." I felt slightly taken aback at my outburst. Emily certainly doesn't care about Sarah, having never met her. She acknowledges that Sarah matters to me, though she increasingly finds this difficult to understand, and that is about the extent of it. Given all of this, I just couldn't stand Sarah trying to prop herself up by doing what felt like verbally subjugating me or my girlfriend.
This is where the scenario has stalled. Sarah leaves occasional voice mails - I never seem to have my phone on me when anyone calls - telling me that we should hang out again (which we should), that I am crazier than she is (possible, but not a bet I would take), and that I shouldn't think she is crazy. I return her calls, but the conversation is never long or satisfying, as I don't care to rehash the latter two points. We are friends, unless I miss my mark, but the relationship is clearly strained.
Incidentally, Sarah commanded that I tell people that she was crazy, so it is possible that she approves of this.

Apples
My steadily growing family made good on their annual tradition of picking apples. Last time we did so, we were three persons lighter. In fact, Dan had broken up with Corinne only days before we were set to apple pick. My chest still tightens remembering that she had begged to join us because it was still tradition to her, but Dan insisted that she could not.
Now Becky and her daughters were with us and were, despite my Saturday morning displeasure at finding the latter in my room, basically a part of our family. The girls were thrilled and a little confused to be apple picking.
"Look at how happy your father is," Emily noted fondly, motioning to my father cavorting paternally with Leelee.
It was true. I hadn't seen my father so enthusiastic since I was small enough to be carried by him. As I grew it, it wasn't ever the same glint in the eyes that I now saw. He really was enraptured with the act of being the patriarch of very small children. While I am sure he wouldn't ever want to resume this as a full time profession, he could definitely do with a hit of it every once in a moon.
Dan, it seems, is my father's only hope of providing doting quasi-grandchildren for a while. Emily and I, should we ever decide that we both want to have children, may not do so for many years. That also involves a greater commitment than I am emotionally equipped to make at this point in my life. Having a cat is stressful enough. Babies are less pleased when you blow at them for scratching.
As for Bryan... well, there are steps before considering children. First among these is an understanding that sex is a gift given to humanity by the good fairy and not something deviants alone enjoy. Once that hurdle is surmounted, I may still have to sterilize him for his own good and the good of society.
I try not the think about the thought that my parents can play at being grandparents. They are much, much too young for that step. My grandparents, for example, were always wrinkled and white haired. Ergo, my vivacious mother and father cannot be ready for such a step. One can, of course, extrapolate the common fears of aging and mortality from my statement. However, stick to the fact that grandparents have bowls of adhesive ribbon candy and smell of mothballs. As much as my parents may enjoy the company of toddlers (which is in very small, non-whining doses), neither of these things is true.
My parents will live forever and I will never have to reproduce.


Soon in Xenology: More Randolph. Estrangement. Underdog lovely. The Haunted Mansion. Sara the Goode.

last watched: Saved!
reading: Relax, It's Only A Ghost
listening: Ani DiFranco
wanting: Sarah to be more balanced.
moment of zen: seeing how small I once was.
someday I must: avoid ribbon candy.

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush