Filed under: Nostalgia, Perfume | Tags: boys, love, swimming, Upper Black Eddy
I didn’t smell like any kind of perfume that day we all went tubing. I smelled like Bullfrog sunscreen and the gray-black silty river mud that claimed so many dubious prizes for our little town: rusted carburetors, golf clubs, plastic ice-cream spoons, an old push-mower no one wanted any more, and maybe little pieces of the people the river claimed over the years, a watch here, a finger there, a set of keys. This didn’t scare any of us; anyone killed in the river was probably not only an adult, but not from around here. We knew about all the stuff buried in the mud around the pilings because it was right under there, for anyone interested to dive down and dig up. My little brother made an entire month’s worth of obsessive hobby from this very practice the summer before I left for college.
I didn’t put any great thought into you or what you were thinking that day. My main concern was whether or not my hand might brush up accidentally against any lampreys. Eels were one thing. Lampreys have teeth. My hair was short and sleek against my head like an otter’s and the sunscreen wasn’t working. I would go home that night with a classic tubing-sunburn: thighs, shoulders, tops of feet, and nose. We were all stoned and full of ice cream. The river was so low that summer that we could drag our feet in the mud from our comfortable stations in the black inner tubes that we dragged out of Ben Hallowell’s garage. There was probably innocent hand-holding and threats of getting naked. I didn’t know what I was doing then when I did things like that, and any titillation this caused you at the time would be no more or no less than that caused by any other girl we went to high school with.
Except that if we were high, every second of everything that happened was impregnated with an oversaturated sense of both jump-out-of-our-skins beauty and paranoid importance. So who knows. Maybe we touched by mistake and I flinched because I thought you were a lamprey. Maybe we touched and I thought about it while I was falling asleep that night. Maybe a little bit of both. Did you make that crazy bong-contraption out of pipettes stolen from the high school chem lab doctored up with tinfoil, or was it Josh? Did we have a name for that thing? I think we must have, but I can’t remember it.
Afterward, there must have been secondhand cars with the leather seats still hot from the sun against our wrinkly, goosebumped skin. We would have taken showers somewhere, probably my house, in and out while you entertained my parents because unlike the rest of us, you were comfortable with adults. I put on a too-big thrift store T-shirt and a pair of wide-legged khakis that made me look like I was floating inside them. We smoked more pot and drove around, and I stared at the last phosphorescent smear of a firefly that got too close too fast to the windshield while Steve Malkmus spoke in tongues that I understood only when stoned.
Later, when we finally kissed I saw the same firefly smear against the inside of my eyelids, had the same sensation of finally making sense of some fine thread of substance that had until then been only smart-kid jibber-jabber. And everything opened up and sang, all the away-game sunsets over some other town and the novels I propped inside my math textbooks and why the food served at the prom has to be bad and the way the boulders in the field at Ringing Rocks sound like Tibetan gongs if you hit them with the right kind of hammer and the car crashes and the wind in my hair and the terrible, unspeakable tedium of it all when you’re sixteen and trying your hardest to be wild. And I knew you knew what I was feeling because I knew what you were feeling and this was nothing mystical or crazy, we’d both just been to the same place and seen it for ourselves. And I wanted to give you something essential and solid as a relic, some rusted carburetor or golf club or plastic spoon or discarded push-mower or some part of myself that you’d claimed–my watch, my finger, my set of keys.
Upper Black Eddy painting by Paul E. Temple, shamelessly gleaned from his website: www.pauletemple.com
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