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Moments and Communities | 2010 | Should Not Mean But Be

05.29.10 8:51 p.m.

I live on Earth at present,
and I don't know what I am.
I know that I am not a category.
I am not a thing - a noun.
I seem to be a verb,
an evolutionary process -
an integral function of the universe.

-R. Buckminster Fuller


Not Garth

Xen, I think  
I have no idea who this is supposed to be.

I don't know what to say. There was a time where, if it wasn't fair to say I knew them beyond the superficial, I was at least known by them to some degree. I was their mascot, the brother of their ostensible leader, the one who had clean urine were there to be a need to pass a drug test (this never came up). I was the one who they joked they would corrupt, though they never tried very hard since making me one of them would defeat their fun.

As one of them - Chris, I think, though I can't supply a last name - introduces me to a stranger as Garth, a nickname I acquired by virtue of resembling as a teenager Dana Carvey's character in Wayne's World, I wonder if he remembers what my name is, if he ever knew. I mumble out a few sentences to contrast with the boy he knew, that I am a teacher now, and we go our separate ways. He, it should be noted, with a great deal more certainty than I do.

It is a massive party, encompassing sumo suits, a mechanical bull, and a whole roasted pig. Aside from my immediate family, who is there in force, I remember a few dozen of the party-goers as adult versions of burnouts who orbited my brother until he got a serious girlfriend and was urged into sweater vests. I know it is unreasonable to assume they have not progressed as people since last we spoke, even as their children are the primary users of the bull, but it is as if they are frozen in my mind and I don't have the aptitude to age progress en masse. My mother tells me that a family friend here is now well read and a dedicated father to his namesake son and I express gentle surprise. He should be focused on narcotics and four-wheeling still. Perhaps, to him, I should still be focused on grunge music and oversized flannels.

Whenever I am greeted, I project myself more than a decade prior: long hair, heavier, in ill-fitting clothes, shy in an extroverted way, sniffling from unrealized allergies, wanting to belong by rebelling as my friends did. The change has been gradual, cell by cell, but I barely recognize who that was then (if I were ever him). He is just a story to me, one I retell with a shrug with awareness that he doesn't make much sense. I can't imagine what the me ten years ago would make of me, though I flatter myself to think he would be impressed by the publishing credits and worldly lover, even if he might blast me as a sell-out for losing the hair and not becoming an actor. If only others at this party could know that I am not him and am embarrassed by connection to his more extreme and unrefined behaviors. Can others own their past better that I do?

It could be that most people can enjoy a party on a warm spring day without analyzing interactions down to particles.

The next weekend, at my grandmother's birthday party, this inner conflict - the perceptions and memories of others contrasted by who I imagine myself to be - recurs.

"I don't ever remember him being fat," one of my aunts says in reference to me, when my grandmother notes that I look to have lost weight (having been around the same weight for five years).

"He was never exactly fat," my mother explains, continuing the conversation around me but which does not involve me as a participant, "Just chunky, like his brother."

"It came right off his face," my grandmother says. "He's a handsome boy."
Xen, I think  
Okay, fine, I'm a little fuzzy on this guy, too.

This is not the end of my discomfiture, as my mother chimes in that I have had a story published in a book I neglected to remove from my bag after having shown it to Jacki the day prior.

They pass it around and then one of my uncles begins to read it. Aloud. I opt to make myself scarce, unable to sit when anyone is reading my work in front of me, to say nothing of announcing the sentences. From having no idea who I am to reading someone I created is too quick a jump (and I cannot stand others reading my work in front of me in the best of circumstances). They may share my chromosomes, but I somehow cannot afford them the intimacy I grant to strangers who want to fork over fifteen Canadian dollars to read Paragon 3. At least, with strangers, I am starting with a blank slate. They never knew me as a chubby twelve-year-old.

"I get awful lonesome after dinner sometimes," my grandma says, out of nowhere.

I feel sympathy that jolts me out of my self-reflection - how could I not? - but it is as if someone in a play is saying these words. They aren't directed at me, but rather the air, her keeping the universe apprised of how things are. She is eighty-three and her husband has been dead for well over fifteen years, I am not surprised to hear that she might be lonely.

I know my cousins love her in a way I do not. This isn't to say that I do not love my grandmother, because I absolutely do. But they dote on her when they see her, as though they'd always had a close relationship that did not extend to me. My mother was always the caretaker. Even at the party, when a chocolate covered strawberry does not agree with my grandmother, it is my mother who is summoned to clean the mess, the designated Cinderella. As the son of the help, I feel a distance.

I want people to know me for what I am, but that feels like entitlement if I cannot broaden myself beyond the roles I feel have been set down for me, the limitations of prior relationships and social cowardice.

So, who do you think you are? Who do you imagine I think you are?

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, sushi, poetry.

last watched: Avatar
reading: Loose Girl
listening: Damien Rice

Moments and Communities | 2010 | Should Not Mean But Be

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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