Thomm Quackenbush, author

New Romantic: Wednesday | 2011 | Angels and Demons

05.12.11 10:01 a.m.

A person getting enlightened is like the moon reflecting in the water. The moon does not get wet, the water is not disturbed. Though it is a great expanse of light, it reflects in a little bit of water; the whole moon and the whole sky reflect even in the dew on the grass; they reflect even in a single drop of water. Enlightenment not disturbing the person is like the moon not piercing the water. A person not obstructing enlightenment is like the dewdrop not obstructing the heavens.  

-Dogen

 


Partial Eclipse

Swing  
I need you more tonight

I talk with Sarah on my drive to Vassar. She is comforting but characteristically stern. Given that this breakup is forced upon me no matter what I would like after over half a year of struggling to keep Melanie stable, she says it might as well be a means for further growth.

"Oh, it will be. Everything is. I have grown so much in the last few years that, when I spoke to Emily after a break in communications, she said I sounded like a totally different person. I know who I am now, outside the context of my lover. I do not act like a puppet to abandonment issues. I am strong. I am who I feel like on the inside, not an actor playing the part."

"Just don't rush into anything," she cautions. "Take time to figure out who you are as a single person."

"I was dumped yesterday, I have no one to rush to and I am not remotely looking. But I know who I am as a single person. The same as I am as a coupled person, with a bit more free time, several fewer mental and social obligations every week. Can't say I don't miss them. But I do know that I want to be in a relationship when I meet the right woman, that I am built to be an amazing partner like I am built to be a writer. My friend Jacki kept chiding me for referring to myself as an awesome catch, but I know what I am. Some woman is going to be beyond lucky that I come to like her. And I am going to meet her not by sitting in my apartment but by going out and enjoying activities I have been neglecting in my cloud of Melanie love-slash-anxiety. She will be the sort of woman with whom I have a standing date to go swing dancing every Wednesday, someone who comes apple picking in the fall, someone who introduces me to her friends proudly. She will be someone for whom I am a priority."

"Don't rush," she says again. "But go dancing. Remember, maybe you only never got a firm teaching job so you could become a novelist. There might be a point to this all, too, even if you can't see it too yet because it's so close."

When I get to Vassar, there is a line of leaders and followers standing in front of the building while the band sets up inside. In the center are two of the organizers, explaining the basics of the swing step. This is about all I still remember from my months of occasional swing dancing with Jacki, so I am fine with having missed the reiteration of "step, step, rock step, step". The organizers pair off the leaders (male but for one) and the followers (all female). As I was late, I am without a partner and I laugh instead of wincing. "Always the bridesmaid," I say to no one in particular.

After one step that I mime with my ghost partner, the followers rotate and I have a woman in my arms. This is one of the reasons I wanted to come - aside from being anywhere but alone in my apartment - to be forced into physical contact and conversation with a series of unfamiliar women, to remember that this is something possible and not only allowed but welcomed. It is soothing to smell the scent of the unfamiliar feminine as we dance, to have a pleasant face near mine, though I am not attracted. Attraction is well beside the point for me, is not something I feel capable of experiencing right now and possibly not for a while. I want to safely touch and be touched, to know that I can. The dance has rules, has steps, that preclude some unknown woman grinding against me or holding me too tightly as might happen at a club. I am not owned by any of them, there is no possession.

I joke warmly with some, my single serving best friends, about the unfairness of having to be a leader when I know so little with finesse. I avoid eye contact with others, who seem distracted. With one older woman, I glare my telepathy at the behest of the organizers. She smiles and glares back.

After a half hour of this, we enter the hall. The band kicks up and the beginners start dancing with the few intermediate dancers lingering at the sidelines. I tap a few of the women with whom I had already danced outside. I find that I can only lose myself in the dance with women willing to chat, though I offer myself to several expectant women on the sidelines who are tight-lipped and focused over my shoulder until the song ends. These events tend toward being hopelessly woman-heavy, another boon. I want to be in demand to make up for how weak I am on the dance floor, to make up for having been rejected by the woman who swears she loves me but prefers a new and shiny stranger. I know I am much more desirable than the last time I was single, I know why I am, but I wish force the issue of my desirability to this innocent extent.

I dance with a small Vassar undergraduate, who smiles nervously and chats me up in what might be a flirtatious way as she asks after my major ("Years graduated. Master's degree. Taught here a few summers."). When the song ends, I say, "I feel very comfortable dancing with you. If you would like to again, let me know."

She averts her eyes and says she would like that.

I become distraught suddenly and do not know why, only that I need to be elsewhere as soon as my legs can carry me. As I leave for a breath of fresh air to clear my system, I realize my subconscious has heard the song the band is playing, "I've Got You Under My Skin".

"Yes," I say to the night, "I certainly do."

As I exit, I see my friend from grad school, Sara. "Hey, how are you?" she asks, phatically.

"I've been much better," I assure her, passing by to get some relief from the song.

Composure restore by leaning against my car and grumbling at the moon at its cruelty for continuing to shiny so prettily when I am struck with grief, I enter the hall again. I tap a few other women, who smile and accept. One dances excellently, if a little like a goose. One - the distracted woman from earlier - remains aloof but I believe is friendly. One, Rebecca, tells me that she co-founded Po-Town Swing, but spent so long not dancing that she lost all her skill. I tell her that I am honored to have met her then, since swing dancing is proving so therapeutic for me tonight. With her, I feel as though I am dancing with someone I already knew, like we are greeting one another after a long and unanticipated absence. I enjoy a conversations with a few other beginners, silence from a few experts willing me to twirls. I find the small Vassarite again and engage her in another dance.

When I talk with her about her major, leaning over to compensate for her size, I freeze for a fraction of a second. Over her shoulder, I see a woman. Blonde, ethereal, smiling, willowy, familiar, wearing a flowing purple skirt and a pale yellow shirt advertising swing dancing. As I have said before, I had two crushes in my relationship with Melanie, my friend Jess and a woman on OkCupid who deleted her profile, the one who I did not engage in further conversation because I did not want to put myself in a situation where I felt temptation. This is her.

I finish my dance with the Vassarite, thank her briskly, and make my way over to the woman, before she can be snapped up in a dance with someone else. "Hi," I say. "I know you." I say her screenname.

"Yes, I remember you, too," she says and I believe she means it.

"It's great to see you in three dimensions." I try to conjure up what I can about her. She studied in the environmental sciences, she was a 99% Match for me, was literate though I cannot remember which mentioned books convinced me of this, and discussed pies. It is not, I admit, a lot to go on. However, to an accusation leveled at me by friends and family in the past, I either like someone on sight without sufficient cause or there is nothing they can do to win me. This woman, even without any prior connection, is someone about whom I wish to know more.

I tell her my real name and she offers hers, "[Evie]", though she might as well have been called Hope for how unlikely I find it that she is here at this moment, for the heavy-handedness of the universe. "Would you like to dance?"

"I would love it," I say.

I take her by the hand and lead her to a clear spot. For a moment, I cannot quite believe this night, believe the rapidity of symbolic actions after what should be and isn't a crushing blow. I look at her, inches from me, feeling the firmness of her back, her hand pressed lightly into mine. We talk as we dance, since my turns and spins are a little rusty from disuse.

"There is something of a weird reason I remembered you so clearly. I'm a writer and, when my publisher was making the cover for the book and wanted reference photos of the main character, one I sent was of you. I sent a lot of a singer, an actress, and a model, but one of you as well. The cover looks nothing like anything I sent in," I tell her and wonder if I should not be sharing this given that her true name is still freshly ringing in my ear.

She laughs and I think that my confession went over appropriately. I cannot hope to explain the coincidence of my being here and seeing her and will not try beyond this. "Why did you come tonight?" she asks.

"I just got dumped and I thought this would be a brave sort of thing to get back into doing. What about you? Since you've got the t-shirt, I assume you are a regular."

"For about the last year," she says, the length of time I have not been attending.

"So, why did you delete your profile?" I ask, then realize this suggests I realized she was gone, but any attempt at my indifference would be false. She is abstractly important in a way I do not imagine I will ever mention to her unless we become true friends. A friend would understand how almost uncomfortable I find all this, as though I am being written into an inspirational novel by a hack. My urge is to resist the Tao, but no good comes of that. I will not rush forward, I will never do anything to make Evie the least be uneasy with me (such as, I expect, tell her this), but I will let the flow take me where it must.

"I was spending too much time on there and figured that I didn't need two Facebooks."

"Oh, sorry!" I say to a man whose foot I crunched on my back step, who does not notice and has already spun away. Evie assures me it was his fault. Then, our dance is over.

I feel electric, having spent three minute holding Evie's hand, holding her near me, the abstract and the concrete occupying a single space. I dash out to try to call Suzie, who I expect to be the most realistic about this absurdity, but she does not answer. I wander back and dance with a few more women and then take to walking the circumference of the floor while I rally my thoughts about the night. If this were a book, what happens now? I end up near Evie and very nearly inform her that I am doing that thing where I stand near her in hopes it will give me an excuse to talk to her again. But I am not Hugh Grant and that likely would come off all wrong. You don't flirt with new friends - which is the most I wanted out of this night - you just organically have them. Or you don't. She walks toward someone.

I seek out Sara, since I need to discuss this with someone. "Sara, how are you? You seemed a little out of sorts when I first saw you."

"No, that was just because you obviously were."

I look to the door. "Could you come outside with me for about... two minutes?"

She nods and we leave.

We get to the front porch and the last four days pour out of me. "Okay, so quick recap. I just got dumped yesterday. Three and a half years, she's now sleeping with some girl named [Miss X] who she won't know in three weeks. Very painful. Whatever. Here is the situation," and I explain in brief about the two crushes ever. "And she is in there right now."

"You should dance with her!" Sara insists.

"I just did. It was lovely."

" Do it again! Listen, I was dumped recently too. I stopped going to belly dancing because I didn't give a damn if some man thought I was sexy. I focused all my attention on Tae Kwon Do." She lifts her necklace, on which is a diamond ring. "Now I am engaged to an instructor."

"There is definitely something in the hormone release that comes from exercise. My former ex left me for her Tae Kwon Do buddy and [Miss X] worked out with Melanie."

We reenter and Sara and I dance as we discuss our lives further. I motion toward Evie with a nod so Sara can see what I am up against. She urges me toward Evie when the song ends.

"Could I have another dance?" I ask.

"Of course."

She leads me to the middle of the dance floor, where she sniffles into a tissue. I may be one of the few people for whom sniffliness is somehow attractive.

"Sorry," she says. "Allergies. I wore this skirt because it has pockets for my tissues."

"No, don't worry. It's endearing. In middle school, I knew a girl who one day turned-" I motion with my hands as through I am cupping melon halves about a foot from my chest "-voluptuous. Then one of her friends started crying and she whipped a stack of tissues out of her shirt. It was about the gutsiest thing I had ever seen."

We dance and I sneak appropriate glances at her face, since looking directly at someone you are dancing with comes off as exceptionally creepy. She really is lovely and I wonder if this is just a form of rebounding. If so, I cannot allow it for her sake as much as mine. Yes, yes, a woman beautiful in a way you most respond to, of course you will feel a little fluttery while holding her close to you. I do wish to know her a bit better, but that is all. However, tonight has been so perfectly ordered as to make me wonder if the Fates are setting up a practical joke.

I recognize the capacity for rebounding in me, the unfairness that Melanie Who Hurt Me is the one with a girl in her bed and I am quite alone. Don't I deserve cuddles, that beautiful stranger to soothe away the pain? Well, no, I don't. I see no cause to use someone like that and will not. As she had been contacted before, mentioned in writing, I feel as though Evie is at least immune to unconscious rebounding.

I thank her for the dance and move to dance with someone else, as does she. Unless one comes with someone, I think twice might be the limit for dancing with the same person in a night.

Suzie has called back when next I check my phone. I give her an abridged version of the past hour.

"Her? I remember you showing me a picture of her. That's insane!"

"I know, I jokingly said that I would meet that girl if Melanie blew things with me! What do I do?"

"No idea."

"I figured I would look her up on Facebook - I have her name - and add her. I'll take it from there, see her at swing dancing next week," I say.

"This is awesome... Do I have to give you the 'no rebound' conversation?" she asks sincerely.

"I don't think so, no. I feel, if anything, thrown together by this. I am not rebounding onto anyone, particularly her."

"I mean, it's just incredible, isn't it?"

I look at the moon, the tricky, forgiving moon. "It's certainly strange."

After she hangs up, I look at the moon and say, "I have no idea what you have planned for me, but thank you for this night. I'm going to trust you aren't completely leading me to my doom."

As I leave, I turn on the radio, something I had been avoiding to this point. I click through until I hit on a station playing "Total Eclipse of the Heart", my favorite cheesy song. I consider the dial a moment, then roll down my window, turn up the volume, and sing as loudly as I can manage.

Soon in Xenology: More dancing.

last watched: How I Met Your Mother
reading: Tao of Pooh
listening: Ludo

New Romantic: Wednesday | 2011 | Angels and 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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