Thomm Quackenbush, author

" This Beautiful Agony | 2008 | Drawing Blood "

01.23.08 2:37 p.m.

The Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his choice.  

-Neil Gaiman

 


Change or Die

Emily calls me after returning from Los Angeles, where she had been busy training with the rest of the United States All Star Team and spending more time with her friend turned cuddlebuddy, Tim. Emily and I are friends in this moment, though it waxes and wanes far faster than the moon, even more rapidly than the tide most days, depending on if and why we have spoken. There slowly develops an etiquette to it. Direct questions tend to get answered no matter the medium. Idle comments and conversation may not, going from most likely (email) to least (home answering machine).

She details how she is so proud of me for making such steps to get over her, how strong and confident I am. How impressed she is. From other lips, these words would simply be a lovely compliment, something I need to hear to affirm that I am doing the right thing and am progressing well on this swerving path. From Emily, though she sounds sincere, I am too apt to sift through them for lines I can read between, the meanings I wish and do not need to hear. These are not things for her to say, no matter how much she may honestly feel them. She mentions how difficult she thinks March - the month in which we were supposed to get married - is going to be for her, then amends that it will be hard for me as well. I grunt something, since she is the one who made that month have a stigma and it is hard to rally sympathy for self-inflicted amputations.

I reply to her demurely, pointing out that my options were to cope or to die. I wasn't giving up my life to anyone or anything, so I was really left with no option but to thrive in this new paradigm. I apologize for copping the writer's conceit of referencing one's own work for explanations, an affectation I have fallen into more than is strictly necessary of late, but you will have to indulge me. One of the themes in We Shadows is that humans accept the reality with which they are presented. The more you can do this, the saner and healthier you are perceived to be. As such, my protagonist Shane thinks little of a demon-haunted universe once she is properly introduced to it, just trying to identify the exact parameters of what she now takes to be reality. If she were to fight against it, she would flounder and be eliminated. My actual world currently involves coping with the woman I had intended to marry dithering off to live a life that does not include me with men who do not resemble me. I can fight against it, but what will that get me but contempt from all sides, including from myself? So I function as best I can. Should we all have wings tomorrow, I should find my place within that universe as well, learning to soar.

Emily is nearly bursting to tell me of other new developments in her life, including jobs to which she is applying in Boston and New Paltz and a house in Warwick. Oh, she adds almost as an afterthought, did she forget to tell me that her clan offered to let her rent a house from them for a pittance?

Both that she is trying to work in New Paltz and that she has opted to live in this house in Warwick provoke this quiver of bitterness. Clearly she and I could never have has a life together, I rue sarcastically. I would have never, ever have suggested specifically that as a life goal. I myself haven't been applying to jobs in New Paltz, putting forth copious energy toward making a life in a town I began to see as my domain on the many nights Emily left me alone. Now, were she to be moving to the Indo-Tibetan Plateau to become a bald nun, I could well imagine how our paths could no longer run together, but these suggestions are proximal and are mine. She left me to lead the life I was attempting.

It feels totally wrong to me that the Fates are rewarding Emily with everything she swore she didn't want, everything, in fact, that I did say I wanted. Stability, a relationship, a real home, walking proximity to friends, a chance at a teaching job at a university. It further irritates me that she cares deeply about staying close to her coven, because it is such concern she no longer has for me. Over seven years of my increasing devotion and I am put on her altar for sacrifice because other things in her life were not peachy.

She acts as though I should be happy for her, but I just can't muster it over the jealousy and angst this sideways pronouncement provokes. The conversation turns friendly again despite this revelation, and she mentions how so many people doubt that she and I can stay friends. "Fuck other people!" I exclaim, then amend, "Actually, I would really prefer that you not do that."

"Don't worry," she laughs. "That won't be a problem."

"Likewise," I assure her, because it seems polite, but I truly won't be. I almost tell her of one of the women with whom I've been speaking, who specifically mentioned that she is not interested in having that level of intimacy for at least three months after starting any relationship - which was music to my ears - but I think better of it.

Still, I think things between Emily and I are on an upswing, until she tells me that she wants the furniture she lent me back as soon as possible so she can outfit her new apartment with, among other things, the bed on which I had slept for years so she can share it with Tim. My voice goes deep and flat as I try to keep my anger in check. I had told her to take this furniture when she was otherwise stripping my apartment of her possessions and she said that she wanted me to have them, that she would hate to take my bed away. The clause, "until it is convenient for me" did not cross her lips but was plainly not far from her mind.

Even as she is informing me that she is doing this, she asks if I can't keep the cats a while longer, more than a month past when she said she would be taking them. I tell her that I won't, that she needs to stop prolonging this and take them when she takes the furniture. I don't want another thing in my life that she can come back and remove at her leisure. I don't want my pets to be caught in the middle of a strange custody battle. If she is going to break things off and cut me out of her life, she can't linger.

Then she asks if there is anything she can do to make this easier for me. My first, distinctly bitter reaction is that I cannot imagine a thing she can do for me now, but then I revise that she could promise not to bring Tim - with whom she is sleeping - to pick up the furniture. It was a token remark, so she could say "Of course I wouldn't" and I could feel like she actually cared about my needs. She had previously dismissed my saying that I didn't like him as being because she so quickly jumped into bed with him after months of conspiring, but I assured her that I truly do not like him. He was willing to entice Emily to end our relationship so he could cop a feel, harshly broke up with his girlfriend who he claimed to love intensely and lied to her so much that I got sent nasty letters, and showed himself to be opportunistic and unethical. Plus, he referred to Emily as Fat Bastard in front of me, knowing that she has severe body image issues, until I tore into him about it, so he already seemed like a jerk to me even before I was aware quite how personally. But Emily tells me that she can't promise me that she won't bring him, he is her strongest friend. I made clear to her, in no uncertain terms, that he is not welcome in my home.

After a night to sleep on this issue, so to speak, I ask if I could keep the mattress since I have used it far more than she ever had and it is my bed. I have no attachment to her father's bed frame and welcome her to take it, but the mattress feels like something separate from that. I'd given up a new bed so she could sleep on this mattress. Her voice gets hard and says that I absolutely cannot, that it was her father's bed. I get silent for a moment and tell her that she is not being fair. She retorts that she does not have to be fair when it concerns her father or something she wants. As she says this, I nudge open a manila folder of her father's hand edited poems that she ignored in her initial move and it gets a that much more difficult to think that other people are wrong about our friendship.

Soon in Xenology: Coping. Dates. Ideal Wives. Melanie.

last watched: Juno
reading: Franny and Zooey
listening: A Light of Some Kind

" This Beautiful Agony | 2008 | Drawing Blood "

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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