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Jenna | 2010 | The Center of Madness

08.10.10 11:11 p.m.

Why was I born with such contemporaries?  

-Oscar Wilde


When the Masks Are Off

Hannah and Arthur  
What happiness looks like

Immediately upon seeing Hannah at Kyoto Sushi, I remark how well she looks. It isn't fair to judge her by how last I saw her - hair still severe from basic training, in her dress uniform, nervous for her town hall wedding to Arthur - but I did anyway. I glance about to see whether the changes are cosmetic, but her wellness derives from an inner fullness. Her body is lean and muscled, no longer waifish. The Navy seems to suit her, at least when she can escape it for a week to be with her husband.

Hannah says that she has lost her fears and insecurities when she accepted how petty they were weighed against forty-eight hours without sleep, drill sergeants screaming abuse, and "confidence chambers" - where one's gas mask is ordered off in a room full of tear gas. She explains to Daniel the weapons in whose use she is now proficient with a casualness that is not forced. She is more realized from who she was last year at this time, the mildly neurotic and lightly fissured woman I called my sister in earnest.

When Melanie appears, she quickly notes how different Arthur looks, since she wasn't at the wedding and can't acknowledge a change she has only witnessed in pictures and my retelling. More than shorter hair, I think Melanie is unused to Arthur smiling, having last encountered him a year ago when he walked in on us cuddling against Hannah when he was picking her us for one of their initial dates. Then, he seemed little pleased to see me, and this scowl set Melanie's first impression. She didn't see his bliss at marrying Hannah in December, didn't know him when he loved her. Hannah, as is her secretive wont, kept all the best bits for herself, morsels only hinted at in the photo albums they keep. We don't know much else about him, aside from anecdotes about past lovers, but I feel that his love of her has been as transformative for him as the Navy has been for his wife.

As we eat, Daniel mentions some personal work he is doing to clarify his psyche, and adds that it has nothing to do with Hannah. With her withering sarcasm that I have missed, she said, "I'm so glad you felt the need to specify this."

Daniel becomes his equivalent of flustered, which registers only as an arched eyebrow. I jump in and say that I think this is a fair thing to say and that, were I to be dining with an ex who had wounded my subconscious (and what ex doesn't?), I would want her to know that my current healing was irrelevant to the affection we had shared, if only to forestall unspoken awkwardness. Also, given the company, there is no real propriety to preserve.

In a year or more, when Melanie likely drags me away to wherever she gets into graduate school, I hope that I can have nights like these, standing dates with a group of close and interrelated friends. I admit to having my unconscious stained by sitcom scriptwriters, but I covet the friendships of these fictional characters who - despite the drama necessary to keep the viewers tuned in - remain close.

Moreover, in their presence, Melanie is consistently affectionate, nuzzling against me on our side of the booth and sneaking wasabi tinged kisses. I realize that this is because all present are safe and have only really known us as a couple. To Daniel and Hannah, there has only ever been Melanie (and even then, I had several months to warm Hannah up to the idea of Melanie before they actually met). They have always been our friends, the only close friends we established as a couple. Even when Hannah returns to her service in a week's time, or when I follow Melanie to grad school, this bond will echo because it derives from somewhere deep. It has breathed deep when the masks are off.

Soon in Xenology: Lake George, Jinx, maybe a job.

last watched: Veronica Mars
reading: The Selfish Gene
listening: Kate Nash

Jenna | 2010 | The Center of Madness

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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