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To Prepare a Face | 2010 | Here There Be Demons

10.05.10 8:14 a.m.

Take the so-called standard of living. What do most people mean by "living"? They don't mean living. They mean the latest and closest plural approximation to singular prenatal passivity which science, in its finite but unbounded wisdom, has succeeded in selling their wives. .  

-ee cummings


Feels like Home

Melanie and Xen  
Tastes like home, too.

I radically rearranged my furniture in preparation of the guests I had invited to my Horrid Movie Double Feature of The Room and Troll 2. (Daniel will later cite the reconfiguration of my living space as proof of Melanie's positive influence on me.) Suzanne, her friend, and Daniel arrive, the former bearing cookies. Melanie goes out of her way to be cuddled up with me, despite the presence of other people, through the first movie. We mock The Room with relish, playing good hosts when required, delivering the slightly crunchy lasagna I had made just before the guests arrived. My apartment feels warm in a way that owes nothing to temperature, as though it is finally beginning to live up to its potential.

When Troll 2 comes on, Melanie disappears into the bathroom. I think nothing of it until I hear the "psst" of spray bottles. I exchange looks with our bemused guests and shrug.

I pop my head into the bathroom and see Melanie scrubbing my sink. "Hi."

She doesn't look up. "Hi. Do you have a sponge I could use?"

I lead her into the kitchen where, using my powers of relative tallness to get to the cabinet over the sink, I give her a new sponge. "Why did you decide to clean?"

"Your bathroom needs it."

I look around, seeing that it is already brighter. "Granted, but why not hang out with us and watch the movie?"

"I've seen it before. I'd rather clean." After having watched the whole of the movie, I can't fault this logic. (Bad movies that are trying to be bad are soul-dirtying.)

I return to the living room and assure Suzanne that Melanie is fine. In whispers, I tell them about her cleaning the bathroom of The Muddy Cup coffeehouse the first time she met Jacki.

"Are you telling them about our first date?" she shouts from the bathroom, exploiting her well-honed French hearing.

"No, you didn't clean a bathroom then."

"Did so!"

I pause. "Okay, fine, but there were extenuating circumstances," I tell the guests. "I had just gotten out of a relationship and wanted every reason to not rush to bring Melanie home."

"Are you blaming your disgusting bathroom on me?" she asks between spraying.

"No, you are wonderful." I turn back to Suzie. "On that first date, during some heavy kissing, I accidentally asked her what it would take for her to love me. It slipped out. She said I would have to let her wash my dishes. She's a keeper."

This night makes me realize how much I want a home. My current apartment is little more than a holding cell. When Melanie later suggests we should repaint its walls, I am confused. But why? I think. Why should I do the job my landlord neglected to do before I moved in? Should I replace the cracked window he ignored, the peeling linoleum? Isn't this a lot of work to be doing for something temporary, something that could be held against my rather large security deposit?

This apartment will never be Melanie's home, just a respite between stressful assignments at school. She has a home with her parents and a dorm surrounded by a sea of contemptible hipsters. Melanie may in fact see my apartment as one of her homes, but I want more for us. This apartment has, to me, only ever been a waiting room until the next stage of my life, until I got a new job, until it came time to move away with her. It was acquired quickly, because the family with whom I was living for a month had to move, and was never intended to last as long as it has. And now, I am only more aware of its expiration date, that I will most likely not be living there come next September.

I have spent over two years on my own, no roommates, no kids, my only pets Jinx and Melanie's goldfish on loan for the summer. All my former pets are either deceased (Quest; dog) or in the care of my ex (Pyewacket and Seltzer; cats). Even my bamboo plants' survival is a bit dodgy. Melanie comes down most weekends and for the infrequent week, then returns to her dorm or parents' home. And, when she returns to her designated bed each week, I miss her but I also decompress a bit, my apartment no longer containing any other living being (that it would be a sin to spray with Raid). I well enjoy my privacy.

Prior to this stretch, I had never lived on my own. I don't recall how I cohabitated with another person, though clearly I did and generally happily. When I first got an apartment outside of my parents, it was with my then girlfriend Emily. My mother cautioned me to think of it at Emily's apartment, not mine. As Emily paid the rent and I chipped in groceries and some utilities and as she was required to spend nights on-call at her parents' house for an animal control position, this was not a difficult cognitive leap. That apartment didn't feel like a home, it felt like playing house. We did get something much more like home eventually, in an apartment complex a few months after the first apartment ceased to be. The stress we both put in to keep our household whole tainted the confidence of the endeavor. Then we gave that up for a cell at a boarding school where I taught, where she had a [far too] distant but rent-free base while finishing grad school.

Those boarding school apartments could never be home. I understood their temporal limitations. Even as the second apartment was far and away the best apartment I've yet lived in, I was held at the will of my employers and the thirty boys undergoing adolescence on the other side of a chipped blue door. When I left there, I promised myself to decouple where I lived with how I made a living.

Recently, I went to an interview for a school close to the city. While I liked the philosophy of the school, I did not like the prospect of over an hour drive each way. I was shown to the teachers' apartments, for which I would be charged a third of what I currently pay. Seeing these rooms - kitchenless, bathroomless, crowded onto one floor above classrooms - I felt thrust back to my boarding school days and the promise I made myself. I can't live under the aegis of another person.

Yet the plan is that Melanie and I will live together in a year or so, when she goes to graduate school. This seemed somehow wrong and a little stressful (despite how well we get on when she is here), until we had a recent conversation where she said that I would help her pull herself into further adulthood. In those words, she ceased to be a near weekly guest in my apartment and became a future cohabitant. There comes a time when you decide whether this is the relationship you are going to pursue for the rest of your life or least attempt it. You set up a home base, decide someone else is integral to your home, that you will persist in returning to them.

My main problem with my current apartment is when she is not in it. I look to that day when she returns to me and she doesn't flit off to another base. It doesn't mean she can't go where she pleases but that I am where she returns to. I used to fantasize about the home I would live in by the time I was thirty - a small house with deep red walls, several bedrooms, a garage, a small lawn - and I know that I won't live in it for a while yet. But I don't mind, because my home isn't a where, but a who. As I edit my second novel while she strums a borrowed guitar, I know I love her the better and that we are building a home together.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job.

last watched: The Room
reading: When We Were Orphans
listening: Grandaddy

To Prepare a Face | 2010 | Here There Be Demons

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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