In an attempt to better understand the significance of water that I can’t get out of my head these days, I am pulling as many stories as I can about water from my past. It has been a messed up couple of days, but I think that this is a good way to keep my feet from floating to the moon.
Yes, I am also mourning future trips to space - my great-grandfather worked for NASA for a long time.
I was exceptionally young when I lived in Texas. My grandfather lived with our family while my father was stationed in Fort Hood; I spent a couple of good years in Harker Heights that I wouldn’t change for anything. Again, I was terribly young when I lived there, but I remember it so well because my grandpa used to take me walking with him at 6:00 am every single morning. He was a hopeless alcoholic that made his journey from our small home to a liquor store that was around five miles away each day. I don’t remember when he started taking me, but it was something that I remember going to bed early for because of how exciting they used to be.
The Texas heat used to rise early, so my grandpa and I would make our way through town to the store to get his drink while the stars were still out. He used to tell me fascinating stories about their significance. Some were about maidens that dyed their hair with the night and, when they died, turned into constellations for all to admire for their dedication; some were about how the animals around us had the power to move the moon depending on their moods. When the sun would come up, he’d say that when you let the early light beat down on your back, you are giving the sun a taste of water from your being - “allowing the sun to drink from your bones so that it may muster up the energy to get across the sky is the highest honor to bestow upon the day,” he’d say.
"If we don’t do it, we’re never going to have a chance to enjoy tomorrow."
I knew that he was lying, but the stories have always stuck with me. The true story about water comes from one morning when he woke me up and told me to jump into my parent’s car. I got dressed quickly, and I ran to the warmed-up engine. I thought that we were going to make a trip to the liquor store like we did each day, but my grandpa just kept on driving.
"Don’t you want to get your drink," I asked.
"Today is much more important than a drink. Try to get some sleep; we’ll be on the road for a while." I didn’t need much more encouragement than that; my eyelids shut and I saw black.
When I woke up, we were on a bumpy road with nothing but weeds and rocks around as far as my blurry daze could see. I concentrated my blinking, and I could see that the sun was almost above our heads in the car. My grandpa looked at me, smiled and told me that we were almost there. I asked where we were, and he said that we were someplace more special than the sky. I didn’t understand, but I knew I could trust him.
We stopped about 20 minutes later, and he ran out of the vehicle. He told me to hurry up, and I jumped out and started running beside him. We were away from the roads, but there was still nothing too spectacular to look at outside. We ran until I was out of breath, and he told me to close my eyes. He covered my eyes with his hands and led me forward. Before I had the chance to be dissociated from my footsteps, he lifted his hands and asked me to look down. Below me was a pool of water inside of a large, bug-ridden ditch. It resembled a swamp, but it made no sense for there to be something like that in the middle of the sticks.
"Is this what you wanted to show me," I asked with a slight tone of disappointment.
I remember being disgusted by the water, but I could tell that there was still something inside of it. About ten feet into the ditch, I could see what I thought was a limb. Before he had a chance to say anything to me, I jumped in the water. I don’t remember controlling my arms or legs, but I knew that my eyes wanted a better view of what was in the water. I moved close to the limb, lost my footing and my body fell through the loose ground beneath my sneakers. I shut my eyes and held my breath immediately to protect myself and relinquished control of everything else. I could feel my whole body being sucked into the bottom of the ditch, and my hands seemed to stretch deeper and deeper into the mud. I could feel the mud begin to harden, and I opened my eyes to see what was happening. I then had the most extraordinary experience of my life: I saw stars underwater.
My body was covered in solid rock; my neck holding my head still as the underwater glitter shivered. My eyes were immersed with an intense flickering, and I opened my mouth in astonishment. Air bubbles formed in front my eyes, illuminating the already present shine of night during this day. I don’t remember breathing; I only remember seeing space from the bottom of that ditch. I couldn’t move, but my panic left me as the stars stopped shaking. They formed the shape of a seed as they stilled, and I could feel it pulsing. Nothing was moving, but I could feel the pulsing seed beat through my bones. I tried to blink, but my eyes wouldn’t shut. The seed in front of me began to fade, growing dim until black was all that I saw.
The next thing that I remember feeling was heat. The black before my eyes was replaced with a beautiful crimson that was touched with shades of purple and the faint glimmer of stars in the sky. There was dusk above me. I wasn’t in water anymore; I was surrounded by bugs, and I could feel the air start to course through my lungs again. I gained movement in my body, and I sat upright and saw the ditch in front of me. My grandpa was in the same place that I remember him being when I jumped in the water, and he smiled in my direction. I couldn’t find words, so I just sat there and stared back.
"Let’s go home," he shouted to me.
I picked myself up, dripping my way to the passenger seat. We got in; we left quickly. I still couldn’t speak, so I just sat there and watched the dead road until I saw asphalt. We followed it until my eyes led me to a sign that read “International Border - Stop Ahead.” We passed through security, and I finally found words a mile back into America.
"Were we in Mexico?"
"We were in Mexico for a while, but you went someplace better, mi hito. Don’t tell me what you felt, just know that I went through the same thing when I was around your age. It’s the Earth’s way of making you it’s own. Welcome to your new world." He looked forward, and the sun fell to the horizon.
We sat in silence for the rest of the trip back to my small home in Harker Heights, where my mother was waiting in a frenzy. She sent me straight to my room, and I laid on my pillow, exhausted. The last thing I remember thinking about before I went to bed was how excited I was to let the sun sip sweat from my spine the next morning.
The first time that I had a cigarette was at Schweinfurt Elementary when I was about 11 or 12. A boy named Patrick stole a pack of his father’s West cigarettes, and he handed them out to a group of guys at recess. There were five of us in attendance; each of us admitted that we were tobacco virgins as Patrick went around our circle to light up each one.
"You know these are called fags, right?" Patrick led laughter through the boys, and we all puffed on the sin sticks. We huddled close together (read: circlejerk formation) and sectioned ourselves off to a corner of our playground. I remember looking around into the eyes of the boys around me with excitement and thrill; I felt so close to them in that moment, though I don’t remember speaking to them too much before then. There were a few boys that coughed, but I remember just letting the smoke slide down my throat and enjoying the taste of the chemicals on the base of my tongue. We each only had one cigarette that day, often repeating once in a while when Patrick could manage to steal more cigarettes.
Cut to two years later: I was at a different school, and I had a good group of four friends that were just as reckless as I was. My friend Jake and I were a dynamic duo, while Michael was just an odd child that had too much energy and David was quiet and always happy to be part of our group. The new school was about two miles away from the army base that I lived on, and I managed to convince my parents that it would be alright to let me walk home with my friends. Exceptionally wrong move - we would always stomp around for hours through the town when the final school bell rang.
It was rainy one afternoon, and my friends and I were making haste through the storm. We ran into a small drug store that we had always overlooked before. A slim German man with thick rimmed glasses, a bow tie and shiny red shoes made up a worker stocking the fridge with milk; the cashier was a thicker woman with black hair, her bust on display and high-waisted pants. I could see locks of aged gray poking through sides of her face, and the man had the same color shining through the stubble on his chin. They greeted us with grins and invited us to come stay in a back room in the store until the storm subsided.
The room was filled with offbeat sofas, lavender walls, a dusty radio in the corner, and a miniature television on a table in the middle of the space. After brief introductions, I walked in the room and got cozy right away; my friend Jake sat next to me while Michael and David sat across from us. The woman followed us in and told us that she loved seeing us walk by all the time and hoped that we would stop in someday; she brought us each a glass bottle of Coke and four bags of cola gummies. The man stopped his work and came to sit in the back with us. We enjoyed our snacks while he tried to find a cartoon on the television; to no avail, he shut it off and pulled out a pack of West brand cigarettes.
"Can I have one?" I remember the words falling out of my mouth as natural as breathing had always seemed to be. He obliged, placed it between my lips, and lit it as he stared into my eyes.
"I started to smoke when I was your age," he said with a harsh accent curling the ends of his consonants. He smiled as he saw me pull in a breath and blow the smoke out of my nose.
My friends just stared for a moment and then voiced their want for one too. We each smoked a few cigarettes there until the rain stopped beating against the sidewalk. The man and woman told us that we were always welcome there, and we took advantage of it from then on. They spoiled us too - we ended up learning that they couldn’t have children of their own biologically. Truly a bittersweet scenario, but I’m glad that my youth was able to have given them enjoyment.
I don’t smoke cigarettes regularly now. I’ll have one every once in a while and feel delighted by how they still manage to take me back to days when I used to buy my own from cigarette vending machines (when I learned about them in my last few months in Germany) and when my friends and I would take the time to enjoy bonding over a good fag.
Nothing has really changed when I word it that way, I suppose. ;)
“…I want to cry because I feel like it-
the way children cry in the last row of seats-
because I’m not a man, not a poet, not a leaf,
only a wounded pulse that probes the things of the other side…”—From the Double Poem of Lake Eden by Federico García Lorca
I keep calling this summer ‘my rediscovery of water’ - for a few reasons that I’m interested in writing out tonight. Water has always had the wonderful ability to change properties, something that I am starting to understand and transition into and out of. Water is one of those exceptional wonders that has so much nourishment and refreshment associated with it - it’s almost a symbol of optimism for me. Water also seems to be a substance that mixes well with others.
I’ve been going through my old journals (as I am so often prone to doing when I am home), and there is one line that I wrote that I just can’t get out of my head:
“Focus on applying the world around you to the world inside of you.”
I wrote that eight years ago. It always freaks me out to read my old words. But then again, I’ve always strongly supported recycling.
In other current events, I keep writing about a young Spanish boy named Nu. I can’t shake his personality out of my head, and I am quite thankful for how lively my writing seems to have become since his appearance. On a related note, there are a lot of French influences that seem to hit my writing - heavy cryptic tone, neo-realism, naturalism. I blame all of the Balzac shoved down my throat when I was younger (see what I did there? keeping it queer). I wouldn’t change my style for the world, but it wouldn’t hurt to start getting more familiar with some rustic Americana tendencies. I’ve certainly got the cynicism for it.
I’ve got a lot on my mind at this point. I’m ready to check out of the internet and check into another cup of tea and maybe some more poetry. I hope that each of you is enjoying your summer as much as I am, and I cannot wait to be joining the living again.
I had a really great pride this year, but I was also troubled by comments I heard over the last week from a lot of people in both the mainstream and radical queer communities. I want to say a few things about cissexism, specifically towards trans women and other MTF spectrum…