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Know By Heart | 2011 | Instead of Throwing Heads


I have loved stories to distraction. Now, I love a person with concentration.  

-Thomm Quackenbush


Hand of Fate

Dan Kessler  
Of course, who says this is arranged by a divine force?

I used to approach my personal relationships with a sense of destiny. The people I knew - specifically the women I kissed - flitted in and out of my life repeatedly, sometimes for years before we had the significant interaction that would have catapulted us beyond mere acquaintanceship. Even when we did not know one another in any formal sense, it felt as though it were inevitable we one day would.

Dan Kessler - though we do not talk often of late because our lives have diverged - first appeared in my life properly when I attended college, though I remember seeing him in a play at his high school and believe I thought even then that we would one day be friends. We would pass one another in front of the student lounge infrequently, rushing to class. We had several mutual friends, though I could not have known this at the time. I think we spoke maybe once with any detail while our mutual friends mingled in the lounge, but not enough to recall his name afterward. Still, he stuck in my head for years. Nowadays, in this circumstance, I would stalk my friends' social networking profiles until I found and investigated him sufficient to approach him. Back then, I simply graduated with my Associate's and felt this one strand unresolved, until he years later reoccurred as one of Zack's best friends whom I then adopted as mine. All this wasted time, it seemed we were supposed to know one another and upon meeting had the kinship of brothers, so there was an added layer to our friendship: this belief that we were meant to know one another at long last.
They fall nowhere else

I had spoken to Daniel's roommate and ex-girlfriend Hannah months before I encountered him. Had Hannah been any more forthcoming at the time - and there was little reason she should have been given that I lived in the middle of nowhere, I had a girlfriend (I was only looking for friendship), and she tended toward being retiring - I would have met Daniel much sooner. By the same token, I met Hannah only because I approached Daniel owing to the fact that all my male friends (most notably Dan Kessler) were emigrating and I felt I needed a new one. Each fed into the other's inevitability and I took to them both almost immediately upon seeing them.

I met my first significant girlfriend Jen when I was in seventh grade. I crushed on her immediately, as she showed me that she was capable of making her eyeballs vibrate. We did not kiss until I was in tenth grade, and not well then. We did not have a relationship for another year. Aside from that, we were friends, we ran in the same social circles, we got along famously, but she was not attracted to me until she, quite suddenly, was. It was the sort of relationship that makes for typical adolescent television, the "will they or won't they" that lasts until the scriptwriters finally give in to fans' insistence that these character belonged together and pantsless. It is possible that this amounted less to destiny than persistence (when I was not dating someone else, which Jen would later remind me was "usually"), but it felt like the same thing to my teenage brain.
She had brown hair when I met her.

Perhaps most significantly, Kate and I had chatted through emails for over a year before we ever met. I had no idea what she looked like, we simply shared odd news stories - helping to eventually inspire what would become my Night's Dream Series - and several friends in common (most, granted, that I had kissed). I met my friend Tina at a music store where a concert was being held and she had at her side Kate, utterly pretty but for an outbreak of acne at the time. Then again, I was both doped up on cold medicine and in a relationship with Jen (whose ending I saw then, even if I did not wish to admit it), so it was not an ideal time for an initial encounter. She said that she thought I was going to kiss her that day, likely owing the cold medicine eroding my social filter. I thought then that I would one day kiss her, but did not want to acknowledge this as it would spell the end of a relationship I thought I wanted then. We talked on the phone after this and were much closer. When Kate ran away from home, our friend Amanda had me tell her mother where Kate was at Kate's behest. When Jen stood me up for a Valentine's date, I talked to Kate for hours about my disappointment and she very nearly came to keep me company. Months after Jen left me, Kate and I had the conversation that initiated our first date.
She hit me like a ton of bricks

Though I met Emily because I ditched class for a day to register at New Paltz for fear I would not get into the courses I needed, I am certain we would have encountered one another at the campus Pagan club or through one of our mutual friends (Emily's tae kwon do buddy and roommate for a year was best friends with a woman who attended the Pagan student union and was roommates with several of my friends). Maybe we would not have met that day - even on initially parting, I neglected to get her contact information until happenstance put us again in the other's path - maybe I would have spent a summer dealing with Kate rather than cuddling against Emily and working at the Renaissance Faire, but Emily and I would have met one day. Very likely, we would have dated if we were both single at the same time. Undoubtedly, I would have been much more ready to treat her as she deserved because I would have dealt with my neuroses sufficient to be the boyfriend she wanted me to be. Otherwise, I think we would have been very good friends.
Even light didn't expect her

Melanie was the anomaly to all this, shattering my sense of fate. Had I not met her on the internet when I did, I would not have met her ever. I did not frequent her college and had no reason to visit it then. Had I been at Bard, I don't imagine I would have gravitated immediately to her (not that she wasn't attractive; she was, but she was young). Had we met in person rather than through words on the internet, I do not think there would have been the opportunity for words. In the years of our relationship, I never accidentally showed up somewhere Melanie already was. Without me, she would have possibly discovered her sexuality sooner, further arresting any chance we would have made a connection. Even in what I wanted in a relationship - the possibility of marriage or at least cohabitation - she was a divergence. (All this is not to suggest I did not love that girl like absolute mad, more completely than I had thought I could not to that point. It is simply that our relationship happened owing to a specific convergence of unlikelihoods, in contradiction of how things typically occurred in my life.)
Found you!

I could have met Amber earlier, had my relationship with Melanie not kept me away from all things Pagan. There was a moment where we were literally ten feet from one another, but separated by glass and brick. A month into Melanie's leaving (it took eight months in total, I have had relationships shorter than that breakup), I attempted to go to a Samhain ritual in Poughkeepsie. I could blame the St. John's Wort I was taking for my situational depression at the time, but the fact is that I was unforgivably late. I had taken one of the pills on my drive there, in hopes of making myself social (this was before it occurred to me that the pills were hurting and not helping me). By the time I arrived, I was not in my right mind, the mix of mania and despair that infected me for weeks. I tried the doors of the Unitarian church that was hosting the festivities. They were all locked (as they should have been given my unpunctuality). I contemplated knocking, but this act seemed additionally sinful thanks to my then bizarre neurochemistry. I peeked in through the windows, doubtlessly spying the shadow of Amber somewhere within - so close but insurmountable far from the woman I would come to love. Instead, I left my offering for the ritual, drove to New Paltz, and had a snack with Jacki. However, this would have been exactly the wrong time to enter into Amber's life. For one, I was not ready to leave Melanie even though, in retrospect, I should have been. I was in one of the darkest period I can recall, unable to effectively cope with the experience I was enduring, conflating everything together. Beyond that, I was depressed and awkward. Had Amber met me then, she may have judged by the pain I was experiencing, one that changed me into someone I did not like. I could not have seen her with love then and would have, quite possibly, snubbed her because some part of me would have wanted her.

And yet she came again at the drumming ritual, when I was ready to know her properly. Even a week earlier might have been too soon and, even though the time approached perfection, I still fought against how I instantly felt for her.

For the anniversary of this missed connection, a powerful and shocking snow storm blows in. The ritual is cancelled (since one cannot really reschedule Samhain in any meaningful way), so the storm finds Amber and me in my apartment, cuddled on my sofa watching the RiffTrax of The House on Haunted Hill and Plan 9 from Outer Space after having attended an hour of a family Halloween party. Had I not met her in the summer, at that peace drumming ritual, I likely would have noticed her at another. We would have met, though clearly not for this Samhain ritual. She was waiting, half for me, just as I was half looking for her.

All this talk of destiny and fate is pretty, but these are just stories created in retrospect to justify connection. My life is not Great Expectations, the reappearance of people in my life owes much more to the closed community of the Hudson Valley and the paucity of local Pagans than it does to the hand of some puckish author. In the past, I have loved stories to distraction, loved the unlikelihood or the seeming purpose, but stories are built for endings. I would rather love one person for what she is than how much it seems the universe wants me to know her.

Soon in Xenology: A job?

last watched: Community
reading: Hunter of Shadows
listening: Nightmare Before Christmas

Know By Heart | 2011 | Instead of Throwing Heads

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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