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House Mad | 2015 | Falling in Love (in Small Quantities)


You cannot find Buddha nature by vivisection. Reality cannot be caught by thinking or feeling mind. Moment after moment to watch your breathing, to watch your posture, is true nature. There is no secret beyond this point.  

-Shunryu Suzuki

Stuck in the Middle (of Lake George) with You

"You see, the middle is boring."

Amber is right, though she is talking about the rollercoaster and not philosophy. There is no joy in stoicism. Maybe there isn't much pain that way, but isn't it worth the gamble? We spend our time hedging against extremes by staying in the middle, by living safe and dying average. We could at least see what is over the edge, even if we cower back after. Like the rollercoasters, we imagine much of the danger anyway. We buy the ticket, take the ride, and are returned a little more experienced, but not much worse for wear. We also get to pretend these coasters never break down, but we know the risk.

(I don't even really enjoy rollercoasters. My wiring changed at some point during my adolescence, giving me motion sickness instead of a jolt of adrenaline. However, Great Escape is a part of vacation and I won't say a word against it.)

I wonder if a part of me doesn't stay on the shores of Lake George each year, only reconnecting to the remainder when I visit. Lake George feels more personally significant than anything that happens after a ball drops on January first. Vacation is when my year begins.

I never feel as content as I do here. What is different this year is that this does not seem to be a drastic departure from the rest of my life. The glitches in getting here, as we sat for hours upon hours in the back of my brother's van with his half dozen children, seem like nothing worth frustration. This is as it should be, as I knew it would be when I asked to drive with them. There is no rush to make memories, as though I will only have these to sustain my happiness in the dark winter months.

I had a week of irritable depression when work ended in July, which was really just detoxing from daily exposure to an emotionally poisonous place. There have been stresses this summer-Amber trying urging me to buy a house, not writing as much as I would like to-but I am the captain of this ship and the sea is far from choppy.

In a sense, we are three families occupying two suites. Dan, Becky, and their six kids; my parents and Bryan; and Amber and me. We interact at meals and activities and are glad of the company, but we are not the same circle. Our valences intersect, but we are still discrete groupings.

I love my nieces and nephews, but I don't understand how to connect with them. The eldest two, Ayannah and Alieyah, are teenagers and, aside from a few observations back and forth, have nothing to really say or do with me. We cannot have conversations because our contexts are so different. I only barely know who the members of One Direction are, after all, and still think a smartphone is novel. It feels best that they be left alone to adolesce. The next oldest, Alyssah, is the first whom I held from birth. She is precociously like a teenager, though still in elementary school. Perhaps she mimics her sisters, maybe this is simply what technology does to kids now. She is satisfied watching Youtube on her tablet, being impudent, and cooing at her baby sister. I believe she finds me intolerably corny and she has every right to. Her brother Aydan loves me, real and genuinely, and it is possible he may always. My family jokes that he is really my child, demonstrating a number of my childhood quirks and foibles. I claim that I infected him when I donated a pint of blood when he needed cranial surgery as a baby. However, he also manages to get on my nerves as much as I am sure I got on my parents' when I was a child. When he wanders away from our beach barbecue one night, I find him tugging at the locked door of his parents' room hundreds of feet from us, obscured by cars and surrounded by strangers. As I might have at his age, he lies that he asked us all if he could go to the bathroom (there is a closer, open, and public bathroom a few dozen feet from us and I know he know this). I admonish him, which rolls off his back in wasted words, and let him into my room to pee while other guest glare at me as though I am the worst father on Earth. He is the one who openly wishes for a time machine so he could come back to Lake George before we are packed to leave, infused with the early onset nostalgia that has plagued my life. His younger brother, Aaryn, is a barely tame animal and is clearly the dominant one of the pair. Unless I am his jungle gym, I am simply one of many adults who will tell him to stop hitting his brother. The youngest, Adalynn, is barely verbal and has a tendency to bawl for her mommy or daddy if I dare to hold her for more than a few minutes. I can occasionally get away with making faces at her and her parents insist she knows my name, but I am skeptical that she likes me at all. She has warmed to Amber, who threatens to steal Adalynn should her parents be distracted, but this affection is limited.

Unless I am paid to teach kids, I can only really process those unfortunates that were socialized around adults on secluded mountains. Children have their own intimate culture and I am twenty years past having any familiarity with its intricacies. Amber remembers Adalynn falling asleep on her chest. I remember the panic of my nephew blithely disappearing from safety. Children haven't earned the experience of adult logic and it is the only language with which I find myself fluent any longer.

Each night, Amber and I wander the tourist town, little changed by the intervening year. We've come to appreciate walking more now that is comes with a score thanks to our fitness bands. I have been coming to Lake George for nearly thirty years, but I have not previously seen a reason to walk past the shops, to find the Million Dollar Beach I had spied from boats but never seen from land. I joy that Amber continues to show me the unfamiliar sides of places and things I thought I knew well. I need her impetus to keep the world fresh.

Later, when I mope over a lack of sleep borne of a family worth of snorers and early risers, Amber uses my computer to search for paranormal sites and mystery spots, discovering that the map of the lake on Shakedown Street produces supposed sonic anomalies. Though it is hardly difficult to figure out what will rouse my interest, I am touched by her insight. That night, we trudge there in the midst of our largely fruitless shopping. Standing in the very center of the map, worn to a golden sheen by thousands of tourists having done the same, causes an echo only the person standing there can hear (as well as baffled looks from the tourists sitting in the surrounding benches). We discover a private world beneath the one I thought I knew.

I fight the coming nostalgia because I don't have the energy to waste my time here analyzing everything into bits. I don't have to care about what else I might be missing out on with every decision because there is nothing else. Last year, after our wedding, honeymoon, and vending at Otakon back-to-back, Amber and I were content to allow vacation to be decided around us. It was the happiest Lake George ever made me because I had the least invested. I don't have to be cursed with the fear of missing out now, not if I am blooming the best I can where I am planted.

I can't be too upset when things go wrong on vacation, as they inevitably do. The restaurant where we have reservations for our big dinner has no parking because there is a block party in Glens Falls, which no one mentioned when we made our reservations. We end up at a place that is more prepared to serve us, so we linger outside, catch up, play on our devices. This is where I am, I will still get all I need, so I might as well be content about it.

The idea of all I am not experiencing has ached at me in the past, which saps the flavor for what I am experiencing. I will never be enough people. Life is never long enough. Trusting that it is among the best that could happen is a better way and I will not know another. There is always another horizon to reach, but you have to keep moving.

The last night, after the fireworks, my father and brothers get very drunk. This is one of the times where I get the best access as to my father. When I join them, he is already discussing how he moved from Georgia as a child. In previous years, I have heard of his collegiate shenanigans involving a lunch tray, a steep hill, and a snowplow that nearly ended his life. I have listened, amused, as he described the folly of dating my mother. Without the lubricant of alcohol and a captive audience, perhaps he feels less able to divulge his life. Maybe he assumes we won't care to listen, but we are a family again at Lake George. He can trust us with glimpses of his past, even though one of his sons is a dirty writer who remembers and recounts these facts to strangers.

Before midnight, he goes into his room to check on my mother. He doesn't come out again and we soon hear the slow saw of his snoring. My older brother goes next, not bothering to excuse himself, so we don't know that he is down for the count. This leaves Amber and Bryan, both well inebriated. Amber is in the stage of her drunkenness where she finds crawling into my lap insufficient. Instead, she pulls herself into my hoodie and zips it up around her, informing me that I am now a marsupial and she is my joey.

Bryan goes next into his room. I spend the next hour trying to corral Amber into our room and ready her for bed. She alternates between giggling havoc and open weeping, occasionally over her new hermit crabs (which I have named Piņata and Derpy, owing to painting on their shells, but which she insist are Peanut and George). I adore caring for her and find this affection strange, because she doesn't make it easy to get her to prepare herself for bed without waking my family with her antics. She chides me for watching her, saying, "Listen, buddy, it's been twenty years since someone had to supervise me brushing my teeth. Now you've ruined my streak."

Lake George used to be special to me in part because it was the one time I felt that my partner was truly present with me. They were not preoccupied with training, with work, with school, with mental issues, with social status. For one week a year, we could genuinely be together, negotiating around my family and a series of fattening meals. This isn't the case with Amber. She is almost always present with me year-round, even when she is sewing denim bracelets all night or pulling weeds all day. She is open and consistent, never hesitating in her love of me, even when intoxicated by a bottle of wine and a few shots of vodka in the course of a couple of hours and thus poking me in the face for her amusement.

There is this pesky goblin in my brain who does his infernal best to try to convince me that happiness is a finite commodity. When I am exceptionally happy, he reminds me that will end and I should mourn this loss even while I am immersed in happiness. I dared to feel carefree, but he has a list of each care that has accumulated heft when I ignored it so I could appreciate a sunset.

By the morning we leave, I am desperate to be free of this emotional incontinence, back in the van and on our way from Lake George because it would offer me no way to turn back. Once we are packed in, slightly hungover wife napping in my lap, I can begin to release my grip on this window of time where I occupy Lake George each year (and where Lake George occupies me). The summer wanes as shops advertise back-to-school specials. I have not written nearly as much as I wish, but I know at least one of my books well enough to agonize over its title and I have twenty five good pages (of two hundred in total) gestating in my mind of the other. I have not done as much, loved as much, experienced enough. But I will know no other way now. This is the summer I have had.

Despite any pretended wisdom, I cling. This is among the best times of the year and I am now as far from Lake George as I can be. On the other hand, I am technically only a two-hour drive if I really wanted to press the issue. However, Lake George the place and the experience are as different as a house and a home.

Soon in Xenology: Depression.

last watched: Hannibal
reading: Don Quixote
listening: Jill Sobule

House Mad | 2015 | Falling in Love (in Small Quantities)

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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