I’m in a bad, flat mood today, exacerbated by or maybe originating in some minor caffeine withdrawal. There’s a minor ache on the back half of each of my eyes, a ghost of a headache is haunting the front left corner of my brain. I feel depleted, brittle, light and dry like I’m made out of reeds suddenly.
Earlier I went for a walk. It was another beautiful one, and even cooler than yesterday. Overhead the sky was a map of a tropical archipelago: small islandic clouds floating serenely in the sky’s untroubled waters. I walked down a street I had never been down before and, suddenly, stupidly, felt incredibly lost and illicit, like I was doing something dangerous. One house I passed was excessively manicured, with creeping ivy over its brick facade and big sprays of blossoms and tropical grasses growing in the flowerbeds. It looked out of place, or like it was trying to be out of place: it strove to look like something that belonged in Hudson, not Streetsboro.
One time, on one of the rare times you were able to convince me to go for a hike, we found a lake: it was a small lake, in the lap of one of the big foothills and circled all around by a tan, pebbly shoreline, then resinous pine trees in two concentric rings; beyond the trees on one side, the peak of the foothill rose, bare and steep but soft-edged, with a dull point. The sky was cloudless and deep blue. The strong sunlight brought everything forward into brightness and all the million shadows were as stark as mascara.
It was the kind of place that I like to think I would treasure now, maybe treasure intensely. It was as perfect as a secret, the sort of place you eventually learn to stop expecting to see in the clutter and burden of actual life. But here it was, but I wasn’t there.
A big rock jutted out into the water a bit; we walked out onto it and sat down. The water was dark, composed of many shades of cobalt that dropped from the surface of the water down into its depths, twisting and intermingling like veils. On the surface there were reflections of trees and mountain and sky; in the uninsistent breeze these images wavered, their borders shifted and warped, but they never fell into one another.
You were wearing a purple shirt and shorts, and your Vibram toe shoes; your hair was kept away from your face with a bandanna. I was in my one and only pair of shorts, a pair of khaki Dockers I inherited from my dad. I had on the hiking shoes your parents bought me before we moved out here and high, dark socks – not good hiking socks, but the only kind I had.
At that time in my life, as at many others, I was subsumed, exiled by obsessive thoughts to a certain distance from all people and things. The parts of me that reached out for experiences were stunted and shy and drawn in like injured hands; so that good books felt flat, often, and rare sights like this left me unmoved. I understood their beauty on the level of theory, but remained fundamentally untouched.
In times like these it was easier for me find release and expression in simple, material things. I spent a lot of time wanting stuff. We never had much money, but I spent hours fixedly working out a way to acquire things I wanted. The hard reality of numbers and acquisition are cruelly amenable to obsessive thought, and I would shift and reshift all the information related to acquiring these things around in my head, over and over again, scheming. And somewhat (although unsurprisingly) perversely, this obsessive drive to acquire was counterbalanced by a second compulsion that often mandated I wasn’t, for any number of reasons, allowed to buy anything I wanted, unless a series of very specific circumstances were met.
Such were thoughts by that hidden lake, revolving in the innermost portions of my brain in the smallest circles imaginable. And this compounded distance that I labored under also made me envy anybody who didn’t have to deal with it – including you. There seeped into my perception of you at some point a low thrum of jealousy that never went away, until you did.
We weren’t alone there for long. Another couple emerged a little ways down the shoreline. The traditional Colorado couple: both athletic, in pricey but well-used hiking gear, with a big, lovable, well-trained dog loping adoringly behind them. And then another guy showed up, with a fishing pole over his shoulder and a tackle box in his hand.
So we got up to leave. I brushed the back of my shorts off and hopped off the rock back onto the shoreline. As we neared the trees you stopped and asked me to take your picture.
You struck a mild pose, with one foot on a pile of rocks. The sun was in your eyes, so you bent your head a bit and closed one eye to defray its light. Your long arms hung loose at your sides. Your smile was casual, natural, unselfconscious, like something caught with you knowing. Your skin was white, your lashes were long, and your funny shoes were black and yellow.