Semblable (Monday, 2012 January 23)

January 24, 2012

[Note: Today’s coping mechanisms include: two little packets of Swedish fish from my parents (thanks guys!), three sips of refrigerator-cold Sprite, and this little bit of writing.]

Zhenae aren’t unattractive, exactly. Some are even beautiful, and like humans, occasionally you find one who is breathtaking. Sometimes people talk about Zhenae looking like slightly less refined humans, or the other way around, but they really look just different — you couldn’t confuse a human with a Zhenae — but within striking distance. It’s the same way they think different, but still close enough that you can communicate with them. They look different, but not too different. And anyhow, I’m thinking now of a Dutch woman from a long time ago and people aren’t really all the same either, no matter what they look like.

There’s a funny story about this. One time I was in my village visiting a Zhenae friend and his daughter was there outside, cooking, but her voice sounded oddly different. I know he has lots of daughters and I thought to myself, "I’ll bet that’s not Betteu", but I didn’t know how to approach the subject. She recognized me, of course: "Good evening, Sandiego! How’s the school?". But one thing I really do love about the Zhenae is their frankness, so I just said to my friend, "That’s not Betteu, is it?" And he laughed, a grinding noise like a whetting stone, and he said "You can’t tell them apart?"

I had this moment of shame, oh no, I’m *that human, that thinks all Zhenae look alike*, and then it was replaced immediately with relief when he said "That’s Djan. They’re twins."

This is the kind of thing I’m thinking about as I sit in the club, letting my mind drift in a pool of whiskey. I’m in my "region" and I am noting with approval the black arm-bands, symbols of the political unrest we’ve been actively fomenting. It’s about a month after I chose my regional Zhenae counterpart for Revolution Committee, and judging by the arm-bands, he’s been doing well. Each flashing light picks out some arm-bands, tied between the first and second arm joints (just north of a bicep on a human). The black of the bands are pleasing to the human eye against the dark-green Zhenae color.

I’m at this club with a few Zhenae friends, one of whom is female and very, very into me. This wouldn’t normally be a problem — I’ve gotten very good at blowing off Zhenae in general and women in particular — but this is one of my closest friends, one of the few people on this planet who makes anything like sense to me. The truth is that I would be interested in her. That "would" encompasses a lot of things — if this whole disaster with Morgan weren’t still reverberating through my psyche, or even if I weren’t actively trying to overthrow her planet’s government. I’ve tried explaining this to her, once, when she called me on the phone. "I just can’t right now," I told her in Sumi, conscious of how little credit I had for this phone call, wishing in vain that she could understand English, or at least enough English for me to let her down gently. "I just can’t right now." was the best I could do. She responded, just one short sentence in a voice so small: "I understood."

So here we were again, at a club, and she’s pulling me to dance, and dancing close, and she’s brought her A game, she’s pulling my head down to her diminutive frame, into spaces near her ears that a platonic friend of any species should not be entering, and I’m keeping my hands clasped together behind her back and trying to stay away from any zone that could be erogenous. My own stubborn human biology isn’t cooperating. I can’t let anything happen, it wouldn’t be good. I’m usually better at self-control than this. Wait: all I need to do, I think to myself, is to outlast the whiskey. So I pull away from her and go to sit down. A few songs later she follows me, takes up a position kneeling between my legs. The implications are not lost on me, and I need her to stop.

I’m not sure exactly what I said to her this time, but she just hung her head, and I waited for her to pull herself together again while thinking about the juggling act I was trying to pull here — how nice it feels to be wanted, and how you can’t just queue up girlfriends like songs on a playlist, and how I would like her friendship but it is becoming increasingly clear to me that I can’t even have that if she is going to get over me. Is this what Morgan felt like? At first she told me she wanted to be friends, and I even tried to do that out of some eulogy for an emotion I used to have, but all I got was dead air.

Whatever. I’ll be happier when I’m off this rock and the only communication I have with her is the conversations we have at reunions about how great the life is that I am living without her. (I’m not bitter.)

My Zhenae friend pulls me up to dance again, and this time when we get onto the dance floor, she lets the seduction aside and just leans into my chest and sobs. This is more familiar ground for me, consoling a friend, and I’m much better at it, so I just hold her and wait it out, even as (in the back of my mind) I’m wondering if this is authentic, her actual response to pain, or whether maybe this is just what she learned from some movie, how she thinks Earther romance normally works. It’s not a good thought — unworthy of me — one more example of how being a Missionary is just making me more speciesist..

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