Thomm Quackenbush, author

Adolescents in the Mist | 2010 | Minimal Involvement

05.15.10 12:58 p.m.

People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child - our own two eyes. All is a miracle.  

-Thich Nhat Hanh

 


Every Silver Lining

Jacki  
"I miss you, cupcake."

Though it starts with thunder and torrential rain, around noon the clouds part as though God were about to descend, drying the puddles by the time I was to set off for the Cupcake Festival.

While the cupcakes themselves are lackluster and overpriced (so much so that a smattering of scalpers stood in front of the cupcake ticket booth and tried to pawn off their extras), each ostensibly made by the same person using the same recipe and then disseminated outward, Jacki's company is delightful while gently mocking the hula hoopers and faux rockers. For the first time, I feel that I can be my unguarded self around her. Though I've loved her for years, almost since meeting her in 2001, she also scared some hidden part of me down to his boots. There is something inherently unnerving about comely redheads, especially those who pack six feet of passion into a tinier frame, but she also throws in brilliance and literary skill, tamping that down with a wry sense of humor and oodles of confidence (whatever disagreements she might wish to issue upon reading herself so described). You don't have to be a ballistics expert to grok that there is power in that bombshell, but it isn't a matter of my disarming her. She has been almost entirely open, with the exception of the typical childhood curios we all keep in the closet when we have company over. I simply couldn't get over a subtle anxiety around her that I didn't measure up, that there was a patina of unworthiness to my interactions with her no matter my best efforts. I love feeling she will accept my weirdness with some fondness. Perhaps it is the physical goofiness we must indulge while learning to swing dance, but I forgot my walls while trying not to spin her into Vassar College’s.

While indulging a greasy lunch, she tells me that one of her associates will be playing a show in Beacon that afternoon and solicited my company. She did offer the semi-warning that her friend had suffered traumatic brain injury in the indefinite past, which did not curtail his cognitive ability but did obliterate any social filter he might have "which can be refreshing," according to her, "because he will actually be completely honest with you. Then again, you know what they say, TBI = TMI."

I did not know they said this and am briefly anxious that he will go into a Lewis Black style rant as to the cut of my jib (and also wince when she suggests his music, while good in itself, will be played improvisationally with four others). I picture him something like a musical Gregory House, which isn't too far from the truth. However, Beacon is only a few miles from my apartment and I am always up for extending my time with Jacki.

Shortly after John arrives from searching out music to sell (Jacki assures me that he has a nearly savant-like ability to know what a recording or bit of music memorabilia is worth on the open market) and is waylaid by a glut of cheap CDs being sold by the local library, my mother calls, informing me that my new Sony Reader to replace my stolen one has come in and asking when I will be picking it up.

She is on the way to Beacon... "Hey, where are you?" she asks.

"Cupcake Festival?" There is a pause on the other end of the line. "Would you like me to bring you a cupcake, mom?"

I can hear her grin through my phone. "Yes, I would."

I part from Jacki, promising her meet her in Beacon, and swing by my mother's house to exchange baked goods for consumer electronics. It is not even five and I have already done more (and certainly eaten more) than I usually do all weekend.

By the time I find Jacki outside a coffeehouse in Beacon, I have already decided that this has been one of the better days of my life. There is an energy to successive social occasions, a feeling that nothing can go wrong and that there is adventure at every turn.

Jacki is glancing into the tiny venue, though she can only see the crowd and not the musicians. I poke her and say, "Let's go to Play. It's one of the better toy stores, like an exploded Archie McPhee catalog!"

She hesitates from loyalty for her friend, but I argue that he can't see her anyway and it isn't as though he is playing a specific song she is going to miss. Whether she is swayed by the offer of toys, the persuasiveness of my arguments, or the occasional glares of the people watching the music, she deigns to come away for a few minutes.

We play around with various toys, because we are responsible adults who can pay for damages and won't shoplift. As Jacki buys a box of unicorn bandages (made with real unicorn tears for extra healing power!) for an obsessed friend, the owner of the store offers us wine. Where there had been a selection of books with titles like FU, Penguin and The Book of Excuses, there were now crudites and sausage slices.

"Best toy store ever!" I whisper through a mouthful of cucumber slices, though the proprietress assures me that this is a result of the Second Saturday festivities and that she does not usually liquor up her customers.

We return to the venue, the music continuing unabated in our absence, and wiggle inside to stand against a wall, where green lasers from the ceiling dart into our eyes like florescent kamikaze mosquitoes. As there are both tablas and a sitar being played, there is curry flavored quality to the improvisation, but I get more distracted by the fact that there is a Michael Jackson circa Thriller doll duct taped to the mic stand. I point this out to Jacki and, as I am focusing for a second shot, spy a pretty, bespectacled brunette strolling by the window. Maybe it is the pricy tea, but suddenly the air smells of Fate.

I'm not sure I bother to explain myself to Jacki - there is no time - only tell her I will come back and she shouldn't leave. I run out and down the side street, deciding shouting would be better than pouncing unannounced.

"Cristin!"

She turns and, for a half second, seems to regard me as though my presence in Beacon is the strange one. I'd last seen her at the Thanksmas party. Since then, from what I could glean from the internet, Zack and she ceased to be a couple again. I recall offering mutual sympathy then, not knowing who ended what and why and not wishing to press my luck by asking.

I get the abridged version, as we are on a city street and there is the air that she has somewhere else to be, if not just yet. Boy tells Girl he no longer loves her and that he doesn't quite know where he is going but he won't go there with her, Girl says she is done with the carousel of breakup and reunion and that she is returning to New York, Boy and Girl leave things on more or less friendly terms. Cristin says that she imagines I must know what is like to be on the precipice of a lifetime commitment and then to have your plans dashed because the other person simply isn't ready. "We had baby names picked out and everything."

Now, she is (re)building a life in New York, working at the Dia Museum and Starbucks until the next stage in her life takes hold and he is struggling to be an actor in Indiana, with four dogs and no car. Perhaps she could use a unicorn bandaid to speed the recovery.

In parting, I tell her that she should call me and we should hang out, reiterating this twice to affirm that these are sincere and not phatic statements. She is back and I intend to be a friend to her.

I return to Jacki, who grins when I told her that she couldn't possibly understand Cristin's plight, since she had never been dumped by a man she thought she would marry (except that once).

My mother calls, telling me that they were having a pre-Mother's Day dinner out and that I should join them for a free meal. This day just doesn’t stop and is only missing one thing...

My phone rings and I see it is Melanie, who I have not heard from all day and who did not come down this weekend so she could work more on a final paper. I excuse myself between courses to answer. When I get away from the chatter of the restaurant, I hear Melanie sobbing. Between gasps, I am able to piece together that the paper she had been working on all day, and which she had been saving to the desktop of a library computer, vanished into the ether during a power outage. I know enough about public terminals that I have very little hope for its recovery, though I try to offer my older brother's services, as he has just begun a business dealing with precisely this sort of problem. Sitting in my car for privacy, listening to the love of my life bawling her eyes out in fury at seeing her hard work dashed, watching the rain begin to stream from the sky as if from pathetic fallacy, I can't believe this is how my perfect day should be ending. There is nothing I can do from here, I know, so she bids me a sniffling goodbye to try to tackle her issue. I return to my family, my dinner already getting cold, and see that everyone else has already finished.

I explain the situation, but my technological adept father agrees that there is little that can be done, that the computer was likely returned to a pristine state when it restarted, that this is why there are flash drives. For the uninterrupted joy of the day as much as for Melanie's happiness, I want this to be okay. I would gladly trade all the sunshine I have taken from the day if just she would be free of her storm clouds.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, Cristin, minimalism, Melanie.

last watched: Wonderfalls
reading: Future Shock
listening: Bree Sharp

Adolescents in the Mist | 2010 | Minimal Involvement

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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