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09 Aug 98

River I

I left work at 1 and took the F uptown, sweating through the back of my

The same summer I worked near the Lino I

The friend from DDB and I went to lunch at an organic restaurant on 44th. I had polenta.

I rambled about work, then lost track of my words, like a radio tuned between stations. I blurted: "I'm perfectly happy," then felt my face squeeze as if a flashbulb had gone off a few centimeters from my eyeball. I couldn't finish a sentence. Certain words choked. Like this:

"I think I'm staying in New York for a while." Flinch. "Things are going--" Choke. Cough. "Going well." Blink three times, rapidly. Hunch shoulders, look at plate.

After a few minutes, she said: "what's going on with you? What are you saying?"

I felt caught, then scrunched my face and mumbled: "I don't know. I'm in flux." A state of revision. "I can't make any decisions."

We talked a little about my head space, the attempts to eat right, the fuckups at work, the possibility of therapy, the feeling of disconnect. I was dumping on her and couldn't help it. I wanted to talk on how confused I am, because I admire how she manages her marriage, mind, health, and soul and wanted her to tell me what to do, to give me a recipe, a list of secrets to make things smooth. It was not a fair thing to ask. She saw me coming, and didn't try to provide it. Another reason she's a good friend.

She seemed to be having a crappy day, too, so then I wanted to be falsely cheerful and insightful and raise her spirits. I flailed between the oscillating Pauls, and managed to say nothing of value.

When lunch ended, I apologized for my mind-boggling dumbness and thanked her for

The city yielded to the Lincoln tunnel, then to the stunted mountains of Pennsylvania, acres of green space and schoolbook trees. I fell asleep against the seat and woke with my neck freezing against the AC vent, a few minutes before Hellertown.

Steve met me in a red Chrysler convertible. I've known him 11 years. We drove to a Mexican restaurant, ate too much meat, and drank a pitcher of Sangrea. We drove to the Labuda Center for Performing Arts, at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales, where he performed several small roles in Taming of the Shrew, for the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.

Shrew is not my favorite. Kate was well-played, and so was Gremio, in a literal reading with extra innuendo and some laughs. Traditional costumes, the drill. It's a tough play for a modern audience; the only way out of the theme of female submission is to make it an indirect bondage fable, where Kate manages her own abuse and draws power from "behaving."

Anyway, Kate says:


...I will go sit and weep
Till I can find occasion of revenge.

This is not someone you fuck with, unless you're in for some consequences. Go, Kate.

After the play we went for more drinks, speeding over the snakeskin back roads. I rose off the seat, head and shoulders out above the windshield. Clean air on my skin, gasps of clorophyll and cowshit.

I'd come to the Festival three years ago, when Steve was an intern, so we split a magnum of champagne to celebrate repetition. It was late and the bar felt too familiar, so we went for another drive.

At two, we found the Delaware River, parked and slid diagonally down to the riverbank. There was a firelight a half-mile to the left, the only evidence of humans. The view hadn't changed in 5,000 years.

Steve played his guitar and I watched the river, then stripped to my boxers and waded in, still wearing a buttoned dress shirt. My feet hurt from the stones. The moon was almost full, rimmed with an orange corona.

I meant to wade to my knees, but chose to push out farther, stumping over angled rocks, against current, then swimming a clumsy butterfly into black water. I hadn't gone swimming in three years, even though I love it. It was a surprise to the skin, a riot over my flesh. I floated face down, arms and legs stretched, hanging free, the water at my dangling toes cooler than the water at my neck.

I swam upstream, against the prodding current, past the sound of Steve's guitar, then spun and hung in the water, gut-up. The water dragged me towards the Atlantic, ears submerged, breath loud as a horror movie. There aren't many stars for Brooklyn. It's mostly planets, airplanes, and the tops of skyscrapers.

Breath, current, low dark hills, the orange moon, moldy rocks underwater. A meteor that split in two and vanished.

The river didn't wash anything away, and I didn't ask it to. Well fed, champagne drunk, wet, cold. The skin of my stomach fishbelly white, the purple button shirt rippled open, drifting, the moon out of reach.

Later, driving to his room, Steve--lonely--said: "I wish I had a girl to share this with." But I didn't. I prefer to keep it to myself.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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