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07.22.06 11:35 p.m.

All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true.  

-Kurt Vonnegut


Previously in Xenology: Emily was a braver man than I am, Gunga Din.

Is Real

"Hi Judith! How are you?" I said into the phone, greeting Emily's mother. I become so perplexed when unfamiliar numbers call me that I fairly gush when I realize it isn't a wrong number. The wrong numbers are always so rude, as though it is my fault that I am not their desired party.

"Not good, actually." She immediately detailed that she wanted Emily home for fear that the airports out would close in the wake of violence between Israel and Lebanon and she would become trapped or worse. Emily's sister, who has a PhD in caring about this part of the world, said that this is a very unusual amount of violence for a usually tumultuous area and, in her professional capacity, advised Emily to be on the next plane to America. I was charged with conveying all of this over instant message when she logged on at midnight for our nightly talk and convincing her to come home. Below is our unedited conversation for your reading enjoyment:
[00:52] Emily: hi?
[00:52] Emily: are you still around? I only have a minute if that...
[00:53] Xen: Hi
[00:53] Emily: ok I love you and I'm sorry we didn't get to talk. Have a good sleep and I'll talk to you at your lunch I hope. I miss you
[00:53] Xen: No, stay!
[00:53] Emily: hi, I don't really think I can the brats are awake.
[00:53] Xen: Your mother wants you home. You sister says this is dangerous tension. She wants you home.
[00:53] Emily: and they don't have camp today
[00:53] Emily: you talked to them?
[00:53] Xen: Your mother wants you to use your card and get home ASAP.
[00:54] Xen: Your mother called me to convey the message.
[00:54] Emily: are you serious?
[00:54] Xen: Totally.
[00:54] Emily: when?
[00:54] Xen: 9
[00:54] Emily: pm?
[00:54] Xen: Yes
[00:54] Emily: and my sister?
[00:54] Xen: Your mother just related what your sister said.
[00:54] Emily: shit, well that's interesting
[00:55] Emily: um, well it's not as easy as all that
[00:55] Xen: Your sister thinks they might shut down the airports.
[00:56] Emily: fuck. Ok I will try and figure this out then, but really it's not like I can just jump on a plane
[00:56] Xen: Your mother wants you to say that your family doesn't want you there and needs you home.
[00:56] Xen: I know that. I don't know what the protocol is or anything like that, but your mother and sister are vehement.
[00:56] Emily: it's not that easy! I made a commitment to be here and they paid for it, and I agree I want to come home
[00:57] Emily: well they can talk to Yael then I think
[00:57] Emily: because I don't know how to handle this
[00:57] Xen: Emily, don't put yourself in a dangerous situation out of a sense of obligation. They are paying you a pittance.
[00:58] Xen: I know, this is a horribly complicated situation.
[00:58] Xen: If your sister is worried, I am.
[00:58] Emily: I know, its just that everyone here keeps telling me this isn't so bad and to see what happens
[00:58] Xen: You once told me you would have gone back in the WTC buildings when they were ordered safe. That haunts me.
[00:59] Xen: Your sister, who has a PhD in this area, thinks it is so bad.
[01:01] Xen: I'm not saying any of this to get you home. I swear. Go to Australia for another month and I'll be fine. But that area seems increasingly unsafe.
[01:01] Emily: look I know, its not as easy as that
[01:01] Xen: Your mother was almost panicked on the phone.
[01:01] Emily: THOMM! I get it! It's not that easy!
[01:01] Xen: I know it isn't. Your mother just wanted to make sure I conveyed all of this to you.
[01:02] Emily: yes I got it
[01:02] Xen: I know. I'm sorry to have to be the messenger.
[01:02] Emily: I'm scared too
[01:02] Emily: but there is nothing I can do at this second Yael isn't even here
[01:03] Emily: and I'm going to owe her like 1400 dollars
[01:03] Xen: I understand that. I don't expect you to flee the country. I'm not sure what your mother expects.
[01:03] Emily: she wants me out of here now, today
[01:03] Xen: Very likely.
[01:03] Emily: no she emailed me that is what she wants
[01:04] Xen: Has Yael said you will owe her money?
[01:04] Emily: no but I know it will be an issue
[01:04] Emily: at least I assume
[01:05] Xen: It isn't homesickness, love. This is a dangerous situation. You have signed no contract. You don't need her as a reference. After this trip, I do not think you want her as a friend.
[01:05] Emily: I know I know I know. And I'm scared too. The US government just issued a travel warning for Lebanon
[01:06] Xen: I really do understand your position and sense of obligation. I am saying to you what you would say to me.
[01:06] Emily: no I know. I want to come home I agree, its actually getting there etc that's the issue
[01:07] Xen: I really don't understand the vagaries of international travel.
[01:08] Emily: no like easy things, like to the airport
[01:08] Xen: Oh.
[01:09] Xen: You do have the platinum card?
[01:09] Emily: yes the flight will be 3,000
[01:09] Xen: Wow.
[01:10] Emily: flight costs doubled overnight
[01:10] Xen: That is awfully telling.
[01:10] Emily: I agree
[01:10] Emily: fuck fuck fuck
[01:10] Xen: Yael has a return trip ticket for you?
[01:11] Emily: yes
[01:11] Emily: but for a specific date and on El Al
[01:11] Xen: Fuck.
[01:11] Xen: Well, wouldn't it be cheaper to change the date for yours then to buy a whole new ticket? Do things work that way?
[01:12] Emily: yeah I don't think El Al is the way to go and I don't know
[01:12] Xen: I don't know what to do.
[01:13] Emily: ok I got to go I'll call when I know what I'm doing
[01:13] Emily: bye! I love you
[01:13] Xen: Bye. I love you.

I didn't think I was successful, at least not as immediately as would have suited our wishes. When I awoke, I got a call from Emily telling me that she would be home the very next day. Where she was - Ra'anana - was still peaceful and serene according to her. 75 miles away was quite a different story and one that would be filed on the shelf next to the Anarchist's Cookbook. Nonetheless, when she contacted the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, they were insistent that she evacuate the country with all due haste and went to the required trouble of arranging for her plane ticket. This is not to say that her ticket was free; she had to fork over the platinum card and hope her traveler's insurance would later recompense, as is required when one must flee owing to an act of war.

I didn't know how to react to any of this. I know I should have felt something more than the comfort of inevitability. I never felt she was in danger. This is not to say that I did not think she was in danger, and that is more important. I can drive 75 miles in a bit over an hour. A missile travels far more quickly and, unless I am having a really bad day, more lethally.
So, Hezbollah? Please don't take my sunshine away.

For the rest of the day, I had to behave as though things were normal, go to the closing ceremonies for the first session of SIG and maintain my composure. I had to clap emphatically as my favorite student gave a speech and nod intelligently when the director asked me to revise a final report for a student. I was exhausted, both from staying up to play petitioner and from the insomnia that followed as my brain ran through scenarios from likely to ludicrous. I couldn't give carriage to my thoughts just then; there were parents to greet. I do not think any found me unusual, but they were wrapped up in their own drama of seeing their children graduate yet another session and likely would not notice if my hair were suddenly green. I could not blame them. The only one whom I clued in was Jacki, to whom I said simply, "Emily is coming home tomorrow. There is too much war," as though this were an atmospheric phenomena. As if it would all clear up in time with the right kind of umbrella, but I believe Reagan's Star Wars were seen as ridiculous even when proposed.

The next day, Emily was nearly comatose when she arrived at her mother's and I was summoned to pick her up. It was 3AM according to her affected circadian rhythms, no matter what I chose to believe, and she could not manage to fall asleep on her twelve hour flight our of Israel. I felt tense and anxious, not quite sure where to put the emotions or even if these were really the words I wanted to use for what I was feeling. I was at the brink of tears, almost from frustration. I didn't understand the danger from which she was evacuating, though possibly only because I was kept in the dark as to the severity of the situation. Emily would later reveal that she watched missiles and F-16 fighter planes fly overhead and that the town to which she walked days earlier was destroyed but the aforementioned missiles. Further, she was supposed to be in Haifa when it was bombed to rubble, but she opted to keep the kids at home that day for an unrelated reason. With different choices, with a misstep, she would have been a casualty of this "tension." That simply does not feel real to me. I cannot at all conceptualize. I have more faith that she could spout wings.

She found me a bit distant when I showed up to take her home and I knew it in a moment. I was not myself and our reunion was not going to win Oscars. I couldn't articulate why, though I ran through the options. I was neither thrilled nor depressed that she was home. Her presence simply was and could be no other way and thus it was silly to apply such terminology to it. I joy at the rising and setting sun, but I do not expect that they won't show up when it is their time. She was likewise in my arms for a multitude of reasons, only a few of which were prima facie clear. We would in time discover why else fate specifically cut her trip short.

Her sudden presence stateside did not interfere with anything I was doing; I was not undergoing to ecstatic realization about the nature of singledom. My life had primarily become working at Summer Institute for the Gifted and I accepted being so engulfed. My missing her, while tangible, was well maintained by the frequency and quality of our correspondence. Her presence affected nothing more than the speed with which I cleaned the apartment that day; it gave me a deadline for mundane tasks but none for the divine ones.

It wasn't until, at her request, we stopped for dinner (4AM by her clock) that I warmed up again and, perhaps, remembered who she was. I wish I could articulate better the emotions I was feeling. Anything less makes for damned lousy writing and even worse catharsis. The best I can do for you is to tell you that this felt like an awkward blind date with someone I had always known. We share all the inside jokes and cultural literacy, but sniff around one another cautiously.

Over a decidedly unhealthy meal including an appetizer of onion rings gauged by height, we unraveled our untold stories to one another. They synced on a few points, mostly in kvetching the damage privilege can do to children. Emily and my relationship is sustained so much by words that I could love her perfectly well at a distance and have indeed proven that. In prior romances, the center of our gravity seemed to be in the groins and that was well enough. Such things fizzle after a while and one must hope there is a brain behind the good sex life. Emily and I fell in love over words and humor; physicality was present but not crucial. On such a foundation, she may travel the seas if that is what her soul cries out to do.

The family for whom she was nannying stayed behind, explicitly stating that they understood her concerns but implicitly dismissing her as a weak American. Better a weak American than a dead Israeli, particularly given if that pride could come at the expense of one's gaggle of children. There are summer camps stateside and few of them are proximal to terrorist insurgents. In fact, war would soon find Ra'anana and the airports would be shut down. She was on one of the last flights out of that airport. I believe the airport was bombed in retaliation for the bombing of a Lebanese airport. The destruction of infrastructure essential to removing citizens and visitors from danger, while strategically comprehensible, is reprehensible given the toll it may take. Emily got out safely before tensions became too great, but what of those who could not, who did not have the foresight of or access to platinum cards and traveler's insurance?

I may be a peacenik at heart, but I utterly fail to see how might proves right in the least. I am certainly not arrogant to think I have enough comprehension of the exact weight of this on the geopolitical stage, but this conflict has never before reached anything like resolution through the use of terrorism and bombing. There is a quote credited to any number of great thinkers and speakers that the very definition of insanity is running through the same motions and honestly expecting a different result. Again, I readily acknowledge my ignorance in these matters and my associated culpability as a citizen of a country actively encouraging cooperation through the barrel of a gun, but this situation seems to be yet another spasm of schizophrenia.

And you realize I particularly care because someone I love was temporarily placed in a situation where I very much had to pay attention. While I would have known about this situation and regurgitated what I gleaned from National Public Radio and internet research, you would not be reading my ill-informed and hardly original navel gazing were my lover not waking up startled that she might be in the sort of danger out of which one cannot talk oneself.

Soon in Xenology: More Summer Institute for the Gifted. Quest.

last watched: The Graduate
reading: Snow Crash
listening: Fashion Nugget

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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