I wake up defeated, never a good way to start the day. Even in dreams I find a way to be disappointed. So often you produce my dreams, and in them, logistics go where I wish emotions would. Time is planned, broken up into increments, when the point of dreams is supposed to be to indulge the mind with an elastic sense of time and more possibility than reality allows. You say things like, I have to go, and I try to wake myself up to prevent having to witness your leaving.
How can you be so you in dreams, so unbreakably yourself? Even in my subconscious you are still the scientist, the superhero, I like to think, who retired his power years ago in exchange for a normal human life. So normal, in fact, so human, that you often choose to answer my words with silence, an increasingly typical response in this age. It’s also a response native to animals, but we’ve been flung far from that state now. Because you can see me on the screen, you assume I will always be there. I will be there until I won’t be there. You will be there until you won’t be there. But the question of when doesn’t bother you. It bothers me.
We’re here now, anyway. No more screens. No more disappointment. And it’s easier to be an animal here. The weird translucent hairs on my arm stand on end as I try to submerge myself in the water. My arms are pale and slightly bluish in an anticipation of the cold, nearly the same color as the overcast sky. The fastest means of getting in the water is to be watched by you. Then I can dive, even, immersing my head in a pain that radiates from jaw to crown, and reemerge above the surface pretending it was easy. Inevitably I’ve had a glass of wine or two, and you’ve had nothing. Admirable, but your choices barely figure into my idea of you: they would interrupt too much. To me you are inanimate, yet you move. You are kind, yet you are distant. You are infallible, yet you are flawed. When you make a choice, I pretend not to notice. I do not analyze. I do not judge. I just see it as welcome evidence that you are alive, that you are still here.
Before I came here, my parents yelled at me about my lack of responsibility, and all I could hear as they yelled was your parents yelling the same things at you, maybe not now, or last week, but at some point in the recent past. Many times. And you hugging your knees to your chest as I was, like a hermit crab retreating into its shell. I felt safe then. I tuned out the words that I knew to be true. I continued to make like I was invisible, and when it was over I ran. I thought about how we would commiserate together and feel not stupid and ashamed, the way they want us to feel, but strong and resolute. And we did. But the question remains: what will we do? Something. Inevitably not the things our parents want us to do. We have to ask ourselves the question. But we don’t have to answer it the way we think they want us to. This is a rule I only recently started to obey.
We’re each the youngest of two, and our friendship was founded upon this shared fate. We were the siblings who didn’t rush away from home the first chance we got. When the others went away, we stayed. We didn’t equate money with freedom. We liked our parents, and they liked us. We liked each other too much. We didn’t butt heads. We could have stayed in those nests forever, though I would have preferred your nest to mine.
We were the ones they turned to for solace when our older siblings drove them crazy, which was often. So much pressure on the oldest, and the second is consolation for all that hard work and mistake-making and anxiety. And we behaved so well in direct response to how poorly they behaved. We can’t say we didn’t have it easier than they did. The one time I witnessed you standing in the corner years ago, in a “time out” imposed by your mother, she freed you from it ten minutes earlier than she’d planned. Your face was too cute or something. Too harsh a punishment might accelerate things, make you grow up too fast. Then the nest would be empty. She didn’t realize that you’d end up flying back to it every chance you got, and me to mine.
We had it so easy. And now? We’re dreamy and inert. We say we want to climb mountains and run triathlons and take whatever jobs allow us freedom. We may be their babies, but they still frown upon our choices, maybe because we’re finally far too old not to be treated as grownups now. We try to tell them the world has changed. We try to tell them that work can be much more than it was for them. That there are so many ways to be happy, to be successful. But they just think we’re lazy.
Thank god I have you, weird twin. Without you I might have caved in to their mercurial wishes long ago, decades ago, really. Maybe I should have. But I always chose this water, this view, and your friendship, over money, obligation, and the future, and everyone let me. And once I was old enough to run my own life, I let myself.
Recently a parent was talking about two women who had seemingly “dedicated their lives” to the place they’d spent summers growing up. As young women they moved to crummy, desolate towns near the summer community just to be close to it. Now, in their retirement years, they had somehow been able to afford to buy properties in the summer community itself and ditch the towns. Suddenly I saw my future: a bachelorette forever, wearing long skirts and one of several pairs of colorful bifocals, with too-long gray hair and too many cats, living in this little house forever, or until a hurricane dragged it into the sea, and probably me with it. All those years braving the water would prepare me for death by cold sea, going down with the house. Maybe this should seem depressing to me, but it doesn’t. Except — where would you be then? Living in the mountains somewhere, probably, skiing and teaching others survival skills.
This is the one fight worth fighting: the one thing that causes me to actually care about money for once. Without money, this can’t be mine. Without some specific and concentrated effort, this prize will evaporate. But I seem more interested in the short-term rewards: being here on borrowed time, being here with you, pushing my luck, and above all, pretending for as much of the day as possible that we’re still kids.
The past is entertainment enough for me to sit here and just think, but you want to move — drive, run, sail away, uncover parts of this place you haven’t seen, push the limits of your body, dare yourself. You always find something for us to do. You are disappointed by people who sit around thinking. This is alien to you. I go with you, because it’s you. But you’re enough from me. Action is for those endless months when you’re not around and I’m forced to find a feeling that equates to the feeling of your presence. You’re here: why bother with anything else? This is not a way to live, I know.
The sun emerges from underneath a thick curtain of cloud just before sunset, making some upside-down version of the world for a few minutes. I need to go, I need to move, I need to speak. I need to crowd out thoughts with the voices of other people, not stare at the sun until an hour from now when my eyes finally accept the pitch blackness and I go inside. But I am my family and their genes. I could sit on this bench, sunken into the muddy grass, for the rest of my days, staring out. There should be no rules except the ones that govern these elements. There should be no expectations of you and me beyond what is possible for us here: the use of the senses over the use of the mind. Brain over mind, body over civilization. This isn’t a daily possibility. But it’s a possibility today, and tomorrow. I can’t see beyond then, and I don’t want to.