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Same River Twice | 2009 | Of Corndogs and Raoul

08.29.09 10:26 p.m.

A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.  

-Hugh Downs


This First Night


For her, this is the beginning of a new chapter in her life, her third year at Bard where she will defeat Voldemort by enrolling him in a yoga class (I swear that she actually said this). Everything is fresh and promising, which accounts for her eagerness in getting settled at the expense of another night together in my apartment. Though it wasn't so long ago that I was in college, I never remember this excitement. But college for her is not merely classes, as it was for me. This is another chance at new social spheres and formative experiences. This is a preamble to adventure.

She has said, to my quiet unease, that she wants to spend more time on campus this year rather than cloistered in my apartment. She wants to have a life here - she wants to have friends - and that means going to birthday parties and social occasions that occur between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. I want this for her too. I want her happiness and I need her to be fulfilled with the completeness of her college experience, if slightly because I did not get my own as a commuter student. It is a matter of compromise, mine being occasional weekends sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of her room. This isn't much to ask of me, I realize, though I am eight years out of practice with dorm life.

I hover around Melanie as she signs for room keys and is harangued to add her signature to various petitions. Several times, those she has finished with then turn to me, mistaking me for a student. I assume this is because I am standing in the way of their schema-that everyone in the line must be there to some useful end-rather than that, at twenty-eight, I look like I am eager to integrate myself into a dorm.

As I walk upstairs, my arms loaded with Melanie's bags and to the strains of "Ride of the Valkyries" from invisible speakers, she introduces me to a woman I can't remember a moment after she walks away. "This is my boyfriend," she says. "I didn't bring him around much before." Off my bemused smirk, Melanie adds, "Shut up, this is a big step for me." As I have in the past accused Melanie of making me her dirty little secret - the man with whom her friends knew she exhausted her weekends but had not met - I acknowledge this casual introduction is a step.

I return to get another load with Melanie's friend Jordan. He tries to feel me out, asking after my writing and joblessness, but gives up and accepts my inevitability. After telling me about the college novel he is writing, Jordan mentions his pleasure at being a math major. I can't fault him - it's infinitely more marketable than a bachelor's in English or even a Master's in Adolescent Education - but such passionate sensibility seems an irremediable character flaw. Undergraduate studies are not a time to be pragmatic and think of practical applications of one's skills. It is simple an extension of secondary education, largely pointless classes one surmounts to get to the real learning. One could almost read his palm to chart what will come next, what milestones this obscene practicality will introduce into his life. Math has all the usefulness of science with none of the romance of discovery and so is to be looked at with suspicion.

Melanie got lucky in her dorm assignment. She is situated between two of her best friends at Bard: Jinx, her roommate last year, and Andy, a bisexual man who decorates his room better than I've ever accomplished. His room functions as a standard candle, his room's luminosity showing how far from nice their rooms are. This is the first time I've met wavy-haired Andy, though Jinx-a constantly smirking, Discordian folk singer-and I had met once before and chat through LiveJournal.

Outside the dorm, as an attendant godling, is a weathered teddy bear with an inverted cross burned into its forehead. Every time I pass it, I offer it a conspiratorial glance. It knows the score, it implies, otherwise it wouldn't have been staked behind these hipsters who have all the purpose and individuality of palace guards. The hipsters try to convince themselves, as they must, that they have even a fraction of my attention. I remain indifferent to them, nodding only at the teddy totem.

I find my perch on Melanie's bed as she marks her territory as best she can against the mental onslaught of Andy's room on the other side of the wall. I'm fully willing to help - I am to credit for most of these boxes making it up three flights - but I seem to be most useful not getting underfoot. Instead, I write as Melanie unpacks what she put in storage, gleeful over the unwitting surprises her previous iteration had left, soaps and soups and such. I feel this space quickly become hers rather than the concrete box it was when we entered. She looks out at the deciduous tree scraping her windowpanes - a big motivator in choosing this room - with pleasure and confidence in her new home.

She asks me to spend the night because she didn't realize that it might be tough to spend her first night alone, but for the dorm full of fellow college students. There is a loneliness to it all that she will surmount in an hour after returning from dropping me back. The selectivity of her college solitude is startling - more so for those who live in the dorm with her, who will be woken by her shrieking night terrors in a matter of days. I demur from her offer, both because we left my car at an equidistant diner and because she doesn't need me there tonight. Another night, absolutely, but not her first.

I run back to her room to get her car keys. When I return, she is amiably chatting with an Asian woman on a skateboard. I cannot determine from posture alone if this is an old friend - the body language conflicts. I can recognize only a dozen or so of her friends by name and maybe six on sight. She turns out to be a stranger who rolled by, innately recognizing someone worth knowing, hoping Melanie will take part in lifting the burden of this first night.

Soon in Xenology: Melissa. Relationships. Maybe a job. The Importance.

last watched: Dead Like Me: Life After Death
reading: Skinny Legs and All
listening: Peggy Lee

Same River Twice | 2009 | Of Corndogs and Raoul

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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