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" Of Tinsel and Eggnog | 2008 | Something Borrowed "

12.26.08 11:29 p.m.

If our friendship depends on things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time, we've destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don't you think that we might see each other once or twice?  

-Richard Bach


Knowing Everyone

"Your knowing everyone is going to eventually get you in trouble," Hannah insists over her order of lemon chicken at the Chinese restaurant.

"I don't see how," I protest. "Besides, I don't know everyone."

As if the universe is mocking me, I immediately spot a guy I vaguely recognize and who sees me, smiles, and waves. I wave back and return to Hannah's amused glare.

"You have no idea how you know him, do you?"

"Not, specifically, as such," I reply, "but I do know that I regard him positively. That's something." It is only later that I recall that he is my estranged friend Zack's possibly girlfriend's younger brother, which I regard as far too tenuous a relationship to really have blamed on me. I've kissed no one involved (at least not willingly), so I am immune from blame. And besides, no trouble resulted.

Then, as we are paying our bills, a man at a nearby table is bemoaning a busty bimbo with a distinctive name and much more distinctive character flaws. I mention to Hannah that I am pretty sure I know the woman who has caused this man so much trouble. This, too, doesn't really seem to be my fault. I will take credit for those associations that remain because - if I may be so unbearably pretentious as to quote my own book - loose lips didn't exactly sink my high school social life. However, this so-called bimbo merely went to my high school and floats on the periphery of one of my social spheres. At worst, I gave her a decidedly awkward back massage my junior year of high school because she volunteered me and then removed her top (my hands and eyes did not stray below her shoulders and I insisted I was cramping up in under two minutes). I cannot help that her eccentricities are neon obvious, though Hannah does not seem to agree.

The plan for our evening is to go to Tina's house and play the Wii that her husband and she just bought, in the process hanging out with Kate, who is in town visiting her parents. I take full credit for knowing these two women. Tina and I dated very briefly (two weeks, maybe) when I was 15 or so, long enough to give her a hickey that caused her parents to suggest she not see me any longer. Kate, on the other hand, I loved for over two years and consider one of my best friends to this day. As Kate got ten thousand more kisses than Tina, I feel I am more justified in stating connections through her. As such, to Hannah, I describe Tina as Kate's friend who likes monkeys a great deal.

Hannah and I arrive half an hour early to the complex Kate had described. I have never met Tina's husband, very likely because Tina seemed to break off contact with me when she became aware that I knew her ex Stevehen was cheating on her with Melissa (though in my limited defense, this was because he insisted that he had informed her of all of this and that it wasn't my business to interfere. This is no longer an attitude I hold, at least partially influencing Hannah's insistence that I know everyone, as I happened to know her boyfriend Arthur through an idol of an ex-girlfriend). The gentleman who answered apartment B1 did not know Tina, nor did he appreciate my quirky way of asking after her. Ten minutes later, we were directed one apartment over, to a man who had been looking out of his curtains at us shivering in the snow.

There is the awkwardness of unfamiliarity, because this man was genuinely not someone I know in any sense. I didn't see any reason to ask him whether his wife still didn't like me. If she didn't, I couldn't imagine that I had ever come up. I would just play this night by ear and hope for the best. Certainly, I wouldn't have been permitted to come over had Tina a strong dislike for me. Hannah and I sat in nearly the same space on the empty couch, as Tina's husband spoke to us of puppets and video games until other people arrived to relieve his burden of maintaining a conversation with us.

Kate, Tina, and the two strangers that follow them integrate themselves into the living room, the strangers taking Tina's husband into the kitchen to eat take-out and shoot one another with Nerf darts. In the midst of this, Hannah asked if Tina happened to know her ex-boyfriend, James. James, as it turns out, was also Tina's ex-boyfriend, albeit one from the cusp of high school, one easily forgotten by all but the most directly concerned. The two of them compare notes, Tina trying to deduce which nasty habits from a decade ago he has retained from late adolescence.

I leaned over to Hannah and chided, "And I know everyone?" She rewards me with another glare.

After this limited topic has begun to exhaust itself - how much can one sustain the comparing of notes of a guy they dated nearly a decade apart? - Hannah grows quiet in a way I regard as nearly antithetical to her usual attitude. I can't blame her. Whether or not Tina happens to like me - and she gives me absolutely no indication I am unwelcome in her home, so I may have been incorrectly assuming the reasoning behind our distance - we do have a history of associations (those countless many who bolster Hannah's belief that I know everyone in this area) that, along with Kate, leads us into frenzied catching up about names she cannot begin to know. I have been on that end of such conversations, ones including dusty year books and photo albums of strangers. In her place, I've tried to do my best to keep interested, but it is by necessity lonely.

Yet so many of these connections amount to so little in the end. Tina explains that she has tried to forget everyone before her husband. Between when Kate and I dated and her current relationship with a man named Adam, she has had several boyfriends and lovers, and I cannot imagine she has kept in touch with all of them. Despite idle searching, I'm still not in touch with my first serious girlfriend, to whom I gave my virginity. I do care that I know Tina and most certainly that I know Kate, but am almost indifferent to the other names we can drop for comic effect. Even in reconnecting to some of these people through social networking sites, the conversation only lasts as long as is needed to establish that the other person is still living and, depending on how the relationship was left and the amount of lingering schadenfreude, exactly how well they are living. After that, they just become another number on a profile, another set of pictures. Hannah certainly still cares for James, perhaps more than she did when they slept together, but would struggle to offer a shrug for others who once seemed so crucial. Not all friendships can evolve together, if they are to evolve at all. After all, we don't want them to get us into trouble by having too many attachments as we travel. I don't know everyone and I don't care to, but I know who matters.

Soon in Xenology: Independence. Drive. Engagement. New Years Eve.

last watched: Slumdog Millionaire
reading: Confirmation
listening: Regina Spektor

" Of Tinsel and Eggnog | 2008 | Something Borrowed "

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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