Thomm Quackenbush, author

12.28.05 7:13 p.m.

A fool's brain digests philosophy into folly, science into superstition, and art into pedantry. Hence University education.  

-George Bernard Shaw

 



Previously in Xenology: Emily was displeased with the path she was on and liked Buddhists quite a lot.

Dissatisfaction

Leaning against the bedroom doorframe, I said, "I know you love me, but are you in love with me?"

Emily and I bandy these questions about on occasion, more as a way to fish for reassurance than any display of doubt. She was tapping away on the keyboard, enjoying one of those rare nights when I go to bed before her and am not therefore monopolizing our technological resources.

"I can't answer that question. Don't make me. Let's just keep things light between us, okay? Don't ask why."

This was not the response for which I sought. I would have thought telling me that she was in love with me would have been a light comment. Merely thinking about it makes me feel light helium was injected into my chest, less the embolism and death. Up to this point, I had been cheerful since she came home from work and training, singing an extended medley of songs about her new bumblebee striped phone in celebration of the blast I had teaching that day.

"Yeah, okay. I won't ask. Sorry. I love you. Goodnight."

Emily is going through a rougher patch now than I have ever witnessed in another person. She is constantly dealing with her father's death, mourning his passing a little each morning and night so as to not be sucker punched by it when it actually happens. I imagined this was likely the source of her reticence to speak of love, that some new factor had arisen and she simply couldn't mention it to me yet for fear of making it substantial. It's an attitude I comprehend to some degree - I try not to write anything down that I do not want to see in print, though I am often dissatisfied with my electronic confessions years afterward.

The newest indignity to present itself was that Gallatin University, a subsidiary educational entity of NYU, sent a letter of rejection to her, which I opened in her stead. I was thus the bearer of this bad news, as I couldn't reach her on the phone earlier to get her explicit permission and so assumed it would be better to know than to tell her the long awaited letter arrived and I didn't know its contents. She took the news well, as it meant that there was one less path before her from which she had to choose. I can see the relief in that, but also well understand the rejection inherent in it. When I was applying for colleges, I was stung that Marist chose not to accept me, possibly because I used my application essay to explain why the Grinch stole Christmas. Bear in mind that I did not wish to go there in the least. Vassar's acceptance letter more than made up for that, at least until I realized I could not afford to attend the bisexual one of the Seven Sisters.

It did not help matters that this very same day, Emily's sister got a sinecure teaching at Cornell. Lauren is a decade older and has attained her Doctoral degree, so she has a lot of life behind her of which Emily can be jealous. This also means that Lauren has ten years of accomplishments of which Emily's parents are unfailingly proud. She is successful in academic and intellectual ways. Emily kicks things.

Things are otherwise not easy. Money is an incessant issue, like a mosquito that refuses to be swatted. Concurrently, she has very low job satisfaction and near daily has to apply for new jobs in hopes that one will connect and free her from the shackles that require her consciousness at four in the morning.

I want to believe that I can be her life raft, one good thing in her life to balance out the Great Spirit confusing the names "Emily" and "Job." Obviously they are very similar in the language of the Big Buddha and there is a lot in the world more pressing that correcting this bureaucratic oversight. Compared to Emily, none of my problems are made of anything but rainbow bubbles. Can I understand the turmoil?

I tend to believe it is the confession and not the priest that grants absolution, to pilfer a phrase from Oscar Wilde. Talking about things is the only way to get them out of me. Before I wrote so prolifically for your vague amusement, these words build up like a plaque within me, clogging my ability to function as I ought. I was often and irrationally irritable, but couldn't stop myself from being so. Part of it may have simply been that I was largely a teenager with the entire accompanying hormonal imbalance. Correlation is not causation. But venting here relieves the pressure of living and grants me an unfettered viewpoint. Or, perhaps more exactly, a viewpoint fettered only by the awareness of what makes for a good story, an attachment with which I can delightedly live.

I remind myself not to take this personally. In time, Emily will tell me what is going on. By that point, it will have fermented within her and she will be crying, but she always tells me. I egg her into writing - which she never does in a way I can see - because I feel the need to generalize my coping mechanisms onto anyone I love and with whom I therefore identify. However, we are such a communicative couple that any instance of secrecy is glaring. Worse, I am the analytical type and will focus my attention on deducing what is being kept from me despite my best intentions of being a good Taoist. (This is different than being good toast, which requires one to us no setting above 3 or 4, depending on the quality of the bread.)

In some ways - ways I dare not explicate to you - we are more emotionally intimate than ever. She has told me what she imagined to be deal-breaking secrets about herself and I have accepted them as aspects of her personality. I've dealt with worse and from people who were infinitely more oppositionally defiant. I feel that I could deal with her sharing this fresh wound, but that would mean uncovering it and that might simply be too painful right now.

Ritz

"What do you think my new girlfriend's name is? It is probably an important thing to know about her," I ask Stevehen, motioning to a girl wearing a green velour swirled dress over blue jeans. She shoes were red cloth high tops, which added to my mental picture of who she was as a person.

"She looks like a Beth," he assured me, though I felt she was more of a Sara, reminding me of a girl I new in high school, save that her hair is different, she is shorter, and as likely not had both a child and divorce.

"Emily can share SaraBeth with me. I'm not greedy and she is mostly gay."

I do not get the chance to bridge the gap between us in the Cubbyhole, as SaraBeth took out a digital video camera and started filming the night's entertainment, a blonde singer named Emily Ritz crooning in a soprano vibrato. It isn't as though I would have a good opening comment to the tentative SaraBeth. "Hi, I am happily engaged, but you seem nice in the way that we haven't exchanged a single word - I'm Xen, by the way - but you did tip the barista your change when you got your tea. So, yeah. You'd like Emily, the woman to whom I am engaged. You can meet her in the morning."

Stevehen and I weren't even supposed to be here anymore. The Cubbyhole seemed dead, which made sense given that the Vassar students that usually populate its caffeinated shores are all at their homes in the Hamptons, implicitly oppressing the middle class. Planning our escape, I mentioned to Stevehen that someone named Emily Ritz would be playing tonight and then realized that the aforementioned Emily almost had to be the dual-bunned Valkyrie chatting with the owner behind us. She confirmed that she was and that we should stick around. We almost had to then. The rules of Fae needed be obeyed. Of course, I half stuck around because I hoped to get something of a chance of actually meting my purported new girlfriend.

The majority of people here seem to be close personal friends and relations of dear Miss Ritz, as she hugged no fewer than eight of them on the fifteen foot walk from the back to the stage. The Cubbyhole cannot comfortably support more than a few dozen, so they rather outnumbered us. It would not do to flee from such a pack.

The night before, Emily and I had spent two and a half games of chess at the Cubbyhole awaiting Dives Dives's turn on the tiny stage. We were sitting on the comfy sofa, rather than on hard seats at a two-foot square table like Stevehen and I did. I find Dives Dives's music more soothing, but that may be both that Dives Dives's voice is deeper and I actually know her. When you are not anticipating music, your standards differ.

The Cubbyhole is the sort of place I would imagine as the hangout of my gang of friends, if this happened to be a bad sitcom. However, it is a half hour drive to get there and I am generally required to be alert too early in the morning to stick around here often. Also, my gangs of friends do not mutually like one another anymore. Still, it would be nice to have a place where I could happen upon old friends or make new ones. The night before with Dives Dives, I was startled to be hugged by a girl I knew in a life long past fading. Her name is Audrey and last I heard, the rumors suggested that she was homeless and/or married and/or living far away. Even the rumors are five years dated. But no, she was standing before me, her hair a dark dyed shade, but Audrey nonetheless.

I gave her my phone number and email address for the illusion of effort. She will not contact me, a fact I well know before I started to scrawl my name on the back of a business card to hand her. I do this because I must, because any connection to who I was is a connection to who I am. At one point, Audrey was very important to me. I had a crush on her when I met her as a fourteen-year-old. She was the one who introduced me to Monty Python, who I thought to be a single man up until she explained differently. She is no one to me now, a friendly stranger in oversized sunglasses that she was wearing inside of a dark cafe. There is much more of a chance I will be sharing words with SaraBeth in the future and I do not even know her real name.

Ms. Ritz sang for forty minutes or so, shining best when singing an Ani DiFranco song I had never heard before with one of her friends. As we exited the coffeehouse, satisfied to have fulfilled our obligation, she personally thanked us for sticking around and I felt better about having wasted Stevehen's time here.

Sikkim

Emily is eight feet away from me, strumming on her new guitar in a primordial fashion. Musical amino acids are forming into protein strands. It's an exciting, though Precambrian, time to which to bear witness. Some day, I will be able to say, "I was there at the beginning. I bought her that guitar for Christmas." Technically, I was always able to say that, but it happens to be true in this instance.

Her new laptop, a gift from my parents, is explaining to her how to play. I haven't the slightest idea myself. The entirety of my musical training consisted of hitting a drum pad in elementary school band. I don't recall if I had any particular aptitude but I do remember choosing percussion as a musical craft that didn't ask me to recognize pitch, at which I most certainly have yet to display aptitude.

Emily almost cannot be bad at the guitar. So many of her talents should converge in this craft. She sings like a bird in what I can only imagine is tune. She has an abundance of kinesthetic intelligence if her martial abilities can be used as evidence. She is marvelous at recognizing and repeating patterns owing to a Montessori education. A guitar should be a natural outlet, as organic as if it grew from a tree at the foot of the Caucus Mountains.

Of course, it does not hurt that I find women who play stringed instruments attractive beyond belief.

"You know, you probably shouldn't bring that computer with you to India," I inform her, looking up at her bragging that she has learned a chord.

"Oh like hell I'm not bringing it!"
I love her  
We will be fine

After receiving her rejection letter from Gallatin University - her therapists insists that this is because Emily is neither a whore nor someone who can fork over thirty thousand dollars a semester in cash - Emily embarked on a search for meaning. A trip to the book store later and out of a deep-seated love of helping people, she found a site that invites people to travel to Asia to help out the less fortunate. A flurry of e-mails later, Emily will be flying to Sikkim, India, to help Buddhist monks learn English - it would have been Nepal, but they are going through a nasty Maoist revolution at the moment and we would like our little socialist lesbian to return home as intact as we left her.

This is wonderful beyond all reckoning. The trip I mean, not the Maoist revolution. Just pretend you are Emily for a moment and imagine how purposeful and right this makes you feel. The downside is that she will be gone for six weeks, starting at the end of June. Also, she will be there during monsoon season, but who has ever heard of a natural disaster in India being much of a problem?

This preempts our getting married in the immediate future, incidentally. She will be gone during one of the tentative wedding dates and one rather needs a partner to get legally entwined. A portion of the money Emily's parents donated to the cause of our wedding has been acquisitioned to get Emily there safely. Her mother quipped that most people take their honeymoons with their partners and this is but another way she is a nonconformist. I would not much care to go to Sikkim on my honeymoon, as I prefer to know where the nearest plumbing is. I am coddled that way.

I am relaxed about this turn of events, as I tend to be in general. It sounds like a wonderful adventure for her and certainly something she need in her life right now. Just the very idea of it has been salubrious to her mood and outlook. She has something meaningful to which she can look forward, unless India vanishes from the face of the Earth in the interim. I indulge fantasies wherein she returns from India whole and content, the problems of her past fully comprehended and transcended. I do understand that this is unlikely. We all spend our lives replaying symbolic childhood traumas until we finally get the outcome that is best for our souls. But this very nearly has to be good for her.

In my wildest fantasies, she is discovered to be the first lama incarnated in a woman, but I never pretended to be realistic.

She worries how I am going to take her absence and had confessed characteristic fears that I will forget about her or will take an audit of our relationship up until the moment of her departure and find it wanting. I have soothed her that these outcomes are very unlikely. I am fond of her now; I can only imagine that I will be just as fond of her then. That her father is supposedly taking the dog off my hands while she is gone can only help matters.

Six weeks is a long time, I readily admit. The world can change in as little as a few minutes and I have certainly gained insight and perspective into my life during the six weeks of Summer Scholars I have endured over the course of five years. Taken all at once, I do not know what would have come. I become very Zen at points like this, the guru in my brain reminding me, "what will come is what has to come and that is all."

Early in our relationship, a six-week absence could have been the end. Given the particular experiences and influence I had in my life at that time, I can be fairly sure it would have been. Yet we will have been together for more than five years when she gets on a plane to Sikkim. To leave her because she needs to grow-because she needs to help bloody Buddhist monks!-is ridiculous and utterly outside of my character. More than time and space unites us, and they shall not part us in any real way. She will come back more than even the woman I love.

I am not going with her, and not merely because I enjoy my comforts. This journey is not mine and I am well aware that my presence there would only distract Emily from the work she has to do, both for herself and the world. She worries about me when I am perfectly content in my element. I dare not imagine the new forms of guilt and fretting she would invent were she to feel that she took me from all I knew and placed me in a strange land where no one knew my language or much cared to.

Plus my cats would die because they would have no one to feed them.

Soon in Xenology: New Years.

last watched: Dead Poets Society
reading: The Catcher in the Rye
listening: Convict Pool

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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