79. It is the shared space of suspended disbelief (from Virtualis)

Then he waited for a more intimate intimation of the role he was to play in this ceremony. He had perhaps half a dozen meet-ups with George before the subject arose, and the ceremony came up because it was now March, and his face and throat were clogged with pollen, so it was spring, and there was still no sign of a date. They were sitting on George’s balcony. Jesse had asked for a date, again, and George had again fobbed him off.

“Are we waiting for a special tree to bloom?” Jesse asked in annoyance. Water had wick’d into the ass of his chinos from his chair and he was cold from lack of sleep.

“There are tides to be considered. We need a relatively flat location with no oversight by humans, and Michel’s come up empty so far.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want it to happen.”

“You don’t know him as well as you think. The chance to partner with Kima in the production of a light show designed to blow the minds of everyone watching is quite an inducement. They’re working their asses off, or would do if they had same,” George said.

“A light show.”

“We’re Sixers.  Michel and Kima and I have shown you a fraction of what we can do when we wish to play with light and colour.”

“I figured you could do pretty much anything inside whatever your personal light bubble is.”

“Is that what you call it?” George said.

Jesse shrugged. “You can make light stop in its tracks and run in circles. I can only visualize this by thinking of the works being inside a bubble, maybe not a perfect circle but as close to one as the ground lets you be.”

George nodded slowly. “We can make the bubble larger by coordinating and linking.  Under some circumstances, one Sixer can ‘manage’ another’s light bubble, and in the process widen the scope of the display to almost terrifying lengths.”

“That actually sounds kinda cool.”

“I’m warning you. I was terrified, personally terrified, when they did the earthquake segment. I’m having trouble imagining how most humans would perceive it.  I’m afraid many people would think it was really happening and blow an aneurysm.”

“They put on a light show that scared you,” Jesse said, finding this unwelcome and thought-provoking news.

“My hair woke up and stilt-legged me into Indian Arm, and me with my chubby legs hanging in the breeze. How it thought that running us into the ocean during a violent earthquake was the embodiment of ‘Safety First’ my imagination and rhetoric cannot unravel.”

“What were you expecting?”

“For it to stay asleep, as it mostly does.”

“So it woke up in a panic and fell over backward when it thought the earth was opening up and swallowing it?” Jesse permitted himself a giggle as he tried to picture it.

“It came up with a somewhat more elegant solution than dragging me along the ground like a tiresome afterthought, as it has done several times in the past when it perceived a threat,” George said mildly.

“Go go George’s hair,” Jesse said.

“It isn’t funny. My hair could ruin everything,” George said. “I keep trying to maneuver us into a situation of mutual assistance and trust. I fail. I hope that a solution can be found.  I don’t know what to believe.”

“How is it, with all of your smarts, that you keep filing Pep Talks under Suicide Notes,” Jesse said.

“So I can hear you chide me about my mental health problems,” George said.

“Ayoille!” Jesse said, performing a creditable Michel, and then returning to his normal tone. “You have to tell me when I’m in friend mode, otherwise I just ignore you until you issue a direct order,” Jesse said. “It’s the Canadian way.”

“I’m having a little trouble with —“ but Jesse was inexorable.

“And I’ll tell you something else for free – Canadians never work harder than when it’s at something they weren’t actually supposed to be doing.”

“That is supported by my observation, so I’ll let the impudence pass.”

Jesse found himself silent, eyebrows raised, mouth pursed.

“Ah, you’ve gone all quiet,” George said in condolence. “Jesse, I don’t know when the ceremony’s going to be. I’m not dismissing your right to ask. I find humans are crazy for calendars, and it’s not really the way Sixers work, or not the way we’ve worked for the past few millennia. Who knows what our true state is? — we came into being a long way from here. Our attitude is: We get there when we get there.  It’s the first thing that gets beaten out of conquered peoples, their language and their ways of dealing with time; humans are going to have trouble beating it out of Sixers, because you won’t be able to conquer us.”

“You sleep in four hour blocks,” Jesse said, looking skeptical. “I’d say you’re fully invested in how we manage time on Earth.”

“There’s a difference between a daily practicality and the great mass of time,” George said. “Especially when you’re juggling nested rings of variables muddled with flaming torches of egotism and bathtubs full of the lime green Jell-o of special interest.”

Jesse continued to be politely disbelieving. “You’re juggling bathtubs full of lime-green Jell-o.”

“I was told it’s a science fiction fandom reference which will please the discerning.”

“It would, if you weren’t missing the most important part,” Jesse said.  Raven, of course, had told him the story.

“The naked underaged redheaded twins, yes, I understand that. I thought it would be implied once I mentioned the bathtub and the Jell-o, which would allow me to not have to say anything about the redheaded twins.”

“I s’pose that’s most of the fun of being a hipster. Saying something douchey that only your friends will understand,” Jesse said.  He drained the beer he’d had the self-care to bring, and finished the bag of nachos.

“I forgot to tell you,” George said. “I got real food.”

“What?  WAWWWWWT?” Jesse bellowed.

“Mind the neighbours!” He said something in Greek that sounded like what Michel had translated once as ‘you great ox’. “There’s beef and broccoli and garlic prawns in the fridge.”

“You’re fucking kidding me!” Jesse cried in joyful tones.

“Shh! No! There are chopsticks too,” George said, smiling.

“Did you put a bag in the kitchen trash?” Jesse asked in a more subdued tone.

“I knew I forgot something else,” George said. “I’ll use the bag the food came in.”

“That’s the ticket,” Jesse said sliding open the balcony door as fast as was safe.

“How is it that you forget anything, when your memory is so good?” Jesse said, as he stood by the microwave. He stayed inside to eat; the wind was too rude to be a dining companion.

“The memory is still there in a sequence, but sometimes I can’t find my way back to the memory I want. Sometimes it feels like something in my thought processes is actively blocking me.”

“Must be weird not to be able to trust your memories.”

“Must be weird for you not to understand how fragile human memory is and therefore be able to produce such a beautiful assumption without irony.”

78. I is a tense in which we are embodied (from Virtualis)

Jesse got up one afternoon in early January, 2014, and found an email from George waiting in his LARP inbox. It appeared to be a mass email, but there were no other addresses visible.

Hi folks,

It’s about getting away. I don’t know how it can be about anything else. I wish to seal, with wax and lyric poetry, with ceremony and gratitude, the story; to give it to you plain and without missing anything important.

I know I don’t belong on Earth. I doubt anyone who feels that way could love Earth as much as I do. Sixers had to come to Earth to learn to feel love of place (or any kind of love that doesn’t align with personal convenience and self-will, come to speak of it.)

The feeling of not belonging on Earth is not connected to this love. It is in resolving my love for Earth, and my being forced away from Earth by an instinct so strong it sometimes knocks me out, that I have perceived my exit from the impasse.

I can help Earth and leave it at the same time, and I’m asking you to continue to help make it possible. Already everyone who’s ever helped me is at a disadvantage; I only told four people, two human and two Sixers, what I wanted to do from the outset, and the rest of you joined my crew without informed consent.

I’ve had to learn about informed consent. It isn’t really possible for my species, while so much happens when we aren’t truly conscious — while so much happens in the background of our consciousness, where footling dragons from millennia past burn holes in our mental maps. One could argue, given the nature of human consciousness, that informed consent is a social chimera, an imaginary beast with real world significance. I understand the argument, but I give it no purchase.

I’m no longer worried about how bad I’ve been at obtaining informed consent; most humans are terrible at it. I’ve made my attempts, and whether I’ll forgive myself for past lapses and future errors remains to be seen.

I’ve learned so many things. I never used to consider myself as a moral being.  When you’re already perfect, you never have to get better. I’ve been mocked for assuming the appearance of a healthy, well-educated white man,  with all the privilege that comes with it, but for a moment, please consider how my conspecifics and relatives have reacted to my lengthy impersonation.  I’ve fallen a long way out of my clade; from my unnaturally perfect ancestors, through my own sadly deformed and malleable body, into pretending to be something that lives 80 years among bones housed with droopy, papery skin.

In my attempt to deal with humans honestly, I’ve learned how empty of ceremony Sixers are. We have our memories and our ways of sharing them — but we use them more for entertainment than other purposes; as we reach through each other’s memories, there are always favourites we return to over and over.

But that isn’t ceremony. Ceremony is public; it’s held in front of everybody it concerns. But it’s also private; if it doesn’t concern you, you’re not invited. Watching an ancestor’s memory, perhaps of an event that only you have ever watched in many lifetimes of Sixers, is not ceremony; it’s riffling through picture books on a rainy afternoon.

To enact a meaningful ceremony, one that would make it possible to move through the world as one for all those present, is a real challenge when you’re mixing up Sixers and humans. Generally humans have lots of people to call on, in planning and executing something this ambitious, and it’s just me, Michel and Kima. I don’t want any other Sixers here, to be candid, and even if there were more I loudly doubt they’d help me.

They don’t buy my reasoning. I’m exposing Sixers to publicity which may result in their extermination, according to them. It’s a foregone conclusion to them that humans will never rest until we’re all dead. That’s the flapping, painted backdrop of my story. Humans understand that I’m trying to deal with an existential threat in hunting asteroids; Sixers think I’m actively seeking one out on their behalf by exposing them.

None wish to come to Vancouver to help me. Only an insane person would do that. An insane person… like you.

Humans are doing what my people, with two notable exceptions, won’t. All of you are. I can no longer put aside how important it is, that I pause and give thanks. And say sorry. And ask for more help.

I want to say all that – to enact it – in a ceremony. It will take place somewhere in the Lower Mainland accessible by boat, sometime in the spring, and as ghastly as this sounds, it will involve rehearsals.

Do you want to be part of it?

Jesse took a long slug of his coffee, and typed, “Hells yeah.”

77. Our melancholia is just plush and uncivic (from Virtualis)

“There’s no challenge to it,” Jesse said, looking at Colin sadly.

“You’d hate it if I teased you,” Colin said, irritated.

“But you’d hate it worse when I didn’t respond the way you wanted me to,” Jesse said. “I vote we shut up like manly men and put a real push on here.”

“I thought Abbie was s’posed to help you,” Cary said, looking around slowly.

Colin and Jesse glanced at each other, and turned up the speed. The last of the boxes were on the truck half an hour later, and the furniture was done an hour after that. 

The whole time Abbie sat in the cab and cried, and the wind and the rain never ceased.

Colin had paused and spoken to her a couple of times.

“I feel like such a bad person for abandoning him,” she said during one such conversation.

“Maybe this will force him to get the help he needs,” Colin said.  He felt awkward, but he normally did, so the awkwardness held no lessons.

“I think he’ll kill himself,” Abbie sobbed.

Jesse had once joked that Colin only did emotions on alternate Thursdays by appointment, and Colin was thinking about that as he spoke.

“As much as we can love other people it’s damned hard to predict what they’ll do. Does he have any other friends and family who can bang on his door or call him and check up on him?”

“Not me,” Abbie said. She stopped crying, but looked like she could start up again at any time.

“I’m thinking, no, not you,” Colin said.

“Well there’s his mother, but she can’t do the stairs anymore.”

“Is there a social worker or public health nurse or something?”

“I’m done. I’m not going to arrange it.  I’m hanging by a thread here!” Abbie said.

“I understand,” Colin said.  He got down from the cab and grabbed a furniture blanket from the back. He brought it to the cab and tucked Abbie in, commenting that she must be freezing.

“You guys have been wonderful.” Colin took out his hanky, which was folded, clean, and warm from his pocket. He probably wasn’t getting it back, but he’d just found his grandmother’s stash of them in the basement in North Van, package after unopened package, like a display in a retail store, carefully sealed in a storage tote against the depredations of time. He didn’t imagine that his grandmother would grudge this one.

“We’ll be done soon,” he assured her.

Jesse meantime was being followed around by Cary.

“Why isn’t she taking everything?” he groused. “I don’t want to get stuck taking care of her shit.” He aimed a half-hearted kick at a red and orange sofa.

‘Taking care’ was not the phrase Jesse would have used to describe Cary’s interactions with physical reality, but he didn’t speak to that.

“Abbie’s leaving everything your mother gave you when she downsized her house, which she’s told you at least once because I was in the room when she said it,” he said gently. “She’s not going to steal it from you.”

“It’s not stealing, I don’t want it,” Cary said. “You have to take it with you.”

“She doesn’t want it and she’s the one paying for the move, which she organized overnight for your convenience, or have you forgotten that part?” Jesse said. “She’s leaving the tv in your room, and she paid for that.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Cary said, aggrieved, “I can’t afford to pay for cable. I can’t afford to pay for this house either without Abbie so all this shit will be sitting in the rain soon enough when I’m evicted.”

“I’m sure it all seems very overwhelming,” Jesse said.

“Don’t patronize me, you musclebound punk,” Cary said, shifting from tonelessness to stilted crankiness.

It wasn’t the worst he’d been called. “Fine, stop talking at me and complaining non-stop,” Jesse responded.

“I’m suffering from depression,” Cary said.

Jesse lost it. “So’s everyone around you, ya jackass.  I’ve got two chronic medical conditions, one mental, one physical. I just turned twenty-four, and you know what? I take care of business. I work, I have friends, I have a love life, I eat properly, I wash my fucking dishes. That’s what adults do. If you can’t manage it then you need to get someone to look after you until you can, and if you can’t ask for help I don’t know what to say. If you’re actively suicidal —“

“Is that what Abbie says?”

“She said she’s afraid you’ll kill yourself, yeah.”

“Does she sound like it would make her sad?”

“Of course the man she’s loved for five years and lived with for two years is somebody whose suicide would make her break out in three cheers, what the hell kind of question is that? Nobody wants you to kill yourself. Shut up and quit whining, sure, but not kill yourself.”

“Now you’re being hateful,” Cary said.

“I’m not a professional, and you’re needling me. What do you want?” Jesse asked flatly.

“Take all my mother’s crap with you.”

“Not unless Abbie agrees,” Jesse said.

“She’ll say no to make me suffer,” Cary said.

“What about her suffering?”

“Her? She acts like an angel when someone else is watching.”

Mentally making the Neil deGrasse Tyson jazz hands gesture, Jesse made no response and continued moving trash bags full of blankets and clothing. Colin came back inside, looking pinched.

“You’re going to ignore me. It’s like I don’t exist.”

“You’re too inconvenient to be non-existent,” Colin said, pushing a wave of cold, damp air into the room. “So cheer up, you still exist,” he added.

“My depression is not something I have for your entertainment,” Cary said doggedly.

Good, because it’s not very entertaining, Jesse and Colin thought at the same time.

“Nobody asks to be depressed,” Colin said, trying to sound less like a jerk.

“Adults take charge of their mental health problems and work toward better quality of life,” Jesse said.

“You think I should cure myself,” Cary said, staring at both of them with his dead, pouched eyes.

“Do you need help?” Jesse asked.

“Not according to you!”

“Right. Twist what I say so it fits your world-view, externalize responsibility, demand assistance, show no insight,” Jesse said.

“Now you sound like the world’s worst psychiatrist,” Colin said, looking at Jesse in alarm.

“What do you know about psychiatrists?” Cary asked. That creepy smile was back.

Colin took a breath, and Jesse put an advisory hand on his arm. They returned to their duties.

“Quit talking to me, how adult,” Cary said.

Colin took another breath, and this time Jesse forestalled him. “Colin, we’re both making things worse.” Speaking directly to Cary, and using every bit of his twenty centimetre height advantage, he said, “We’ll be leaving in about ten minutes. Please go back to your room in the meantime.”

“You’re in my residence without my permission,” Cary said.  “I’m calling the cops.”

“You’re not on the lease,” Colin said.

Jesse got his wallet out and produced the business card of a senior RCMP officer. It had been stolen for him by Michel, but he wasn’t going to say that. He held it in front of Cary long enough that he could read it.

“Our firm,” Jesse said, “Is informally recommended by local law enforcement for moves impacted by mental illness or domestic violence. Go ahead and call the cops, but I suspect your hospitality options are going to be a hard jail cell for uttering threats or a soft observation room in the local psych emergency for uttering threats. I’ll send you to the nearest ER in a cab if you’re in crisis.”

“I didn’t utter any threats,” Cary muttered.

“Who do you think the cops are going to believe, especially after they check the history at this address?” Jesse said blandly.

Colin was appalled. “I’m not lying to the cops for you, or anyone else,” he said, brows meeting.

“You self-satisfied goon,” Cary said to Jesse.

“Go back to your room,” Jesse said.

“Dude, please,” Colin said.

Muttering all the way, Cary made his slow, troubled return to his lair.

“I’m never helping you on a move again,” Colin said.

“Blow off a chance to work with Michel? I don’t think so,” Jesse said. They did a last walk-around to ensure they hadn’t left anything, and then to be sure they called in Abbie.

“Yeah, everything’s on the truck.”

Jesse and Colin bundled her out of the house as soon as they heard Cary’s voice calling for her.

They unloaded the truck into her step-dad’s garage in Whalley. He came out at three in the morning to greet them, and to assist.

“Craziest thing I ever heard, moving in the middle of the night like this,” he said to Abbie, after a long hug. “I’m glad you scraped that duffer off your shoe, though, girl.”

The offload went like clockwork. The wind and rain died down.

Jesse let Colin drive. When they got to the normal spot to park the truck, half a block from Jesse’s apartment, Colin said, “Can I crash at your place? Don’t feel like moving anything anymore, not even a gas pedal.”

Jesse said, “Sure.”

“Was I really that much of an asshole tonight?” he asked after a minute.

“Truth. I just don’t have the energy to bitch you out about it,” Colin said. Jesse pulled out the sofa bed and tossed him bedding.

“Now for that shower,” Colin said.

“Nope. How privileged you are! Landlord won’t let me shower between 11 pm and 5 am. Whore’s bath for you.”

“So I have to get into grandad’s car and go all the way back to North Van if I want a shower.”

“You coulda had one in the rain if you’d brought soap,” Jesse pointed out.

“I’m officially so tired I don’t care,” Colin said. He stretched out the bottom sheet, snapping it on the corners, and threw himself down. The sofa bed made eerie noises of protest, including a long, low, ‘ga-wunga-wung’.

Jesse went to bed.

When he woke up there was a text from Abbie asking if she could friend him and Colin on Facebook.

Glad you can’t see my face, sister.

He texted: Can’t speak for Colin, don’t have Facebook.

Can u ask him?

If you only knew he spells everything out when he texts, and would maybe even shudder if he saw that ‘u’. Good thing I have a backstop.

If you didn’t get his phone number, that’s on you. I’m not giving out a coworker’s number. If he didn’t ask for your number, that’s on him, and probably means

    He tapped enter.

he thinks grinding on a woman who sat in a cold truck and cried for hours is super bad manners.

Find your breakup toy at the library, sister, Jesse thought.

Guys like Colin are hard to find.

Jesse burst out laughing, one of the advantages of text over shared space.

I concur, but not for the same reasons.

He considered his response.

Your story has touched me deeply.  I will consult with him.

He texted Colin.

Abbie wants your phone number.

He was glad Abbie couldn’t perceive Colin’s response.

Good God, what for?

Took a shine to you.

It was not mutual. I was trying to provide respectful support to a client. Is this how desperate women are to be treated like human beings?

Maybe you look like breakup sex to her, what do I know. I don’t specialize in grieving women. You could always friend her on Facebook and leave it at that.

I can do that. We’ve met, we’d recognize each other in the street. I’m not ashamed to know her.

Jesse cracked up again. Cool Mr. Smooth, he thought.

My work here’s done.  

Fuck you, came Colin’s cheerful response.

Two hours later there was a ping on his phone, a single word text from Abbie: Thanks.

He immediately texted Colin. You chump, did you start messaging her on Facebook? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

You’re an asshole.

Nope, I’m only *part* asshole, just like errybody else. Set good boundaries! Carry lube and condoms! You can talk to me anytime!

See previous communiqué, peace out.