“At 2:30 in the morning, we’re sitting in the parking lot at the hospital,” is what this one woman is saying. She is wrapping her daughter in a towel. She has just said to her friend, “You’re slaying it, as the big girls say."
We’ve paid $$ to spend afternoons poolside on plastic lounge chairs in the shade all summer. I sit here typing while my son splashes around. When he comes back, I send him away. Go to the playground, I tell him. Sometimes, he does. Other times, he sulks, wrapped in a damp towel, on the lounge chair next to me.
I don’t remember much about summers as a child, except for the time we spent at the shore. In later years, I had a job at a little bakery across the street from the train station in a town fifteen miles away. This killed a lot of time – driving back and forth on the highway, making change, tying bakery boxes with twine. Late afternoons, I remember watching MTV and sometimes wandering my neighborhood, which was not much of a neighborhood at all. For a time, perversely, I was convinced that if I walked far enough into the woods near my house, I might find a body there.
The town I lived in then: run-down, gutted. Movie theatre on Main Street that showed second-run films on one dingy screen. The train station. The one bank. The drug store, where I would sometimes buy stationery for the letters I would never write. I’ve tried to forget so much of those years. I feel a kind of inarticulate, inexplicable shame about the years I spent there. Something unseemly about feeling stranded, so far from what I imagined the kids from my wealthy private high school were doing – lakeside in their summer homes or traveling through European cities. My mother worked temporary secretarial jobs when she worked at all. I was acutely aware of our economic precariousness.
These days, I go for days and weeks without writing with any seriousness. An occasional note. A journal entry. A phrase scribbled on a receipt while stopped at a traffic light – something I am convinced I will pick up again. I have a great many aspirations that dissipate almost as soon as the ideas formulate.
Some friends of ours left the country. Packed up their lives in shipping crates and moved to another continent. One evening, they were here at the pool and we chatted about readings we had gone to, and readings we had missed. Then a few days later, they were gone. They post photos online and I heart my affirmations at them all, but it seems unreal. I want to think we could pick up like that, too, if we had the opportunity, if we had the right reasons. But since I find myself nearly immobilized when I think about planning a single day, it seems doubtful that I would be spearheading such a campaign.
I watch the diving board, which looms in my line of vision as a metaphorical reminder of all I am afraid to do. There is a line of kids and one after the other, they hurtle themselves down the narrow platform and into the water. The first, in blue shorts runs the length of it without stopping. He is like the cartoon coyote unaware that he has crossed from ground to sky. The next in an orange shirt runs fast, but at the end, jumps straight up then plummets. One kid tries to walk backward, but that is not allowed. A group of girls standing alongside the pool jump in together, holding hands.
I am the woman in the shade, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, a cotton dress. I wear my swimsuit underneath, but never go in the water.
This is the way I live, I suppose: just enough ambition, just enough desire to put myself in the path of things, but then I mostly try to avoid immersing myself. No sense in getting wet, after all.