I can taste the ocean on your tongue

First you brush your teeth, then you pee. Then you scuttle halfway down the stairs to signal your dad, then you crawl back up in your jams. You play hot lava monster to cross your room, launch yourself into your bed. You expertly contort yourself like the most wretched diver to avoid hitting your head on the gratuitous upper bunk, or your appendages on the luxurious, pine ladder.

He, sprightly, lumbers in, filling the doorway, tripping as the dog pushes his own way through Dad’s infinite legs to run to your bathroom, your closet, your corners, your trash can, to get as much of himself on your bed while ensuring his back paws graze the carpet. Dad throws a scuff the way of your blue, tie-dyed bean bag chair, smiles that his joints won’t let him partake, and folds himself into your bunk, his arms, legs, and head against exactly what you had just avoided. He tucks you in, feet up, as you squirm; then you are still, for fear of ruining the tuck. Soon you’ll squirm again, knowing he’ll secure you as many times as you want.

Tonight you want the watch story, or the Valentine’s story, or the fire story, or the death story, or the golf story, or the writing story. So he tells you he shouldn’t have gone ice skating with his birthday watch, or that the pretty girl was unkind (but she was your age), or that candles were Christmas tree lights’ precursors, or there was a heart attack, or his brother went to Penn, or he won the state essay contest. You have heard this story bimonthly for your existence, but you love to hear him say it again. You love to see him so alive, so bright, so animated. It’s not that he isn’t so joyful the rest of the day. But at bedtime, when he tells you a stor’, you bask in the gluttony of getting three of him at once: Dad, Boy Dad, Performance of Boy Dad.

When this story has finished, you’ll make him tell you another. Sometimes he will, sometimes he won’t. Regardless, he will retuck you, feet up, and kiss you, and pat your face. He will tell you he loves you, again, and again, and again, and then he’ll tell you some more. You never will get too old for this. Because you know that, any day, this ritual will be impossible, snuffed out from the world. And then you’re not too old for it because it is, it has been.

The dog will follow him out the door as he shuts off your lights, shuts your closet door, shuts your bathroom door, shuts off the hall light, trundles back downstairs. Most nights you will lie awake, still as you can, grasping at your tuck with every skin cell, praying you don’t fuck it up and lose your treasure. You will love and be loved, but you also will worry. You will worry about him; you will worry about getting yelled at by the other one. You will worry about fire, and earthquake, and, in 1998, about blowjobs and flood.

You will retrace the steps you would take to your stashed emergency ladder, reimagine how to break your window while minimizing its glass pulling apart your flesh; you will know that you would tie that rope tighter than any girl, but also acknowledge that you are terrified of heights, even from this puny second story, and that you might become paralyzed and burn because you can’t bear the thought of the wobbly trip down to supposed safety.

Years later, when you’re in love with the man you wish you’d introduced him to, your 6’5” teddy bear keeps bedtime fears at bay. But when he’s away, you scour the apartment for intruders. You start with the balcony, to leave yourself an exit route; then rush to the bathroom, the tub, the closets.

Today you’re alone and unafraid. You lock your doors, but you don’t belabor the issue. You walk everywhere, alone, unlit, unarmed. You only need to live for yourself, and maybe your mother, and if shit gets real, it’s not like you’d be around to be sad about it, anyway.

Who knew that having everything you wanted, luxuriating in freedom, would erase the paranoia of losing it? Opportunity, and fortune, abound. There are only incredible paths – fantasy that you worry will somehow be phantasmagory. The choices are between types of happiness, all intrinsically legitimate, if not free of some sort of superimposed, ill-fitting, pseudo-moral characterization. And yet, I second-guess them anyway.

Saturday night in a city of eight million, and I’m bored, and there’s nothing to do. Friday morning, with good coffee, and trees, and sky, and the air isn’t crisp enough. Wednesday afternoon, clambered inside a $6000 skirt, and all I want is to wear it up a mountain.

In the shower, I open my mouth, expecting salt or chlorine. Marching up the subway exit, anticipating hill-backed skyscrapers, receiving skyscraper-backed skyscrapers. There is no terra cotta, no dead gold grass; no deer shit, about the same amount of derelict shit. There are people, and they look interesting, if caricatures of themselves. There is music! And so much! And sheet music stores even more comforting than the best used bookstore, and the scores’ mongers fall over themselves when you ask for Hindemith and Mucyznski. The caricatures are kind, and they expand and caress and adore when you give them the chance to be the ones who made you fall in love again. And it’s nice, really, and you smile when boys text you, “whatever you do, don’t go to Seattle,” and men send flowers to your hotel, and girls want your foreigner’s approval.

But when you remember basking, naked, in that warm straw; swimming through the cold to numbness in your home ocean; knowing a San Diego or Bakersfield or Los Angeles or San Francisco tortilla by the way it disintegrates in your mouth; remembering where this trail is sand, and where it is dry, crumbly, slippery dirt, and where it is the clay you used to take home to mold, and where it is buggy mud, and how your squelches will sound from one yard to the next – you know you have to go away for a little longer, or you’ll never respect yourself, but god damn it, all I want is an avocado, a spoon, a glass of Paso Robles old vine zin, and fetid, raw ocean that somehow elevates the wine’s bouquet.


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