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Cementing a Star | 2009 | Knowing Jess

06.03.09 9:48 p.m.

How does one become a butterfly? You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.  

-Trina Paulus


Rehearsing Goodbyes


I've mentally rehearsed how we'll part a dozen times before I've pulled into the parking lot of Thai House in Hyde Park. I don't care to speculate as to the content of our dinner conversation or anything except the moment she leaves. I'll pull Hannah against me, whisper that we love and tell her to come back to us. I will give her a single, utterly chaste kiss and then we will go our separate directions. Perhaps the wind will pick up slightly and, if there happens to be music, it would swell. These are the fantasies we get when we are raised on a steady diet of overwrought movies, but the moment feels weighty enough to deserve a little melodrama.

I get to the restaurant just before her, giving me time to get us a table and freshen up before she arrives. She points to me over the head of the woman trying to seat her and our final meal together begins.

Over spicy squid and pad thai, we talk pleasantly of her trip to Niagara Falls with her semi-boyfriend Arthur, of the minutia of my life I haven't had a chance to share, of how strange it was for her to help Daniel move. Mostly, though, we talk about the adventure before her. She had come straight from training to meet the Navy's fitness requirements and apologizes for still being in her workout clothes. I scan her outfit, but she actually looks very good. I realize how she is nearly glowing, even if she feels exhausted. She complains of having already attuned her arms and legs to the rigors, but that her stomach refuses to cooperate by growing stronger. I do not tell her that she looks prettier than I have ever seen her, though she does.

I know she is leaving and why, but have to distract the conversation down other roads. And, frankly, I want to know more about Daniel, who will be living on his own for the first time ever. Though he is in his thirties, he has apparently always lived with someone, usually Hannah. Even after their breakup, she was his support and roommate. In his shoebox apartment in Kingston - into which Jenn and I independently told him we would help him move - he is going to manage his life on his own for the first time. Having been in a comparable position, having lived with Emily, learning disabled children, or Joanna's family until my current apartment, I feel uncommonly attuned to what he is going though and in the best position to tell him how amazing this will be. He is the sort to make it seem like solitude is his lot and preference, but Melanie and I have more than wheedled out the truth that he is a cuddly teddy bear wearing lizard skin and thinking he is fooling anyone.

Hannah, too, seems to be opting to establish herself in the military before perpetuating plurality again. Arthur and she had danced around the topic, but it seems he is just not confident enough in the longevity of their relationship to pursue her once she leaves New York. It isn't, I gather, that he has any lack of interest and attraction to Hannah - she's a peach - but that it is simply not in his programming to tell her what he most wants and why. And, though he wants it, perhaps it is not what he needs. Since Hannah moved out of the apartment with Daniel, she has been staying with Arthur, an arrangement I think they are both eager to shed.

Despite the amount of talking we do, dinner flies by and I am grateful when Hannah reads my mind and suggests we split a sundae at the Eveready Diner. She admits that this is the first bit of processed sugar she has had in a while - likely partly to credit for her healthy aura - but that it is worth it. I persist in being unfailingly positive and interested in her Navy adventure. Even if she had second thoughts at this juncture - and I do not perceive this to be the case - now is not the time to have a friend echoing them. It is an unusual path; she talks of how everyone else in her recruitment group is an eighteen-year-old boy overeager to join the Special Forces or a girl who look physically incapable of a single pushup. Hannah mentions how she was offered an age waiver to work with nuclear engineering (or something to that extent), because she is twenty-six and therefore too old. She shrugged this off and told them she would be happy with what she got. She further tells me about her lofty plan of potentially being a career officer and how she could retire when she was in her forties if she did. She could have her life laid out before her, something that has never been her fortune.

When we do say our goodbyes, it is still in the car she is renting for the next week. My movements, and thereby melodrama, are restrained. I give her a hug and a brief kiss on the cheek, fairly squeaking that I expect her to come back. The wind doesn't pick up as I exit the car and there is not music to swell. There is not even the feeling that this qualifies as a goodbye, merely that she is dropping me off at my car and I might see her next weekend for rollerskating or a bad movie.

Soon in Xenology: When I was a girl. Crushed.

last watched: Tiptoes
reading: Loose Girl
listening: Carbon Leaf

Cementing a Star | 2009 | Knowing Jess

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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