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What It Is To Belong | 2011 | Amber Begins


Language... has created the word "loneliness" to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word "solitude" to express the glory of being alone.  

-Paul Tilich


Same Party Twice

I return to the house the next day, for Brian's going away party. Brian is a man who by rights should have been a close friend - we commiserated while taking a scriptwriting class in 2002 or 2003 and seemed to have similar senses of humor and interests then - but we lost touch before a real connection could be established. Then - even more so than now - I struggled with the idea of forming male friendships and was simply a bit too socially awkward to make a go of it with him. We only began to reconnect at a party I attended a year ago where I was surprised to reencounter him, unaware he lived there. Next week, he is following his fiancée Terez to Minnesota so she can pursue her Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking. He may be back in some years, or he may not. He has the uncanny luck to seem to land enviable job after enviable job, so I have no worry that he will be fine whatever the Fates have in store.

As yesterday, I end up the first guest. However, having declared this house and all who dwell within as oddly sacred, I have no problem with it tonight. I am confident I will find my comfort and new experiences that will hearten me.

Katy greets me with a hug and a mock question as to whether she can get me something alcoholic to drink. I am platonically in love with her as a purveyor of this experience, hoping that - unlike with Brian - I will not allow myself to miss a genuine connection having been given this second (much more likely thirteenth) chance to know her.

The crowds come more quickly and chokingly. There is a far different energy tonight. Whereas last night I could float and talk, conversations tonight are obscured by the din and difference in company. Within twenty minutes, fifty dissimilar people pack into this house that comfortably dealt with half that last night. There are old people, people in stodgy button-up shirts, people discussing sausages, literal children, teenagers from some feminist music collective Terez ran prior to deciding she needed her MFA. I can't find my place, I can't find my people. Some of the guests from last night whom I most looked forward to seeing do not show up again, since they were friends to Ella and not Brian (the Venn diagram overlaps only very slightly).

As I am lamenting this, a gorgeous brunette walks through the front door. Tall, willowy, wearing a white mod dress and black tights, a light brushing of make-up. I fall into instant infatuation before realizing this is Laura, looking completely different but still exquisite. How cruel of the world she adores women as much as I do.

I sit in corners and observe, occasionally talking to someone near me about their intriguing tattoo or plate of macaroni and cheese (as the latter contained bacon, it too might qualify as intriguing). There are simply too many people here for connection, which is what I find most enjoyable in a party.

Jacki shows up an hour and forty five minutes after the party began. She is closer with Brian and, likely, has a more legitimate reason to be present. However, I felt such a sense of belonging the night before that I continue trying to find my level on my own. Jacki seeks me out every half hour and check up to ensure I am having a good time. I remind her that I am not her responsibility and I am having a fine time, even if I seem to the untrained eyes to be sitting in a corner, poking a plate of pasta salad with a fork. I am a writer, we have many subtle modes that otherwise appear to be sullenness.

I retrieve the plate on which sat the brownies I brought to this party, largely to give myself an excuse to find reprieve from the noise of people around me. As I am tossing the plate in my car, I touch my own hand. All at once, the memory of how Melanie and I used to hold our hands behind our backs when we were separated, imagining we held the other person's hand, flows over me. I have to sit on the trunk of my car and compose myself. I miss being touched, making that most human of connections. I'm not desperate; I am not going to hook up with someone or get into a relationship only so I can be touched again. But I miss someone who knew me. I miss someone who held her hand behind her back and thought of me.

Still, these two parties demonstrate something just as urgent to me: how much I put my life on hold to take care of Melanie. People ask if I ever want children, but I feel as though I had one. I helped get her through college, I took away the pain and stigma so she could succeed, in hopes that she would come out an adult and we could be together properly. Now I don't have to think about taking care of her, I don't have to shape my schedule by her whims. I am sad, but I cannot deny there is a relief. I can do as I please. This leads me to believe that I am supposed to be single. I let her tie me down because I loved her so much, but I missed out on quite a lot.

When the crowd thins somewhat - children and the elderly have bedtimes - I find myself on the porch, listening, feeling that this has become a community I understand slightly more. John says, "Crows have actually grown so smart that they will calmly walk out of the road when they see a car coming. They won't waste effort flying away like other birds because they have figured out that cars won't leave the road."

Owing to research for my books, I know rather a lot on the subject and am tipsy enough off my second class of wine to forget not to share, "The whole family Corvidae is just brilliant. Tool users and they can imitate human speech. There are stories of one mimicking a baby's cry so that people will go investigate and the others can plunder the food that was left behind. No wonder people ascribe so many myths to them." Then, realizing I have said a bit too much, I eat a chip and stare off at the lightning bugs until someone else jumps in, but they do and I know I can trust them to. These few moments make the night worthwhile.

The night ends with Jacki and me on the sofa. I had mentioned, in passing, my faint crush on Laura the Lesbian. Jacki argues that I seek out the approval of lesbians as some sort of Freudian primordial drama, which I discount wholly. I would much prefer Laura were straight but it honestly does not matter either way. My crush on her is no more sexual than my crush on a new musician, an "I appreciate what you do in this context, I wish I could be around it until it nauseated me". The night has been emotionally strange for me, the buzz of the party driving me inward and the awkwardness of my introverted thoughts driving me out again - and this final conversation serves as a capstone.

Soon in Xenology: Amber.

last watched: Doctor Who
reading: Anansi Boys
listening: Tom Lehrer

What It Is To Belong | 2011 | Amber Begins

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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