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Four to Six | 2017 | Thanks for the Memories


One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If weve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. Were no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. Its simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that weve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.  

-Carl Sagan

Kiss and Tell

Thomm and Amber
The far more important first kiss

Six and a half years into our relationship, three years into our marriage, Amber lets slip that she didn't much want me to kiss her the first time, that I wanted it much more than she did.

This is not how I've ever told this story, this foundational moment when we began. As I remember, she was blushing with anticipation, nervously hiding behind her hands, grinning nervously, because she wanted this kiss.

But, no, she says now. She was willing to go along with it, but that was it. In a moment, my adorable memory is recast as base, something undesired. I have taken first kisses before they were earned, when I was young and didn't know how to behave properly. I wouldn't have wanted to do it with Amber. I am no longer the romantic lead in a perfect moment with my future wife.

She clarifies that she wanted kisses, that night and subsequently. She just didn't want that first kiss, the one that changed that night from flirtation to a proper date. A tiny brick crumbled from the bottom of this cathedral I've built and I worry for a moment of the steadiness.

In breakups, I've had girlfriends tell me that crucial aspects of our relationships were never true, up to and including that they never really loved me and I never made them orgasm. I think this was just to make them feel better about leaving, because I surely couldn't do anything for them on their way out.

When Amber divulged that I was not telling this story the right way, I was immediately reminded of other people who I felt misled me in the end so it didn't hurt so much for them to walk out the door.

Yet I tell our story with cuts and edits. For years, Amber's shy affirmations of love would sometimes bother me. She loved me more that I could love her, maybe more than I was capable of loving. Could I write that at the time? Of course not. I wanted to give her the best story, one where I was always the perfectly loving partner I aspired to be. I was as good to her as I felt capable of being, maybe better. I went into therapy in part to become a better person for her, my best self. When I am not battling any mental illnesses, I love myself more than I even have and I never question how madly in love I am with Amber.

I still cannot give an unexpurgated expression of our relationship. While she reads the Harry Potter series straight through instead of picking up after her discarded homework and plates, I don't detail my frustration as I clean around her. When I am so sick that I am whiny, I don't explain how she brings me soup and tea. I never expressed all my doubts and fears, all our quiet companionship, how I have yet to break her of the habit of licking my face to impishly pester me. It's not that they don't contribute to the relationship as it is, but they do as it is told. This is the best and healthiest relationship of my life, but my loyalty is to it and not the story of it.

Our first kiss was not the perfection I remember, the one I've retold with pride. That makes our relationship realer, another fiction stripped away.

I spent years pretending nothing mattered, that I was only the character I was writing, so I could do brave and dangerous things. I stayed too long in unhealthy relationships because it made for a more interesting story if I did. I wanted something to tell. After these ended, I worked hard to cease to be fictional. I fight this urge because this is not a rehearsal. It is my only chance to lead my life rather than following in the wake of other personalities.

Books about college-aged athletes and barnstorming pilots turning Zen master round-eyes under the tutelage of magical Asian resonated when I could pretend my life was no realer than novels. Eventually, I had to start living as though the consequences mattered, as though I were not wasting this one and precious life being a character instead of a mortal.

When I was fictional, it presumed I had an audience who might be entertained or enlightened by my misadventures. At this point, Amber doesn't read these entries, including the ones in which she features prominently. I cannot pretend the Eternal Divine notices or cares.

Perhaps this is better, realer, but the man who spends a decade of his life in bravery and suffering because someone might be paying attention is not a man who is inclined to living wholly in a consensus reality. I was specifically happier when my circumstances were worse, but my attitude toward them was better. On the bottom line, it doesn't matter if one is bold because of an internal narrator or inner volition. If the former is deluded and happy and the latter is anxious with a fear of mission out, but the outcome, the eventual action, is the same, why not be happy? If I can stop the pain in successive retelling, why not act as though it is a story in the living of it?

I shouldn't want to pretend, but these last few years have shown me that what I took for demonstrable reality was only an amalgam of chemical reactions to internal stimuli. If my experience of supposed reality can be ameliorated by 150 combined milligrams, reframing what came before, how I am meant to call that realer than adventurousness born of a sense of disconnection from my life? I am a poor arbiter of what constitutes my reality, still too prone to perseverate on shadows.

The irony isn't lost on me that I strived for authenticity and vulnerability right around the time the rest of the world decided they were done with it and retreated into the curated social media experiences where they never had to be themselves. They needed only to be witnessed. They create and present a facade to attract attention to someone who never existed because it can't hurt if it isn't actually you.

When I am depressed, when I am anxious, I wish I could pretend that none of this mattered to me. I wish I could play a character because I would know I recover then.

I have seen too many people lose the narrative thread. I am an author and thus indoctrinated to see the foreshadowing. In my writing, I cannot help but add it in based on what should happen to this character. When some new detail introduces itself, I roll it three months in the future and imply where I think it will be based on the information.

But there is no foreshadowing, just likelihood. There is no sustainable fiction. As P.C. Hodgell wrote in Seeker's Mask, "That which can be destroyed by the truth, should be." I am not destroyed, only the artifice covering my truer self. My relationship won't be destroyed by a stolen kiss.

Soon in Xenology: Apocalypse. Imbalance. Meaning.

last watched: Thor: Ragnarok
reading: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
listening: They Might be Giants

Four to Six | 2017 | Thanks for the Memories

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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