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12.26.06 5:21 p.m.

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.  

- Margery Williams


Previously in Xenology: Xen applied for jobs. Then he got one that required moving and a wife.

To Blave

"Why is there a crowd getting out of your mother's car?" Emily asks. I turn and see the aforementioned crowd, my mother, father, sister-in-law, three nieces, and younger brother. Given that my father and she were just invited two days ago, I am impressed that she rallied the troops quite so efficiently.

She walks up to me and immediately says, "I asked your father what your haircut looks like and he said he didn't know. But you look like ,a type="amzn" target="_blank">John Denver!" And my soul hardens a little and I contemplate if she can be uninvited at this late juncture, her smile so broad as she scores a point against me. I do not agree with her then, but search the internet later and have to begrudgingly admit to a passing resemblance, making me no fonder of this haircut. I got it only because the prep school insisted time and again that my hair was too long. I made the rookie mistake of giving my hair stylist two pictures, one of the compromise haircut I wanted and one that I absolutely did not despite what others had said. She purposely chose the latter and this unfortunate fact did not make itself clear until after I showered, at which point I had no recourse but to pout. It is difficult for me not merely because I had so come to love my former haircut (the shoulder length semi-professional cut, not the extra long hippy hair) that I set that as the baseline for my self-image. That was how I am supposed to look and now this stranger looks out at me from mirrors. A stranger with bangs and too much forehead.

My nieces dart around in the assembled crowd, not clear on the solemnity of the occasion. This is only good and proper, as Emily and I were a bit fuzzy on that as well. I know that the intent was for this to be small and light, giving our real wedding over to a spectacle of distant relatives and tiered cakes. Still, I suppose all family cannot be abandoned, for what is a major life change without the loving mockery of people who have changed your diapers? The rogues gallery

Emily and I arrived to the appointed gazebo ten minutes before my parents, with many of the guests in tow and the rest meeting us. Dezi and Conor had been there at least half an hour, though we had neglected to inform the former that this was not a formal occasion and he was dressed far too nicely. Despite the insisted upon informality of the occasion, Emily and I intended to get reasonably dressed up. It was our day, after all. I wore a red dress shirt and black jeans, along with a velvet jacket. Emily nixed my Russian Count jacket, with good reason. It gave me the shoulders of a gothic linebacker. Emily wore jeans as well, along with a black, v-neck shirt. Emily had intended to wear a skirt, then a dress, then another skirt with a different blouse, then an entirely different outfit. Comfort won the day, as it must. We will truss her up for the real wedding.

Initially, I worried that this occasion might constitute a party and thus would be subject to the long forgotten curse that kills our events through lack of attendance. Dave and Nikki cancelled owing to illness, Melissa and Stevehen had combination work-family engagements, and two of Emily's friends, Jerame and Ann, couldn't make it once we changed the location on account of rain. Yet at the appointed hour, half a dozen friends poured through the doors of our tiny apartment, made tinier owning to the majority of our possession occupying cardboard boxes in preparation for moving. She doesn't seem terrible certain about all this

I feel an amused sort of detachment to the proceeding, the sensation of "what a curious and pretty world this is". I watch and live each moment - first and third person, neither omniscient. Even standing on the brick of the pier - the setting we chose over the gazebo owing to the photogenic backdrop - I remained uncertain what this was supposed to mean for us. A ring and ceremony did not mean that I loved Emily any more or less, it just meant that I was willing to go to these steps and farther to keep her my constant companion in some pastoral prison. I know every morning that I wake up that she is the one I want in my bed come nightfall, filling as many hours as I can manage with the blue of her eyes and the scent of her golden noodle hair. I know that we fit together in our quiet moments and in public wonderfully enough that strangers watch us banter as though we are a play. I know that she suggested the seeds of this nuptial plan and I thought it marvelous and right and continued to think so through every step that brought me here, minor quibbling over the phraseology of the ceremony aside. She is my sherpa to every adventure and I, her goat. (The love sickness may have afflicted my ability to form cogent analogies.)

The sky was filled with the light gray clouds of intermittent drizzle, but they parted and the sun came out as we all gathered on the dock. I am not merely being colorful, the clouds really did dissipate overhead enough for the sun to stream through. Near torrential downpours had been forecasted and thankfully disappointed. There is a superstition that rain on one's wedding day means that a witch is getting married. Like multiplying negative numbers, the union of two witches seems to stop rain.

Behind us and across the Hudson presided Whale Mountain, though Zack does the actual uniting, a fact of which he will brag to strangers for days with good reason. The ceremony starts informally with Zack describing how right we seem together and how we give him hope for love. This he admits is cornball, but genuine. Emily and I read the vows we had prepared that morning, loving and gently ribbing professions of affection scrawled on computer paper. Zack declares Emily the unquestionable winner, though I have to confess that I think I got the prize in this contest. Zack then read from the ceremony Emily prepared, which turns out to be exactly right in the moment. Wedding tongue?

With the sun pouring down on us, even the toxic burbling of the Hudson underneath us seems poetically perfect.

Afterward, friends but not family go to the Double O Grill for lunch. It was great to see so many people so important to me gathered in one place, though the length of the table meant I had to shout to speak to Jacki, Kevin, or Zack. It occurs to me that it would not soon happen that these exact people were all together again. Only that our handfasting abutted the Christmas season allowed Keilaina and Dan to be in the area, the latter thickly bearded and finished with his first semester in Buffalo. Next year, these people could be married, moved, or maternal. Already Dezi is in the city, beginning his destiny. Dan Kessler is eager to move cityward himself. Emily and I are vanishing into the tundra of Anemia. Every second is a memory I cannot again grasp, so I try to just take it in and love the moment. Every one of these people has, in their own ways and largely without knowing, contributed to the success of our union over the years just by honoring us as friends. There are some who should be at this table, but aren't for their own personal reasons. Vonnegut speaks about romantic relationships failing because humans are tribal; we want a group, a massive local family, and no relevant construct exists in the "modern" world but friends to fulfill that. I know my union with Emily will persist because I do not need her to fulfill every role in my life, nor does she need this of me. In our new home, we will make new friends for our table to compliment the old and revered. My people

You Blockhead!

The austere, Charlie Brown Christmas my mother promised was far from, to the great surprise of no one who has ever dealt with my family before. For my atheist mother, Christmas is less a religious holiday than a spirit that infuses her life and defuses her credit as early as August. Many gifts had been paid for and hidden long before the doctor for whom she worked having a heart attack and laying everyone off. While she found herself in the employ of another office within a few weeks, it was long enough that she feared this would be the Christmas That Wasn't.

My family wasn't built to have Christmas be anything less than a spectacle. It is one of our charms. Granted, it was appreciably less debt inducing this year than prior, but the presents still reached from one wall to the other, a motley sea of shining paper and gifts that would vanish into dusty corners and junk drawers in a month's time. A spotted plush horse stood proudly three feet and four legs above high tide, waiting for one of my nieces to love it for a week. It wouldn't be long enough to make it Real, but at least it would be purposeful.

I try to cherish these small, holiday moment with my family - as grating as my nieces can be when they are yelling at the four foot mechanical Santa - because I know the time is soon where I cannot just pop by to do some laundry or pilfer their food. It is only an hour's drive, but it is distance enough that I think I would be terrified if I were any less independent.

The glut of my Christmas credit went either to fixing my car - an unfortunate necessity - or pounds more conservative clothing than I think I shall ever need, much of it a size too large, in preparation for my teaching job. I opened box after light box of shirts and pants, their contents plain before I slit the tape with a forefinger. When as a change of pace I received a car emergency kit, my older brother chimed in that this, too, was meant for teachers. I laughed because I couldn't let it show that this got to me, though it did. During dinner, he would tell me I was lucky, that I was the only member of the family that wasn't due at work the next day, but I don't feel lucky. I feel pigeonholed by poor life choices. I also felt uncomfortably allergic to the pine tree when forced into close quarters, this congestion allowing me a fine excuse to escape for a walk with Emily to air things out a bit.

I am more than a teacher. As point of fact, "teacher" is far from an identification I would choose to use to describe myself, but I know I have already belabored this particular point in this space. Teaching is something I do to pay the bills, something I am trained to do according to the state of New York in its infinite wisdom. It is not, however, what I am or what I wish to be. I have known people to identify as nothing else, to allow external definition by who signs their paychecks. I find them more than a little wanting and hollow, neither condition I want used to describe me.

I feel I have already sacrificed so much to this job: my apartment, proximity, hair, and now Christmas. So much from my side, nothing yet from theirs beyond a spotty contract with a "character clause" and the promise of an apartment a fraction of the size of our current domicile. In a few months' time, I may feel differently, whether for better or worse.

Holidays have always been hard for me. Over time, I came to expect less, to not anticipate how much fun I was going to have, because this killed the actual fun present and I mourned the missed opportunity I didn't have. I would hide in a room, preemptive desolate about the end of a beginning seconds past. Over the years, I conditioned myself against this and hormones ebbed. But now, I feel a malaise. This chapter of my life is beginning and it seems nothing but inconvenience.

Before Christmas night, Emily left for Cozumel, Mexico, for a vacation with her sister and mother, their first ever since they were each two decades younger. I am excited for her, but it means I have to spend a lonely week in my boxed up apartment, trying to make plans with friends of whom I will see even less once I am cloistered in the prep school. It is a honeymoon she takes without me, one planned before we needed to be joined to continue on this adventure. I will try to drop off boxes and try not to resent people who have been perfectly nice to me, even if their niceness has contributed to problems I am presently having.

It is raining outside as I write this and that seems a further indignity, that December cannot even have snow. Perhaps that should scare me more than sadden, but I am indulging in pathetic fallacy instead of paranoia at global warming.

All of this comes out spoiled. I know that I live a privileged life, that I am complaining about the requirements of a sinecure and bemoaning that I got hundreds of dollars worth of nice clothing for the price of attendance. Knowing and feeling are not the same. It isn't the clothes I find objectionable - some of the shirts are quite stylish - but what this means. This feels like I am losing critical parts of my identity to some amorphous archetype for teacher. I am Xen and I don't want to lose sight of that in steady paychecks and mock turtlenecks. I don't want others to lose sight of that.

Soon in Xenology: Moving. Teaching.

last watched: Akeelah and the Bee
reading: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
listening: Avenue Q

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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