Thomm Quackenbush, author

03.06.05 2:16 p.m.

She believes in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist.  

-Jean-Paul Satre

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen loves Emily. Emily has mad ninja fu.

Zener

"Think of a card," insisted Stevehen from the other side of a rickety table in the Cubbyhole Coffeehouse. I closed my eyes and focused on a card.

"Is it the six of hearts?"

"No, eight of spades," I apologized. Stevehen had been using a deck of playing cards to hone his psychic powers. Usually this would be of little mention, but it came just moments after he dismissed the idea of spontaneous human combustion as the work of desperately bored minds. I have seen pictures of SHC and less evidence exists for psychic abilities (though I believe in the latter more than the former anyway).

"Nine of diamonds?" he asked Melissa.

"No, sorry."
Tina and Stevehen  
Tina and Stevehen, psychics at large

"Damn!" He then proceeded to turn over the cards in quick succession and announce what they would be, scoring irrationally high until he realized how well he was doing.

While Stevehen honed his skills and Tina worked to solve metal puzzles, I found dozens of notebooks that the coffeehouse provided for their clientele to use. The Cubbyhole is only a few blocks away from Vassar, virtually ensuring that much of the content of these books would be self-righteous and pompous ramblings about how the world can never be good enough. I am certainly not still bitter that Vassar would not give me a better financial aid package years ago.

My pessimistic opinion was proved correct in spades. The work contained therein was agonizingly emo and hilarious to read aloud, which I did until Melissa could take no more. Then I got out my grading pen and gave marks on each "essay." I am aware of how obnoxious I was anonymously being, but justified that this sort of feedback was what the authors all wanted. They wanted someone to see what they had written and to respond. Granted, they probably did not fancy someone writing "good use of metaphor, though a bit jumbled" or "you are not ee cummings; capitalization and punctuation are necessary for comprehension at this stage." Only one of the mind dribblings I found stirred up more than my ironic amusement and that was someone writing out a suicide note wherein the author insisted that he would be dead by morning because it was less painful that admitting to some girl that supposedly loved him that he did not reciprocate. I scrawled that, having lost a friend to suicide, this manner of self-pitying trash was idiotic in the highest and that one who did not have the balls to own up to their lack of feeling for a girl certainly didn't possess the huevos to go bitchily into that good night.

Melissa, Stevehen, and I had been together for most of the day. It had begun when Melissa told me we were going to a casino. We both had Friday off from our respective job and servitude and gambling with money we didn't have seemed as good a pastime as any. I had suggested we visit the local adult novelties store which was reopening seven miles from its original location after a suspicious fire, but my need to make perverts uneasy was overruled.

"You should call your friends to come with us," Melissa continued.

"What about your friends?"

"Don't have any." While this was not strictly or even vaguely true, it was accurate enough in the sense that none of Melissa's cadre was going to be free to gamble with us.

Our gambling buddy turned out to be Stevehen, though he quickly vetoed the gambling in favor of hanging out with Tina later. As I had a bank balance straddling poverty and a death of the bravado necessary to believe gamble would help matters, I assented.

After acquiring Stevehen, we ended up at a restaurant. Neither Stevehen nor I had any interest in food and were only there so Melissa could eat for the first time in 24 hours. However, as we declined to eat, so too did she. Instead, she swallowed down several high priced and neon pink drinks. Given the lack of solid food in her stomach, these few drinks pushed her quickly past tipsiness. I have driven in a car with Melissa while she had a head full of K and had just smoked a whole joint by herself in a matter of minutes (I chose to ignorantly believe at the time that one would balance out the other, though she did start driving me home in the wrong direction). While this was years in the past, longer than my financial slighting by Vassar, I had residual faith in Melissa's ineffable sobriety in the face of intoxicants.
Loves her the drink  
Not a whore

Over her drinks and my water with lemon in it, I broached the subject of her taste in men. It is, in a word and in my opinion, bad. Quite recently, Melissa justifiably complained than she was tired of the men who were interested in her treating her like a whore. The severity of these words were hers, not mine, though I do not object to the intensity. In fact, I would say that is a fair description. In her teenage years, her taste in drugs and jerks seemed to go hand in hand. It was a bad situation and I have always felt she deserved better, but she handled her affairs with her usual aplomb and it never dragged her down. What would have made her peers into kicked puppies just made her laugh. However, of late, part of her seeks more of a bond than sterile groping (not that this is on the menu). Having a friend with benefits would be quite a bit better than the current scene, which seems to involve a coke-addicted, married man trying to proposition her with the same awkward bag of tricks that earned Melissa's contempt as a seventeen-year-old.

"Oh, I'm okay with it now," she stated.

"You are okay that men seem to want to treat you like a whore?"

"Yeah, I'm comfortable. I'm not a whore, though I'd be a damned good one if I was."

"Well then," I uttered, taking a sip of my water and not knowing what else to say. I didn't really believe that she was okay with it on a grand stage, but in the immediate, she was fine. I don't mean to suggest that Melissa needs to be with someone or that she lacks anything in her life by not cuddling next to a special someone. I just have the fraternal urge to see her content in the knowledge that someone loves her as she deserves to be loved because it is something that I have and appreciate.

I had to drive Melissa's car to Tina's house, as Melissa was still uncertain in her footing. I had thought Melissa's car was a standard, but I was perfectly willing to learn how to use one on a major highway. It was not, which is likely fortunate for Melissa at the very least.

At Tina's house, Melissa tried to hide as much as was possible, as both Tina's brother and father were there. Melissa does not do well with new people and has not for a long time. This is generally okay with me, as I can use Melissa's social anxiety disorder to excuse or augment my own slight uneasy in social schemas. Being present while a family has dinner feels like a voyeuristic act, particularly when you are not eating. There is something intimate and familiar to it, like having a conversation with someone from the other side of a bathroom door. Melissa and I tried to drown this out by making fun of programs on the television, but we couldn't fully get away from the thought.

After dinner, there was a mass exodus from the house for a smoke break. I do not smoke and find cigarette smoke sickening, particularly when the thermometer reads single digits, but went out with them anyway so that I did not have to stay in the house with Tina's father. I have nothing against him but, though I am twenty-four, I have never acquired the ability to banter naturally with the parents of friends I am not shagging.

Reaching into my pocket to find something warmer to put on, I accidentally removed a red ring box.

"What is that?" asked Melissa.

"A hat?" I removed one to illustrate my question.

"No! The box."

I slid it back into my pocket, put the ring on my pinky, and held the now empty box out to her. "It's an empty box."

Melissa ordered Steven to check my pockets. I tried with little success to keep the ring obscured.

Melissa asks, "What? When? What?!"

"Don't worry. I have no immediate plans. It is just than Emily almost found my hiding spot, so I have to keep it on my person until I think of a better place for it."

After this, the moping Vassar kids deserved my grading and my wishes of spontaneous human combustion.

Colorado

Emily had been sour for several days, so much so that my mother (who characteristically ignores us when possible, but in the nicest way) confronted Emily. At the time, though she felt like crying, Emily said that things were fine in a tone that did not even slightly convince my mother.
Sad M  
"What am I gonna do?"

What is up is that Emily had written to one of the best female trainers in Tae Kwon Do who works from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. The content of the letter was apparently asking what the program involved, but Emily attached her credentials with the letter. As such, this woman expressed much interest in having Emily train with her at the Olympic Training Center as soon as possible.

Thus the source of Emily foul mood was clear. This is, perhaps, a marvelous opportunity for Emily in a professional sense. Quite a few steps closer to her ultimate goal. However, it is thousands of miles away from here and I am the only real cord binding her to New York.

"I don't want you to give up your life for me," she insisted from the driver's seat of her car. Cars, being enclosed spaces, seem to make ideal locations for such conversations, particularly when waiting for a light to signal for us to go.

"I feel the same," I promised, wondering if I was truly as sincere as a felt. Emily went on to suggest that she was going to fly out to Colorado for a little while to get a feel for the program and decide if this is where she feels she should be. I think that it is quite clear that she feels she belongs there in a way she has never felt about the Hudson Valley. So much has tried to bring her there: Naropa University, competitions, and now this letter. As her parents are well into the process of selling their house, the only home available to her is in my childhood bedroom in my parents' house. We cannot fault her for feeling a bit at odds with that.

What will all this mean? She says that she doesn't want to commit to moving out there if she isn't doing it with me by her side, but how can I possibly keep her here if I cannot be disentangled? This is her greatest dream in life and, even if she couldn't accomplish it (and I see no reason why this should be the case), I cannot stand to be the thing that prevents her from fulfilling her promise in this world.

The question becomes one of priorities. While there is great promise for her in Colorado (or, frankly, anywhere but here) there is nothing for me. I would not be joining her there to fulfill my destiny but to watch her fulfill hers. In the process, I would give up all I have ever known. All of my friends, my family, my few professional connections... I wish that this didn't all feel so definite and binary, the known life on one side of the scale and Emily's unknown on the other.

I don't think I am being selfish, but only for the fact that, if it came to it, I would let Emily go. I would have to. I am not her dream and I love her too much to be the reason she isn't fulfilled.

Soon in Xenology: Teaching

last watched: Million Dollar Baby
reading: The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
listening: Fraggle Rock
wanting: Some kind of teleporter of universal fulfillment.
moment of zen: Chinese food and the smell of chai.
someday I must: probably give away jewelry.

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

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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