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Seeking: Sherpa | 2017 |


The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody's fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.  

-Katherine Mansfield

Liz the First

Liz was a potential therapist, only my insurance didn't cover her. She offered to go outside my insurance at a reduced rate, to have sessions only every other week to lower expenses, to stay a little late (but not quite late enough for me not to rearrange my work schedule). With ample regret, I declined, writing that I hoped our paths crossed again.

She surprised me by asking me if she was crazy to want me in her life anyway, since I would not be a client. When I received this question, I may have done a little dance witnessed only by security cameras. I replied, saying I would have suggested the same except I did not wish to tread on her professional ethics.

I have been on the prowl for new friends this year. An eccentric professional, married to a writer, who reached out to me despite the awkwardness of our introduction, fits the bill startlingly well.

I was excited in the potential of this encounter. When, because I asked if she were free this weekend, she suggested a time and place, the excitement turned to unease. She said we ought to meet one-on-one this first time before throwing partners into the mix. Amber is working then anyway and it is sensible to assure we have friendly chemistry before further entanglement. Still, it deprives me of my buffer, of the person I can boast about in lieu of talking directly about myself. Beyond what is likely for emails asking about and reluctantly declining a service, we have gotten on splendidly, but that doesn't mean in-person compatibility is a given. I thought to ask if she knew what I looked like that she might recognize me - I know what she looked like (from one angle, in one pose) from the Psychology Today site. She replied that she had seen the picture attached to my Google account and was sure that we had met before, but granted that it might be "past life shit." I run through the possibilities given the scant information I have (grew up in Red Hook, married to a woman) and arrive at the likeliest possibilities: That she met me though Sarah (in story and picture more likely that flesh given how infrequently I ever saw Sarah), that she somehow stumbled upon one of the talks I've given (and, should she realize this, she will decide I am a manic moon bat). Or I just have one of those faces. There must have been something in what she saw of me, literally or figuratively, that made it safe to propose this meeting.

I will have to portion out my curious history that she doesn't decide I am trying to get stealth therapy - though she did offer to be in my life, so this would indeed be a profound plan that involved mind control via email.

It feels curiously like a first date, albeit one with a married, queer woman with a child, which would not be my romantic ideal.

We meet at the Enchanted Café at her suggestion. I arrive before it opens and set up my laptop on a table. The afternoon prior, a storm felled a tree onto the power lines of my building. In trying to chainsaw it off, the wires were yanked with such force that a sizable section of my exterior wall tore free; the return of electricity was unlikely. As such, I arrive to this meeting unshowered and with a sore throat thanks to what Amber chose to call "contagious allergies," but was more accurately termed a cold.

In short, I was not as I would like to be in meeting someone for the first time, but I didn't care to cancel this meeting because that might seem fishy. I imagined I could manage this encounter by staying downwind, relatively speaking, and prioritizing what I said.

This latter tack was not a problem (and I doubt Liz would be inclined to sniff someone in encountering them for the first time - she isn't me). Liz is taller, thinner, and more serious than her one photo led me to expect. She greets me with a hug, followed by "Of course I would recognize you!" While this is likely true, I am the only person in the café aside from the owner, so her odds were good.

She talks at a remarkable clip - about her wife's fear about her meeting straight men who sought a therapist, about how the planet had better be on the cusp of an awakening, how she wanted to help her clients out of love and not financial demands, about modern depression being rooted in people working against their more divine purposes.

I feel my cold slowing my mind down just enough that I am not fully engaged. At times, music and the entrance of other patrons distract me. At others, I pick up on a few keywords about which I have something to say. I have to actively remind myself to keep listening and not wait for a lull to reply. I wish I could have a small notebook such as I used to scribble down ideas and topics when I used to podcast, but the presence of a pen and paper irremediably alters the interaction and is generally seen as antithetical to a polite conversation. I am trying to record it - to Liz, I cop to seeing the world through the lens of my writing, which I choose to believe serves as fair warning for thereafter mentioning her in writing - however I want to be present as I am doing it.

After maybe half an hour, she notes that she has been doing most of the talking. I state that I partially resisted because I didn't want her to feel obligated to psychoanalyze me. I tell her of my attempts to find new friends this year and the circumstances by which I came to quickly have several vacancies without understudies. The stories are not as lighthearted as they felt when talking to Chris or Madeline. The tenor of my interactions with Liz is by necessity different, born of words, yes, but the purpose of which were very different. With Chris and, to a lesser extent, Madeline, I felt my profile and messages sufficiently apprised them who I am and what I seek. Liz relied on my picture and my statement that I hoped our paths crossed again.

She tells me of her wife Jen, a too talented woman in need of a firmer purpose. Liz feels the purpose should be writing, but grants that it could be most anything. Jen has two Master's degrees and might go for her Doctorate in neuroscience; she certainly has the raw skills and talents. She has the enviable sort of resume where she could easily do incredible things even if, at present, that seems distant. It is a wonder that these sorts of people dot our social landscapes, remarkable yet unrealized. For all Liz's talk of destiny and purpose, I can't help but wonder if part of the reason I have connected with her is to prove useful to her wife.

As she talks, she removes a rolling paper from her pocket, not slowing her verbal pace, dropping a small, white filter and loose tobacco onto this paper with practiced dexterity, her eyes not leaving my face.

She asks if I mind joining her outside, though I don't smoke.

I am establishing what her character is, what gestures and accessories combine to her exterior self. I wonder if, with her professional observation, she is doing the same of me. If I were casting the role of Liz, what would the notice require? Short, curling dark hair, a leather jacket in the early May coolness. The actress would need a sort of angularity and a quick, broad smile. The cigarette seems to be an important accessory. One could cosplay the Liz character with just the jacket and that, at least based on this first episode of the season.

Liz and I haven't met before that I can figure out. Though she is the right age and grew up in Red Hook, her conservative parents kept her out of public school, so she never met Sarah. I assure her that the two of them would have gotten on like a house on fire. She floats the notion that she saw me at karaoke at a venue in Woodstock, but I've hardly been there, certainly not in that timeframe, and have only once been to a karaoke night in which I didn't have the courage to participate. We are, despite her intuition, likely near strangers in this lifetime. We find we have one tortured connection, but it makes us similarly afflicted, not prior acquaintances.

She talks of people only operating at a three when the great ones are above ten. She means this in terms of connectedness, but I generalize this to my solid C performance today. It suffices, but I know how much better I can do.

I will get a second chance, at least.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Spring.

last watched: Black Mirror
reading: 1984
listening: Great Big World

Seeking: Sherpa | 2017 |

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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