Thomm Quackenbush, author

" The Ides | 2008 | Part Time Lover "

03.20.08 11:20 p.m.

Believe those who seek the truth; doubt those who find it.  

-Andre Gide

 


Fake Plastic Trees

Dan Kessler tells me a story about a girl I assumed had been flirting with me months ago. She had likely not been flirting with me as she had taken to loving a severely schizophrenic boy who believed that she was the robotic concubine of her holographic crystal boy and that only he, as an angel traveling backward in time by falling asleep and awaking yesterday, could reprogram her by sex. Not a letter of that is colorful word choice, I'm afraid. She seemed quite reasonable to me, possibly because I assumed she was flirting with me over a game of Clue, but wanted nothing more than to trade in a stable relationship with her long time boyfriend (who was not, in fact, originating from a crystal kept in the kitchen) for sex with someone who genuinely needed intense professional help to have any attachment to an objective reality.

Right about now, you are laughing as though your relationships are really much easier to explain or less crazy than this. You love a girl who you treat as a proxy for your estranged mother, except that your girlfriend was raped when she was twelve by an uncle trying to recapture the affair he never had with a cheerleader in high school, so she acts out sexually then cries herself to sleep in your arms. You believe you are doing something noble and good, saving her. Or you outwardly tell the world how much you just want a nice man to fall in love with you and treat you properly, but you just can't quite get over the appeal of the "bad boy" who molests you in a seedy bar before returning home to his wife. When you question the arrangement or assume you are going to change him into the respectable gent you know him to be under the leather, body hair, sweat, tattoos, and three different women's sexual fluids, he blackens your eye as a reminder to shut your yap. Yours isn't any better than that of the schizophrenic angel. Your only benefit is how banal your delusions turn out to be, just how many people are nodding their heads in agreement with your angst because they are trying to work out their own melodrama with their Wiccan, lesbian, wanderer ex-fiancée and their barely legal, bisexual, atheist, PoliSci, handcuffed girlfriend.

There is a psychological term which I will spare you here, but the rough idea is that adolescents tend to believe everyone is watching them all the time. They react ridiculously from an outside perspective, as though their petty drama were the least bit original or interesting, as though anyone would care to be the audience for their sorrow. Their cat runs away and they can't understand why no one else agrees that this meets the very definition of perilous drama. They fall in love and they just can't believe that their parents could have ever felt this way. When it ends - and it will - they know for a fact that no one has ever hurt as deeply in the history of the world and that this is the greatest injustice ever perpetrated. (I find this a good time to do a bit of name dropping around them. "Auschwitz", "Darfur", and "Rwanda" are some favorites.) We pretend to, but we never fully get past this paranoia that we are constantly being watched by the world. The increase in surveillance, the video cameras on ever street corner, likely helps us indulge this fantasy that we are somehow noticed. Some of us are even so persistent in our delusions that we type up long stories detailing our lives and assume we are read and that strangers care deeply.

We believe this teenage fantasy because we find it comforting, because the truth is often anything but. Some part of any interpersonal relationship is contingent on concealment. Should you ever be so stupid as to tell someone else exactly everything you think of them, you can be guaranteed they will flee in the direction that will get them farthest from you. You don't really want to hear what they think of you. You don't want to know who really hates you or who has been harboring a crush on you for the better part of a decade because it would be inconvenient at the very least to have to so constantly readjust your assumptions about the world. You like your pink fluffy clouds. I doubt I could handle the truth of what people truth think of me. When Melanie told me what she thought of that story I had tinkered with for years, I understood that what she was saying had no malice in it. It just wasn't a good story to her. All of her reasons were completely correct and, in retrospect, I don't happen to think it is a very good story. Before her, I relaxed into a world that was gilded and denied the truth even when it was presented to me. I have actively tried to tell Melanie the truth, but even then we only get 30% true nakedness. The rest isn't a lie, just hidden.
Melanie  
C'mon, love her! I do.

Days ago, I introduced Melanie to Jacki in what feels like the last hurdle to surmount in this relationship, at least until Melanie contrives a reason for me to go to Ohio/France/Morocco to meet her folks. It is the final gauntlet she has to run through to soothe me. I want Jacki to understand why I am sleeping with Melanie because I respect them both and have an emotional investment in Jacki's opinion.

We have a meal at Bacchus in New Paltz. It feels like everything is too rushed, since I have to return Melanie to her dorm room to study or do homework before meeting Jacki and Kevin at a movie at 8. I am acutely aware of everything Melanie says and, more importantly, everything she doesn't say. I want her to glow and pulse with brilliance before them, before Jacki especially, because it would further justify my desire for her kisses. While the conversation flows naturally - aside from a flat sexual joke to Kevin while Jacki and Melanie were elsewhere - I know on some level that I am trying to steer the conversation to an intellectual venue where Melanie will be likely to shine, but I find that I know too little about William Blake, political science, Japanese, or philosophy to make an honest go of it. Kevin and I (and, briefly, the waitress) fall into a discussion on the merits of Neil Gaiman and how much we hate him for being so good, then the meal is over and Jacki and Kevin are telling Melanie how nice it was to meet her.

I drop Melanie home and then make relative haste to the theater. Jacki and Kevin arrive with ample time before the movie starts. After a few minutes of pleasantries, I eagerly ask them what they thought of Melanie. They give each other that look couples get when they have already had this discussion and it has had time to become an inside joke. They even laugh a little and I pretend it is simply at my puppy dog insistence that they end the suspense and just tell me their opinion. They hesitate and I know they won't tell me the whole truth. It wouldn't be a joke between them if their communal opinion was something more than, "She is a fine woman and will continue to be an ideal companion for our good friend. We give our hearty and unreserved approval to this dating union." Jacki weighs her options and says Melanie has nervous habits, like shaking very slightly. I point out that this is a harmless neurological issue, not a nervous habit. The one genuine nervous habit I witnessed from her was when she cleaned the bathroom, to which Jacki rightly retorts that maybe my bathroom needed cleaning. I quickly correct that I am talking about the bathroom at the Muddy Cup coffeehouse. (Their proprietors of the coffeehouse did not put away their cleaning product and, in lieu of peeing, Melanie sanitized.) Finally, Jacki gives me her diplomacy. As long as Melanie is going to pay attention to me and spend time with me, she is kosher in Jacki's eyes. I wonder what else they thought, but I know that they will not tell me without distinct badgering and I am not up to fighting that hard for the truth.

This reticent approval is sufficient and I know that I shouldn't care as much as I do about anyone else's opinion but my own. The problem is that I swore I would listen and heed what my loved ones think of my partner, after having so much ignored their overt statements when I busily loved Emily in absentia.

Yet how often we ignore the truth about ourselves and others. A former fling of Melanie's challenges that Melanie is "intoxicated" with me. That were Melanie thinking without the influence of my vast charisma (it's okay to laugh, I won't be offended), Melanie wouldn't want to commit to a long term relationship with me. The subtext is practically just text here, this girl thinks Melanie would otherwise be with her and cannot find a way state her feelings honestly. She has to make up this story to believe, that I am some predator after the pleasures of eighteen-year-old girlflesh. At least, if disingenuously, she is letting Melanie know that she still cares about her and I appreciate that. So many don't express their feelings and then wonder why they are unfulfilled.
Kevin and Jacki  
There was a blue tongue theme developing

Before they were introduced, Melanie asks me why I never asked Jacki for a date. She had seen pictures and heard me boast about Jacki but it seemed a strange question then, given that Jacki is my best friend and I won't be fool enough to deny she is one of the more attractive women in my social strata. I give this more than due consideration and finally pronounce that it likely comes down to a mutual incompatibility of scheduling of our affections, namely that Jacki and I have never in our almost eight years of acquaintance been unattached at the same time. This isn't an overture now, I promise. I mean it when I say that she is one of my best friends and I would be loath to ever change that. Melanie makes me happy and Kevin certainly brightens Jacki's life. I actually think Kevin has the potential to stick around for quite a long time and he would be wise to. Even were we both single, I can't imagine actually proposing anything more than sharing a few dinners together as we kvetch about being single against our respective wills. This isn't to say that I haven't idly thought what kissing Jacki would be like, but she is definitely like one of those child safe dolls, exquisitely tailored clothing permanently molded onto her body. I love Jacki and I respect her utterly. She is a woman of personal principles and ethics, a paragon of virtue as far as I am concerned. She motivated me to get jobs, even when it would be to her detriment, even when it would push me geographically and socially farther from her. She is something sacred to me. I sent her an email joking that I would owe her my hand for all the help she has given me to get out of this life in Anemia. She retorted that we should exchange lifesavers - her words - if we are both mutually unwed by the time she hits forty. It doesn't sound like a horrid plan to me, better than raising seal in Maine with Sarah, as had been my plan when I was seventeen.

I try to comport myself with honesty, though I don't doubt that people are often surprised when I let things slip that I assumed they had known. This is particularly awkward when I - for a purely hypothetical example - joke about a friend's sexual history in front of his present girlfriend who had yet to have this discussion. In high school, I fawned over my best friend, a girl named Jen. I assumed she knew, as I made no secret of my flirtation and dated her once for all of three days. When finally we got together in a significant way, I asked why she had never pursued me. She said that I always seemed to be dating someone else. I blinked and stammered, finally coming out with the revelation I thought was obvious, "I was usually dating them because I thought you wouldn't date me." How much trouble we could have spared ourselves with a minute long conversation a year earlier.

I will try to conceal as little as possible, though this will be hard to consciously do. I do not want to lie - I am horrid at keeping track of fiction wrapped into fact - but how does one answer the questions of anyone with whom there is not already an agreement of mutual truth? One of the greatest virtues of my relationship with Melanie is that we have set that as a requisite ground rule. If we lie, we die and we both know it. I have already confessed sins to her that seemed to dire to mention to others and her reaction is almost always, "Oh, that's nothing." This aloofness is also truth and one that sets me free.

Soon in Xenology: Part time lovers.

last watched: The Orphanage
reading: Dune
listening: The Vines

" The Ides | 2008 | Part Time Lover "

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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