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Traveling Companions | 2011 | The Wrong Color


The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.  

-Leslie Poles Hartley


Which a Minute Will Reverse

Xen and Amber  
She decided to bite my bottom lip, too.

The only flaw - if we can call it that - I find in Amber is that she is somewhere between too consolatory and too indecisive. She says, and largely seems to mean, that she does not especially care between most choices. This event or that one? Staying in or going out? This movie or that? Chinese or Italian? "I don't care (just not Indian)." She says she has made the important decisions - to love me after over a year of ignoring romance, to be an artist instead of a cop - and the rest are immaterial. Whatever happens is fine because that was what was supposed to happen. She tends to enjoy anything with me and feels that she gets her way entirely by this passivity.

I want her to make even these small decisions because they give me insight into her personality. In absence of these, I am backed into the corner of projecting my assumptions onto her, which is nothing I care to do. I want to know all of her, not have her hide away some facet I might come to love. I show her the movies I adore and pause them to discuss with a moment that struck me the first time I saw it. (Given my vocation as writer, I am given to wanting to explain every moment.) But she does not do this with me, though I have to presume there are movies she loves, too. There are parts of her that seem to belong to a stranger, one willing to acquiesce to my interests, but not yet brave enough to put her own forth. I am reading through some manga she gave me - I don't love any of them yet, but I am hopeful and they are quick reads - and we are on our third season of Castle together, but she does not talk about these media. She likes them and that is all there is to it.

I initially took this trait as a mark of her shyness or a lack of self-confidence, that she had somehow been conditioned to be acquiescent to prevent giving offense or encountering conflict. She had at least one boyfriend who I think of as abusive, who could have fostered this in her. I reassured her that I would not be bothered by her opinions and preferences, that I would rather hear these so as to make an informed decision with her as an equal partner. I went so far as to trying to goad her into making decisions, giving her patently unpleasant options so she would select something she actually wanted. This was unsuccessful and, admittedly, foolish of me.

I have since realized that this issue is largely mine. In my last two relationships, I have been the one to go along with the plans. While not explicitly indecisive - I was and am given to voicing my opinion and objections in a gratingly reasonable fashion, honed by years of psychology courses - I felt a Taoist contentment to float after the woman in my bed, since they were Going Places and I was already Where I Wanted to Be. They had things that needed doing and I was pleased to continue to make myself fairly portable. With Melanie, it was so stark that time was divided between time I was not with her and time I was. Near the end of my relationship with Emily, it was the same, as appointments and grad school increasingly consumed her waking hours and she grew frayed in ways she could not let me repair, when she lived with me only as much as some of her mail arrived in my mailbox.

The other night, I asked my mother what she thought of Amber, given that the two of them were in proximity for most of vacation. She mused that she did not really know yet, except that Amber is sweet and tiny. She suggested it was irritating that Amber attempted to teach my five-year-old niece Alyssah math and reading on the drive home from vacation, but mostly because both my mother and I had been food poisoned by the same Cumberland Farms turkey wrap and wanted all external stimuli to cease. Once we were on solid ground, my mother could not fault Amber for being kindly and nurturing. Moreover, Amber has consented to go where I need her and was deferential of the potential needs of my career, in contrast to Emily and Melanie; she is the portable one in this relationship. Therefore, in my mother's opinion, I will likely end up marrying Amber because she is the first I have taken to be who is truly ready to be married to me.

All of this is not to say Amber and I do not have a grand time together, once I tell her a plan with her minimal input. It is wonderful to know that Amber could be there on a Tuesday night, for no other reason than that I wanted to see her and could contrive an excuse (specifically, the singer from Blue October - a band which I barely knew existed - was singing at an electronics store). We did not have to negotiate, I was not given cause to feel guilt that I dragged her away from friends or studies (and she only teasingly mentions that I am keeping her from making art or working on her Etsy store). This was a casual meeting up with my girlfriend and need be nothing more. And I think, People do this. This is how relationships can be. We have casual delights rather than the need for premeditated events. We meet at bookstores, where I read to her from books that matter to me or we cuddle while looking at graphic novels until we are booted out for kissing. We joke over hamburgers and fries. We rush to the Dutchess County Fair because this is suddenly the last night (thanks to Hurricane Irene) and, even though I am still food poisoned, we cannot miss the already nauseating rides and fair food. We go swing dancing, even though we mostly sneak kisses and fall onto sofas. There is not a marked separation between life with Amber and life without her, just life.

A later Sunday, after a long day spent at the Renaissance Faire, I asked Amber, "You could... I mean, I would like you to spend the night, if you wouldn't mind?"

"But you have to get up early," she argued for the sake of stating all that needed saying. "You have work."

"Not terribly early, and you can and should still sleep in and then eat as much breakfast as you can stomach... and I couldn't sleep the other night without you," I admit, for the same reason. "I wanted you here, sleeping on me."

"I would love to," she answered with a kiss and that was that. I did not owe her anything, I did not feel that I was inconveniencing her by stating my need.

In part, I know, this is a matter of discovering the cadence of our romance, rooting out how it differs from those that have come before. Each new relationship of any significance is like learning a new language. The new loverís name is from a new tongue - and you had better not use the old word for "partner" if you don't want to risk offending the natives. Even "love" can mean something else. Experiences have to be redefined if one is ever to hope for fluency. This can be a wonderful thing, because "pain" means something else. Or "confusion". "Let's go out to eat" doesn't have to mean "I am symptomatic. Dissuade me." "How did you get that cut?" no longer means "Did you do that to yourself?" "What's wrong?" doesn't have to preface a battle of wills that culminates in hours of crying. A new relationship is a foreign country in which one is immersed. One may slip, using the old language, meaning to ask for a slice of cake and accidentally offending all those who like their cats in one piece. With time and practice - and there is no end of practice - one can begin thinking in the language of their relationship, realizing that not every little decision presages volumes of subtext.

Soon in Xenology: Discrimination.

last watched: I Heart Huckabees
reading: Demon Diary
listening: Edith Piaf

Traveling Companions | 2011 | The Wrong Color

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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