A small fear sprouted in my gut right before bed. A misgiving, really.
I argued with it. Tried to shout it down.
I read to it – dull stories set in distant lands.
Go to sleep, I crooned. Daddy needs to rest.
It made a nest for itself & curled up, with evident contentment.
But six hours later it jostled me awake, hungry, restless. I stumbled out of bed.
Showered & caffeinated, I decided to look into the origins of this fear: utterly groundless.
But in its place a new & larger fear rose up.
That’s just the way I am, she says, pouring another drink.
I was always afraid of clocks. Something so constant & tireless has no business measuring time, I thought.
Sometime around the age of five or six I decided to have a staring contest with the old-fashioned wind-up clock in the living room. I wanted to see just how long an hour really was, what it felt like to live each one of those sixty minutes in turn.
Because, on the one hand, a minute wasn’t very long, and sixty wasn’t very many.
On the other hand, an hour did still seem to possess considerable length and heft. A day, with sixteen waking hours in it, could last almost forever.
On the third hand – which is really the second hand – a minute might last as long as an hour, since it too had sixty parts. And what would happen if one further subdivided the second?
But that clock didn’t measure seconds. I watched its large, round, brass pendulum swing back and forth, focusing on each tick and tock.
Twenty-some minutes into the hour, the pendulum stopped.
I’ve been inhabiting that same hour ever since.
Whenever my sister & I acted up, she says, Father would tell us to go play in traffic. Sometimes we did.
My mother was horrified. She’d come running out to get us.
Fortunately, it was a small, country road. There weren’t very many cars.
We both got our drivers’ licenses as soon as we could.
Sometimes on rainy days my mother would tell us boys to pretend we were going swimming at the park.
“I don’t hear any thunder,” she’d say. “Why don’t you put on your swimming trunks & run around outside?”
And we would. “Look mommy, I’m swimming!” We were easily amused.
The front lawn turned into the bottom of a lake. We tilted our heads back, drank from the sky.
Dry towels waited on the verandah, now a beach.
In this way I learned about immersion, that it doesn’t necessarily require leaving home.
The first time I ever had sex, she says, I was with one of my brother’s friends, on the back of his Harley. I was thirteen. My breasts never did grow any bigger than they were then.
I remember my pre-pubescent years as a time of less focused sexuality.
Erections would come & go for no discernable reason.
The so-called facts of life I learned at the tender age of seven – I was a farm kid, remember – but they made little impression.
I developed innocent crushes on boys as well as girls, which were no less passionate for not having any apparent goal.
In Second Grade, I liked a pair of twin girls. They were fraternal twins, but looked similar enough that I couldn’t tell them apart: short, lively, dark-haired, with adorable dimples whenever they laughed, which was often.
I made the mistake of confiding in one of my closest friends, who immediately ran to tell the twins. I was mortified.
One of them came over. “Which one of us do you like?” she asked.
“He was lying,” I said, staring at my feet.
“Are you sure?”
After that, I learned not to confide in anyone.
Sometimes, I don’t even tell myself.
The day we moved into our new place in South Carolina, I went out into the back yard & walked right into a spider web.
It was enormous.
The sticky silk got all over my arms & in my hair, & as I was trying to get it off me, this huge, hairy spider ran right down under my blouse.
But for some reason I can’t recall, no else was around. I went into hysterics.
It probably only lasted a few seconds, but it seemed like forever.
I still clutch up whenever I think of anything hairy & soft against my skin.
Somehow the deep, clear lakes we once knew have grown shallow & murky with silt.
Did this start with puberty? I can’t remember.
Whenever I’m around children, I try to mind my tongue & remember how far out the ripples can travel.
But sometimes, God help me, I do forget.
Once, during the worst time, when we were going though family counseling, my father took us to a lake up in the mountains.
It was nothing planned. We grabbed the picnic basket & some towels & hit the road.
My parents liked to think of themselves as being spontaneous – they were hippies, after all – but in fact we almost never did anything just for fun.
My father & I were just learning how to talk to each other again. We walked a little ways down the shore, just the two of us, to where there were a lot of flat stones.
He picked one up, weighed it in his hand for a second, then sent it skipping out across the water.
I was entranced. I’d never seen anyone skip a stone before.
He picked up another one. This time, he counted the skips: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight!
I joined in halfway through the counting.
“One for every year of your life,” he said.
I let him hold my hand to show me the proper angle & motion of wrist & finger, that little flick.
I held my breath and jerked my hand forward. The stone spun off my index finger.
One, two, three, four, five on my very first try!
“Look out for the lilies!” he laughed.
I felt my mother’s gaze on us from the beach.