This story appears in my book A Creature Wanting Form available now.
An old friend I haven’t seen in some years and certainly not since any of us learned the word Covid was visiting at the home of a second friend nearby. Come by he said and I said I would. There would be a pool involved.
Like everything in the past year or more any social or professional event the prospect of having to follow through on that promise instilled in me a sort of anxious dread which I’m sure many of you will be familiar with. It’s not that I don’t leave the house anymore I do in fact leave the house multiple times a day such as to go to the store or to the gym and then the store again later.
It’s not that I don’t want to see people I love and even people I merely like it’s more that I don’t want them to see me.
Not helping matters of late has been this persistent insomnia I’ve been dealing with. Not insomnia as such but rather a kind of waking sandwich. The falling asleep is easy and the drowsing in bed in the morning is easy it’s the middle part that is the bulky protein of the thing.
Time to confront your regrets bitch.
I’d taken one of my bed stand sleeping pills too late into the night so it didn’t kick in until I really did not need it anymore. It made my blood flow clumsily and my pupils were tiny pinholes the entire morning so I asked M. to drive us over scared that I would yank the car into a tree over nothing and then next thing I knew there we had arrived and were floating in my nice friend’s nice pool. I kept having to scoop handfuls of the water onto my face to wake myself up over and over like a chef’s persistent basting.
I told my visiting friend who is the type of friend I can say weird shit to that I thought I had changed in the years since I’d seen him. That I was more nervous now and jittery about being anywhere and less confident and he said haha no that is how you always used to be before too and it was a bigger insight than any I’ve ever gotten in therapy. Oh right haha. Ok. Maybe I’m just who I am still.
To be fair I spent a lot of time around this friend high out of my mind so that could be a factor here.
Then I talked about actual therapy with him floating in the pool there my arm hair bleaching blonde in the sun and I said I had come to this realization talking of late that I was comfortable now at this later stage in my life in reverting to the sloppy Massachusetts townie I had started out as and was always meant to be. To strip away all pretense. All those years in the middle living between Boston and New York and playing in bands and writing for fancy magazines and such were an effort to overwrite my origins is what I learned about myself I said. For example how I had purposefully lost my Boston accent perhaps as a type of class traitorship I said and he laughed again and said wait you think you don’t have a Boston accent?
I guess I thought I was getting away with something all those years.
I thought instead of paying a stranger to listen to us talk about our childhoods and our disappointments and fathers and so on once a week we should all have a roster of people who once knew us rotate into town to serve the same purpose. Only with a more solid origin base to work with.
It happening in a pool would be a nice bonus. Maybe I just invented the concept of friendship. To remind us who we are though. To fact-check the meandering stories. What does a therapist know about you really when you could sit there lying or embellishing and the entire session they’re providing counseling to a person who might never have even existed. You can say anything you want after all. You could say you were a happy little boy thrilled to be alive and to be anywhere. You could say there was no singular figure in your life that you wanted desperately to not turn out like even though you did anyway. Were always going to.
Or you could tell her you were Batman who cares what does she know about you that didn’t come from you?
I don’t lie to my therapist to be clear but I could if I wanted to is the point.
Then I ducked under the water and swam away abruptly which is one of the advantages of socializing in a pool. You can’t do that on land you can’t just disappear and materialize some distance away. It’s generally considered rude to try that on land but in the water it’s like oh he’s just taking a little dip and then you float on the tube thing wherever the water takes you with your pool beer in hand unbothered by anything.
Someone’s child I have no idea whose it was appeared with a ring toy and I gestured to her to throw it and try to land it on my head and she did and missed and we tried again and again until she got it and then we exalted in the victory and I swam away again. A brief pocket of borrowed joy. Enough of a small concentrated dose of adjunct parenthood to tide me over.
Now waded over a third friend this one who had actually known me as a child having by complete happenstance married into this group of wholly unrelated friends later in life and we talked and he asked me if I remembered his father’s book store and how it had burned down or maybe how their house had burned down and I only sort of remembered either of those possibilities and then he told me about how all of their family photos were lost in the flames and how they held a party or a wake of sorts and everyone who knew them brought over photographs they had been holding onto of the family so that they could rebuild their collection of memories.
Then a group of people I’d known but only just so much and mostly late at night bobbed into frame and I thought I might try trading old war stories about partying and playing music with them but we talked instead about real estate the one thing that ties people of a certain age together. Good decisions we’d made and opportunities squandered and how certain neighborhoods we’d known intimately had changed over time some for the better and some for the worse and so were largely strange to us now but despite all of that still held onto enough of their original nucleus of identity to be worth remembering and to visit from time to time.
That one bar we used to all go to get fucked up at in Union Square is still there someone said. It made it through all of this. We could all go there tonight if we wanted to. We could go right now.