Thomm Quackenbush, author

" Adult Points

Year and a Day "

12.02.07 5:07 p.m.

Our real blessings often appear to us in the shapes of pains, losses and the disappointments; but let us have patience, and we soon shall see them in their proper figures.  

-Joseph Addison

 


One Art

Emily says that maybe it is all just a lesson in non-attachment. I insist that I do not want a damn lesson in nonattachment, I want everything back.

It began with this site, actually, which suddenly and inexplicably stopped running as it should. Traffic sharply cut off - who would want to wait to read this? - and I felt that lack. I joke that some of my energy comes from people reading what I write, but it is only half kidding. Knowing my words are falling upon interested eyes helps me justify myself and having Ipower, my hosting company, take that away for a month because they can't figure out what they did to my site is painful and frustrating.

Then I dropped my beloved and pricey camera, either on twenty square yards of streets in Anemia or in The Daily Planet, a local diner that makes liberal use of copyright infringement. On it, I had hundreds of pictures, of Halloween, of my trip to Virginia, of meeting Stephanie. Someone found it and apparently felt justified in keeping it. I put up posters and made a polite pest of myself to the post office in Anemia and the proprietors of The Daily Planet. I feel violated to think that some stranger, some heedless stranger, looked through my pictures and stole them from me anyway when it would have been so easy to do the right thing.

Then I left my flash drive in the computer lab in my school. Some kid announced that they found it and the teacher on duty, for whatever reason, just told them to leave it. It was a tiny thing, though full of precious back-ups of my writing, but it hurts to think that these kids I work with and help daily thought nothing of stealing it. These children who come from a level of privilege I cannot imagine, who need do no more than call their parents to have a flash drive sent to them with octuple the memory, just couldn't help but take a little more of something that in no way belonged to them. They are learning disabled, but they are certainly far from stupid. I have interrogated them, but they plead ignorance. I doubt explaining to them how this erodes my confidence and faith in them would have helped matters.

Around this time (coupled with the fact that I accidentally overslept and did not have time to both get the boys to breakfast on time and have them clean their rooms, and was thoroughly chewed out for it), I decided that there was something seriously wrong going on. I do not wish to feel that I was or am making this into a catastrophe, but it just seemed too much sequential bad luck to be coincidental. I looked for reasons both natural and supernatural. I disabused myself of a moldavite ring I acquired when this spate of bad luck seemed to begin, I cleaned my entire apartment, I cleansed the apartment with sage and did what banishing rituals I could that seemed appropriate, I restrung and rededicated a mala to erasing this negative energy.

If karma was to blame, it has a poor sense of humor. A week before losing my camera, I happened to find one abandoned at a computer at 60 Main and scanned through enough pictures to figure out its owner and reunite the two. A week before losing my flash drive, I found a student's drive and likewise made sure its owner got them. To then lose both such objects in quick succession felt mocking at best, a suggestion that I was alone in doing the right thing when I could easily have been corrupt and kept both. Still, I tried to learn the lesson from these losses, though I could not rid myself of the hope that learning the lesson would bring the objects back to me. All I could really derive was that these were just objects, but they were objects I valued. In losing the camera, I lost an aspect of my art, a means of communication and documenting my human experience, a chronicle of my recent adventures of which I was proud. In losing the flash drive to the sticky fingers of one of my students, I lost my trust in them. At the boarding school, there is a definite feeling of familiarity in the most literal way. Miles or continents from their true families, they have to form surrogate relationships with the staff. To be willing to spit on that for a $10 flash drive depresses me and it is that loss that is especially keen.

Last night, after speaking to Emily, my phone fell out of my pocket in the dorms. I realized within an hour that my phone was no longer on me and searched for it. It became unfortunately clear that one of my charges had the phone and was turning it on and off as I called. I asked each of them if they had seen my phone, knowing that one of them (quite possibly more) had done more than see the phone. They all denied knowledge, lying to my face. Tonight, they were all given room restriction to help "refresh their memories." Still, they could not manage to return the phone, could not see fit to do the right thing, though it meant that all of their peers were punished for their perfidy. I am the closest thing to a father most of these boys will have while at this school, one of the people expected to leap to their rescue time and again, to defend them again adolescence and the administration after they screw up, and they were utterly willing to steal from me, lie to me, and basically give me a hearty "fuck you." And I know that they have very permanently and irrevocably damaged the relationship I have with them. I can't trust them and I cannot help them any more. Again, these sons of obscene privilege are willing to cut their own throats to temporarily possess some object knowingly stolen from a faculty member. It is a horrifying breach of morals and ethics, one that will definitely bite them in the ass when Verizon finally mails me the list of calls made. They have no ability to leave campus - this is their only home - so they won't escape justice.

Aside from this lesson that further underscores why my tenure here will be a brief one, I learned how much I need to have that phone with me. This isn't a yuppie screed about the general importance of always being within a call's distance away. Right now, Emily is going through a horrifically dark period in her life - one I won't give you the voyeuristic pleasure of detailing - and the phone often times represents almost a literal lifeline between us. Yes, I love her little, affectionate text messages and our mundane conversations, but I require that phone to attend to the emergencies that increasingly crop up in her life. When my voice is one of the only life rafts for her in a sea of crippling despair, to have some pathetic brat yank that away because he thinks it is cool to steal is beyond obscenity.
Emily  
Desolate

Tonight, she had such an emergency and I could not be there because I was out of contact. This is not to say I didn't know. Driving my mother home from a holiday shopping trip, my chest tightened and I began quietly panicking. I knew that it was Emily, that something was very wrong with her. I tried to remain composed when all I wanted to do was pull over to the next payphone, but I managed to return her home before running to my mother's phone and calling Emily. Luckily, she got a hold of someone else in her contact network who could rescue her for a little while. But, for depriving me of my responsibility to Emily, I will never forgive the thief I have erstwhile parented.

This is no lesson in nonattachment, this is a lesson in exactly how attached I need to be. Objects, while important, while cherished for their use, are just things. What underscores my losses of these things are the people connected, those who stole more than technology from me, but faith in the innate goodness of people. I can stand to replace lost objects, but not the loss itself. And I can never stand to replace the people themselves, Emily most of all. I had been dealing well - or thought I had been dealing well - with the trauma through which Emily has been working intensely these past few months. Tonight, as I panicked at being unable to call her when the intuition struck that she was in need, it became very solid and very dire to me. The shell casing, the gel coating, that this will be a good experience once we get through it dissolved and I realized that, for it to be a good experience, we have to get through it first with no further losses.

Soon in Xenology: Recovery, I hope.

last watched: Eragon
reading: The Night Listener
listening: Mirrormask

" Adult Points

Year and a Day "

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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