I waffle in my delusions. I can never seem to hold onto them for very long. One moment I believe that professors and other students are conspiring to undermine me and hold me back and destroy my grades. On the other hand I get the ‘awe’ thing. It’s not exactly awe though. It’s like the mere presence of my being a part of their life would fill them to the brim with success and reverence like Jesus would if he touched them and restored their sight. There isn’t reverence though, there isn’t faithfulness to me and my beliefs, I just spread my majesty to the world by living in it where everything I would touch would turn to gold in the world including my pathetic attempts at writing. It is when fantasy stops and belief begins. I don’t just fantasize about being great, I believe it.
When I come back down from these delusions in September I look back and cannot believe it. My thoughts and actions have an alien quality to them that I cannot internalize. Depression is personal, I can see how it happens, I can see how I would think things even though it is resistant to evidence. I don’t see how delusions happen. I don’t understand it. Mania, a wonderful vacation, is intangible despite feeling wonderful.
Our house never seemed to have a coherent architectural plot in the way summer blockbusters attempt to have. There was no linear flow from room to room or from front to back as all the bedrooms didn’t lie flush with one another but jutted out in a staggered way that seemed like their front to the living room was an after thought. I dreamed about the house repeatedly that August when I couldn’t sleep through a night — a toilet kept appearing in the upstairs kitchen in my dreams. Though, it wasn’t dream logic that made sense of it, Grace discovered a four inch sewage hookup under the sink when we first moved in. There is no reason for any of it. But we all loved it.
The meds worked, worked really well. After a day I forgot small things and always needed a list with me but it was temporary so I didn’t mind as much as if this was going to be permanent, then I’d put my foot down. Several years in we finally solved my depression, that was easy, but my manias take so many different avenues and the drugs are too obliterating to use all the time that it makes them very hard to control. In the meantime I would just have to live without a top notch memory. I managed to work, I managed to have fun, my emotions were still there, but the tug and pull of the erratic energy was no longer there. Three years on we finally found all the preventative and stop gap measures that it looked like I needed.
It’s trial and error.
And I lucked out with how fast it went.
But I was a little spacey.
Rachel never mentioned it to me in even a polite way, she just left me to write when I needed to and pulled me away when I got home from work to take a bath with me. After the first week back at work she began this tradition. We took a bath together and it felt like we recreated our first trip to Chicago. Only we were both happy. Our bathtub was also the right size. Though I wanted to stay in it forever, the lack of activity was straining my muscles. The constant pull to do something and if nothing then something physical. She was very patient and surprisingly unflappable by the whole ordeal. And then she curled next to me and pulled my arms around her. I felt at peace like that. I reached between her legs and she giggled and we had sex like we once wanted when we were Chicago. It solved all my problems.
The girl I dated before her, if that’s the right term since Rachel and I never really dated, more like wound up with one another, was Claire. Claire was a sweet girl, sorta my type, Grace thought so anyways, and we met at the end of spring where I was becoming charming and outgoing and fun. She liked that about me, I liked that too. We met because of a friend of a friend wanted us to meet and we had met a handful of times before at the Terrace when we would all go out to take in bad music and okay beer and I would drink soda and get a few questions, one from her, about why and I explained that I didn’t like the taste of beer, not that I was an alcoholic and really shouldn’t be around alcohol or what it does to me. We talked about deja vu instead. And when we went out together to the terrace again surrounded by her friends we talked about the same things. Neither of us caught on. But being fixed up lends a certain weight to things and we found ourselves going out to the movies and then the High Noon and beginning a coupling effect that I guess could be called a relationship. We went out nearly every night to a show or a movie but rarely stayed in together, it was always doing something, always out, always away from who we were. And then the week in July hit. I became a different person, a beast in terms of energy and she didn’t recognize me. I didn’t come down as quickly either and stayed up, very up, and soon my incessant talking and inklings of delusions drove her away. She never found out everything, she didn’t even know I was ill until that week. Maybe if she knew she wouldn’t have left but that’s that. She did. All that I really remember is her horrified face for a reason that I don’t remember. She left a few days after that.
Rachel never had that face. She just draped an arm around me in the morning and continued to sleep in and listen to me prattle on while she smiled as though I was as entertaining as I was mad. It was as though she read ahead in the story of my life and knew that all that I was saying was part of an absurd pastiche of energy and mood that would die out and she could look back and laugh at for how unlike me it was. Grace didn’t even act like that, she was just exasperated year after year and finally glad that I had someone else to vent to.
It was a better year with Rachel than with Heather. I just wrote. I just forgot about everything else and huddled up in my room barely eating and barely sleeping and eventually collapsed while Rachel went with Grace instead of me to Swing and Harold went on his bike rides alone and Cliff was off doing whatever he was but wondered why I was in my room the entire time. I stayed in to write, but also to protect myself. I didn’t know what I would do outside the house until I could be certain that I was stable. Harold poked his head in, he would alway be the outsider looking in, one who knew something was off but never knew the reason why. He knew the DSM IV definition but never saw much of anything with his own eyes. He only liked that he had a friend who never ceased in wanting to ride and play in the basement and buy ridiculously large amounts of gear to ride in. I had expanded my bike collection that summer from two to five bikes with every kind of frame imaginable and different materials. I wanted to experience the difference between a Cannondale aluminum frame from a 70s Japanese steel and an 80s French frame and a modern Fuji with aluminum and carbon fiber but I never got around to a full carbon fiber frame because those were prohibitively expensive and I didn’t have much more in my bank account to spend money on.
At least I was fit. Fitter than any other time in my life. I had lost all the weight I had gained over the year and packed on a stomach and had clothes that didn’t quite fit but I was too stubborn to replace and now hung on me and Rachel finally dragged me out to get some slim fit clothing. She took me to the Gap, then Express, then Banana Republic in an attempt to find something that would fit me but didn’t have the straight cut sides that you find in Macy’s meant for older men with guts to hide. I needed something tailored and slimming and something that made my shoulders look broader than they are. It was exhausting. After the first store I lost interest but she hauled me to every last store and more. I was side tracked in Dick’s looking for some jogging shorts but she stole me away from that. Pulled is more accurate as I put of a lighthearted battle. Rachel’s stronger than me when she so choses. We found some clothes though. I nixed some that made me look like I was returning from a church potluck even though they fitted me well and had nice color. She nixed most of my selections because I have no eye for what to wear myself but do have an eye for what works on others. Rachel and I had developed the dynamic of dressing up to go out. She would pick out clothes for me and I would get to watch her dress and undress and critique how the various jeans and dresses made her ass or breasts look good even though they always looked good to me. We found some slim fits at Banana Republic that were also stretch, though I don’t know how stretch fabric works, it just does, and it feels amazing. I admitted to her at the end that it was fun, only because she was there and taunted me every time I came out of the dressing room. I liked it.
Manias often produce good things as well as the frightening but one thing I look back on and think I did something good, it’s learning how to write a book. And dancing. And being a positive ear for Grace. She needed that. And then I came down. I was normalish again. Not quite, but functioning, enough to go to work. It was nice to have my mind back in the end after sailing so high that as soon as I dropped out of it I began to forget it and now it remains just a piece in my history that I don’t fully remember or grasp. The meds went down again. It was a rush to have my mind back.
Grace meanwhile had discovered a new outlet with Harold. They weren’t close. They were were only close in the way that sex brings and not having foundational experiences to build a relationship except for chasing one another naked through the house laughing their bare asses off — but they were closer than most people. She continued having bad dates, not as bad as before but now she had a rubric to judge the men (and grown boys) that she dated and sex was no longer driving her to desperation. Desperation on a date is a terrible thing for both parties. It eats away at conversation as the ever present hope of sex and a possible relationship fills each word and subject rather than letting the conversation roam free. And with sex, she could always get it back at home for free, which lightened the air with strange men. Grace continued with internet dating too. She had some good luck up till the third date when the guy felt he was promised sex and she didn’t really want it since Harold had become really good at it and to try it out with a guy that she knew for maybe ten hours tops was not in her playbook for relationships and she could always talk about it at home and Harold never seemed threatened. Grace, for all over her anti-relationship talk over the years about marriage and kids and love was finally looking for it in the safety of perpetual sex. Strange as that might be. At breakfast she would laugh about the date and after she pounced on Harold for a release and he would lay on his side after sex while she gossiped about the annoying nuances of the failed date and he would slide his hand down her side and begin round two. He needed the release too. He needed someone to be with without the baggage of the future looming over him in a perpetual threat of loss or rejection or failure. He needed sex for the opposite reason, one of release and casual relation without love hanging over everything. Grace and Harold, together for all the wrong reasons but together none the less.
After I came down he confessed that he wasn’t fully over Rachel not because of her as a person, though that was a big deal, but because he failed so badly at it and she was stolen and while he was happy for the two of us he couldn’t feel that happy about the entire thing and just needed to release the pressure valve until one day it would stop hurting so much. Grace was just that. She let him go on endlessly talking about how he and Rachel met and how he hadn’t felt closer to someone and that was probably because he was a virgin and losing your virginity to someone, even if you’re more of a free college spirit than most, still has a certain emotional attachment that cannot be replaced or replicated and that was with Rachel and how he wished he could go back in time and be better to her and not flail and simply be there for her. But he couldn’t go back. Grace just listened and smoked occasionally with him when he started thinking of other girls. He didn’t know how to meet them and didn’t want to try internet dating or singles nights or snipe church functions for pretty though conservatively dressed girls that in some way turned him on because he would never be able to get with them, but he didn’t know why he held such an attraction to unavailable girls. I hold the opinion that he’s a sexual masochist, but that’s me.
In the middle of the month he decided that we would all go camping. Unicorn Girl had stolen Cliff away on her own expedition and we got the idea from that. It would be at Devil’s Lake during the hot and soggy summer that is August in Wisconsin where we would hike all day and sweat and drain ourselves of essential electrolytes and then crash back on the lake and crawl into the warm water in our clothes. It sounded fun, it was fun.
I pulled out the tent that I had been transferring every time I moved that I originally got from my parents and was approaching a decade old since they bought it for when my family would go on a camping trip long ago when there was no longer enough space for all of us to fit in the camper. It was old, but it still kept me dry and off the ground. The tent was the easy part but finding the poles was another story. I could never find those. And they didn’t fit into the tattered bag that the tent was rolled up in, they were perpetually in the state of being half lost. I never lost them though. Rachel needed a sleeping bag though, and she didn’t want to sleep on the ground even though air mattresses are hardly better since they leak air religiously and our bodies would form a crater in the middle that would strain our backs. She still wanted one because Harold never did.
REI is always fun. It’s a mecca of sorts for the outdoors whether it’s for camping or running or biking or anything fun in the sun. Finding a sleeping bag and an air mattress was easy, but tearing myself away from ogling the bike jerseys and their new wicking material that would keep me extra dry and comfortable in the stifling heat would be challenging to say the least. She pulled me away. I still wanted it. I only had my Pearl Izumi jersey that did okay. Rachel groaned and tugged and I relented. It would still be there when I got back.
Driving to Devil’s lake was much more enjoyable than biking there. Harold and I had made the trip several times and amounted to nearly fifty miles there and fifty back, an easy trip for us now. But it came with a catch. If we took 12 up the west side we would have to brave semis racing past us as we peddled our hearts out hoping that the draft wouldn’t suck us off our balance or we could take 113 up the east side and face several grueling hills that seemed like the were miniature sky scrapers with steep grades that made our hearts break every time and if we ever had to get off our bikes we wouldn’t be able to get back on them so we would clip clop up them in our carbon fiber souled shoes that were completely rigid and the clips would click against the ground as we fought for traction against relatively smooth asphalt and then wonder why the hell we made the trek in the first place, and then we would go down them and remember why. I chose 113 for the drive up because it is more scenic and taking DL through the forest is always beautiful. In Madison we have the Arboretum to drive through which amounts to a beautiful drive or bike through the forest and transports you from living within a city to living in a distant world. Taking 113 up is an even more distant transportation, it’s a portal from city living to nature that can be achieved for brief moments within the city of Madison with a stroll through the arboretum or the island in Tenney Park, but Devil’s Lake was nature at large. If you take the first left to the south side of the lake you drive through a winding road that barely fits two cars and is marked with boulders and small cliffs and endless trees that suck you into nature without even trying. The north side is just a forest encroaching on highway DL who’s entire purpose is to link 113 to Devil’s Lake and the construction shows. In late October, then the leaves are falling, the forest is orange and the road covered with dead leafs and cracked pavement that shakes the car.
The grounds at Devil’s Lake are not the typical Wisconsin camping grounds. Growing up in the north we had actual grounds. There were trees, ridiculously large number of trees that would stretch for a hundred feet between plots and back deeper into a forest depopulated of human interaction besides children and some adults making short expeditions into them for fun and adventure and kindling. High Cliff is just such a place with it’s endless forests and bright white limestone quarry to hike through. It is easy to get lost in these majestic settings. Whether it’s High Cliff and spending a day in the quarry bed surrounded by small cliffs formed by man and are easy to climb by hand to the top only to be a little lost but never that lost. Or another day going over the Glacial beds that carved massive valleys into the park as the ice pushed through the rock forming it into the way it stands now. Or at Point Beach on Lake Michigan with it’s towering forests and easy access to the second largest lake in the world (the first being Superior) and playing in its ever cold waters that are still freezing in the dead of august when they should be boiling and swimming out into it and then walking over the dunes and finding black dunes where the sand is made if iron and you can bring a magnet with you and collect the sand to bring home. To me, that is camping, that is the outdoors, that is nature, it is a measured way to get lost. Devi’s lake consisted of open plots with a few stifled trees looking to grow out but pruned back from becoming too large and what our neighbors were doing was all to easy to see and what we were doing in our tents was all to easy for people to hear. That’s always embarrassing. It’s not really camping, but it does have good hiking.
We arrived at our plot, with electricity against Harold’s demands but we overruled him 3-1. Grace is by no means a woodswoman. She had her cellphone and constantly complained about not getting good reception and what if we were hiking and we needed help what would we do then and what if there was any emergency of any sort how would we get an ambulance in time since we were out in bumfucknowhere. Grace is not good in the wild. One might think in a relationship way that it was good for her to be outside her comfort zone and that Harold was expanding her horizons but he really wasn’t, I had taken her camping a couple of times and she never liked it but for some reason still agreed to go every time. She was a city girl at heart and would rather be among skyscrapers than trees and bathrooms easily accessible rather than a hole in the ground that stunk and she was deathly afraid of falling into. Harold did not catch onto this fact and believed that he could reform her, which she was not into at all, and expose her to the wonders of the outdoors. It was entertaining to say the least.
He had her set down her cell phone in the car which she promptly plugged into make sure that it had a full charge and took her out into the small woods behind our site to find kindling. There wasn’t much on the ground to speak of but Harold found a fallen branch about twenty feet long. I watched. Smiling. Grace tried to maneuver herself around the end of the branch so that it wouldn’t touch her but failed and instead held it at a distance from her body while it dragged along the ground collecting leaves. They set it down and I could swear I saw Grace shiver. Next Harold had her saw it up into sizable pieces for the fire. This meant kneeling down on the ground. Kneeling down on her BCBG bleached pants. She hurried to the car and stripped and pulled on a pair of mine that I said she could use and gave her my belt so they stayed up. She made quick work of the branch. I had always made the fire, but Harold was intent on showing her how to survive in the wild. He showed her how to set up the kindling to form a bed of coals that would soon take larger logs that we bought. Strangely, she was fixated on it. She loved fire apparently. Rachel stayed back and was amused and glad she wasn’t the subject of Harold’s wilderness survival training that she went through on a weekly basis when they were still dating. Grace was loving it though, even though she had to keep pulling my pants up and began to dirty her white shirt.
Rachel and I set up our tent and did the obvious inside.
The coals were forming and the logs were burning down and Grace and Harold setup their own tent. Grace was quick about it, her brain could see the logical leaps in assembling it. Then she returned to her city self. She walked around again trying to find a signal and after switching towers through an app — she found the internet. From my car she pulled out a neon orange extension cord and proceeded to hook it up and unwind it into the newly established tent while Harold looked on with horror at what was happening. If she had to saw branches, he would have the internet. She fed the last of the line into the airmattressless tent with a satisfied grin and returned to the car to fetch her laptop. Rachel was appalled as she had only camped with Harold, I was used to it. Rachel was also a camping snob, nut not that much of a snob to look down on an airmattress and electricity.
In the city, Grace, she doesn’t freak out at bugs or spiders — she just freaks in fresh air.
Grace spent the next few hours alone in the tent while Harold prepared a dutch oven to cook our food in. She laughed at Buzzfeed an the modicum of society and modern living that she was able to bring. I was glad we had electricity. One year we went camping here and we didn’t have a hookup so she stole from my car and drained it’s battery. That was fun.
After we finished setting up and were tired and ready to relax in the open air we realized that the mandatory one thing we forgot were chairs. Baraboo was not far away and is a nice little town. If I ever liked small towns I would like to live there, but I can’t stand cities smaller than a quarter of a million people. On the way back we stopped at the general store at the end of DL. And this is a for real general store that housed everything from camping supplies to wilderness gear and food that wouldn’t spoil and all the things that could and would be forgotten when camping it would be there. None of the food would ever qualify as good or high quality but that’s part of camping, just consuming food because you desperately need calories in some form after hiking far to long or swimming in the sun or just being active because unlike Grace the rest of us want to do things in the outdoors. We bought supplies to complete the dutch oven recipe complete with canned string beans and also for smores: generic graham crackers and Hershey’s chocolate and marshmallows that were slightly stale but we’re not staying at the Ritz we’re camping and food is food and that’s really all we wanted after driving and setting up and later hiking. Calories. It’s all we really cared for.
And then there was Harold.
I tended the fire and Rachel helped him prepare his beloved dutch oven for cooking. Potatoes, veggies, cheese, eggs, and sausage. It was delicious by the time we were starving, waiting for his contraption to work and feed us. The sun was finally going down by the time it was done and we were seranaded by Grace’s laptop playing her latest fav band — none of us knew how to play the guitar or sing for that matter so we chose to cave to her city leanings. I once had a friend who could never keep a beat but was the greatest drunk guitarist ever known to man. He knew every last song you could imagine and sang it with such strength and abandon that you couldn’t help to be sucked into it. I don’t remember his name anymore, it’s in the fog of the past created by Risperidone. Matt, I feel that his name was Matt.
Our conversation wasn’t much and drifted to relationships. Grace knew everything about what I said and I knew everything she said. It was only news to Harold and Rachel. But when Grace talked about Harold, she had a different air. Not a soul mate match, or even a relationship match, just that there was someone other than me in her life — she had grown out of our little bubble. I hadn’t fully realized how much we had strayed from one another through the year, not that we were strangers but that we led different lives now where we weren’t leaning on one another for every last problem so that when I would lean on her when I was manic or depressed I also had Rachel to lessen the blow and she wouldn’t lean on me every time she had a bad date, she fucked Harold when that happened. We both had a glimpse of what our lives would become once we moved on from one another and became siblings that lived in distant parts of the world when I would travel further away and she would remain in Madison and we would talk on the phone and bitch about life and she wouldn’t be checking in on me and my disease would no longer be the center of our lives. It felt good, it felt normal, it felt like how bothers and sisters should be.
It was good timing too for this realization.
Grace wanted to move out. She wanted an apartment of her own away from the drama of other people where she could sit down and really plug into being a grad student. She hadn’t done that well that semester because of the house and because of her lack of focus. It wasn’t hateful or even annoyance, she just wanted to try something new. It was strange. Harold would get her old room and we would get his and the empty would become Harold’s study, Rachel would get a study as well. Rachel would get my den and I would take over Grace’s study. We would all have space to work, we couldn’t replace Grace either, none of us could replace her in our lives. I couldn’t in mine, Harold had grown through her, Rachel had found an ear with her when I was a mess. Grace and I had lived together for around half a decade. We had grown closer than with anyone else. We were still closer in a lot of way than I was with Rachel even though we had been through hell with one another and knew the deepest secrets. But Grace needed a break, one from me, one from Rachel, one from all of us so she could grow as a human into what she wanted to be. I thought it was a good idea, I thought she should move on. I thought it would be nice if we went back to talking over Packers games which we never did anymore or discussing whether the Niners were right in axing Alex Smith and his move to Kansas City. I wanted part of the fun that we had before when all we did was drink together. We both wanted to rewind the timeline. And if we were both together that would never happen, the past, my past, is always present.
And I had Rachel now.
And she had me.
Grace would become Grace again.
But she’ll always be my sister.
She’ll alway come to Christmas too. Never missed a year.
The four of us went to bed and annoyed our neighbors, who probably covered their children’s ears, through the veneer of a few saplings to impede the sound.
The next day was hiking. First the East Bluff and then the next day the West Bluff. I have a fear of heights, actually a phobia, one I’ve only overcome once. It’s not where I get a little apprehensive about going up ladders or any such stuff, this is where I start to get dizzy when I see anyone else near a ledge or dangling their feet off of it or leaning against a railing or being near floor to ceiling windows. It was only that once that I stood on a ledge and felt nothing that I’ve been over it. Now it makes me more frightened. It’s bad, it’s always been bad. I try to face it every time that I go to Devil’s Lake and every time I realize what a stupid idea it is to go through therapy sessions on my own. We climbed the East Bluff and going up was easy enough despite the exaggerated steps that never allow you to form a rhythm as they space themselves unevenly and vary in height. But going up is the easy part, I don’t have to look down when going up. At the top is where it gets dicey. The rest of the troupe knew what I was like and they stayed away from going too close to the edge. Six feet away is all I can handle. Six feet is the necessary distance they have to stay so that I don’t spin out of control. But others hikers didn’t. Some dangled their legs off of the edge. I was dry heaving when I caught a glimpse of someone leap to the look out rock barefooted. We left. I felt like I spoiled their day even though they said I didn’t. And then I had to walk down. We all had to brave those uneven high steps that sometimes cause a small shock to trail through the legs felt like cliffs that I felt like I was slowly tumbling down and my head felt light as I saw the trail go down tens of feet which felt like hundreds but I had to keep going and wait for it to end and finally it did. I fell to my knees at the end. It was done. I survived. That’s the thing about phobias, you survive them, you always do, it’s just that the brain thinks it won’t. Rachel hugged me at the end and told me she had a good time. We did. I forgot about it in the heat of the moment but looking out on the forest stretching down the back side with diminutive trees stunted by growing into rock always stays in my head. One day I’ll take Rachel further back into those trees where no one can see us and we’ll have a blast.
Around the campfire that afternoon my face regained some color and I no longer felt sick. The others were used to me being a little bit off and actually everyone in the group was a little bit off in their own way. I just had a phobia. And they had a nice hike. It was hot. It was disturbingly hot. We had the fire going so that Harold could cook sausages for us but they were taking too long and we wanted to go for a swim and cool off even though the water was boiling from the bizarre hundred degree heat and would provide little comfort and the blue green algae would fill our noses when we went under but despite all the drawbacks and possibilities we only wanted to do two things, eat and swim. Camping even with a laptop chronically propped open playing the latest iTunes playlist reduces all campers to the same basic needs and desires to survive and get through another day. It is glorious.
We survived, we loved it, I survived the West Bluff too and took in the lake view from my safe distance. Vultures climbed the warm updrafts rising from the hot lake and burning rocks below them and the lake looked less blue than teal but inviting all the same as though we could leap and dive and fall and swim and bathe ourselves in it so that we didn’t have to climb down and ache in our knees but it would all be worth it to take in the view that stretched over the rolling hills and green tops that would turn orange and yellow like I had seen half a dozen times before in late October but still looked majestic and made the trip out just to see what Wisconsin is famous for and rightfully so. We survived and we were sore and we all wondered what the hell we were doing to ourselves so we walked to the lake and stripped and didn’t care and ran into the water and fell face first into it and floated and surfaced as our naked bodies relaxed in the warm water and played and splashed one another and laughed and felt alive and alone and just the four of us together. Despite having so many people come and camp, during the weekdays Devil’s Lake can be owned by just a handful of people enjoying themselves. It was ours for the time being and we floated, soaking our bones till our hands turned to prunes. And we were starving. We gathered up our clothes and slipped on the minimum necessary to walk the mile back to the camp grounds. Along the way we harassed each other, snapping each other’s wet undergarments, I pants Harold, he did it to me first, the girls ran faster than we did after this and we couldn’t catch them in time.
Eat, hike, eat, swim, sex, eat, sex, sleep.
There is no better vacation than that. That’s what camping is about.
It was on our way back to Madison that we missed brutalizing our bodies and the pain seemed to fade away and my phobia of heights seemed irrelevant and I wanted to go back and we all wanted to go back to the lake. We were silent in the car as Rachel napped with her head against the window and Harold and Grace were piled on each other for a sense of warmth that was not needed and I put WPR on low and listened to All Things Considered. I couldn’t stop thinking about Grace and Harold. How temporary it was and how Grace would find someone new and discard him or vice versa and there would be only a modicum of hurt feelings but she was happy for the time being, not the comfort and relationship that Rachel and I had but I was happy for her, to see her that way at last. It wouldn’t last long, it didn’t, but she was better for it. Melissa Block continued with the third story to be discussed and I turned it up for the ride home.
Once we were home and settled and too tired to unload the car so that it just sat in the driveway waiting we fought over the showers but paired up and staked our claims. Rachel was finally happy. I had seen her where I thought she was happy after going off of the antidepressant. Happy and ready do what needed to be done and calm and collected and beautiful and centered. But she was joyful now. Through all she told me about herself, those years of hell of losing friends and locked in a room pretending and never meeting anyone and only focusing on the grades before her while she escaped into fantasy she was never like this, she was never joyful and free. When she first leaned her head against my shoulder she was forever lost in a hole that has since been filled and she was relaxing out of happiness and being tired and aching and being at ease. I reached over with my right hand and put it on her bare thigh exposed by her short shorts. She moaned and had a half smile and leaned against me. ‘Love you too’ was all she said.
Cliff was inside to greet us. He had just come back from seeing Unicorn Girl and was in a more than positive mood. He was packing some things to stay over at her place, which was apparently in a much better apartment than this. He liked the house for all of its estranged geometry but he wanted something solid, one where he didn’t have to worry about how the roof stayed up. And Unicorn Girl’s place made sense to him. He was about ready to leave as he saw our gang float in and all fall on the fugly brown couch and he smiled and laughed at us as though we were neophytes in the world of hiking. We replied that we had a good time. He could see that. Cliff was not part of our fucked up troupe. He had Unicorn Girl, he was off to a place that made sense. It didn’t make sense to any of us though. We loved our home.
Harold and Grace fell asleep, freshly cleaned and in towels and relaxed, on the couch while the sun set earlier because our brains were wired to waking up late and going to bed late in the world of camping that shifted time itself into a new proportion of light and dark. Rachel wanted to go for a walk to stretch her legs and pulled me away from the sinking cushions that tried to absorb the sitter and hauled me out the front door. We walked through the Capitol and we kissed, made out rather, it was a fantasy of hers to make it to second base there. We almost made it to third before security came around and we ran. And we laughed at ourselves. Together we wandered down the steps toward James Madison Park. We sat down on the ledge over looking the lake with the sky turning violet. The lake lapped against the concrete barrier to prevent erosion and touched the bottoms of our feet from time to time. Rachel said she wished we had bread to feed the ducks that are always there and quite friendly too. The waves lapped and there was no one around but people waking on the side walk. It was moving day, where 90% of the population who is moving moves out on the 14th and in on the 15th. Grace would escape this by still living with us for another week and slowly move into her place. Good plan. But it means that everyone is in a deep anxiety about whether they forgot something or if something is damaged and where to sleep and when to get keys and do they have enough money to pay first months rent on top of the security deposit and what if their truck gets towed what to do then and how to navigate the streets filled with thousands of people clogging the arteries of the city and why the hell did they decide to choose to move again after doing it all the year before. So everyone was off boiling in anxiety, we were left calm and happy. We strolled to the small beach and Rachel started taking off her clothes saying it would be fun and there’s no one around and this is Madison, who would really care. So we swam out and I felt safe with her, I couldn’t believe I was doing it with her, she seemed so much stronger than when I first knew her, I felt safe. We were about two hundred feet away from shore and we laid on our backs to float in the currentless lake. And then I felt like she should know one last piece of me
Five years before I was in James Madison Park. It is the site of my very first attempt. I still dream about it. I still have positive feelings about it. I still remember the waves.
I was out with friends of all things. We were celebrating being in new apartments and being friends and having warm weather around us. We ate, we drank, we carried on in our apartment on Hancock street which is only two blocks from the park and the lake. It wasn’t a night of festivities as much as a night together before the stressors of reality would drag us down. I was happy. I was friendly. I wasn’t faking it a single bit. I was still manic and wouldn’t be able to do anything but be happy. I suggested that we go to the park. The air was a stifling humid mixture of hot and swamp ass that I believe only Wisconsin really is home of. If you’ve never been to the park you’re missing out. It is nearly as beautiful as Tenney Park and has an amphitheater and garden and canoes and small rolling hills with a small path on both ends going into a forested area where ducks live and later the geese flying south terrorize said ducks and start avian wars.
Whenever I go back to the park I remember that night.
We walked to the edge of the concrete sidewalk that had about two feet on the level of the water where foot high waves were lapping which translates to the water striking one and a half feet below the park which is just the distance for feet to go in and out of the swells. We sat with our pants rolled up and socks off. The water was warm. It was late. Midnight or 1 am. My friend suggested we go skinny dipping. Something I’ve done since then on several occasions. It was the first time though. We all agreed and stripped. We swam out and I was feeling completely right in the head and happy and content. And then I started swimming further. The waves were washing against my face in warm intervals. It lulled me to sleep. To sleep forever. I stopped caring and swam further out waiting to die of fatigue in the warm dark waves. I slowed my strokes down feeling the warm wash splash my face and lift my body while pinpoints of light from across the lake dodged up and down. It felt like a good way to die, a good way to go, a good way to simply cease to exist not in a suicidal desperation but a positive act to remove myself from the world in the most aesthetically pleasing way possible. My friends were calling out to me to see where I went in the darkness. It was hard. It was hard to hear them. I realized what they wanted, and I knew what I wanted. I don’t know how I chose to go back but I did.
Rachel heard the story and kissed my cheek.
She said she’ll always love me.
I said it back. I actually meant it.
I would be with her till the end.
I still dream about those waves.
I’ve only been happier with Rachel.
Only darker when her waves pulled her under.
I’ve never returned to those waves though, because of her.