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" Emperor of Ice Cream | 2008 | Take This Waltz "

06.27.08 1:26 a.m.

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.  

-Albert Einstein


Dissecting the Angel

Daniel lectures Hannah and me on concepts such as squaring the circle and trisecting angles, ideas just beyond my reach and interest. I try to pay attention and the basis behind what he was trying to do - solve a series of math problems left by the ancient Greeks, who felt these acts could be done but didn't have the technically capacity - truly appeals to me. I don't see why Daniel couldn't be the one to find these answers and I think it would be too easy to underestimate his capability, but my brain shuts down out of a conditioned response from first grade. Still, I force myself to listen and prod my brain to draw pictures of balls in cubes floating in front of me so I will stay involved. Then Hannah makes some offhanded remark about her inability to listen and Daniel immediately shoots back, "See, this is why we are no longer together."

The ball in the cube falls through a hole in the bottom and bounces across the parking lot. I lean near Daniel, say, "Hmmm?" then lean toward Hannah, repeat my sound to her vague amusement and then return to my position with one further "hmmm", finally telling him he may proceed. I won't hear another word of his explanation, as he has inadvertently handed me a puzzle more in line with my modalities. My interested sounds and their respective reactions (both amused and tolerant in my momentary annoyance) revealed everything I needed to immediately know. My two new friends were once in a relationship, his remark wasn't a random jab. Her reaction to this was light and airy, not hurt or offended in the least, nor was his comment intended to be truly hurtful. Things ended well enough that there are not severe lingering scars.

They've known each other for most of a decade and I can understand how they are individually attractive human beings. Given those factors, it makes a degree of sense that they would have, at one point or another, considered a romantic entanglement. I spent my adolescence with the entangled promiscuity of a carbon atom, so I am not one to judge here. While I only publicly count the last four in my pantheon, I could mirror Daniel's barb to another twenty girls who kissed me from a week to a month when I was in high school. I would hypothetically be friends with many of those I casually dated and would willingly live with a select few of these. Perhaps all these tumblers fell into the right order for them and Daniel and Hannah ended up best friends and roommates. The echo of "Hmmm?" from their faces only reveals the superficial aspects.

All evening prior to this, as we met for a forgettable martial arts movie at the cheapies and then when I coerced them to ice cream, I had begun to wonder about Daniel's prior relationships. It was beyond assumption that he had had them. Those that have never dated tend to exude an air that can be picked up at a distance. For some, it manifests as a lack of confidence or an uneasiness, attributes that don't remotely describe Daniel. I knew Hannah's immediate romantic state - a relationship with a boy named James who does not understand that freezer ice cream is not equivalent to taking his girlfriend out to an ice cream stand for a cone of soft serve - though nothing before that. I did know that my friend Jenn had a meeting with Daniel in the recent past, though neither of them made any moves that transcended the friendly - no matter how much I bounced and swore noninterference for a complete rundown from both sides.

Presented with the information that Daniel and Hannah had once been a couple, I fought back the imps that wished to jump to conclusions. For all I knew, it was a momentary fling. The sardonic tone in his voice would have supported this as well as an arranged marriage when they were both five which ended three days before I met them. It wasn't my business to decide which had been the case until I patiently wheedled information out of them that supported my presumptions. Aware that getting Daniel to speak at length about anything he doesn't wish to lecture on is akin to teaching a pig to dance - which is to say, exceedingly entertaining for me, but the pig will think I'm a bit daft - I will have to set my sights on lovely, loquacious Hannah, who answers me when I ask a direct question.

The imps are crafty and inform me immediately that I may be able to deny them a chance to jump to conclusions, but I am ill prepared to stop them from replaying every idle comment Hannah and Daniel have made in my presence for some trace that I should have caught on sooner. If the Emily saga has taught us nothing else (and it certainly has) is it that I may actually know things that I have not remotely begun to acknowledge knowing. Within seconds, the imps have handed me several comments Daniel had made about Hannah's boyfriend, usually disparaging in the same way I might tease a friend about an absent partner, and point fervently until I sneer at their efforts.

This is where I imagine some of those cubed circles falling on the imps. Just because Daniel has made some remarks about Hannah's present lover, does not mean that he was being catty for any reason other than an honest apprehension or realization that he criticizes entertainingly. If, as the imps suggest, I add undue shading to Daniel's remarks, turning them from his standard level of snark into the sarcasm of the unresolved, I would be just as guilty of burning for a half dozen women (and a few men) who don't remotely interest me on that level. What counts as a fascinating revelation for me is nothing more than a milepost in the path of their friendship and they are the unquestioned experts of this road. If Daniel's comments meant anything more than, "I, Daniel, do humorously point out the foibles of your boyfriend and the ridiculousness of the crap with which you are willing to deal with for said boy because I am your best friend and can get away with it," he would be the only one to know.

It comes down to my prejudices. Anyone in my social stratum becomes instantly subject to my superimposing my thoughts and feelings from similar experiences onto their life, often in a fashion that is wildly inaccurate. I don't often feel the need to share these judgments with anyone beyond the woman sharing my bed and life, but I assure you I have them. If, in hanging out with Emily or - even and to my chagrin - Kate, either of them made a remark akin to Daniel's, I would not breezily dismiss it as Hannah does. The former would get me, eyes slits of daggers, glaring at her and only monosyllables out of me until she left. The latter, much as I love talking with her and even though she left me eight years ago, would at least earn my sticking my tongue out at her, if not a likewise cutting rejoinder. Clearly, I should not generalize from my experiences how others should react, but it feels almost unavoidable.

I could not stand to live with an ex-girlfriend, at least not for a long while after we'd both lived separate lives, a handicap Daniel and Hannah do not seem to have ever had. Whatever ending the romantic portion of their relationship had, it is not one that prevented their friendship and domestic situation from continuing, since they've lived together for a goodly number of years, longer than I've ever lived with someone. That is something I truly envy, because I cannot make such a smooth transition. Even now, months since I've seen Emily and despite being in a truly awesome relationship myself, I make faint growling sounds when referring to her present romantic situation with Tim and imagine I will for a bit longer. Were she still my housemate and openly dating someone else, snide remarks would be the least of my coping arsenal. I would be a decade away from being her friend, much as I once hung on my love for her, but I've never been Daniel or Hannah and it is fair to no one to assume I can remotely imagine what they've come through to be sharing ice cream with me on a summer's night. Truly understanding someone else's situation is, I assume, a bit more difficult than squaring a circle or trisecting an angle.

Soon in Xenology: Engagement. Hanniel. Weddings.

last watched: Wall-E
reading: The Princess Bride
listening: Alas I Cannot Swim

" Emperor of Ice Cream | 2008 | Take This Waltz "

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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