B’s a Jew. I’m not. This, we say, when we say, is what dooms us.
We are going to the wedding of his college friends upstate. It’s an overnight, camping wedding. We are turning it into a road trip. We are turning it into an unprecedented, uninterrupted weekend of togetherness. B and I. We.
“I programmed it with things I thought you’d want to listen to,” he tells me, and plugs his iPod into the dash. Sweet. We listen to a Ricky Gervais podcast and Karl Pilkington tells us that the Big Bang wasn’t so big maybe, there just weren’t any other sounds to drown it out yet, and we laugh. The windows are up and the road noise is out and we are hearing what we want to hear and we are laughing.
We pass that part of Interstate 5 where cattle reek and wait to die. He calls it Cowschwitz. I cringe. A bull and a cow go at it by the side of the road and I start to think you can dress stuff up in language and lace but maybe it all comes down to this. The mounting and banging of meat. The cow and the bull don’t see what’s coming. Or do, and ream harder. I turn away.
“Are you okay?” He asks.
“Oh yeah, just taking in the landscape.”
This is interstate 5. This is not the scenic route.
“Are you sure?”
“I have this kind of weird feeling across my chest, like a tingly, burning sensation.”
He offers me a Tums.
We pull into a gas station and when we leave it, neither one of us knows which way we came in. We are completely disoriented. We finally sort out that the station was on our right when we turned. Neither of us has a sense of direction. Another of the things we have in common.
Miraculously, we make only one wrong turn before arriving at the Rancho de la Wedding. It is an idyllic Gold Country retreat with a stream and hammocks and swimming holes and beer. My non-denominational idea of heaven.
The first to greet us is a pretty girl. The years are beginning to span her, but you can see she was likely the toast of the dorm. She and B hug. 1-2-3…she and B still hug. “This is Judy.” She scans me briefly with a touch of the evil eye, the cool shoulder at least. I bristle without wanting to, and this much I understand.
“Did you guys have a thing or something?”
“I was like a brother to her,” he says, and kicks the dirt.
We grab beers and seats among a circle of his college chums.
He puts his hat on my head like I am his.
“What do you do?” One friend asks me. “Oh, well, at the moment I’m a full time community college student.”
“Come on,” B says, “you’re a writer.” He nudges me because I’m a mirror here, and am reflecting badly.
“I’m a student,” I repeat, because it’s true.
I grab a book and a hammock because I need a little break from being interested and interesting.
B comes to me and touches under where I dangle between the trees. His finger makes a line in the space between the knotted ropes along my leg and I think of matches–alighting, dragging, igniting—on some rough thing. “Do you want to play on Fun Island?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, “I do.”
Fun Island is a yellow inflatable raft that tells you its name in bright blue letters.
We mount Fun Island and launch. The stream takes us up and the wind takes us back again. We’re going nowhere. We’re floating, but we’re not lost, we’re on Fun Island. We’re beside each other floating on air, pointing at the fishes in the bottom of the stream.
A mica speck refracts a rainbow from where I’m at. He tries to see it but his angle is off. I paddle with my hands to change his view but he still just sees a silver speck.
“Touch it,” I say and our fingers are quiet and extra pale under the water. They stroke the lime green algae that covers the rocks and makes me think of mermaid hair. It’s slippery and soft. It feels just like it looks. It’s blooming. Even only fingers can tell.
When you pull it out of the water it’s just a fingerful of snotty string.
I shift my eyes from the bottom to the surface and there we are, our reflections wavering on the skin of the stream. He says, “I should really socialize.”
He and Judy sit on the lawn. I dive under, then swim.
The hiss-pop of beers cracking open carries through the frog’s hump-call chorus and the chitchatting leg-rubs of crickets and the crackle-dance of flames and wood and air. Maybe Karl Pilkington isn’t entirely wrong about the Big Bang, maybe it’s still going on, split slivery all over everywhere. Maybe sound is everything’s plea to be put back together like before it all exploded.
B is tuning his guitar by the fire. I tell him to “stop being awesome” because it’s this thing we do, when we impress each other, we ask each other to stop being awesome so we don’t have to keep liking each other so much.
He looks over at me and softly plays the tenderest of Bob Dylan songs, “Feel My Love,” and I think I do. This is not the first time he has played this song in my presence, which is maybe different than playing it for me. It is easy to disavow someone else’s words, even when you’re the one singing them. I stare at the flames.
He plays another number for the now-attentive crowd. “…As long as there’s no price on love, I’ll stay. You wouldn’t want me any other way…” He sang this one at my house once too and I thought he saw right through me, but it’s just something in his repertoire. Still, I tell him to stop being awesome.
I go to get us fresh beers and when I return, Judy is in my seat. I take an empty chair and drag it through the gravel to the other side of him and remember the time he told me that he learned to play guitar because girls like it. He plays a bawdy party song that has to do with sweaty balls and rhyming. He sings the first verse to Judy. I for one can think of things that rhyme with Judy other than beauty and booty. Cootie and snooty come to mind. Then he sings a verse to me. I expect neither beauty nor booty, but I think he can do better than tether and pleather. Then Judy sings a verse about how…their love will surely last…and something about the past and how she brings it back around to sweaty balls I don’t recall. I consider throttling her but then I think she doesn’t know what we don’t say and I try to be good. I tell him once more to stop being awesome because I can’t find different words. I see his eyes snag on melancholy Judy’s. I get myself another drink.
I pass the bride and she says, “Keep an eye on your guy.” And I laugh like she’s joking, what with the rhyming.
It’s late and I’m on the beery nod. He walks me to the tent.
We go inside and hold each other and it’s not like any holding we’ve done before. We hold tight and long and quiet and still and tingleflash and kindleburn and tissue paper skins. We hold like we can burrow and see inside and through the saturated space between and in between the beats. B is for beats. B is for boy. B is seven letters from I. I want to say I want to say I want to say nothing. And I do.
I bury my head full up in the crook of his arm. Despite. In spite, only just.
“I should socialize,” he says again. I stay. He goes. The tent zipper is too loud.
I wake up to the dark little mole in the middle of his back. I often wake up to this dark little mole. I trace it with my finger and wonder if anyone is as well acquainted with it as I. He has never even seen it as I do, head on. That would be impossible. He turns over and faces me, “You really embarrassed me last night. I really wish you wouldn’t do that stop being awesome in front of everybody. It’s embarrassing,” He reiterates, unnecessarily, “Really embarrassing. For both of us.”
“I didn’t mean—I. I just really think you’re awesome.”
We thumb wrestle at breakfast and I lose every time so his victory seems too easy and it irritates him.
“You’re not even trying.”
“I am, I am, for some reason I just suck at this.”
Out of the blue he says, “I have terrible posture.”
“Yeah, you do,” I say, then suggest, “Maybe yoga?” Maybe he will need me to recommend a yoga studio, maybe he will need me.
They are supposed to be married under the willow tree. B and I come up with songs that have willow in the lyrics, like “Where is Love?” from Oliver. They change their minds and get married instead in a circle by the stream, on the lawn. Their faces are pink and their nerves are pushing out from under, swelling up. They are radiant with nerves and hope. I can’t bring myself to look to my right where B is standing with his guitar. I want to seem blind in my long-term eye.
They unfold sheets of paper and begin to recite their vows.
“I promise to be your equal partner…”
A lot of people hold this up as a relationship ideal, but consider the second law of thermodynamics. This law basically says that as soon as thermal equilibrium is reached, as soon as things even out, entropy sets in, things cool off. You can be equal for awhile and then things shift again. Maybe it’s better not to see that as a flaw. Equality is an overrated phantom. You might as well put a perpetual motion machine on your gift registry with expectations like that. I think I’d like more pragmatic vows. Maybe like this: I promise to go down on you even when there are little remnants of toilet paper stuck to your cooter. I promise not to hold this against you, but just remove them and devour you as enthusiastically as if this never happened. I promise to kiss you after you eat garlic. I promise to not leave the car on E. I promise to put my dirty clothes in the hamper. I promise to occasionally make eye contact when we’re having sex. I promise to kiss you at least once a day. With tongue, at least three times a week. I promise not to criticize you. I promise never to say you never…
You can know with some certainty whether you are keeping vows like these. They would put the more abstract vows in context, I think. Maybe I think this because I’ve never been married.
They’re husband and wife now, just like that. Everyone blows bubbles.
She throws the bouquet and it’s sailing in my direction. I step aside just in time because, really, I don’t want to be stuck with that thing. It would be awkward at best. I don’t need to see those lilies wilting in the back seat of the car. I am trying to approximate well-adjusted behavior.
B and I say our goodbyes and head south.
We plan to see Mission San Juan Bautista because he loves Vertigo, but we have no sense of direction. We take a wrong turn and bypass the mission entirely.
We end up at the Santa Cruz boardwalk because we both agree that roller coasters are awesome.
“Now don’t win me any giant stuffed bears or anything.”
“Okay.” He says, like he was considering no such thing.
“Because it’s all pride and flaunting with a prize like that until you have to find a place for it at home.” I say it playfully, like I am talking about giant stuffed bears.
We get to the ticket booth just as the man is lowering the metal gate. It’s 6:50. The boardwalk closes at 7. We settle for miniature golf.
I beat him by one stroke on each of the first five holes. He begins to sulk. He asks me what the par is for hole number five. This is miniature golf. With animatronic pirates. I think there is very little that matters less in this world than miniature golf, except maybe what the par is on a particular pirate-themed hole. He is two above par on each hole so far. I am one. We are both off par. The pirates go up and down on ropes suspended from the ceiling, we move from hole to hole. In the end he beats me by one stroke. He is smug but tries to hide it.
At the door of the arcade in a huge glass case is an outsized turn-of-the-last-century automaton named Laughing Sal. She looks like Pippi Longstocking, if Pippi had become a buxom, gap-toothed lunatic carny with a penchant for bitty straw hats. What she does is laugh her looped and tinny laugh endlessly. She rocks back and forth, that’s how hard she laughs, because you, yes you there on the other side of the glass, are idiotic enough to warrant her perverted mockery and you know it, and so does she. B and I reflect in the glass.
The Santa Cruz Motel 6 has in-room Jacuzzis. Done.
Our bodies are the same temperature as the water and when I lay my leg on his the difference between them shortly dissolves. I can’t tell you where my leg ends and his begins. We smoke and drink another opaque beer.
The bed is king-sized. We spread and sprawl and bemoan the lack of pay-per-view. The L’chaim pendant he never takes off is inadvertently knocking on my clit. I pretend I don’t notice and instead tell myself how much he wants it. He wants this. He wants me. And making the words inside my head lets me believe. Lets me believe enough to come, anyway.
After all that that that, he brings his eyes back up to mine and I think, L’chaim indeed, but say nothing. I am partly smiling at him but mostly I am smiling into the gap between thought and speech. The space where people plummet, holding hands.
He goes soft in my mouth. I blame it on God.
We arrive at my place and he says, “Can I stay or are you going to kick me out?” I don’t say, I don’t know, can you? Because I want him to stay. I don’t want to let him go yet. Not until morning, at least.
And in the morning he goes. We don’t see each other during the week. On Friday I send an email saying, “I hope we can see each other tonight. I miss you.” I delete and retype the I miss you part about eight or ten times before I decide to keep it because it’s true.
He stands awkwardly in my living room, “I have to tell you something.”
“Oh. Okay,” I say, “let’s sit.”
“That night in the tent…”
“—I should have said I love you but I couldn’t cause I don’t and I don’t think I will.”
“Okay.” I say, but it’s not what I mean and there’s the tingleburn burn burn again and I think maybe tingleburn is not about love, but the anticipation of loss, and then I think, I’d like a Tums. And I am glad to be having this conversation with myself because it means his explanations are a blur. I do, however, catch this:
“I don’t know if it’s the religion thing crawling up my spine or what, but…”
It is, I decide. That’s exactly what it is. I figure God can take this one too. I think this will make it marginally easier, but my eyes and his eyes fill and dry and fill and dry and his filling and drying eyes confuse me because they don’t seem to match his words.
I am partly looking at him, but mostly, I look again into the gap between thought and speech—once more into the space where people plummet, holding hands. I don’t know how to make my words un-lie.
“Are you angry?” he asks, almost hopefully, like some feral response on my part would make it cleaner.
“No, just hurt,” I say. Then add, “And grateful.”
We have accumulated a shiny archipelago of fun islands. At least now we don’t have to dwell in the comparative pale.
When he goes, he looks at me like we should hug. I match his hug exactly and so this is what tepid feels like. I missed the equilibrium part, but this is definitely entropy.
“We exalt what is at hand,” I read somewhere. And why not? Little reveals as much as hands. Maybe that’s all that’s happened here, I’ve exalted the man at hand. You can plug in a toaster anywhere. A heart is an electric thing. I want to believe in between.
I’ll just set myself up again like a bowling pin, like I don’t know the weight of balls.