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Head Over Feet | 2011 | Embers of the Divine


Basic human contact - the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words - is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain. If you're feeling abandoned by the world, interact with anyone you can.  

-Martha Beck


The Faces That You Meet

Not plotting my destruction

The first time one meets one's lovers friends or family can be nerve-wracking. What if one says the wrong thing? Isn't judgment implicit in this initial encounter, a certain "are you good enough to be laying your lips and hands where you no doubt already are"? What if they are curiously immune to charm?

All day prior to meeting, I am antsy, as though trying to ignore a looming dental appointment. I am not anxious exactly, just unable to properly focus on anything that I cannot eat (and growing quickly bored of anything I attempt to). I had subjected Amber to the potentially scornful eye of Suzie and the playful mockery of Dan P. I held her up very briefly to the light of my mother's analysis as we walked away from ticks on a sylvan path. Turnabout is fair play.

Only, of course, this isn't turnabout. This is simply meeting her sister and her sister's friends, the latter group whom Amber sometimes claims for herself. There are no power dynamics, no pressure. She keenly wants to see me, she had bought me a ticket for the Harry Potter opening night (which is third base among those of a geeky bend), and - given that I am falling hard for Amber - I am going to meet these people eventually. After I confirming that no one will be in full Hogwarts regalia (when Amber informed me that she could not find her Harry Potter costume, I assured her it would be too confusing for me to be snogging the Boy Who Lived), I swore I would be there.

When I was with Emily, most of our friends were shared. If she liked a person, there was a better than average chance I would as well (with only a few exceptions, including the man she later married - against whom I now have absolutely nothing, if only because he had a hand in creating one of my favorite babies in the world and he ended up making Emily happier than I was likely to). Initially, most of my friends took to Emily and welcomed into our social circle, back when I had a group of friends who tolerated one another. Melanie kept me well away from most of her friend because, she said, she did not like her worlds mixing. Making a compound self for these occasions was too stressful. Likewise, she kept herself aware of but distant from all but a couple of my friends (she managed to never even meet a few). Since Melanie is recent, it is the programming from our relationship that is still residual in my head, these thoughts that the woman who says she cares most about me would like to make certain I exist to her friends as a name only, if that. A month before she left, Melanie proudly announced to me that she had finally mentioned me (and thereby that she was not exclusively gay) to her college mentor - with whom she had been working and working out for well over a year - and the girl with whom she had a torrid fling upon leaving.

It occurs to me whenever Amber is kind to me, is affectionate without pretense or aim - which is often - that Melanie confused my psyche. This treatment is what one should expect from one's lover. Still, I am so used to the idea of my fondness being too much, too constrictive, too private to be expressed. I only met one of Melanie's friends with any thoroughness (and that is because keeping Jinx and me apart was bound to be an effort in futility. She is my friendly soulmate, she is someone the Fates marked for my life). To the rest, I was likely little more than a passing phase, her three year experiment with monogamous bisexuality, a punchline.

As such, it was reassuring that Amber wanted me to be seen even before we had committed to one another, as she bought me a ticket before I admitted I could not stand being less than her boyfriend. To my tweaked ego, this means Amber has no worries of making me "real" in her life, that she isn't hedging her bets in case there is someone else with whom she might want to canoodle, that she isn't allowing the space in her life in case any heterosexuality should drain out of her body via her toes. She isn't holding back, she is allowing me into her life because for her (as I think with most people) there is no reason not to. If you care for someone, you want them around. If you are delighted someone cares for you, you want to show them off.

I informed Amber days ago that, as hard as I search for the nodule of insanity within her that I cannot seem to find, my need for reassurance is my "crazy". She says she can accept it, because it is her instinct to adore me and because she is proud to be with me.

I get to the diner half an hour after everyone else (I missed her initial text message in my energetic fretting). They are seated and being served. I take a seat next to Amber and smile. She introduces me around and I manage to instantly forget the names of everyone but the two women seated before me, Natalie because I am going to her party the following night and Click because she is called Click. (Brians and Jefferies and Susans and Jens all blend together and I do not think most people care to be referred to by the names I instantly make up for them, such as Lip Ring and Clockwork Orange)

I hold Amber's hand under the table and give her infrequent pecks, since I am not sure was level of public affection is permissible (again, psychic residue). The wizened waitress delivers a plate of French toast and bacon to my girlfriend, which Amber promptly offers to me, as I have not ordered anything (again, stress eating). I do eventually partake because it is French toast and bacon and also because I like sharing food as a form of bonding.

No one questions my presence or, at that, seems to notice I am making mooning over Amber. I can handle them taking my existence being taken for granted; there is no better way for this meeting to have gone.

We get to the theater with an hour to spare in order to accommodate the nine people in our group sitting together. Amber's sister Rebecca offers me popcorn and her water, which I take a sip of. "It's the transitive property," I tell Amber. "You are allowed to drink the water and I kiss you, so I am allowed to drink too."

She wrinkles her nose in mock disgust. "Ew, so it's like kissing my sister!"

"I wouldn't know, I haven't kissed your sister."

"Please don't."

"I intend to kiss only you. Forever, if I can manage that."

The next night, I meet Amber at her house and drive her to Natalie's party. I recognize a few of the people I met last night, though retain only the hostess's name and that of her girlfriend Click.

Amber gets a girly drink from a cooler, hands off a bottle of alcohol and a bag of ice, and we slowly make our way out of the dimness of the house to the back porch, where strangers are trying to summon forth fire from the gas grill with middling success.

I sit across from Amber on the porch, holding her hand. I ask, "So, you must be crazy in some way."

"I am," she says confidently, "you could ask anyone here."

Natalie passes and I do ask.

"I don't know, she just is. Look at her."

"I am," I say. "I look at her every spare moment. She does not seem crazy and she won't give me a concrete example of how she is crazy. I'm afraid she is just wonderful."

Natalie, I believe, rolls her eyes and goes about her hostessing.

Again, people seem to take me as a given. Most of them do not introduce themselves, just speak to me as though we had been having a long conversation and they had recalled it was their turn to say something. As I am rarely out of sight of Amber, in not outright holding her hand, I suppose they are aware who I am. I am not the sort to draw attention to myself and several others are only too glad to pick up the slack, so the guest have no need to pay special attention to me.

Later in the night, as Rebecca and many other people at the party play Apples to Apples on the floor while getting increasing sloshed, Amber curls up in my lap. She keeps sipping from the glass in her hand and getting slightly drunker. I cradle and kiss her. She is so light, and I am grateful for it. The alcohol loosens her tongue enough that I feel I am getting uninhibited insight into the woman I am taking home with me.

"You aren't the sort of drunk who throws up, right?" I ask, concerned more for the chair on which we sit than for my own clothing.

"I absolutely won't throw up on you. And I'm not that drunk. Or a drunk. I hardly ever drink and I always remember, with utter clarity, what happens when I was drinking. Don't worry."

I kiss the alcohol on her lips and say, "Appreciated."

As I continue to coddle her and listen to her tell me of her favorite animes, one of the guests, Red, interrupts. "How long have you two been together?"

"Almost a week," I say, half proud (that I am with Amber) and half embarrassed (that it has only been a week rather than years).

"Really? You have amazing energy," she says in a slightly ethereal way, though it is the sort of proclamation that needs to be said as though one has a passing acquaintanceship with reality.

"Yes, we are supposed to be together," Amber says.

Soon in Xenology: Amber.

last watched: Six Feet Under
reading: Blink
listening: Bjork

Head Over Feet | 2011 | Embers of the Divine

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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