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Skylights let the morning's rays of sun leak in, washing the room in winter's pale, bleak light. It made the reality of the room's emptiness more harsh, the loft's now sole occupant left to feel profoundly alone in the cold winter sun. He woke with a sinking feeling in his stomach, the feeling that confirms one's isolation from loved ones. This wasn't uncommon for the thirty year old man laying on the king-sized bed for he had many love affairs starting in his mid-teens, but it hit just as hard everytime his latest boy left him.

Not one of those boys left such desolation in his wake as his best friend did when she left. There was a two year period after she was gone that he spent every morning like this one: alone, lost. He was seventeen once more, insecure, missing her desperately, wondering where she was, what she was doing. He wanted so badly to find her, tell her he was sorry. Maybe if he found her and apologized, he would finally stay in a relationship for longer than ten months.

He closed his eyes against his bedroom; it was so large, and like his bed, much too big for just him. He had a guest room just as large as his own; he told himself that it was there for anyone who needed a room, but deep down he knew that the kelly green bedding and record player were there for her, if only she would want to stay. He knew that lying to himself made nothing any different than it was, but he liked to think that she was never there, but in the dark, he couldn't keep himself from wishing he would have said sorry while he could. While she was there, listening. All of those hours, days, months wasted.

He opened his eyes and made his way out to the kitchen where he made himself a cup of coffee. In his old age he traded energy drinks and pop for that Colombian drink he once despised so much.

Sitting at the island, the man stared around the kitchen. Its size seemed excessive now that he had no one to share it with. Louis had left the night before, his words resembling those of a certain girl from more than a decade previously. He now understood the meaning of those pained words, the melancholy he heard in her voice so long ago was found once more in Louis' voice.

The kitchen echoed with the boy's tear-filled voice, his strained accent, his choked out explanation as to why he was moving back to his home in New Orleans. It was reminiscent of Delia's barely held together words, her visible fight against the tears she knew he couldn't take. He saw in Louis's tears Delia's lack thereof. He understood that when she left, she truly wanted only his happiness and his comfort and would suffer twice the pain if only he suffered none.

He cast his dark brown gaze around the kitchen, taking in the advanced, unnecessary technology he found and almost immediately began to loathe. He moved on to his living room, the luxury making him sick. He hated to see all of the richness of his self-image manifest so boldly before him. Dance in front of him pointing out all of his faults in a ten minute period. It hurt him so much that it was quite like a physical pain, though the logical part of his mind told him that the pain was only illusion.

Abruptly, he turned back to the kitchen, setting his half-drank mug of coffee on the counter and ran to his bedroom. He quickly got dressed in his worn pair of designer jeans and a t-shirt he'd gotten from one of his college boyfriends. He suddenly remembered that the particular ex he was thinking of was an English major. He had went through a string of English majors in college, though he couldn't take any one of them for long as each one would remind him painfully of his lost friend.

He slipped on his sneakers - an idea had struck him and he grabbed his keys to the apartment and ran down the stairs to the lobby, too on edge to take the elevator. Upon gaining the lobby, he flew out of the door and down the cold Chicago street. He finally calmed himself long enough to walk, however fast his pace may be.

He walked into a small bookstore he found on a side street; it was cramped, and he had no idea if it was any good since he hadn't been in a bookstore in years. He stepped inside, taking a deep breath. His nose filled with the smell of old pages, ink, and something he couldn't quite name unless the term "home" was appropriate.

After standing in the doorway for a moment, he ventured into the store further. He ran his fingers along the binding of the worn books shelved in the establishment. Making his way to the back of the store, he found two little girls sitting at a table two rows over in what he assumed to be in the children's section. One had wavy, chestnut-brown hair, the other had flaxen ringlets, but they both had the same eyes - grey-green and heavy-lidded. They couldn't have been more than six years old. Fascinated by the girls' eyes, the man stared at the books on the shelf before him, listening to their conversation.

"Lady Mairead, I would be very pleased if you would pass me the sugar," the brunette asked of the blonde, her small voice had adopted a mock English accent, occasionally lapsing back to American.

"Oh yes Lady Ophelia," the blonde replied, her voice following the same pattern. The man decided that the two girls were most likely twins.

The girls were wearing what looked like miniature gowns and large, flowery sun-hats. They had a porcelain tea set sitting out on the small wrought-iron table, their little gloved hands pouring tea into the cups and eating pastel colored macarons. It sounded as if they were having tea over a discussion of books they'd recently read and movies they'd watched over the past week.

The brunette, mid-sentence, stopped talking and saw the man who had been watching them discreetly. She blinked quickly, then found her voice, "Oh hello sir, and how are you today?"

Tears threatened to escape his eyes at the words he'd heard daily for so long from Delia, and reflexively he grinned a little, "Bleh."

"Why?" the blonde one asked.

He smiled then, a sad smile, but that characteristic was almost imperceptible, "Grown-up things is all."

"Oh. My momma tells me all sorts of things about grown-ups. She says that she gets sad a lot, but it's because of something that happened a long time ago. What's bothering you, did it happen a long time ago?" the blonde asked.

"Yes and no. It's repetative actually. So what are your names?"

"I'm Mariead, and that's Ophelia," the blonde said. "What's yours?"

"Brody," the man said, pushing his dirty-blonde bangs from his face.

"Well Brody, would you like some tea?" Ophelia inquired, her familiar eyes widening.

"That would be lovely," Brody smiled again. "So where are your parents?"

"Our father is in Paris working and our Momma is in the back."

Ophelia looked at her sister, then at Brody, "Yes, she's trying to decide what books to bring out for the week."

"Ah. Well, I don't actually read a lot, though my best friend from high school did, all the time. So I think I'll go, but thank you so much for the tea," the familiarity of their eyes and the smell of Delia was overwhelming; he thought that he might finally have went insane.

"Oh yes, anytime. We quite enjoyed your company," Ophelia said with an air of superiority. Mairead nodded in agreement.

A woman walked languidly up to the twins, a smile wide on her cherry-red lips, "And how are my lady daughters on this fine morn?"

Looking over at the woman, Brody felt his breath leave him entirely. He understood that she hadn't registered him at all just yet and he took the time to take in her appearance.

She was the same as always, though smaller it seemed. Her hair was just as wild, just as strawberry-blonde; her eyes were the only thing that had changed. They were more loving, if that was at all possible, and there was a measure of sadness in them that wasn't there before. When she noticed that he was there, her smile slowly faded away, "Hello? Do I know you?"

Another hit - she didn't recognize him. And the fact that it was probably fate that had them meet once more made her confusion hurt more than it probably should have. He took a breath to steady his voice and then answered her, "Yes. It's me. Brody..."

"Oh momma! Do you know our friend?" Ophelia asked excitedly.

"Yes," Delia told her daughter, immediately she seemed exhausted. "Do you remember why I get sad at times?"

"Oh, yes," said Mairead. "Is...Is he why?"

"Yes."

"Delia, I'm...I'm so sorry. I know that it's about ten years too late, but...I am." His eyes plead hers for forgiveness.

She waltzed to the front of the store, he followed, the twins knew enough to stay where they were.

"Delia..."

"Why? What made you finally understand?" she asked, eyes blazing, though her voice was still and quiet.

"I woke up completely alone. I re-lived my latest break-up. Louis was like you...minus your love for me and...well...everything..."

"Oh. So you finally understand?"

"Yes."

"Everything isn't going to go back to the way it was in high school Brody. You...your heartlessness and your frustration with what makes me who I am was damaging. I have a family now," she said, tired already.

"Weird, I don't see a ring, and you said you weren't ever going to have kids..."

"I'm not married. No. But I love him with all my heart, even more than I loved you. And more passionately. The way I was meant to love someone. Not give everything up to platonic relationships and settle for my twin, or was that too sappy for you?" she spat the last bit of her question, years of hurt surfacing, slapping Brody in the face.

"No, oh Delia, I'm so sorry. I didn't really care..."

"Yes you did. And I have two daughters because they were a fantastic accident. Why? Why did you come here?"

"I told you, I woke up alone and all I wanted to do was find you and say sorry. I didn't think I would ever see you again so I settled for the next best thing: spending an hour or so in a bookstore...they smell like you, you know?" Brody turned pink at his sentimentality.

"You hurt me Brody. Irrevocably."

"I have a room just for you. Like I promised I always would. And I had it decorated just for you...in case you ever needed a place to crash."

She rolled her eyes, "I can't do this. I'm thankful you get it, that you understand, but I can't take this. I couldn't then, and this is almost as bad."

He knew she wanted to cry, he wanted to let her, but then the pain would be real, and he'd have to witness it once more. He knew he was being selfish, he wanted to fix everything now, just as she'd tried to all those years ago. He pulled her to him, holding her and letting her finally cry, letting her soak his shirt and finally letting her know that he actually cared.

A Lesson is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible was a webcomic made by writer Dale Beran and artist David Hellman, hosted at alessonislearned.com. The comic was produced on an irregular schedule between July of 2004 and May of 2006; during this short run the site produced only 41 full-page comics, but won a good deal of critical praise and a fairly loyal audience. Beran and Hellman announced a hiatus for the comic in September of 2006, but to date the comic has not returned from hiatus and both of the authors have moved on to other projects. Beran has gone on to produce a new long-form comic on his own called The Nerds of Paradise, while Hellman most notably served as the lead artist for the acclaimed indie computer game Braid.

The writing of the comic was intelligent, often surreal, often sparse. This is in sharp contrast to the art itself, lush and colorful. Action wants to pop off the page, and much more of the story is told visually than is typical for web comics. Critics often remarked that the artistic style was more similar to painting than to drawing; the work features very few hard lines and does not use an "inking" style, relying instead on contrasts between colors to differentiate shapes and even frames of action on the page. The synthesis between this style of writing and this style of art made for stories of surprising depth and humanity in very few pages.

In one of my favorite strips, titled "Can You Come and Dig Me Up?" the strip opens with David receiving a phone call from Dale, who has been buried alive "where the blossoms shed by the cherry tree across from the pet shop are the thickest." Shovel in hand, David rushes to save Dale, but near the pet shop becomes distracted ("Aww! Puppies!") by adorable puppies in the window, all of which he subsequently buys. The downward flow of these events along the left-hand side of the strip gives way to a very tall panel just to the right, Dale now seeing the open sky from the bottom of a deep hole in the ground, framed by the cherry blossoms, David and his shovel, and a large number of puppies. The puppies tumble down into the hole to lick at Dale's face ("Aww! Puppies!") and the continuous flow of action from one frame to the next is terminated there, with the pink tongues of the puppies resembling the ephemeral, fallen petals of the cherry blossoms. In the lower right corner of the strip, separated from the previous events by both time and physical space on the page, we see Dale and David together at home, their house now crowded with fully grown dogs. "These dogs are a burden," Dale says, "but I love them despite how much I have to work for their happiness." At a stroke, the comic has become a parable about how our affection toward the fragility of youth gives way in time to a more enduring, but also more demanding form of love. This kind of sentiment, honest and beautiful but with a cynical barb to it, is strongly present throughout the comics.

The way the strips were drawn made for beautiful full-sized poster art; almost from the beginning Beran and Hellman focused the comic's merchandising heavily around those possibilities. Hellman also attempted to raise revenue for the site by offering to draw portraits of the donors. The most notable donor to take advantage of the offer was Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade, which is why the site includes a portrait of Tycho standing in a kitchen, dramatically eating a large sandwich.

The comics were divided into two series. The first series constitutes the bulk of the work that was posted to the site. Strips often feature Dale and David as characters, and there isn't much (if any) continuity between the strips. News posts attached to the comics during those early days were also peppered with long-form writing from Dale; mostly prose, often fiction, occasionally answers to reader mail, or fiction disguised as answers to reader mail that probably hadn't actually come from the readers. He once wrote about meeting Sniper Wolf, a character from a video game called Metal Gear Solid. Beran's posts dropped off in frequency as time went on; it's not clear to me whether his attention was elsewhere or if he just shifted that writing from the news feed into the forum threads. The second series ended abruptly, producing only six strips in two months. Each strip still told its own story, but these final pages seemed much more ambitious. They featured a more consistent art style, with thematic elements from one page flowing into new action and context on the next page. Throughout the life of the comic, fans analyzed each page almost endlessly on the site's forum; the comics certainly rewarded that kind of careful attention, and the authors of the comic rewarded the analysis through participation in many of the threads.

When I think about this strip in retrospect, I find myself using words like: haunting; profound; rewarding; irreplaceable. Beran and Hellman had a unique and wonderful partnership; their use of words and art have shaped the way I see and consume digital media; their language has become a part of my conversational idiom. The conclusion of their partnership has left me with an enduring ache, but it's an ache that I feel strangely grateful to carry with me.

A lesson is learned... is more or less back. A new entry was posted exactly three months ago, and the last before that was posted on my 25th birthday.

I post this small addition to this node because:

  • A lot of people might have stopped following the site via news aggregators (myself included) and forgotten that it exists. It's still alive and kicking (kinda)
  • You should read the 2012 comic, titled "I name thee Annihilator!". It's all kinds of Awesome
  • The site's creators are doing other cool things that might interest you, but are not reported here yet:

(I should mention at this point that the surreal chapter "Now we're poor again" inspired me to write a short story that became the first draft for my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel. Reading through the ALILBTDII archive (which is great but not big) gave me tons of ideas for surreal stories that eventually got shape in '11 NaNo. Of course, none of those stories are even remotely close in quality to Dale and David's product, so it's possible that you may never read them, even after they go through heavy editing. In other words, this comic is rather special to me)

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