Thomm Quackenbush, author

05.22.05 12:51 p.m.

So do we pass the ghosts that haunt us later in our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely if ever crossed our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little.  

-Stephen King

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen mused over the life behind him and the people along the path. Xen also went to Mount Saint Mary, though heaven knows why. Zack dated Katlyn.

Bundles of Memory

Please note that the vast majority of this was written months ago and I simply did not get around to finishing it. So I am publishing it here with only slight revisions. Good riddance.

My happiest moment occurred the summer of my sixteenth year. I was at Summer Scholars, a summer program for the cream of the academic crop in Dutchess County. At this point, it truly consisted of intelligent teenagers, not the half retarded monkey children with whom I had worked years later as a counselor. The best and brightest of those who applied.

There is a specific moment I remember. I had just some out of the shower on the second or third floor. The room was still humid and florid with the shower. It smelled of the shampoo I used, a scent that still makes me feel calm at my core. I looked out the window at the courtyard of Bard College and I saw these thirty odd brilliant people just being with one another. Playing Frisbee. Talking. My dear Sarah was up against a shady willow - long since torn down - playing her guitar for no one in particular. I felt content. I was exactly where I needed to be, doing precisely what my ego told me I should be doing. My path was clear. I was with these intelligent people at this scenic university. I felt like the entire world was so full of potential for me. I was around many girls who were exactly my type, like Sarah Miles, who had this throaty and wry voice and was an amazing actress even for being a sixteen-year-old acting in children's stories. And I was taking classes - it was an English seminar - even though I hated getting up that early in the summer. I don't remember much of the classes, aside from having a harridan as a professor who insisted despite evidence and character witnesses that I was obsessed with vampires. But everything was just so supremely right.

I felt accomplished, something I no longer feel. I felt acknowledged and validated that I was an intelligent human being. I felt liked. There was this theater and we put on plays. I haven't acted since I was at Dutchess.

Everything was exactly right and nothing has been quite so right since. It's been almost eight years of searching out this feeling I had as a teenager. And nothing. Nothing has been better than that moment. And I cherish that moment and would not give it up for anything. But I feel that something more should have come of my life. I have been kissed and caressed and made love to. I have written thousands of pages... but nothing. I can look at these perfect moments that should happen, but they don't. And I don't even know that I am capable of the level of contentment I felt then. I am less innocent. I know too much. I think too much. I think that I have been twisted by the world.
Phil Blodgett  
Phil

There was this boy there, Phil Blodgett. A brilliant guy. He could sing Radiohead better than Thom Yorke. During these two weeks, Nick, a boy we called Bjorn, and he formed a band which I named Shallow Water. He was this superb human being. Unbelievable. You know what he wrote to me in the book I used to make people sign? He wrote that he envied me and the friendship I had with Nick. That no one really cared about him. And that he thought that he would never have what we had. He couldn't predict the future; he couldn't know what would happen. It seems almost inevitable from certain angles, the drama inherent in being a teenager. That's not the important part. On the center of the stage during the talent show, after Shallow Water played "Creep" by Radiohead, Phil got on stage all alone and sang "Fake Plastic Trees". He was so naked and vulnerable, only a guitar, a stool, and a spotlight, totally exposed and he sounded a moment from crying. I really loved him, I think, and how could I not? I wanted to cry watching him because I felt his soul. I want to cry now because I am not surrounded by this level of amazement.

Nothing I can do can compare to a life I had for two weeks when I was sixteen. Eight years older and the only wisdom I have is that I wish I was still sixteen. It feels like I am twenty-four and the part of my life I should be looking forward to is already over. I can't really imagine something comparing to that. Everything else is bland. I can appreciate just staring at a daisy for half an hour and make a practice of it. But nothing compares to that courtyard.

There is not a single person from that experience with whom I still feel a bond. I want to. I've called people. I've searched out people. But they don't care about me. I saw Phil at a movie theater a couple of years ago and gave him my contact information. And he didn't contact me. I searched the internet and found that he went to Harvard and had won prestigious singing competitions. And when I gave him my information, I looked in his eyes and knew that I wasn't going to hear from him.

While I am on this introspective, self-pitying jag, I found this girl on the internet. I knew her well when I was seventeen or so. At least, I thought I knew her well enough to have something of a sterile crush on her, the sort of feelings that would have meant something if both of us were single. After Kate broke up with me four and a half years ago, it was into KC's arms that I wanted to run (among others), so it was likely for the best that she was far away. As point of fact, she may have been on the other side of the country.

I wrote to her and expressed pleasure that she existed. She was indifferent that I did. It wasn't negative, it just was disinterested. I was not relevant. She hadn't given me a second thought in our years apart, though I gave her two thousand.

The problem as I see it is that I believe in the myth of the endurance of affection. If at any point I liked someone and they never did anything to horribly destroy that - and it is hard to, save by proving that any part of them I might have liked was an utter fraud - I still consider them to be a friend, albeit a friend I have not heard from in a while. They change and I change in the interim between encounters, but the core that made us friends feels like it should be immutable. And I am wrong. At the very least, the myth is not a commonly held belief, which is very nearly the same thing as being outright wrong.
Heather Kelley  
Heather

Another example, though one that was apparently negative as well. After Kate broke up with me, I got back in contact with a girl named Heather I utterly loved and respected. She could have been my sister, I thought so well of her. Apparently, I leaned a bit too heavily on her for advice, as she had gone through a very similar break-up and was therefore the voice of experience and compassion. Bear in mind, and feel free to check the archives on this count, my "heavy leaning" was only the occasional letter to apprise her of my mental state and emotional well being. But it was too much for her. I did not know any of this. Four years later, I found her on one of those websites that reconnects people to their old friends. I listed her as a friend and she rejected it. I saw her online and confronted her. She informed me righteously that I was too emotionally needy and she wanted nothing to do with me. Any friendship we had prior to my being in a time of need was insubstantial. She was an actress, I was a leech, and she cared not in the slightest for me.

And perhaps she had a point. Trying to reconnect to these moment and people from my past is evidently futile and self-defeating. This is not to say that I do not feel she is acting like a bitch in this scenario, but I am not the teenager that had these relationships and moments. I am a twenty-four year old man that has seen friends marry and die, though not the same friends. I have climbed mountains, literally and metaphorically. I have gone from a high school student to a high school teacher. I am writing in earnest. I have held ten different jobs with varying success. Maybe I am too smart, or at least know too much, for my own good. As pleasant as I found moment of my past and the cast of characters that shared them, we cannot walk with the baggage of life on our backs. Even the lightest moment can weigh us down.

Darn "K" Names Pending Revision

Zack informed me, with a little embarrassed joy in his voice, that he had broken up with Katlyn.

"But why?" I asked into the speakerphone.

He answered immediately. "Because I am in love with Cristin. Dezi's friend. You met her."

I do remember having seen Cristin months ago, but I cannot report that she and I had anything bordering on a conversation. She had pointy boots. She may have worn glasses of some sort. Possible she breathed magma, but don't quote me on it.

"Zack, you utter bastard. I liked Katlyn." This was not precisely my phrasing, but I seek to keep this PG-13.

"It's okay, because I broke up with Katlyn before telling Cristin how I felt." I did not precisely see how this made it okay, but didn't argue the point. "And I am going to spend the rest of my life with this girl."

Emily, from the other side of this telephone call, piped in the Zack had said he was going to spend the rest of his life with Katlyn. And The Betsy. And Eve. And Veronica. He had more lives than a Hindu cow.

"Are you and Cristin officially together then?"

"I think basically, pretty much, yeah."

"How did Katlyn take this?"

There was a pause that could have merely been a bad connection. "She's okay," he said.

"We approve," exclaimed Emily, though I do not recall agreeing to this. I, after all, liked Katlyn and would be sorry to never, ever see her again. It most certainly would not be for a very long time, if not forever, as Zack's exes tend to leave the state or country for perfectly legitimate reasons after the break-up. Still, even if his exes seemed to be exiled to the netherworld, his taste in long term currents leaves little to be desired.

To be completely forthright, this was hardly the first time he had mentioned Cristin in a romantic context, going so far as insisting that he would have happily dated her if he was not so pleased with his relationship with Katlyn. I would have pressed these points, but Melissa and Emily were growing uneasy with the fact that yelling stoners were encroaching upon the dilapidated bridge on which we ate our dinner.
Cristin  
Cristin, who should have just let me take the picture

A day later, Zack and Cristin came over, bearing the herald call of The Adventures of Pete and Pete, quite possibly the best live action show Nickelodeon ever spawned and canceled (as they are wont to do, having no concept of how lucrative successful shows can be). As Cristin is the one who had purchased these DVDs and given that they had literally come out the day before, I told Zack that he was permitted to keep dating her. She, overhearing this, was amused which is another reason I will temporarily permit this union. If she in some way felt I was unqualified to give Zack permission to date her, she would clearly be the wrong type of girl and would be cast into the incinerator.

In talking to her, it became apparent that Cristin is exactly the sort of person I had seen dozens of times at parties Dezi threw, we just managed to never be in precisely the same place at the same time. I would be listening to music; she would be inside getting food. I would be jumping on the trampoline; she would be talking to Annie on the front porch. Despite this, she remembered me, if vaguely. I certainly would have spoken to her, if I have bothered to notice her.

I wonder how many people float in the strata of my life and I just manage to be looking at my shoes when they pass by. I hope it is very many. That would be fun and make me feel as though our meetings were predestined.

After watching several episodes of Pete and Pete and discovering that Hunter S. Thompson played a role on one episode, they left so Emily and I could supposedly sleep. In fact, we engaged in a deep character study of Cristin. She is geekier than Katlyn had been, but that word isn't precisely a pejorative in our vocabulary. She gets points for having an internet movie database profile, something Emily manages not to have despite her after school special (which I will one day find, for it features my pale angel saying "bump that, Kwame!"). Emily is reserving further judgment until after we spend a bit more quality time together, but I believe the ruling was that she passed, pending revision.

So No One Will Be Destroyed

I now have my Masters of Science in Secondary Education. Even the sentence hangs limply. What does this mean in general and to me in specific? Does it somehow mean that now I am more qualified to teach children than I was a few weeks ago? I do not feel particularly changed. I did, briefly, but that may well have just been relief that the ceremony was over, that I was sharply dressed in a groovy borrowed shirt, and had a good meal at someone else's expense to look forward to. Emily feels that I should be more thrilled, or anything beyond bemused smirking, and she has a good point. However, it is simply not in my nature to regard this as too terribly important. Yes, I graduated. Yes, I won't have to deal with the stultifying bureaucracy of my former college, though the educational world has more than enough to make me feel at home (albeit a passive aggressive, emotionally abusive home that undisguisedly plays favorites). These, I cannot help but to be pleased by. These are the removal of negative stimuli. However, I have yet to get positive reinforcement that wasn't literally digestible. My degree in no way guarantees my future employ, except in the fact that I will have to find some way to make money to pay off what I imagine are obscenely mounting student loan debts.

Oneiromantic

There is a strange relationship between the dreamer and the dreamt of.

There is a girl, though perhaps I should call her a woman to distinguish that I am not dreaming of a student - who only occupy the cast of extras in my dreams, incidentally. This woman is a teacher of whom I am casually interested. Appreciative at a distance, might be more accurate. I think that, in a different world, she and I might be acquaintances, but are not now because we met under these particular set of circumstances. But no matter.

Last night, somewhere among my many dreams, I had dinner with her and someone else. The other person or perhaps persons remain obscured in the fog of memory. I do not even remember the context of the dream dinner. I think we drank wine, but that is the only detail that returns unbidden.

Seeing her today, it is like we shared a moment that never happened. I have this half memory of something that happened and she does not, because of course it was entirely in my head. I feel closer to her without reason. Not in any real or romantic sense, certainly, but I feel all the more awkward in speaking to her. I do not make a practice of speaking to her, aside from wishing her a good day when I pass her in the hall or when she picks up printouts from the library. If she knew my first name, I do believe I would be startled. I wouldn't even appear in the closing credit of her life, the key grip edging me out by a wide margin.

And yet I dream.

Soon in Xenology: Our cancer year. Apartment hunting and killing.

last watched: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
reading: Postmodern Magic
listening: Punk in Drublic

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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