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    Xenology: Twenty-Seventh Kiss Is the Charm

    My first kiss is a matter of debate. I know the person, but would argue over the moment.

    At fourteen, at an Independence Day carnival, I met a girl. She was dating one of my older brother's friends, a fact she did not reveal until after I spent my tickets taking her on the Ferris wheel, where she lay her head on my shoulder and squeezed my thin upper arm for protections as though the gondolas might throw us.

    We did not kiss then because, though I wanted to finally have a first kiss, I knew better than to steal it from the lips of the romantically occupied.

    Xenology: Three Interesting Topics

    You are meant to have three interesting things to talk about, three topics on which you are experienced, beyond the weather -- unless you are a meteorologist or climatologist.

    I can talk about sex dolls, paranormal history and theories, and the necessary morality of self-driving cars. People assume I have other topics after that, because these are so niche, and no one knows such specific things without gleaning further context of the rest of the world but, no, this is my depth. All else is trivia enough to get through the cocktail parties to which I have never been invited.

    Xenology: The Disappearing Act

    When I Vanish

    For twenty years, I have been able to see the tide rising a minute before it washes me away. I try to warn people, but it isn't their ocean. All they notice is pounding veins in foreheads, their hands gripped into tight fists, the copper in their throats, then I get a panicked and mournful expression and tell them I have dissociated.

    As though a fuse had blown, I can no longer remember what the argument was about, nor can I keep my mind on what just happening. Melanie once doubted that I had this condition, thinking it was a cop-out, because she wanted to get heated. Daring to tell her I needed to keep the conversation calm to maintain a place in it was nonsensical, but it is my only defense against it, feeling my mind slipping and warning the other party I am close to my evaporation.

    I justify that I want to keep things respectful, but it is also that I need to protect myself from temporary oblivion, the shame of it, the frustration of breaking down. I can be distraught and remember everything, but dissociation looms when the issue it involves someone I love and fear losing, which to my mind is evidently among the worst things that can happen.

    Xenology: A Cup o Kindness Yet

    The stocky boy, probably named Moose, yells at his thin, cultured parents in the Curry House. I say "yells," but I am not certain a voice like his knows another setting, sonorous and searching for ears to overhear how wise his nineteen years have made him.

    He is a student at Bard College or, I extrapolate, was until recently and this, sitting in an Indian buffet, is the first his parents are hearing of it. He either owed the college some money or failed the semester catastrophically and was asked to leave. Either way, it is categorically not Moose's fault and, through repetition, he hopes to make it his parents' fault.

    Xenology: What a Story, Thomm

    "We are poaching you from Chris," I tell Sarah T, already sitting at a booth in Red Robin (because I have a birthday burger owed to me and I will cripple my friends into a sodium coma to get it).

    "I told him to text you back," Sarah says. "I was sitting right next to him, asking if he did. He kept saying he would until I forced him. So, you aren't poaching."

    Xenology: A Special Place in Hell

    Nearly daily, my energy is high. I keep my kids motivated and curious, if not as productive as their free-range peers. I make them agonize getting essays up to my standards and arbitrate spontaneous debates about the definition of an unjust law.

    And I suspect I might be in Hell.

    Xenology: Have Yourself a Scary Sinterklaas

    Christmas lights
    Christmas, not kids

    Rhinebeck is the only town in a hundred miles with both the means and motivation to throw a Teutonic Christmas festival that shuts down a major thoroughfare, all so they can parade with thirty-foot terror puppets for an hour on a December evening. It is a town of where two famous actors recreationally own a candy shop and it is considered gauche to mention this fact and certainly to whisper their names. It is the sort of picturesque town destroyed by monsters in movies to show middle class audiences that there is a real threat; set in New York City or Chicago, monsters are the price of doing business, which is why their citizens are tiny cannon-fodder instead of characters with close-ups, lines, and names.

    Xenology: Hypothetical Life of the Anxious

    On my walk back, a man the shape and dress of Melissa, ten months deceased, comes out of a mechanic shop. I don't often see her outside the privacy of my thoughts. She always cut a unique figure, however much my mother felt Teen Melissa to be a chameleon, different hair color and style every time she came over. This man is the first one to remind me of here so sharply.

    The rational mind would think, my, that reminds me of my dead friend and would move on.

    My mind, on the other hand, immediately runs ten steps ahead. If it were Melissa, what would I say to her? What might she say to me? Would she be mad at me? Would she know that she was supposed to be dead?

    Xenology: A Good and Accurate Accounting of the Darkness

    Mushroom and skull
    Okay, but not in a dark way.

    I am not, despite perception, dark. As I have ages into a more pacific time in my life, less ruled by adolescent dramas and hormones, I have fewer sweeping tragedies on which to report as though anyone might care. The story instead is figuring out how my head works and what to do about it. In short, I went from Man against Society to Man against Himself, which reduces the cast list.

    But I am not dark. If you met me, you would think I was downright cheerful. As Daniel once put it, and as I embraced fully, I am a Manic Pixie Dream Boy. Sure, I visualize driving off bridges on particularly bad days, but who doesn't like a splash of coffee with their sugary cream?

    Xenology: Thanks for the Memories

    Alyssah and Ayannah
    Lifelike

    For Thanksgiving, my first grade teacher tells us to color in cornucopias traced onto plastic wrap, which she tapes over aluminum foil.

    She tries to explain the sanitized, Eurocentric version of Thanksgiving while we tend to our coloring, the one where the Pilgrims and Native Americans were really good friends, but none of us even attempt to follow along. She does not understand that the fumes from the permanent markers have rendered her class loopy.

    This is my first exposure to what it is to be high. I do not care for it.

    My mother keeps this decoration for decades.

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