Thomm Quackenbush, author

Tributaries | 2009 | To Love and Honor

12.21.09 12:49 p.m.

The white hot energy of youth, which saw in obstacles but inspirations, and in the enemy but the gage to battle, becomes too complacent with age. The result of mathematical calculation and metaphysical erudition; of knowledge he never had and plans he never made.  

-George S. Patton

 


Twenty-Nine

Xen  
The bird knows what it is to be mature

My birthday starts with a near accident on the way to work, as the roads are still icy from the prior day's storm. My brakes catch, but there is a fraction of a second where time slows and I try to plan what will be softest when I crash. When I arrive at the high school where I almost exclusively substitute, I note the dearth of milling students and the emptiness of the staff lot. There was a two hour delay that I, as an avid morning listening of National Public radio, did not hear or think to seek out.

I fume for only a moment and, seeing that I cannot get into the school (nor can some of the other teachers and students that were not apprised of the delay), I drive off to find gum. This is not an ideal birthday morning, nor could it be given that I am working today to extend my unemployment benefits for another day.

Within the two hours, I buy groceries, deposit a check, and purchase a black sweater as a present. I still arrive early to work, giving me time enough to call Melanie who, after a brief chittering conversation and me outright telling her that she should wish me a happy birthday, wishes me a happy birthday and asks how it has been so far and if I feel any different.

I don't. Twenty-nine is noteworthy only in that it is not thirty but acts as its harbinger. I feel, were I a woman, twenty-nine would mean something, would be an age I insisted I was for the next decade. I, in fact, know a thirty-year-old who went so far as to delete all birthday wishes from her Facebook Wall and insists in public and private that she is twenty-seven. Age is, as ever, a notional concept. In large enough concentrations, years can mean something, but I feel maybe a day older than yesterday. I still have flirty (and, in this instance, male) students mistaking me for a peer and telling me "the years have been kind".

I am no longer concerned with Adult Points, realizing these are worthless. I don't want to be an Adult, I want to be Happy and that does not come from guiding one's life to unnecessary requirements in defense of an adjective. Being an adult is useful only when it allows additional privileges, last seen when I could rent a carpet shampooer without a massive background check, something I have yet to have cause to do.

I realize that I am not quite where I anticipated I would be were I asked in college. Professionally and personally, I have suffered missteps or setbacks that made me scrabble for solid ground. I imagined I would have my own classroom at a public or private school by now. I enjoyed a classroom for a year and a half at a boarding school deep in the pastures of rural New York, but the price was my indentured servitude in the boys' dorm, my personal life (and my mail the administration felt entitled to open) a subject of scrutiny. I bounced from that to a job proofreading and editing standardized testing within the bowels of my educational enemy for stability that turned out to be all too temporary. A summer on unemployment, applying to every job that was remotely within my field of study or experience, made things no clearer. I am now an itinerant substitute, hoping that someone wises up or the economy perks up enough to again justify my Master's degree. And if it doesn't, this setback may become more jarring yet, something I will refrain from speculating upon until I am forced. I assumed I would be married by this point in my life but I transitioned from the wrong engagement (after dating a woman for seven years) to a far more nutritive relationship with a woman over eight years my junior, who is a life from being able to make good on her promises of marriage.

This might be a time where some would look back and comment on how they disappointed the expectations of their younger self, but have you seen how that guy dressed? And that year he spent as a communications major, because that was clearly going to be both stable and fun? And what he considered a worthwhile diet? And how he spent most of his free time? And how badly he wrote? I am happier, healthier, more whole, and more attractive than that boy. He, in short, isn't someone from whom I would take advice or guff.

Jacki calls around noon, offering to take me to lunch for my birthday, only I am working. And, I realize, I have left my lunch at home. The consolation Chinese food does little to make me feel better.

My birthday ends with Melanie calling, unfocused angst infusing her voice. I spend half an hour past when I would like to be in bed counseling Melanie, trying to at least give her focus enough to her own life that I can go to bed without guilt. I don't think her sour demeanor is permanent or dire, simple a mixture of the anxiety of studying for and taking finals and her mother urging Melanie to preemptively make decisions about graduate school (she is musing taking a year off). Her decisions will be crucial, but they are nothing with which she should have to deal during Finals Week. As nothing I am saying much dents the fog surrounding her, I gently order her to exercise to purge her nervous energy and to please call me afterward if she doesn't feel better. She does not, though I am awake another hour, worrying about her. She later posts her repentance to Facebook for behaving so on my birthday, but it is needless (if appreciated) for what can I do but forgive her?

I may not be as understanding with whichever Fate skunked my birthday.

The day after, Jacki takes me to see Zombieland for the second time and then for dinner. She ranks as one of my most "adult" friends, not in that she is older than I am, but that she deals with the travails that come at one in adulthood. She has lost much, often owing to those who couldn't put up with the demands of maturity, and has rarely wavered from her course. I find no end of reasons to admire her, and not simply because she took me to a zombie movie and for a California chicken burger.

Over the course of the meal, I end up complaining about another friend as a means of storytelling and advice-seeking, because said friend has done something I consider an infringement of etiquette (though in a way where I am willing to concede I am being oversensitive). Jacki asks whether she will one day earn my ire in this way and would I please tell her before I do? I assure her that, she being Jacki, she is immune to my irritation. Also, she is usually the one on whom flakiness is practiced rather than she who is flaky.

She, in fact, is one of the people I keep in mind as life throws two expensive car repairs my way before I am a week into being twenty-nine. As the other option is driving a car that might one day cease to stop, I don't see any option but to give in. All I needed to do was imagine my brakes even slipping while I had Melanie in the car to know that I would have to eat this expense. I put her through a car accident only months into our relationship and have to admit that the specter of that looms over my gas pedal to this day. Spending over $1000 to make sure my car is whole is the responsible thing to do, but it means I give up more than the remains of my savings. From here on out, I have to work without that financial net that has reassured me I was surviving.

I know it is ludicrous to allow a number to dictate how I feel about myself, that this is almost as bad as the erstwhile reliance on Adult Points (despite the fact that my bank balance does more clearly correlate to something the allows or curtails my freedom), but it steal my restfulness anyway. Jacki, my touchstone, as been through similar financial straits, including both a loss of steady employment and her car needing to be fixed at the worst moment, and she came out of it.

Further, so many have it so far worse than I do that my angst gets an edge of guilt; I am kvetching over having only a few hundred dollars to my name when there are people who have nothing? As Melissa counsels me when I call, I will never be without a roof over my head or enough to eat. I will get through this.

Melissa mentions a job she briefly had selling furniture. When, after a short time, she quit, she explained that she would rather be poor and happy than rich and unhappy. These are the decisions we must make before they are made for us. I don't want to be "adult" or "rich" at the expense of my happiness, but that doesn't mean I don't wish to be responsible enough to be comfortable.

I want to help people (specifically my dear bratlings to be able to communicate and understand English) and survive in my personal life while I do. In the various seminars I had to take to become a teacher, there was one on fire safety. We were made to watch a video where firemen made a house explode to demonstrate how quickly fire can spread. Then the video was shut off and we were given the moral that, if we are ever in an actual dangerous fire situation, we are to abandon the children. I was initially shocked, but there logic was that we can't ever help children again if we are burned to a crisp, so we should exercise our enlightened self-interest. So, in this way, I have worked jobs that were less than ideal because they would allow me to survive to one day help children again.

I need to continue to live as best I can, even when the responsible thing may leave my emotionally drained or financially crippled, in hopes that tomorrow will bring the reprieve for which I have been waiting. That's about the best lesson I suppose twenty-nine is going to give me.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, Christmas, Hannah's wedding.

last watched: Thank You For Smoking
reading: The Subtle Knife
listening: Ingrid Michaelson

Tributaries | 2009 | To Love and Honor

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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