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" Interregnum | 2008 | Vicissitude "

01.14.08 1:33 p.m.

How rare and wonderful is that flash of a moment when we realize we have discovered a friend.  

-William Rostler


Social Buffer

Jenn accused me of using the Pagan meetup in New Paltz as a cover for finally seeing her in person. I point out that, technically, I made the plans to meet with these people before I was aware she existed. Therefore, I am using her as my social buffer.

I arrive in New Paltz early, not for any date related reason, but because I decided that my emotional healing process required the acquisition of a claddaugh ring. The tradition of the ring is that, when worn with the heart pointed outward, it signals that the wearer is unattached, something I would very much like to be. I am still very much in this Emily quagmire, looking for any psychic rope I can get. I took the ring as a commitment to myself, to be single for a while. My decision was hastened by the students in Anemia repeatedly inquiring after the absence of my gold wedding band. These are kids who might not notice if they were on fire, but they pick up this detail. On the absent suggestion of a cute student, I affirmed that it was elsewhere, being cleaned. This is not wholly untrue - little I say is - as it is in a mirrored pyramid in the altar above my bed, along with a few other items. The point of the spell was to bless and protect Emily - that ring had been a powerful talisman to the effect since our handfasting - as that could no longer let that be my responsibility, and I performed this spell before I discovered her immediate/preexisting interest in her friend Tim. It was just another step in letting go and trying to come a little more into myself.
She says she's not an angel

Last week, I continued this process of extrication from the mental presence of Emily. I'd spoken to her on Thursday to try to clear up a cell phone issue and she told me that she thought that this breakup would turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to either one of us. After my sharp intake of breath, she conceded that I might not yet be ready to agree with her. In that conversation, I reflexively told her I loved her as I always had as we said our goodbyes, and was met with stern silence. When I got to my parents' house for dinner, I felt angry and resentful. How dare she tell me this crippling is the best thing that ever happened to me just because she feels liberated? Just because, unbeknownst to me then, she was not wanting for companionship? I found it galling that she would think this was the right thing to say to me, knowing how I felt.

A new acquaintance told me that there was an arts meeting occurring in Beacon that night. Feeling violently social after my conversation with Emily, given her conceit, I wanted to go out and meet new people. After swallowing some food and bitching out my angst at my parents, I went to the Chthonic Clash Café. I won't lie, I had hopes of twenty to thirty year old artists and poetesses. I imagined people who I could know on sight were future friends and, because of all this, I did not give the meeting a chance. I sat down in a chair next to an associate and her girlfriend, the café having closed just as I entered and thereby forestalled the entry of any lithe painters with gossamer scarves in their hair. The rest of the group made introductions, these people who had already had two decades more on this Earth than I. I tried to focus on what they are saying, but my anxiety overwhelmed me. I excused myself to the bathroom, called Dan Kessler, and made him give me a reason to leave the Chthonic. The group looked up at me as I stammered that something had come up and I was very sorry, but I really couldn't stay a moment longer. I did not tarry to see their reactions.

Once in New Paltz, I spent time with Stephanie until Dan got off of work, then signed up for the Open Mic occurring at 60 Main. I waited as a man played the harmonica through three folk songs, pacing and fretting about what I would read. I almost tried to cop out on this as well, to tell Dan and Stephanie that we could go whenever they were ready but they would not let me off the hook. Finally, my turn came and I got up. The owner of 60 Main adjusted my mic. I recited Love Story, Tonight I Can Write, and One Art as a poetic triptych of my former relationship and how I would recover in time. This was before I knew how promptly the line "Another's. She will be another's." from Neruda's poem would come to fruition, but I tend to have unfortunate poetic prescience. I finished them all without shaking, without tearing up. Throughout my three poems, people talked over me as they did with no one else, ignored me utterly. No one cared, I was the pretentious guy who goes to open mics to read obscure poetry. But I was not reading it for them.

That Saturday, Emily came to pick up the remainder of the stuff she had left in the meditation room and to drop off food for our cats. We were friendly. I would not help her remove anything from the apartment - that was still too painful - but I opened the door and chatted with her about the events of her week and the fact that she had made the All Star team for Tae Kwon Do and would be going to L.A. for a week. With the help of Jenn on my computer, I was able to handle seeing Emily, to treat her as my friend. When she left with some murmured words that she might want the PlayStation 2 back, but that I played it more, she then said that she loved me and we kissed on the cheek. I felt then that this was amazing progress, that we really could pull off the transition to friendship. That we alone could beat the odds, as I felt we always had. And that night, I went to Jacki's house to recycle the clothing Emily left behind with her blessing.

When I arrive at the Muddy Cup tonight to meet my date, I do not see anyone matching Jenn's description. I do, however, see a tall girl with fluffy purple hair more than meeting the description Jenn gave me of her friend and backup, Seo. Her overt reason for bringing Seo was that she, Seo, was much more interested in a Pagan meetup then Jenn. The subtext was that Jenn just needed someone safe and hers in case I only seemed like a nice guy when I was leaving poetry on her voicemail. I didn't begrudge her Seo. Were Jenn only my friend rather than someone with whom I had been idly projecting my rebound crushing, I would advise bringing someone like Seo to keep her date in line. Even having dated a ninja so long, I would be loath to get Seo mad.

I fall into a chair across from Seo and her friend Jesse. I was a bit apprehensive about her friend, because Jesse had been my younger brother's girlfriend five years before. During the past week that Jenn and I had been chatting, this improbable connection came out. Jenn told me that Jesse gave only a lukewarm review of me, but granted that it had been five years and the context would be very different tonight. I might not now be a jerk, as I must have seemed to her as the older brother of her boyfriend when she was 16.

They both greet me and tell me that Jenn was in the bathroom. This gave me thirty seconds to shuffle my feet and wonder what iteration of Jenn would emerge. Her pictures almost look like different girls, all attractive, but sisters at best. She would not have wings, as she so often did in photos, that much was certain. Nor would her hair be as fuzzy as in the last picture she sent me, when she was fairly fresh from the shower. Beyond that, I was anticipatory but unwitting.

She emerges and sits, averting her eyes for a moment and leaning against Seo's ample breasts. She is dressed casually, jeans and a t-shirt, but all black. Aware of her proclivities and wishing to be appealing to her, I wore black jeans and a dark red button down shirt. I would dress like this for a date, even if she would not allow it to be formally called that.

We made polite and friendly conversation... well, rather, they said words like Otakon and Escaflowne, and I did not fixate on Jenn's lips. I had been rethinking having her be my first kiss out of a relationship, my ironic consummation that I was going to be alone for a while, my affirmation that I was no longer waiting for Emily's affection. I did not rethink because I did not like her or did not find her attractive. She had shown me more respect, attention, and caring then I deserved given how we met, how I was objectively a stranger. I didn't want to kiss her because it wasn't fair to her to do so. In one of the many letters I exchanged with her, I wrote the following, which confirmed in me that I couldn't idly kiss someone:

I think I have had a dearth of really good first kisses, at least with my three serious girlfriends. With Jen, all our kisses were stolen and unfaithful initially because I was involved with someone else. While I am certain that our first kiss was so charged with sex and adoration that we vibrated, it isn't the sort of thing one could write home about. My first kiss with Kate was in a movie theater during a showing of City of Angels. She didn't want to kiss me, initially, though quickly got over it and took incentive. Still, as the kiss wasn't something mutually initiated, it too is slightly dunned. With Emily, we were in my bedroom, sitting on the floor. The kiss had been built up over three dates and I respected her boundaries, as she was just getting out of a horrid relationship with an abusive boyfriend. We locked lips, but I didn't find what I expected. For a first kiss, it was too reserved, like she wanted to kiss but not be kissed or simply hadn't yet learned how to be kissed. Anything before them is fuzzy.

After an hour of tentative conversation, we leave the Muddy Cup for the meeting down the street. It is noisy and cramped. There is simply too much humanity when I want to get to know just one person a little bit better. I get anxious and want only to touch Jenn's arm to ground myself, but I don't know what is appropriate or welcomed. She has told me that she is not a physical person, that she finds the sorts of gestures in which I revel a bit off-putting. I grew more silent and reserved with so much talking, shouting across the table because the restaurant in which we sit is far too crowded. From my pocket, I remove my hematite ring from a small leather pouch I keep to remove negativity and help me function. Hematite is supposed to be a stone that removes negativity from the atmosphere, though Emily always said that it immediately grounded her. The contents of this pouch represent the last of my witchcraft supplies, Emily having taken the rest of the herbs and candles. I fidget with the ring on my pinky finger and I don't feel grounded, just nervous and skittish.

The meeting is adjourned to the pool hall of Bacchus, a local restaurant, which they believe will be quieter. My first instinct is to bolt, to convince Jenn and her friends to retire someone more sedate, but I think this urge is inauspicious. Bacchus is quiet, but the damage is done; I am already feeling choking vibrations of social anxiety, a rarity for me.

I sit close next to Jenn and people commence talking. I keep reaching out to touch Jenn's arm, not for any specific romantic notions but because it is what my fingers wish to do. Eventually, I remove the rings from my right hand - Jenn has a metal allergy - and place them on my left for safe keeping. It feels like my left hand is pulsing, but Jenn accedes to hold my hand while we talk to everyone around us. Within five minutes of gently squeezing her fingers, I feel like myself again.

I don't know if I can express to Jenn how grateful I am for her. By telling me that she wouldn't let me rebound crush on anyone, she became the safest and sweetest person on whom to direct my feelings. She knows all this, knows how I feel and what I am going through, and she endures me with a smile (or did, I assumed, up to the point where I could actually see her). Beyond all that, I really do like her. She is clever, spiritual, funny and one hell of an artists, and not just of the wings she makes. I feel honored by her attention.

A woman standing across from me motions to the comely woman behind her. "She's like Munin, she remembers everything. I'm Hugin."

My ears perk up and I release Jenn's hand for a moment, whispering to her that I will be back in a moment. To the woman, Moya, I interrupt, "I'm sorry, did you say that you two were Hugin and Munin, Odin's ravens?"

She doesn't hear me at first, until the person who she is actually addressing says that she is being asked a question. "Oh, yes. I got us these pendants because of that." I had seen her, if not the other woman, earlier at the Gilded Otter and was immediately and irrationally drawn to the simple bird pendant around her neck. Pagans tend to like jewelry more than a little, so there was really no reason I was so taken with her bird, and now I understood why. In front of everyone, I didn't care to explain my interest. Later, when the room has cleared a little bit, I approach the other woman, Jessie (not to be confused with Jesse, my brother's ex), and explain that I wrote a novel in which those birds played a distinct part. I was telling her this as a means of conversation, because I feel a need to exchange words with this woman. I don't expect her to do what she does, which is to smile and ask to read my book, to give me her email address on a slip of paper. I am flattered and a bit shocked, suddenly a bit insecure as to my five hundred page work. There is so much I could change, so much emotional perspective I have gained even since Emily left me. I never so keenly understood how my character Shane felt in being left by the one person she thought understood her, how her world collapsed and she just had to go through the motions of life until she was ready to start again. But I resolve myself to send her what I have, not what I wish I had.

I return to Jenn again and take her hand in mine again. I find such comfort even in her touch, in the indulgence she grants me of physical contact. That she knows without words that I am touching her because I need to feel the touch of someone who cares about me when things have begun to feel so hard again, that I am not proposing anything beyond my patient affection and ebbing despair.

She leaves soon after, because Seo is tired. I hug her goodbye and I think for only a flash that we might kiss. I don't want to kiss her, but I don't explicitly not want to kiss her. Were we to kiss, it would be the kiss of friends, the brush of lips on a cheek that Moya will pull me into when I decide to leave a while later, though I have done nothing to earn it.

Before releasing her from the hug, I say, "I was right, what I said. You are my friend, you were before we met." She smiles and agrees, as though I am just catching onto something obvious. It wasn't what I meant to say. I meant to say Namaste, which roughly means "I recognize the divine in you", because I do. What I said feels more important than that.

Soon in Xenology: Coping. Dates.

last watched: Juno
reading: Portable Darkness
listening: A Light of Some Kind

" Interregnum | 2008 | Vicissitude "

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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