My fingers are wet with sweat and I am holding The Waves in my hand as I walk to Nice Market for a Monster energy drink and a bag of Funyons. I pass a trampled bird’s nest on the dirt path next to the highway and, if I had been walking any faster, I might have missed the pink-grey stain of a baby bird pressed into the pine needles and scraps of twine that made up its nest. By the time I arrive at the market, my armpits are drenched in sweat and my thighs are chafed. I am sick of all my skin this summer. I want to shuffle off this girlsick body swelling to a ripeness that promises an inevitable rot, a sickhouse full of the clanging of my father’s oxygen tank. I want to pass into the boys at night. I study them. I hope that if I can open myself enough they might pass through and into me– that I could be made vital by their glow.
I want to take my shirt off in the sun and lean on the handle of a shovel next to the market where I will spend all day digging up mounds of dirt to make jumps for my BMX bike and chug Mountain Dew and call my mom a bitch. I want to know what it feels like to be oblivious to all the eyes on me. I want to decide what will happen at night the same way they would holler at me when I walk into the market hey, tonight, meet us at the streetlamp and there is no question mark. I want to pump my legs hard standing on my bike pedals, I want to have calluses and reach beneath the blankets and touch the indentations made on a girl’s thigh after she’s been sitting on the rocks of the lakeshore for hours in the moonlight. I want to be a boy at night. A boy of dirt. Boy of road. Boy of forehead pimples and boy of tiny backpacks. Boy who doesn’t live with his parents. Boy who laughs at everything. Boy who laughs at me. Boy who taught me Oxys and Whip-its and shotgun as a verb. Boy who is white. Boy who tells me I look like a porn star named Lily Thai when I wear lipgloss in the 8th grade. Boy who once pointed out a pothole that looked like a heart while we were walking alone and smiled. Boy who is always much older and who sometimes smells like clean laundry. Boy who showed me how to pop beer bottle caps off with a lighter and who gave me a standing ovation when I figured it out. Boy of the trailer parks. Boy who will meet me under the one streetlamp on the road by my house and take his dirty fingers off of his handlebars and put them inside me dry and standing up. Boy who has a little brother. Boy who says hello to me now in Safeway when I come home to visit my mother while I look at his rough palms.
My father is a poet and a Catholic and a Shakespearean actor and a stay-at-home dad and he makes stir fry like my mom taught him but he makes it better than her now. He speaks with such a particular diction that he seems out of place in every conversation that is not about literature or god and sometimes I’ve wondered if he could’ve been gay or if he would’ve loved me anyway if he knew that I was. It is not yet the summer that starts to redden the air and boil the lake and send all the fish up big-bellied and break the dogs over the highway ditches. It is instead the Fall and my father is making stir fry and noodles and the house is filled with wok smoke and I am sitting at the kitchen counter swivelling in the broken swivel chair my father sits in all day when he is not cooking in the kitchen or smoking out on the porch. I am complaining to him about my friend who is getting a lot of attention from boys and maybe likes it and maybe doesn’t like it at all. My father is my dearest friend and I am too old to play this game with him, and we both know it, but I am too young for us to speak frankly about desire and the particular anxieties that accompany it yet. With his back turned to me, I know my father is smiling the way that when you live with someone your whole life there is an intimate sonic landscape and you are so bone-sure of every inch of this soundland that you can tell by the way someone swallows their spit that they are mad or you can tell they’re tired by the way their footfalls sound. I could tell my father was smiling from the angle of his neck.
He comes into my room the next day with a copy of The Waves and tells me that he thinks I will like it. My father is always giving me books instead of advice. I take the book with a hot face and say nothing. In the years since, I have considered what this moment could have been, how I could re-tell it. I try to move time around this moment, slow it down so that I could have turned that nothing into everything.
On a night when I was no longer being watched, after my father had been carried out of the house, and everything was washed in the steadfast blue of dark hard water, I walked out the front door without bothering to sneak. Sometimes the boys at night would bring their bikes and walk them next to me or ride slow circles around me, lazy rivers, hungry ambulation.
I hoped that one of my favorite boys at night, one that had gone further with me, one that had put dirty fingers inside me, would sling an arm around my shoulder and I would be pulled, up and out of, all over again. But he would not meet my eyes. When they cracked the tops off the Smirnoff Ice bottles with their lighters, he handed the one he opened to another girl that had come to sit on the lakeshore. Adam, the much older boy who carried my father out of the house on a gurney, was there.
I knew by the way Adam sat next to me on the lakeshore, and the way he opened Smirnoff after Smirnoff for me, encouraging me, teasing me, that he had picked me that night. I was the easier pick. Adam could smell the falling on me, remembered the velocity in my face as he carried my father backwards out of the house. We sat there looking out over the dark water and the more I drank the less I could stand one more moment of all the language trapped in my skin. I remember that the moon was big and brilliant and familiar and I felt like it was for me. I felt like maybe I could turn a whole lake to dust or turn my life over like an hourglass and stay belly to the ground watching my father’s shoes.
I asked Adam if he had ever read anything by Virginia Woolf, while Adam and his fingerless gloves were handing me another drink and I took it from his fingers that were the color of blueberries in the between-day light. I was so quiet and sick I felt my teeth buzz and the stars start to pulse. I said to Adam that he was really missing out, that she was something else, that one day she just walked into a river and didn’t come out the same. He said: Do you like my new tattoo?
Does anyone want to go skinny dipping, I asked.