Track 1: Don’t Wait
The creek is known, in our stupid small town, as The Nimi. It’s not quite wide enough, definitely not deep enough, to be considered a river; and yet it’s a somewhat forceful body of water anyway, powerful enough to push rafts and innertubes down the brown sludge should we decide to float on one of our long, hot summer days. The Nimi is known for its water snakes, noticed by the signature slithering S shape their bodies leave in the water. Sometimes one of the high school baseball players will foul a ball into the creek and sometimes us middle schoolers will wade into the muck for the balls, not to retrieve them per se but just to be in that water, just to unlace our tennis shoes and let our bare feet sink.
I don’t like The Nimi and I avoid it when I can. My brother, a year behind me in school, does the opposite. He rides his bike to a popular bank on The Nimi, splashes into its filth with his rambunctious friends. The boys, entering sixth grade this year, have yet to shed their hyperbolic boyness, their propensities to wrestle one another to the ground or fart in one another’s faces. Their play is a form of roughhousing mixed with affection, and at The Nimi they splash one another, toss mud from the bottom of the creekbed, play Monkey in the Middle with a football.
My friends and I, soon to be seventh graders, have gladly shed our girlhood versions of play. We want, desperately, to trade in our Bratz dolls for boobs, our gel pens and diaries with locks for makeup or highlights in our hair. Our periods have not only arrived but have been normalized, are already our status quo, and I think this is unfair, how routinely my body can pretend to be an adult for this but can’t seem to be an adult anywhere else. I’m still flat-chested, as are Ali and Leslie and Alivia, but Megan’s chest has rounded. At the pool, where my friends and I congregate three days of the week throughout June, July, and August, we all stare at the rounds, Megan included. They hurt before the blood starts, Megan tells us, like giant bruises behind my nipples. I roll my eyes, think about telling her to shut up already, to stop pretending like she doesn’t know she’s lucky for her C cups. I love my friends, Ali, Leslie Alivia, Megan, love the entire group of us, but sometimes I have to put my headphones on, sometimes I have to hit play on my CD player. Sometimes I think this album is the only thing that understands me.
Track 2: Reason to Believe
Sometimes my brother and his friends will raft down The Nimi to the pool. They arrive always near the end of our pool days, stinking badly of sweat and dead bugs. They jump into the cold water and my friends and I joke that everyone can see dirt puddles around them like those cartoon thunderclouds. The pool is situated at the top of a grassy hill; behind the chain-link fence of the pool is a blacktop basketball court, and further down the hill is a swingset, a set of slides. My brother and his friends dock their shitty innertubes at the slides. They climb up the creek bank and trudge their burnt bodies up the hill to the pool. It must look like an oasis from that perspective.
From my perspective the pool is something I think of as an oasis only when I am not there. On hot days stuck in my house, the window unit air conditioner rarely turned on due to my father’s unrelenting frugality, I dream of the pool, its bright blue otherworld. I dream of being looked at as I enter the water, my body delicately submitting to the current of splashing children. The older girls in their Victoria’s Secret bikinis stare at me, petrified of my beauty, my power; their boyfriends stare too, mesmerized. In this recurring daydream I have eyes only for Mason, always Mason. His blue eyes wait for me at the end of the pool, his quarterback arms wide open; I imagine the pool’s water shifting, making an aisle for me. And then I walk from the shallow end to the deep end, a bride risen from the water.
Track 3: The Secret’s in The Telling
For the past two summers, since the construction of the community pool, our mothers have chaperoned us. While we giggle at the sides of the pool or flip ourselves around and around like a gymnastics fleet, our mothers spray Banana Boat tanning oil, SPF 0, all over themselves. Some of the mothers pack lunches in coolers, like my mother, who takes her ‘prepping for the pool’ duties seriously. Some days it feels like she’s the one who wants to go to the pool and not me but I can tell in her fretful packing, her eager donning of her black one piece suit, that the escape to the pool is crucial, so I do not hold it against her. My father hasn’t been to the pool once in its two years of life and that’s fine, that’s okay; the men of our town seem not to be included anyway in these gatherings. The absence of my father isn’t something my mother needs to explain or excuse at the pool, and I think maybe that’s why she’s so eager to go. The truth of it is that my father doesn’t want to go anywhere. He works and then he drinks beer in the garage and then he eats dinner and then he goes to sleep, his snores punctuating our nightly rhythms. We all walk quietly because sleeping is one of the things my father feels enthusiasm for.
Mason’s family is different. He has four siblings and his parents go everywhere together; I’ve even seen them holding hands at Friday night football games, in the cereal aisle at Save-A-Lot. Mason’s mother is a teacher and his father is a nurse and when I first learn of their professions I have a dark, shameful thought about my own parents’ jobs, how unremarkable and bland they are. My mother works in a factory where she loads bulk items into semi trucks. My father works at the same bakery he’s been employed at since he was eighteen. The shame I feel seems to sprout from neither of their jobs producing any help for others; while Mason’s mother imparts wisdom and his father heals, my parents exhaust their bodies for the sake of products. And, most different of all, Mason’s parents do not drink. In the two years since Mason and I have known one another, I’ve revealed what feels to me to be the biggest secret of my life: my father is an alcoholic. But Mason seems to already know, and his slowly blinking eyes me that everyone knows. I mean, my parents drink the altar wine every Sunday, Mason told me, his desperate search for sameness. I wonder, often, if Mason is afraid of my father as I know some of my brother’s friends are. As I know I am.
Track 4: Stolen
I might not yet have C cups but I do have a boyfriend. Mason, arguably the cutest boy in seventh grade, has been my boyfriend for almost a full year. At fifth grade camp, where my elementary school and the two others of our district combined before the bridging together at middle school, Mason and I get put in a group together. Scottie, one of the most troublesome boys of the grade at my school, is also assigned to our group; Mason’s father, our group leader, spends most of the three days of camp sitting with Scottie to ensure he doesn’t sneak off or hawk loogies at camp counselors. On day two of camp we complete a low ropes course and it’s there that Mason and I first touch. We’re forced to hold hands for the course but I can feel both of our hands flex with something more dogged than the desire to win. After camp I begin calling Mason my boyfriend to my friends and although he and I don’t see each other again until the school year starts that fall we talk constantly on AIM. I clog our landline up and don’t feel bad about it because there’s no way either of my parents have any call as exciting as Mason’s font changes, his icon swinging to ONLINE as we eagerly run to chat after school.
Wildcatzqb10: hey babe
DashboardLover2010: hiiii :D
Wildcatzqb10: how was your day?
DashboardLover2010: ugh, I can’t get this art project right
Wildcatzqb10: What?! It looks great!!!!
DashboardLover2010: nnooo I hate it :x
DashboardLover2010: I wish I was artistic like you
Wildcatzqb10: You’re artistic like you
We’re in most classes together, together all the time, and yet he still asks me what I want to be asked. He sees me as I want to be seen. In his away messages he includes 5/30 as a sign off, May 30 being that day we first held hands at camp.
Track 5: Rooftops and Invitations
Mason is the second eldest in his family. His older brother, Timothy, seems destined to become a star. He’s a freshman in high school and already the football team’s beloved quarterback. He’s dating a sophomore cheerleader, Jasmine, who is, I’ll grudgingly admit, probably the prettiest girl in the entire school. Her skin is blemish free, her arms tanned and her brown hair highlighted with caramel. Low on her hip is a pale heart, a sign she’s been in the tanning bed, something I’m still not allowed to do. Sometimes Mason comes to the pool with Timothy and Jasmine and on those days I feel far from beautiful. I’m embarrassed of my Aeropostale bathing suit, the teal and brown stripes I thought were once so cool looking so juvenile compared to Jasmine’s star-patterned bikini, black and silver.
I know, when I’m listening to my CDs and when I’m reading my books, that this town is an approver I do not need. That the world is bigger than the Nimi and the pool, that one day life will feel bigger. But in the day to day it’s hard to remember because Mason being the second eldest to Timothy means something in this town we’re stuck in. I feel the weight of obligation on us when we’re with Timothy and Jasmine, a frenzied anxiety I have that I’m supposed to be learning how to be. It’s like I know that if Mason and I stay together until high school we’ll inherit something from Timothy and Jasmine, a ritualistic royalty of smalltown minutiae. It’s a crown I know I don’t want, that I’m confident Mason doesn’t really care for either.
We prefer it when Timothy and Jasmine aren’t with us.
Track 6: So Long, So Long
When do you and Mason want to get married? Ali asks me at the pool. It’s a day when my mother serves as chaperone, when my brother and his friends decide to stay in the Nimi instead of ruining the pool. Mason isn’t coming on account of baseball practice and I feel proud thinking of his forehead sweat as I ponder Ali’s question. My friends believe, without a doubt, that Mason and I will get married; that we’ll win homecoming queen and king our senior year, as Mason delivers the football team to a tournament run, as I win accolades for my writing, my photography.
Can you imagine a joint wedding with Jasmine? Leslie asks and the rest of the girls swoon. Most of us have braces, and most of our metalwork contains bits of the concession stand pizza we can never reach. I feel ugly around Jasmine, I feel uncomfortably young around Timothy, and I feel stupid when I think of explaining all of these insecurities. There’s a premonition in my brain that Mason will one day be swayed into a current, one of his brother’s wake. Ali’s question makes me feel like I’m on the edge of a cliff, about to jump into a current, too.
Track 7: Currents
Mason and I makeout often, and that’s not uncommon I guess for people our age, but together we share a secret. We’ve learned to press into one another while kissing so that stars dance behind my eyelids. We’ve learned that it’s not safe for Mason to see stars because of the stain left behind on his pants. We learn and we learn, a pure secret.
Track 8: Slow Decay
We’re too young to be this in love, I know that’s what our parents think. Mason comes over to my house alone where we have the computer room to ourselves. We makeout on the blue carpeted floor beside the large Dell desktop, breaking apart when we hear the creak of stairs or my brother’s sprinting feet. We are a part of this instant messenger generation that our parents don’t understand. My parents hate me for clogging the landline at all hours, hate it especially when I congregate around the monitor with Mason or my friends. They don’t understand the love emoted through an away message, how raw a conversation behind a screen can be. There are things Mason has told me that he’s told no one else, things he was only brave enough to say behind the walls of instant messenger: how he’s often bored at Catholic mass, how sometimes he’s exhausted by so many siblings in his house, how he’s not sure he can continue both his drawing and his quarterbacking.
Life is a waiting room. I wait for my boobs to grow, for my teeth to straighten perfectly underneath my braces, for my brother and his friends to grow up and stop being so gross. I wait for the freedom of a driver’s license, the ability to listen to Dusk and Summer and all the other Dashboard Confessional albums at full volume, windows down. I wait for a diploma and some self love, the things I think I need to leave this land of the Nimi forever.
But what if I belong here? What if this is where I need to stay?
Track 9: Dusk and Summer
Behind the pool, at the bottom of the hill, I straddle Mason over the base of a slide. Its yellow plastic base feels as if its about to melt. We ignore the smells and sounds coming from the Nimi, that constant witness here in this town. I hear Megan and Ali nearby at the basketball courts, Megan having recently developed a crush on Mason’s best friend Caleb. They know I’m making out with Mason but they don’t know the way my crotch grinds against his strong and still growing thigh muscle, the way his crotch stiffens and my crotch sweats. I know the word orgasm but pretend, when it comes into my consciousness, that I do not. I know what I’m experiencing is something my friends will get to later and maybe then I’ll tell them what Mason and I have really been doing. Or maybe this will be ours forever, me and Mason’s, maybe the knowledge of what we’re doing will be a cornerstone always for us both.
Our bodies move faster and I can hear feet thundering down the hill toward where we lie in the slide but I can’t, won’t stop. I kiss Mason with vengeance as if his mouth holds the answers. I want to get out and I want to stay; I want every summer to go on like this, I want them all to end. Mason underneath me says hey, I think someone’s coming, and in my head Dusk and Summer is playing, its lyrics slow and intoxicating, and I can’t care about anything other than those words, so perfectly poised: Some things tie your life together, slender threads and things to treasure Days like that should last and last and last...
My brother sees us. He sees me atop Mason, sees Mason’s crotch hard and demanding. My brother, a kid. He’s seen something I’m not sure he’s seen before. GET OUT OF HERE! I scream at him but what I really want to tell him is I’m sorry. He sprints back up the hill toward the pool and Mason begins to fret. It’s the first guilt either of us have felt about our secret and I know it will not be the last. The rest of the day at the pool passes by in a haze. Mason avoids me, opting to play some erratic game with a water ball with the other boys of our grade. When he and his mom leave the pool he barely tells me goodbye. I watch him leave, willing the back of his head to turn around, believing I have the power to make him do so. But he doesn’t turn around. He keeps walking and I keep yearning.
Track 10: Heaven Here
I am fifteen when Mason and I break up. We never made it to a car, never got to drive one another to a date or to the mall. We break up because there’s a rumor he kissed Ali in Myrtle Beach during the week he spent on vacation with her and her twin brother Jordan. We break up before sex but after all the rest. In the hallways we avoid eye contact and in our AP classes Mason sits as far away from me as possible. One day we all stop using AIM and I don’t know to save our chat, the evidence of our love. He hates me for the rest of high school; I watch him grow into a version of Timothy and silently lament his choice of athletics over art.
At eighteen we graduate and at twenty I leave. Mason stays. Mason takes up smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco. Mason, I’m told through mutual friends, gets arrested for drunk driving, once, twice, maybe a third time. When I return for weddings I sometimes see Mason and there is a desire in me, as strong as everything felt those summers, for us to lie down together again, to be thirteen and in love, to be held safely by an innocent. The Nimi gurgles at me every time I’m home, trying to convince me that here is where I belong.