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Friday, June 28, 2002
By Paul Ford
David Fremington describes a day 8 years ago.
A fine sun. Somewhere the sound of a dog playing, a shout, the breeze. Water carries sound so far. The river was glassy and filled with life. We pulled into the bank and I jumped up, bootheels sinking an inch in the mud, grabbing the tie line and pulling as he climbed out simultaneously. We walked in, shaded, grass growing out of dusty ground.
“Why, we're here,” he said. “Wow. It's wonderful.”
“Never been here before. A mile or two up from the bridge, I guess,” muscles stretched from rowing up the narrow river.
He took it in. “Very romantic.”
I basked in his look, liberating. Imagined --
Pita and hummus in my backpack. Exotic enough for us, two 20-year-olds, and (shame to remember it) wine coolers.
(Rhythm, a humming, a rhythm, and an ache.)
Neither of us great specimens, me tending to fat and him short and looking young; he'd gone a week unshaven with soft dark hair around the lip and the chin. We drank the wine coolers and ate, speaking in voices.
We lacked stories of our own that weren't sad or trivial, so we made up people, accents, stories: gangsters who dabbled in genetic engineering, self-important rock musicians, psychic children who already refused to eat tomorrow's dinner, French pilots seducing the entire cabin, and many pirates. We were childish before each other, immature, land and river and language ours to explore.
“Prepare for boarding,” he said, pretending to be a pirate version of a woman who was on a British cooking show he'd seen once while home in Denver. The jokes were so convoluted, private to us.
My pirate, for no reason, was Scottish: “Thank God you're here! I'm tired of parrot-fuckin'.”
More shame to confess: we thought that was hilarious, and rolled over and held our stomachs the laughter came so strong, and he said, “parrots, parrots.” He leaned in then, red pepper hummus on his breath, and kissed me, the brush of hair soft on his lip.
(Reading a sign above me telling me to limit myself to 20 minutes on the machines.)
I did not shy back, but kissed right off, and with tongue. We pulled away as one.
“Ha,” he said.
“Ha, yeah,” I said.
“I'm not a faggot,” I said, “I just like sucking dick.”
He laughed, nodded. “Same here,” he said. I doubt he ever did much more than that kiss. I never did. We had liberal politics, good beliefs, and open minds, and probably (hard to look into that moment without pulling back in fear) desire. But - we weren't willing to have hands, to see naked chests, all the bareness, to give it too much consideration after laughter. One thing to kiss as a joke and give in to some moment of kindness, comfort, especially during that lonely summer, both of us refugees from our families, scholarship students working for minimum wage, painting, dishing up starches to summer school students in the cafeteria, until my English classes and his Art classes could start again. One thing to feel it, put it away, keep it as an ambiguity on the same shelf you put your desires to dominate and be dominated, your need for control, your yearning to have your face touched and hair brushed. It's another thing to talk about it, to tell your mom, to find out what your grandfather thinks, open the cupboard with those shelves and let everyone draw their own assumptions. So we didn't look too hard, or kiss anymore.
All the fuss the whole world around over a few small motions, all those bigots and jokes and members of the House of Representatives, desparately concerned about the orientation of your pecker. Good luck, I think, that I'm straight. Years later I dated a woman who had an invisible blonde stubble on her lip, and it hurt to kiss her, so I couldn't stop, the soft and the rough, 1000-horsepower lust racing down my neck to my stomach, everything you could want, like eating ice cream while someone squeezes your nose, hard.
(I am near the end of my two hours at the Y. I step up with a 30-lb weight in my hands, step down, step up, step down, Sisyphisian physicality. As I do this, endless repeating, my arms are burning, and I watch a man spot another man, 200 lbs on the bar. “Come on, come on, don't be a pussy, don't be a pussy.” It goes on: “push it, push. 7...8...9...come on, motherfucker, come on...yes, there you go.” The 10th rep is lifted by the two of them together, the face of man on the incline bench a rictus, anguish, his forehead liquid. The weights are slipped into their catch, and this is the moment of tenderness, one protecting the other from injury as the first seeks his strength, the spotter encouraging him to suffer, encouraging pain that pushes out past limits. “That's right,” said the spotter. “Not a pussy,” says the man on the bench, leaning forward and breathing heavily. I think I recognize in them the same desire of the afternoon in the canoe, not passion but connection and comfort.
Back 8 years as we gather our trash and responsibly place it in the canoe to be thrown out on return to town, and begin the steady drift back to the bridge, where we will scramble up the hill with the canoe pulled behind us, and carry it a quarter-mile to our apartment, laughing in our character's voices. Forward 8 years to now, as I put the step and weights away, stretch my shoulders, and head away from memory back into work and phone calls.