June 12th, 2012 - Joe Neary
It was the summer before my senior year of college. I would lie in the sunlight alongside the pool for hours at a time. Drowsy with Midwestern June heat, I could feel my thoughts soften–concepts and images becoming malleable, seeming to blend into hazy hieroglyphics left over from some primordial state I was just now becoming aware of. Eyelids closed, my vision filled with red-flecked darkness, I felt myself melt into my surroundings. The sound of poolside chatter, laughter of children, muffled by my headphones, a steady rotation between Modest Mouse and Bright Eyes. A resounding answer to a question I did not realize I had posed: you are not an object, but a possibility.
I wasn’t always a writer, not always much of a reader either. Origins are elusive, or maybe we just ask the wrong questions. Maybe we emerge alongside the world—you begin here being a suggestion, rather than an answer. Or maybe the worst and the best of us are passed down through the ages like archetypes, family trees nothing more than spreadsheets whose formulas might become visible, if only you could zoom out far enough—the past baked into each act. Take a step and feel the numbers change. Either way, I snuck out of my parents’ home, my home for a couple more months, as early as I could each morning. Venti iced coffee sweating in my hand, I would read on a park bench alongside the river before the pool opened or before work, stopping intermittently to scribble lines of poetry in a notebook. Slowly, that household, my life up to this point, began to fade, like a memory, an echo.
I staggered my work shifts—one at an ice cream shop, the other a water park—so that they lined up on the same four days each week. Fifteen-to-seventeen-hour workdays, on your feet, eventually lead to a runner’s-high-like sensation, your thoughts a little more distant, yet crisper, more automatic, exposed. The fluid comradery of college students turned temporary summer employees. I hid in the back at both jobs, cooking burgers or whipping cream, doing dishes. I took on the status of honorary DJ, letting myself feel nostalgic for these new micro friendships, passing away just as they arrived.
Then the three days off—poolside, stillness. I gained a hard-won tan for the first time in my life, my bright red skin shedding, freckling, then smoothening golden and anew, patterning my thoughts. Opening my eyes, standing every few hours to dip into the pool, everything felt comfortably hazy, the distance from myself, from others, visible briefly as a bridge—an opening, rather than a wall. Occasionally, during these days, I would continue trying to read books from a mental summer list that had grown throughout the school year: A Death in the Family, by Agee; White Noise, by DeLillo. But mostly I listened to music, hearing, feeling within the spaces between notes, an inner voice I had seemed to once know, but had forgotten until now.
I was in love. A girl I had met during a spring night out on campus. I had already immortalized these recent memories of our first days together, taken them deep within myself, replayed them like a mixtape. We had sat on campus house porch steps, Chittenden Avenue, streams of passersby lit up, momentarily, by streetlights, by kitchen lights, as front doors stayed open. Glimpses of miniature parties and gatherings were visible as far as the eye could see down the street, lighting the night with intimacy like glimmers of recognition in the eyes of a friend. I held her hand like I had never been taught to let go. Occasionally, on my back, my eyes closed at the pool, I would swear I could see those open doors shining behind my eyelids, could feel her arms caress me through the sun’s rays.
But stillness implies movement; otherwise, it would be static. I wish I could tell myself what was to come, and maybe I can. Maybe we are always speaking to ourselves, one’s past and future melding, rearranging themselves around the present. I want to tell myself, the one lying poolside all those years ago, that families can fracture and addiction, despite our dreams of flight, obeys the law of gravity. I want to tell him: you will wish that these things were not so, but, eventually, you will watch them consume those you love. You will try to run away from your family’s demons, to create distance from childhood nightmares, but you will fail. You will feel the material heft of financial fear, of atomization, and, for a while, you will buckle under this weight. Walls will move with you wherever you go. You will forget the red light behind your eyes, the glimmering door frames that you see right now, but they are still there. For a while you will feel detached from your body, your footsteps shaky and uneasy, your thoughts immediate and claustrophobic. But then, one day, things will get better. You will remember, like you do now.
You will continue to fall more deeply in love with the same girl you now feel in the sunlight’s caress. You will move around a lot, to small towns and large cities and those spaces somewhere between, and you will look ahead for a long time. But then, eventually, you will look back, you will look inward, and you will realize that you never left that poolside. You will write this down to remind yourself, over and over again, that it’s still there.
Joe Neary is a PhD candidate in English literature at The University of Kentucky where he serves on the editorial team of disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory. Alongside his academic work, he is also a co-founding editor of the literary magazine, Flyover Country (@countryliterary). His writing has appeared in The Cleveland Review of Books, Olney Magazine, Ample Remains, and the quint: an interdisciplinary quarterly from the north.
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