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02.10.06 12:57 p.m.

Beware the barrenness of a busy life.  



Previously in Xenology: Emily was a nomad. Xen implied Sarah was crazy.

leaves of grass with pens and brushes in hand

I settled into a collapsed blue sofa early to prevent against having to watch Dives Dives from a vantage point that would be too far away or too rigid to facilitate total enjoyment. The couch is in the front of the Cubbyhole, three feet from the stage. Now my only trial would be politely shoving strangers off my couch. The four remaining seats here would be reserved for Keilaina and Dan, who were to arrive once they got off of work.

Emily could not make it to the show to my regret, as her group was holding Imbolc and Emily felt that she should go. She had been feeling under the weather all day and wasn't looking forward to it, but combated this attitude by reminding herself that she always enjoys it where she is there and wanted to support her friend Shawn, who was high priest for the first time. I missed her already, as I looked particularly good in a black velour shirt and leather choker and wanted her to be around to enjoy it. I never feel like I have enough time with her, particularly not enough time that can result in the sort of memories one looked back fondly upon in nursing homes.

I sat largely alone - not even Dives Dives was yet there - and scoped the crowd for familiar faces. There was a time in my adolescence where I would know everyone, but that time has long passed. I saw Audrey, who never contacted me, and some strange looking fellow I remember possibly from Dutchess, but no one I would call friend. Or, to be more succinct, no one I would call. The gathered Cubbyhole dwellers contained many of the faces that are vaguely familiar but in a generic way, central casting's extras. There were a preponderance of attractive females with noticeably less attractive male hangers-on, who I took to be Vassar students. If this night was any valid sample, the genuinely attractive Vassar boys are kept in the basement of the chapel and used as sex slaves. You do have to understand, however, that I indulge vague theories that Vassar students are a race of bee people.

As I was covertly watching a comely girl in blonde pigtails lead around her pair of drone slaves, Dives Dives walked in with a tall man behind her that I assumed correctly to be Auratus. He was softer than I imagined him, as I have a prejudice toward thinking male musicians are all sharp edges and guitar-laden grimaces. It might help his case that he was dressed very well, in a tie and button up shirt, having come straight from his job at the funeral home. You don't actually have to look hardcore when you touch dead bodies for a living.

Before meeting with Auratus, I had planned out various bon mots to say to him that would impress him. However, I am a creature of the moment and just shook his hand, telling him that I had heard a lot about him. I then asked him where his silver nail polish was. He answered simply that the nail polish was reserved for when he was the main act of the evening, which is a conceit I can get behind. It would be awfully silly to walk down the street in your trademark pink, studded leather pants or horizontal mohawk; sometimes you aren't on stage.

My phone buzzed to life and I spoke to Dan, who said they might be getting out later than expected, as there was one customer left in the store and they could not leave until she did. I promised him that I was saving him a seat and keeping people away from sitting next to me. Auratus, overhearing this, threw the contents of the chair next to me onto the floor and said, "I am now sitting next to you."

"Touché," I replied with a grin.

To my surprise, I saw Jacki and Jim appear before Dives Dives was done setting up. I stopped them at the purple-framed door and greeted them with a fond and typical, "Your kind isn't welcome here." As it did not seem likely that Kei and Dan were showing up any time soon, I invited Jacki and Jim to occupy their spaces, if just so I had someone to protect my seat while I went to the bathroom.

Before the show began, I had a brief conversation with them both about teaching. It mostly centered on "homicide" being a checkbox on Newburgh disciplinary referrals and that a teenager introduced me to my new favorite bit of slang, "prostitot," defined as a young girl who is dressed like a streetwalker or pop star. Use it in polite conversation today.

Dives Dives's show was incredible, though you might expect I would say that. Pretend for a moment that I despise her with every fiber of my being. Okay, you are pretending? Good. Dives Dives's. Set. Was. Incredible. It was the so good, I wish I had more than a pocket full of change to deposit in the Oversized Coffee Cup of Donating.

Jacki and Jim left when Dives Dives took a break, hugging her and telling her of how good she was. I contemplated how I would keep strangers from sitting on my broken sofa, but Dan and Kei walked in just after Jacki and Jim left, so I was never unaccompanied or overburdened with friends.

During the second set, Dives Dives played a song written by Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance that featured no lyrics but euphonious syllables. I think the Cubbyhole was silent until she finished, but I was too enthralled to pay much mind to the world around me. When she finished to much applause, I shouted, "Why don't you play something impressive now?"
Dives Dives  
Lucky piano

When the show ended, Dan bought two CDs from Dives Dives and asked her to sign them both. One would be going to his sister back in Idaho, who appreciates the sort of music at which Dives Dives excels. I did not have money to buy a CD, but reasoned that I wasn't about to stop going to her shows and would soon have enough spare money to buy one. From behind me, Dives Dives called my name. I turned and she shoved a CD against my chest. Rocks. My. Socks.

I suddenly had the strange sort of realization with which most people do not bother with or which come in slow stages and not all at once. My best example of this is that I didn't learn to read in stages by sounding things out. I was just lying in bed one night, pondering the letters "at" and suddenly could comprehend written English. I kept my brothers up for an hour, spelling out common words. I did the same thing with riding a bike. I could not do it, then my brother pushed me down the hill on my bike and I realized that I would either have to figure out how to stay upright or suffer inevitable pain. I refused to get off my bike for a while after that, convinced that the trick to it would leave me once my feet touched ground.

My realization at the Cubbyhole was this: Most people do not have a handful of the artistically blessed as friends. It is not the norm to sit three feet away from someone you love, watching her tune up and knowing that she is actually going to be great when she sings. Most all of my close friends are artisans or at least artistically minded. I suppose I am too, but I never hear your applause, if you indeed give it. I admire that Dives Dives has found a way to make her art her daily work, being a musical therapist for the autistic - which is pretty damned admirable anyway. It rocks my socks to know that one of my favorite musicians is one of my friends and is utterly approachable, whether she chooses to believe I mean every blessed word of this. I love the hell out of that Dives Dives. When I later told Emily that I was impressed that she made a living at her art and grinned sarcastically that I do not know anyone else who does this, implying that Emily does exactly this, she deferred and said it wasn't the same thing, but I do not see how.

Moments like these, sitting in tiny venues awaiting music or reading poetry with my kith, compose my spirituality. Emily can go to as many Imbolc rituals as she feels the need to, I will get all the religion I need from listening to and loving artists. I am no longer going to give up on the opportunity for lasting memories, no matter how scary or inconvenient it may be. Life can only be seen and recorded with the light blazing out of the Muses.

I bid a fond adieu to Dives Dives and a pleasant one to Auratus. There will have to be several more meeting and at least one conversation totally more than five minutes before his greeting gets upgraded.

In the midst of Dives Dives's show, Kei had spotted the local groomsmen from her wedding milling about drunkenly and pulled them into the Cubbyhole. When Dan, Kei, and I left to go to a diner and discuss the universe with a little more depth, the groomsmen were invited along. Dan apologized needlessly that they were a lot more fun to talk to when sober.

I got in my car and waited a moment. Dan knocked on my window and got into the passenger's seat, as I assumed he would. The concert, lovely thought we found it, was simply not a good place for conversation and Dan needed to talk. I won't do Dan the dishonor of trying to contrive a quote of what he said, but the crux of it was that he does not feel that Keilaina and he have sufficient outlets for their creativity. Before he could finish asking, I told him I would love for him to write a column for Xenex.

Their problem is this: They work, return home on fairly similar schedules, and end up wasting the time until bed watching TV or playing video games. While there is nothing inherently wrong with watching TV or playing video games, there is when that is every day. I could feel this echo in my own life, except I try to steal every spare minute of downtime at work to write or read. I am typing this during a prep period. But I return home, Emily gets there an hour or so later and we are asleep within two, having never done much of anything. As a consequence, I am starved for any meaningful interaction with Emily and never feel like I have seen her while we are both conscious. When Sunday rolls around, I latch onto her and do not wish to leave. She, exhausted from her six-day workweek, wants to do nothing more active than lie in bed and watch movies.

It is a rut for Dan and me as well. If only I didn't have to work two jobs, I could better help him get out of his rut. I like to think that the addition of another person as an option for socialization would be enough, but it isn't as though I am in a position to test this.

Working is not life for most of us. While I try to find my joy teaching, I am not doing what I love most days, unlike Dives Dives and Emily. I do not know how Dan and Kei feel about their jobs, though I do not think they feel negatively about the work itself. Work just gets in the way of our feeling totally fulfilled as people owing to the amount of daylight it takes away that might otherwise be spent in leaves of grass with pens and brushes in hand.


"We'll be right near Niagara Falls," Emily giggled about a trip we are planning to Buffalo to attend a competition.

I leaned out of the kitchen and said, half-jokingly, "We should get married there."

There was a discomfiting silence before she said, "We can't do that. I won't marry you until I get back from India."


She shifted in her seat. "I don't want to make the same mistake my sister did with [her first husband] Jack. They got married and then she had to go away to Israel for six weeks. When she came home, she had changed so much that they couldn't be together anymore. I don't want to be stuck in a relationship that is no longer right. And I don't think that would happen with you, but... I just can't know for certain."

I won't say that I wasn't a little wounded by this or that I didn't lose some breath by it. Given how much I devote and have devoted to this relationship, I dislike immensely seeing it as anything less than permanent. However, I can't fault her logic. Our wedding vows, should we give them, will contain the phrase "as long as the love shall last." If it lasts a week. If it lasts a hundred years. I love her and that means that I want what is best for her. If that is no longer me, I will understand and move on in time. But, to paraphrase Fleetwood Mack, I'm afraid of changing because I've built my life around her.

Maybe this is positive. I do not want either of us to force ourselves into a relationship that no longer fits us. The hallmark of our coupling has always been the freedom of movement. For the first time in my romantic career, jealousy does not linger in the corners of interaction. With Jen and Kate and the undifferentiated girl mass before them, there was this immature concern that I did not measure up and that I had to act like a Jiminy Cricket, shaping them into a form that I saw as less self-destructive. As I am sure you can imagine, that attitude is hardly a constructive one in a long-term relationship, which might be part of the reason those relationships were not longer term. I will not say that I do not occasionally feel sadness when Emily hangs out with her friends in Warwick or takes up a new sport (such as speed skating most recently) instead of spending more time with me. However, I do not need to try to control her. She is her own person and that is what I love about her, which was a concept I seem to have failed to process in earlier relationships. I do not ever think Emily would cheat on me or leave me for someone else.

Unless that someone else is her.

Pieces of You

I awoke miserable and resentful of the pets, who pester me to the extent that I can shave and eat only in my car on my way to that day's job. Just as I was grumbling at the dog, who was whining for the sleeping Emily despite the fact that I had fed, walked, and cuddled with him, I flipped on my phone and saw that I had two messages. I dialed my voicemail and had to listen to the first message twice before the purring voice solidified in my brain into a name. Sarah.
Sarah Merritt  
The Estranged

It had to have been a year since last I spoke to her. I left things badly, phrasing my concern about her state of being as an accusation against her sanity. I had called Kristen and Sarah several times, but never made a genuine connection with the former or any at all with the latter.

Sarah left a number, which I scribbled on the back on an envelope before rushing out the door to a middle school. Emily asked if I was going to call her and I found the question a little odd. I try to keep connections with people whom I shared nothing more than a few teenage phone calls or a tenth grade lunch table, though I care significantly less when they do not respond. This is Sarah, with whom I shared the chastest love affair of my life. Sarah who wrote a song about me. Yes, I would be returning her phone call. She may have frightened me, but I understand her. I have lived with a tiny bit of her in me since we met. She has said things that set me on edge, but I try to take a broader view of my friendships than to let a few injudicious comments sink a deep friendship. There was a time where Sarah and I were going to open up a used bookstore/coffeehouse in Maine, petting seals in our free time. I at least owed her a return phone call.

Soon in Xenology: Job prospects hopefully. Possibly Sarah.

last watched: The Olympics
reading: Discover
listening: Dives Dives

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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