That time we brought two six-packs to the quiet part of the river and laid in our underwear on the rocks and the sun burned twin fireballs down through our eyelids. A frog almost brushed against my knee. The sky was untouchable but that day we could remember all the words, every single word, to “Come Up Slowly Over that Far Hill.”
That time we spent forty dollars at Taco Bell and a police man smirked at me and Jesse smeared Mild Sauce underneath all of the tables. I locked myself in the bathroom and stared at my face in the mirror covered with streaks and fingerprints and thought — I look like an honest, milky cup of tea. Kirsten kept pretending to be mad at Jesse and jumping in and out of his lap. The boy at the register wiped the counter top in slow, concentric circles.
That time I was confused by a subway map and rode east-west, then west-east, all day. An old woman with an American flag draped across her shoulders stared imploringly at me for six stops, then spat at my feet and disembarked. I was carrying a backpack full of stones. My vague plan was to exchange these somewhere for different stones.
That time that Kelly and Patrice and I were at the beach and I went for a walk then laid in the sand beside some driftwood and fell asleep. When I woke up it was almost dark and it felt like I had died and that my new life was seconds away from beginning. A man was playing catch with his dog in the water. I wanted, right then, for a wave to scoop them both up like a gigantic shovel, like a shovel that breathes and lunges and then disappears.
That time that snow was almost a sound and it killed all the people. The dinosaurs came back. They were so busy discovering electronic debris and trying to eat it. There were huge flies hatching bright orange eggs and miniature hammerhead sharks and new kinds of trees and everything was generally okay, but no one was around to know it.
That time I dangled over a boat dock just above the surface of a lake. My arm was a tuning fork. I struck the water. It made a sound.
That time the TV actors started talking to me and I was dripping paint down all the apartment walls and a finely-patterned rug showed me my future and it was you with an even deeper voice, you with less to love. It was just another afternoon gone for a ride in the country.
That time the rescue helicopter came and we were both in sweaters and our hair swirled around our heads as the spinning blades created its own small dust storm. We were both pushed back a few feet by the wind’s force. David had already left to beat the traffic.
That time that Clara met Louis at the newly renovated arboretum. They stood in the middle of the pedestrian bridge, tentatively holding hands.
That time I worked at a bookstore and my coworker Allen lent me a cassette tape of Insane Clown Posse, thinking I would like it. He was so much taller than me that I could only look him in the face when we were standing far away from each other. I liked to hide in the children’s section and arrange the stuffed animals in the display to look like a family. I became good at blending in with the surrounding books.
That time I thought I saw Al Green in a Tex-Mex restaurant. He was sitting with a beautiful woman and eating chips and salsa. She looked the way every eight-year-old kid wished their mom looked — dewy and ecstatic and like a mythical queen. Her bracelets dangled with heavy stones. When the waiter brought them their steaming plates of fajitas, they both smiled down at the food, as if pleasantly surprised that they were being fed. Even when I knew it wasn’t him, I couldn’t stop staring.
That time in the movie theater when I was alone and the texture of the velour seats against the exposed parts of my skin felt so cool and soothing that I stopped ever wanting anything at all.
That time I drove myself to the hospital because I thought something in me had ruptured. There was a sharpness in my gut that took my breath away. I filled out some paperwork in the waiting room while people sitting around me nursed their shoulders and eye sockets and gallbladders. Each misery was personal and with its own particular style. Mine was newly-divorced-CPA-with-dashed-dreams-of-artistic-greatness. I didn’t know if what I had could be diagnosed.
That time I was actually in love. I walked into doorframes. I stared at the dripping water of snow melting off rooftops, I walked dozens of blocks to see a certain billboard, I listened to music with an alertness that made me deaf to most conversation. I forgot myself. I made a new self without noticing.
That time Misty and I went to the mall. We wore the same outfit because there was something we were afraid of but couldn’t name. We shared an Orange Julius and sprayed sample perfumes on our wrists at Macy’s. When boys looked at us, we looked at them, then laughed hysterically to each other like somehow we were in the middle of a joke that kept getting funnier. When Misty’s dad picked her up at the curb, he nodded a quick hello to me before pulling away.
That time we were celebrating October birthdays in the office break room and someone used joke candles on the cake. We were all laughing around the table, lights out, as Justin and Marcus and Terrence and Caroline blew and blew and blew at the burning candles. We were laughing and laughing, until gradually, we stopped.
That time on the boardwalk when an old hunched man with hard, bright blue eyes came up to me and said I wouldn’t last long. The ocean had a violence that devoured. I said the first thing I could, I said thank you.