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Harm None | 2010 | To Prepare a Face

09.14.10 5:24 p.m.

Never mind. The self is the least of it. Let our scars fall in love.  

-Galway Kinnell


To Prepare a Face

He cleans up nice.

The point is not to get him laid. It might be a side effect, but that isn't my stated intention. I think Bryan assumes that I would have forgotten my promise to him on vacation, a promise he didn't ask me to make and one I am certain he wishes I would forget. Since he refuses to come to a club (or, frankly, any social venue whatsoever) with me so I could act as his wingman, I had to use the internet, more his milieu anyway.

I spend an hour writing an honest but appealing revision of his profile on a popular dating site, revealing his character, fears, and wants. Half-truths or outright lies have only blown up in his face, driving women away from him and, to him, further justifying his self-seclusion. I revise them all into oblivion, leaving nothing that isn't achingly true. From what my mother tells me later, Bryan fairly loathes me for days afterward, even though my revisions are private and would not appear unless he approved them. When he finally adopts a couple of sentences - none of the most important ones that will get him what he wants, few that will help him at all - he also tosses in one about how much he hates his family, how we do not understand him at all, how any theoretically girlfriend will never meet us. I caution him that hating one's family ceases to be an attractive quality when one reaches the age of seventeen. In time, he removes this addendum and lets me persist in my role as wingman.

I search the site for asexual women, since he won't actively participate in selecting women. Bryan is not sexual in any conventional sense. Given that he nearly states as much in his profile, I don't think it is invasive to write here that he is a virgin and has no interest in changing that. Most women in their twenties are not virgins and would consider celibacy, especially in someone who is not a member of a Judeo-Christian sect, something of a dealbreaker. Asexual women - as batty as most of them on the site appear at first blush - will see it as an asset. Here is a man who will not grab for their breasts before the appetizer comes, here is one with whom they can sleep without fear of molestation, one who might be interested in them as genderless beings instead of vaginas that talk. (I am far from asexual, so forgive me if I am parsing the thought processes incorrectly.)

The break comes when I search for the name of a favorite Super Nintendo video game and find a young woman a town over. I tell Bryan I will back off if he manages to go on one date with this woman, who values virginity, who plays retro role playing games, who knows Sign Language. Days later, I happen to be on the site at the same time as this woman and engage her in conversation, casting myself as the creepy one to prod her with questions. Bryan did, indeed, send her a message, though I am not so invasive to ask what he wrote. She eventually says she won't reply because he has longer hair in his picture and she doesn't like men with long hair and, oh by the way, she's actually seeing someone right now but isn't going to change her profile away from being single. I don't believe for a moment that this is the entire reason, but I allow her the excuse. She doesn't owe him, or me, anything.

Melanie asks me why I am doing this, both because I think she sees it as a Sisyphean task and because she is genuinely curious as to my motivation. (She also cautions me that I can never bring him to a club, because my attempts to help him meet people will come off as offensively bait-and-switch, specifically that the woman in question will assume I am interested before being pawned off on Bryan.) I can rationalize my desire using terms like "survival machines", that Bryan shares some of my genes and it is my biological imperative to make certain those get passed on, but I think it is something more than that. I want to see him happy and, from copious secondhand experience, I know how despairing it is to feel unloved. No matter how it isn't true - I would not be attempting this if I didn't love him and I promise my parents would have booted him out of the house and set his room aflame if they didn't - he doesn't feel that he gets any love from his family or that he ever has.

It has been three years since he dated and that was a young woman who still screams abuse at my parents' answering machine because Bryan won't take her calls. That relationship was flawed from the moment he graduated from college. Even then, his pet name for her was Pig, which hardly augers a long courtship. I am not sure that he has ever coupled particularly well. I like some of his exes now, but they were not what he was looking for. I can nearly guarantee that he has never been in love, no matter how he would kowtow were any of his exes to ask if he were telling the truth when he said it to them. He said it because he knew they expected him to, because those are the words that would get his girlfriend to stop asking. Perhaps he has told strangers on the internet that he loved them and maybe he felt it more then, but his "I love you" could more honestly have been "I appreciate how you are sating a fantasy of mine for security and I am going to say empty words so you keep it up". The purveyors of his satiation are fungible but were chosen because he felt they were so flawed as to find him worthwhile (however radically inaccurate this self-deprecation is).

He resists most attempts to question his singledom, throwing off excuses about how no one dates people in the healthcare field because of their odd hours or stating that he could only date someone in the same field - though he complains endlessly about his inept and addicted peers - because they are the only ones who could hope to understand him. It is worth noting that he doesn't actually work in the healthcare field at present. He volunteers tirelessly as an EMT and attends more classes toward a nursing degree (he already has one in speech language pathology, though it is only useful in Vermont. We are uncertain why he doesn't move to Vermont), but he is actually unemployed. His last interview was at Wal-Mart, so saying he is single because of a profession he does not yet have would be akin to my saying that I cannot date because famous authors have to go on book tours so often; while it presupposes a future situation, said situation doesn't suggest the conclusion.

In lieu of love, he has Second Life, where he makes false families of women past middle age, obese shut-in who are convenient and desperate enough to mistake the use of a man half their age as affection. These women believe in the persona he presents to them, and vice versa, not testing his boast that he speaks twenty-seven languages. They demand little of him, certainly never confronting him with the danger of physicality. When they become too needy or ask something of him beyond his boundaries, they can cease to exist with a click in a way his actual family actively resists.

Loving someone real - not a damaged person from a video game - isn't an act of conformity, it is one of humanity. Of course it is easier to pick for the low-hanging fruit, the people who are so broken by the life they have created that they escape from it by spending their waking hours waking about a digital world where they do nothing more remarkable than try to start anew. They can shape their physique by a mouse click, they can be liberated both from the restrictions naturally imposed on them and those that they impose themselves in an attempt to keep the sting of reality at bay.

We half-joke that maybe one good shag will reboot his programming. All of the viruses and bloatware that has crept into his brain will be dumped and his processes will be freed of maladaptive burdens. Committing this human act will realign him with human wants and needs, with drives that will lead him out of psychosocial perdition. We acknowledge that it is as likely that having sex could making him worse, if he fails to cope with this milestone so late in his life. Or he could fall into Virgin Syndrome, the malady that plagues some who have only had one partner and who are willing to meet every abuse with denial to stay with the Initial Partner.

Then again, and not to get nasty, he lives in a pathologically messy room in our parents' home with a student loan burden so daunting that he could easily have just bought a home of his own by this point. Coupling won't fix these problems, but it will give him the added impetus to make a genuine attempt out of his comfort zone. (I love my parents and get on well with them, but I would fight tooth and nail to never have to live with them again, especially in a place that couldn't accommodate my nudist girlfriend.) At this point, as far as I can objectively determine (as in, were I to judge the life of a stranger with all his pertinent information), his quality of life is low enough that the gamble that he will break entirely seems more than worth it. Of course, it isn't my life I am throwing on the roulette table, so he may disagree with my kindly assessment and feel that I am being a callous pain in the ass.

At the core, he is a worthwhile person, but there is an ocean of self-doubt and neuroses that he has built up to protect him from genuine rejection. It comes at the expense of feeling he can never expose people to who he truly is, because being ignored for who he is would be so much harder than being written off should people discover who he isn't. Most of his energy seems to go toward reinforcing this citadel that he thinks is protecting him, but is really only hiding him from those people capable of helping him back into the sunlight. It is the noble job of the wingman to convince to women that it will benefit them to pick up sledgehammers and help Bryan out of there.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job.

last watched: Going the Distance
reading: Bridge Across Forever
listening: Edith Piaf

Harm None | 2010 | To Prepare a Face

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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