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08.12.06 4:31 p.m.

The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart.  

-Elizabeth Foley


Previously in Xenology: Xen was a teacherly fellow, if against his will. Dan and Keilaina seemed fond of one another.


SIG has ended for the year and a part of me struggles not to cling. Beyond the simple directives of contractual print, I resisted giving the students - even my admitted favorites - any way of contacting me during the year. I was momentary important in lives that will be filled with great potential and opportunity. Is it my influence they need now or merely yet another strand of connective tissue to this annual formative experience? It is too easy to believe the latter.

It was so utterly engulfing, Vassar being the locus of my life for more than a month, most of my spare cycles - even at home - given over to lesson plans or thoughts of my kids. I must admit at the consequence of sounding like a gushing parent than I taught some of the most objectively and subjectively amazing kids. Kids who met with Mother Theresa; kids who had six figure advances on books of poetry when they were nine; kids who were told by monks in Mali that they have a destiny imprinted on their skin; kids dragged across the world so their mother can photograph indigenous mystics; kids who hang out with Gloria Steinem, Bill Cosby, and Alice Walker. Okay, that was all the same kid, but I feel the point stands more for that. While that girl, who was all sweetness and humility despite also being 14, may be particularly luminary, her classmates were just as stunning.

I joked with Jacki that the only gift some of these kids have is that of privilege, but there is much to be said for that. Parents who have the means to provided for their kids enough to fork over more than $3500 for each three week session are plainly going to be otherwise invested in the success of their children; you don't spend that much money simply to ignore the darling the other forty-nine weeks of the year. So these children, biologically no different from the tiny thug stealing your hubcaps while you read this, are startlingly clever. Giftedness is a seed. It may grow anywhere, even in between the cracks in the pavement of a ghetto, but cash can make for a damned fine fertilizer. Parents of means likely came from means and/or married into means; it is difficult to perpetuate a higher standard of living for multiple generations and to be anything less than sharp.

Further, I feel domesticated by SIG. For six weeks, the apartment's and my dietary needs have been met by the All Campus Dining Center and a package of zipper bags. As long as I had my trusty magnetic card around my neck on a Vassar lanyard, the buffet was all I could eat and spirit away in my laptop bag. Relinquishing the card at the end of the six weeks made me feel momentarily naked. I struggle to remember how to forage for food outside such a generous context.

There were staff grumblings at the perceived increased conservatism of the head office and protestations among some that they would never return, but I admit to being eager for the next year's session. Even if not for the income, it felt liberating to be able to teach the way I wished, to interact with brilliant and challenging kids and feel at the end of the day that I was doing the right thing. The only reason I ever doubted my capacity to teach is because I was taught badly what it meant; the higher the degree in education, the less likely that person actually knows how to teach children. Finding my own definitions - one of the truest ways to learn anything - led me to see teaching for what it could be when I am left to my own devices. My style is not for all children - though the gifted kids adored me and worked diligently simply because I asked them - but it is the only way I can do my job and thrive.

Now I am afloat, with no real job prospects besides the relative penury of substitute teaching and tutoring. I will have a few weeks off to write my book and then... I have no true idea. It can feel quite overwhelming.

Bye bye, Miss American Pie

Keilaina and Dan B have left the shores of the Hudson, but there is no guarantee that we will see them again.
Dan and Keilaina  
Dan and Kei

Dan had grand intentions of architecture and can't get his bachelor's degree anywhere closer than SUNY Buffalo. As far as I am concerned, Buffalo is an arctic tundra devoid of life where all of the buildings are connected by underground tunnels to be used when the landscape is buried under ten feet of snow, also known as "September through July". It would be the sort of thing that would dissuade me momentarily from my course and I am certain that he weighed the options carefully before deciding upon this school.

Emily and I got one last meal with them as they were packing up their apartment. At the very least, it was clear that they could not stay in their present apartment, as it was a part of Keilaina's mother's house and was only half a degree separated from actually living with her. It prevented the freedom of movement and growth a young married couple would plainly need. Very often, their plans would have to be abridged to the benefit of Keilaina's grandmother, who is increasing in her senility and helplessness. While the poor woman has nothing but my sympathy, Kei and Dan's minds should only be focused on changing the potential diapers of helpless creatures in miniature bodies; a waning grandmother is too great a burden on their psyches and lives.

I try to fault myself for my cynicism that each goodbye is forever. It is not something I always think. I have not seen Kate for years and have no immediate plans to change that, but I don't consider that she has left my life. We correspond every few months and call on our birthdays. It may be different with her, only a train trip away at any time. She has the benefit of mental proximity; I know where the city is and have been there on numerous occasions, but I have never been near Buffalo. It is not real to me, which aids my making icy fictions about it. For instance, residents of Buffalo subsist of seal carcasses and penguin blood. The more you know.
Keilaina, Zack, and Emily  
She was ours first!

I have known Kei for six years, though interrupted for a year and a half by her boyfriend Ian. In his presence, she ceased to exist and not merely for me. Dan is a sweet boy and treats her much better. I certainly know and like him much better, as he put forth much effort in getting to know me. And he insisted upon hugging me the first time he met me. Yet now Kei and Dan are off my radar. Despite doing it in the most honorable way possible and with the best intentions, a boy has taken Kei from her friends. Though I suppose we must cut him some slack, since he did marry her. Even if she was ours first.

We did receive a call from them after they moved. Technically, Emily was the recipient of the phone call, asking her about the health of the two kittens Dan and Kei acquired before moving. Emily diagnosed them with worms and prescribed a simple treatment. Dan thanked her and added as an afterthought that, if they were not busy, they might see us over Thanksgiving.

Or maybe Christmas.

Soon in Xenology: Lake George. Chassa. Rescuing.

last watched: House, MD
reading: The Last Unicorn
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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