Thomm Quackenbush, author

" Turnstile

Our Home By Degrees "

10.16.07 11:38 p.m.

Kiss me and you will see how important I am.  

-Sylvia Plath

 


Ungodly Flirt

"It's that you are a-" and Jacki pauses for the right term, perhaps out of politeness or discomfort.

"An ungodly flirt?" I finish.

"Exactly."

"It's true. I flirt all the time and I get away with it, because everyone just thinks I'm half joking. And I am. But the other half is serious and testing the waters." It is something I began doing years ago. I'd like to say it is something accidental, something that just happened, but I am positive I caught on to the fact that only the jester in Shakespeare's plays was allowed to tell the truth. Joking around about things, despite being my default coping mechanism, gives me the liberty to be brutally honest without hurting anyone. "But it isn't intentional. I mean 'of or pertaining to intent', I certainly mean to do it."
Jacqueline  
The demur look

"I'm the opposite. I don't flirt with anyone. When I am with someone, I flirt with them, of course. Not otherwise." I don't recall her looking at me as she says this and I wonder if I have crossed a line. I have been flirting with Jacki most of our short night together, over the meal at the Greek restaurant that faked respectability, as we curled up on the floor of a bookstore and read sporadically from the stacks (she Bukowski, I anything within an arm's length), and on our slow walk past the stone houses in New Paltz. I was cognizant I was doing it and, perhaps, I was simply testing the waters yet again.

But the truth is, joking aside, that I realized how much I love her. I am aware that I wrote that I loved her in the past and I meant that fully. That was more an intellectual detail, like "I need a bag of tortilla chips, some seltzer, and I love Jacki". It was warm, but sterile. When I walked past her office, noticing with regret the fascinating person within whom I didn't know and then realizing I actually knew her quite well, it hit me like a slat of soggy bricks. It was messy and organic love, the realization that she is unique in all the world, she the only Jacki worth counting.

I recently revised "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for my school (I was made the head of the drama department consisting only of me, quite without my knowledge and consent) and tried to explain to the children what Lysander is feeling when - bewitched by the love juice from the purple flower - he wakes to see the face of his friend Helena and realizes he loves her. It is magical and hormonal, though he is convinced entirely that it is true love. Seeing Jacki was nothing like that. It was not romantic, to begin with. I didn't with to share a bed with her, didn't wish to speculate what of her existed beneath her always exquisitely black clothing. I didn't wish to date her, though I applaud the taste of any who realize and appreciate her worth. Jacki is one of the more attractive human beings I am blessed to call a member of my social sphere. There was a slight urge to kiss her, but in the chaotic way of estranged compatriots in old movies who had assumed the other was dead or gone and who can only affirm reality through their lips, the sting of salt from tears and sweat. I have taken to kissing Jacki on the cheek in meeting or parting, as we embrace, but this wasn't what my flittering urge wanted then. Aside from Emily who - despite the adulatory tenor of this entry, I adore and dote upon more each day - I have little desire to place my lips within an inch of anyone else's body. I can count maybe three or four who elicited this reaction in the seven years I've been with her, whether it be owing to a certain look, a gesture, comment, even something about the way they smelled.

Kissing is nothing next to falling in platonic love. It wasn't a crush, though I could more than understand how Jacki could provoke nothing short of profound infatuation in the undergrads with whom she works. She is, quite obviously, beautiful and utterly put together. Where normal people lounge in sweat suits on rare occasion, I can think of only one time she didn't look ready to be taken to a ball and that is only because she was fresh from the shower. She is one of the most literate people I know (which, coming from a sapiosexual, is high praise). She is passionately artistic, having partly gained her last relationship (god rest its soul) because Kevin was a fan of her work. She is kind and sweet and honorable and fascinating and eloquent and mysterious and tragic and lovely and honest. But beyond all these objective consideration, there is something about her that, to me, inspires a gushing of emotion, electricity behind my eye lids. When I feel farther from so many in my life who were once so crucial, when I realize that I can live without the presence of some who long forsook me, I feel closer to Jacki. In my grand plans to move anywhere that will take Emily and me, I keenly feel how much I would miss her. Flirtation is the best way I can express it to her, short of writing it on Jacki's arm with a calligraphy pen. It is likely some crossed wiring in my psyche that I process cherishing as a need to make suggestions that, in another situation, with another set of people, would be significant.

Her comment on my ungodly flirtation came because, prior to visiting her, I explained that I had left a half-flirtatious, half-fraternal message for Margaret, whose pictures of the last few years I had scanned with interest and appreciation. I wanted Jacki to understand that, while I may be a flirt, I am not indiscriminate. I left the message for Margaret because, like so few in this sorry world, I see something beautiful in her. I've known her since she was a pupa I ignored. To see her now, having marvelous college adventures and turning into a superb young woman, I don't with to let her forget that she is something divinely special. So many beautiful things wilt for want of recognition, though I can't imagine she would be one of them. But, aside from one message to Margaret, I can think of few people who earn my honest flirtation. There is a coworker with a son, but we are more especially friendly than flirtatious. I might state that I could understand why she would be attractive to people, but I would not that I was attracted to her (I'm not), if you see the difference. Beyond that woman, I struggle to think of anyone with whom I have the sort of interaction. And my idly comments to her, my raised eyebrow when overhearing her tell the children that she doesn't like balls flying at her face, are a mote compared to the hill of Jacki. I want Jacki to understand that, while I am indeed a flirt with select others, how I feel for her is unique.

My concern is not with myself or even Emily (who, upon my telling her all this, said, "So what? Flirt. You aren't dead and I'm not around tonight.") but Jacki. She is still fairly freshly on the rebound and, though I would not presume to think my leisurely flirtation would be capable of swaying her from her path, I wouldn't want to do anything to further confuse the work she is doing to cope and process. After my break-up with Katie, were I to be confronted with a feminine version of someone being quite so bold (if stumbling), I can't promise I wouldn't have thought the wrong thing. I wasn't and I still, very often, thought the wrong thing.

Jacki said that Emily must be very secure to put up with someone like me, but revised that maybe I was just as secure. I, after all, spend the majority of my nights in my own bed instead of the beds and sofas of her friends in New York City. I, though a devout Pagan in my own discordant way, keep my clothing on while practicing my religion. The thought struck me as odd, because I do not for a moment think Emily would remotely be unfaithful to me. I jokingly amended that there might have to be a conversation (and introductions) were Emily sharing the night with a short-haired lesbian, but she is not. She even guiltily confessed when she gave one of her Tae Kwon Do partners and best friends, Tim, a back rub after a particularly arduous workout, but this would be the antithesis of sexy for her. Emily equates my feelings of deep, fumbling connection with Jacki with how she feels about Tim, though I do not anticipate the situation in which I would be giving Jacki any form of massage. Poetry knots up the stomach, not the back.

In high school, I wrote a psychology paper on flirting. Of the many things I claimed, I decided that I flirt more like a girl (coy looks, lip biting, and body positioning) than a boy because I had been socialized around girls, so they were the ones who I subtly mimicked. As such, I have worked to make certain that, though still androgynous, my flirtation is specific. I want my flirtation with Jacki to mean exactly what I intend it to mean, that I love her and find her beguiling, but not that I wish her any sexual intent. I want her to be a dear friend, a life long confidante whether I deserve it or not. I want for her to know that I love her as much as I do. I want to share my literary lust of Sylvia Plath with her and I want her smiling face at my wedding. I want my flirtation to mean no more or less that I find her wonderful.

Soon in Xenology: Stability and progress.

last watched: Becoming Jane
reading: Pride and Prejudice
listening: Avenue Q

" Turnstile

Our Home By Degrees "

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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