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" Dating Intensive | 2008 | Creation Myths "

02.06.08 11:49 a.m.

If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.  

-Richard Bach


Get Real


I immediately give a sarcastic reply. "No, I am a fictional character." He - it's always a man who asks this monosyllabic question - thinks I may be a chat robot. He doesn't yet care that I am also male, though he will. I get a few messages a month from men who just notice my androgynous self-portrait and who don't care to exercise their literacy by reading my gender. But, as I ramble on about being a contrivance of some odd author, it hits me how true this may be. I am my own best character, in the spirit of Oscar Wilde (or, I suppose, Marilyn Manson), a persona I've worn so well that few distinguish the man underneath who is only a hairsbreadth removed. I could have been almost anything, but I slowly evolved to be this. And nothing can really hurt me because it is only ever another trial for "Xen", some new scenario that will prove his mettle and will develop his character's journey. In this spirit, I am immortal and nearly invulnerable to any but the author in my own head.

I pick Melanie up at Bard and tell her this revelation and she, too, says she feels fictional. Maybe it is an epidemic among writers. Being fictional, she says, takes the sting out of atheism, a statement I find both harrowing and gorgeous. She couldn't be likewise fictional were she not so keen on bursting forth with such quotable lines. More than once I've called her "Juno" from the eponymous movie because of her wry brilliance and resemblance to Ellen Page, though I hardly begrudge her a lack of pregnancy.

In the midst of our later affection - what naturally develops as we wait for a call that never comes of friends who might come over to dinner - I look at her and, before I can restrain it, gasp, "Say that you love me." I immediately feel embarrassed as though I've loudly belched. The ejaculation is honest but not an honesty I had known or wished to share. The need for someone to confirm to me that I am loved utterly is powerful and brewing within my breast. I'd mentioned to more than one outside party that I was dating Melanie but keeping things as emotionally and physically safe as I could manage. This runs contrary to that protective urge, especially because it isn't just anyone whose love I desire, but that of this remarkable woman-child. When I do tell her that I love her, it won't be because I want to love someone or that I am in love with being in love, though both are certainly true. No, when I tell her I love her, it will simply be because it is the purest truth.

She is divinely polite about this, sighing something about how she intends to or thinks she may, but isn't ready for us to be saying it. I agree before she can finish her half apologized assurance, I'm not ready to hear it unless it's true - for Melanie to love me - no matter how comforting those words may be.

Being fictional can almost allow us to detach from who we are and live out this story arc together. Our cleverness, our wittiness and quickness, is almost enough to charm our pants off (far too literally) but there is too much of Prufrock in me, too much uncertainty. I whisper to her, pinning her shoulders to the mattress, "The Buddhists have a saying: The two worst things in life are not getting what you want and getting what you want."

"Clever Buddhists," she sighs as I kiss her.

I'm still learning who she is, though I feel I know the core well enough. She can immediately adopt personalities to match her accents (of which she has many) and can stay with these personas as long as they persist in amusing her. She can almost mask who she is under these, but the right glance from me erodes them immediately. I am getting a feeling for what is truly important to her, even when these things are nothing she would mention. She says that she had always been a cynical girl, a side of her of which I have only seen fragments. Now that she spends more time with me, her writing has gone from journalistically detached to infused with poetry. I tell her that, around me, all she needs to be is mine.

After tonight - after caresses that almost go too far - I convince her that we need to take this slowly, something to which she immediately agrees, and says she would have echoed but would not have had the self-discipline to initiate. We two protagonists are keenly desirous of some sort of climax to justify our actions and thoughts. Tentative, moderate, and sensible affection is too far from our instincts, and doesn't make for interesting plotlines. But however much we are our own avatars, we must experience as reality those narratives that we create. Unlike our prose, our lives do not allow us to idly edit something that did not turn out well. And, I suppose I should note, she only writes nonfiction. Maybe I don't want to be fictional anymore.

I tried hard to stop this before this got too intense, before I did. I hesitated until one of my friends said in reference to my acting Prufrockian, "stop measuring your life out in coffee spoons." And, because it is dramatic and eloquent, I can begin to hear the truth.

So, I've done my best to introduce her around, to make her (and therefore our relationship) more real. After learning the unstated opinions of my friends and family on the subject of Emily, I gave them my solemn word that I show them any serious prospect and solicit and heed their honest advice this time. I did it all in one day, after bringing her to the Dia Museum. Cristin let us in and I pronounced, motioning to Melanie, "I like this one." After this, I brought her to Melissa's new apartment. Melanie was surprised at how adult we sounded as Melissa tried to convince me to take a job where she works, but appreciated when Melissa imposed a "no mentioning Emily" prohibition. Melissa did not spend enough time with Melanie to get an accurate read on her but found her terrified, quiet and young. None of those are exactly fatal flaws. My parents, who took us for dinner at a Chinese buffet, agreed that she is nervous and young, but also "very nice, healthy, and bright." Later at a party at Annie's, Zack whispered to me that she passed (he'd quizzed her on movies and music and she answered better than I would have) but echoed the warning that she is young and that I should remember the kind of people I dated when I was eighteen.

Nothing they said dissuades me and nothing was really intended to. She becomes a little more real, a little more interwoven with the rest of my life. She isn't Shane - superficial comparisons aside - isn't one of my characters I can keep to myself until I have shined her to a glow. She needs to glow all on her own and, I believe, rather does.

Soon in Xenology: NonCon

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

" Dating Intensive | 2008 | Creation Myths "

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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