I don’t know why it should seem so important that I scrawl this one out a bit by hand first. A part of the writing process I have forgotten in my bloggish informality, one supposes. Yet always the task of rewriting awaits. A missed “the” here; the infernal plural with “everyone” I seem forever to miss on late night first passes. I clean up what I find the morning after, like a guilty lover slinking away from the scene but holding on to the precious scent of a stolen kiss.

How far into and through the drafting process this entry will travel remains a distance hidden in the swirling word fog of my mind; only the fingers and hands pull out the words in the order they are meant to come. Usually writing, for me, requires a suspension of myself from intrusion; from the start of the start I have felt the words come through my body but not of my body. It is a process separate from speaking, that is certain. I can beg and beg the words to come, but they come only in their time; and when the words are ready, the greatest impulse in me is to offer my fingers to the paper for their use. The only instinctual urge ever greater than the release of my built up words has been the desire to push my own children out during labor.

Are these words even my own?

Or do they come from memories of memories, of times gone by, of fictions that I remember as nonfictions? Who is to say? What makes a string of words have any meaning at all? We place the memories into a syntax, a function that becomes a hope. WIll you, the reader, interpret my meaning in some approximate form to which it might have, maybe, subjunctively, been meant? The passive voice exists for a reason.

There are already figures of speech in this writing I dislike, and if I were to remove them now, then so, too, would I need to jettison this sentence. What will this sentence tell you? And this?

I will tell you that few things seem funnier than half a dozen plus one adults squatting in three foot deep pool water at 6:00 in the morning, keeping warm while swimming laps. We’re in the elementary school pool for our morning workouts the next several weeks, while the more adult community pool undergoes renovation. We’re out of place, displaced, barely placated in some cases. At least it is regulation size. That’s all that matters, in the end, to those of us who count on hardworking objectivity for self-improvement. There’s no showers, though; one woman, a dentist, washes her hair out before work in the sink.

The detritus in the pool is different. At least in my lane, nearest the pine trees. There are pine needles, just a couple. It’s better than the band-aid that made my stomach flip last week at the big pool. Pine needles remind me of time gone by, of a time perhaps that I never really had: conifers and cabins and fires and mountain air and mist. And polysyndeton. And a bunch of other conjunctions, emergent properties from the chaos of a half dozen memories, put together into a narrative of the Life I Have Led in the Mountains. Or imagined I have led.

The pine needles are everything to me as I swim my laps today. I began the morning with a short 4.5 mile run on rainy streets, followed by two miles of hill sprint repeats. Now I swim. I’ve been up since four. It’s not a bit lonely in the utter darkness, the stark cold startling my lungs into waking, begging to be sucked in, that purifying air of dark morning. Somewhere the last quarter moon gives but the faintest light, but I shall watch the sunrise from the new pool today.

But the pine needles. Those, yes. Back on track now. I am in the lane closest to the field, and to the pines, and there are more crows that fly overhead here in this part of town. Clouds of mist and receding rain hover over the hills in the distance; sunrise is not as vivid an indigo-violet as it has been. Today there is more grey. It takes me a moment not to feel homesick for my routine and unsquished and regretful that the longer drive to this pool means an earlier wake up time and no stop at Starbucks afterward; but when I lose myself in the crows and hills and pines, I realize there is no point to hang on to my sense of inconvenience. I let it go. Adaptability is all life ever asks of us. When we know this, we can let go of fear. There is no sense that anything must be my way: I should be more surprised when the stars line up than when they don’t. We have to be on the amused side of luck, or we’ll never survive all in store for us.

The woman leaving with her husband forty minutes later might not agree. She’s not the dentist, she’s cold in her cover-up, and her husband is carrying most of their gear which means she makes it to the car first. Her exasperated look at what she tells me outright is his failing to click the door open before she gets there might just tell me everything I’ll ever need to know about her. Somewhere along the line I might need to rewrite that opinion, but since I mostly keep to myself, I may well never know. My opinion is that she is missing the point entirely: of the day, of the chance to adapt, of the privilege to feel the sharpness of the cold, of the amusement of a bunch of adults swimming in the kiddie pool and trying to be serious. Of life, too, but that’s too much maybe to put on one look, and I try to let that go.

It occurs to me that I have lived in this city for nearly twenty-four years and have never been in that pool, and that makes me laugh, too, as I realize I am glad for the chance to get up close to something I’ve only ever driven by. Ah, but no, I think, as I count out my lap: that is not entirely accurate. You can’t tell them that. You were there, once, as a spectator, on the side. Which side? There is almost no basis to make this determination except the vaguest wisp of memory. Suddenly as I swim it becomes crucial that I remember which side of the pool I sat on. There is the sense memory traveling my spine that when I last sat at that pool, open space behind me tickled my primitive brain stem at the base of my neck. I make a 2014 decision: I sat on the side near the field. I conclude. The memory is forever written now, but it may be wrong. It cannot be only a coincidence that I sat on the side nearest today’s lane.

It cannot be only coincidence that our one and only ever argument in the school hallway foreshadowed all the themes in our life yet to come. I realize that now, when I pan the years scene by almost-forgotten-scene. I should have listened harder to how the words played out, back then. I know only the themes, but not the details. Years later, the details are different but the themes are the same. You were on my mind as the crows cast off against the sky.

I decide I was on the side of the crows, then, last time I was here. The summer of—what would it have been?—1992 or 1993?—something like that. Just write that it was the summer before 7th grade, and that will cover any and all time in the early 1990s. It’s more of general time period you are after, not the precise year because that won’t matter to the piece. Be descriptive, instead. It makes for better writing. As if anyone can say.

So it was the summer of Robin Cook medical mystery novels for me, all from the library with the loamy smell of use and the cracked spines, the wonderful fustiness of books in the circulation of oily fingertips and smudges of real life intruding on their pages. We ate Costco cheesy breadsticks by the sack, I grew out of my awkward 6th grade hair, and we misted ourselves with spray bottles at night by opened windows to escape the desert July by the tiniest of droplets. I discovered blouses with no sleeves, that crushes from the year before don’t last forever and nor does pining, and that Temecula could feel like home.

My brother had swim lessons at the elementary school pool. I normally did not go with him and my mom, but for some reason that escapes me now, I was there. It’s the unimportant details I remember, and they cannot mean as much as where we went before or after the lesson, or what book I had with me, or what my mom and I talked about. I remember only that Jason taught my brother how to swim that summer, and that he had blue eyes. Useless information, more real and vivid than where I sat. Why mention it all unless to prove I was really there, as an anchor to a time gone by?

If I know with conviction at least one detail, or two, then it must have really happened. There must have been a moment, and a place where I existed, that past self. She was there, and I was there again today, no longer twelve but now thirty-four. There is some connection between the two of us, but it rests on the color of eyes and a name with “J” and some pine needles that grew on a tree that must have been there, too.

I grasp for a time that has gone by. To bring this history forward is to submit it to rewriting. And what remains is what never truly was.

Advertisements