Letter 4

Dear _____,

I’d like to go on vacation with you, somewhere we could walk and talk about nothing.

I searched my e-mail the other day, and in the results came a message from you recounting a conversation with a man, P. I racked my brains trying to remember what that letter stood for.

Would you be interested in a children’s book about a sex-changing frog called The Life & Times of Lady Mary Harper P.? We cooked up this idea on vacation in North Carolina, and it keeps returning to me.

(As a word of advice, don’t read The Handmaid’s Tale over your friend’s wedding weekend.)

I was thinking about how for a short time many years ago, a pressing concern was how to seem physically attractive to straight men. Maybe we could compare notes on this during our vacation walk.

I dreamed you were leading me over rocky dunes in a thin fog. Wuthering Heights by way of Cape Cod.

What is the opposite of rare form? That is how my family was last weekend in Cambridge. We drank too much (except for my mother) and said funny things and cursed under the pergola. Wisdom of my father, mishearing someone discuss why they could not have a drink while on medication: “But where can’t you drink? In church, maybe.” Wisdom of my mother, analyzing the preponderance of family Geminis and their diverse personalities: “It has to do with the stars, and time of day, and all that bullshit.” Practical wisdom of my sister: “I’m not leaving without a piece of goddamn cake.”

The temperature has spiked. Seasonal string of restless nights. J.P. reconnected the A/C. It takes me cycling through many positions before settling into sleep.

In elementary school, a kid in my class had a sleepover party for his birthday. It was a big deal. His mom was our Cub Scout Den Mother, and a lot of boys were invited. The family lived in Trailwood, which back then was the newest development in our small township. The way our parents spoke about it, and the size of the houses, and its placement on a hill, gave the neighborhood a privileged, glamorous status.

At the party, we used markers to decorate Rubbermaid storage boxes. We ran around the driveway. We stayed up late. I had a blue sleeping bag with yellow lining. It was hard to sleep. Kids threw food at each other. My friend Matt was across the room, sleeping on his stomach. He did not sleep in a sleeping bag. He didn’t wear pajamas. He only wore white briefs with a thin red stripe on the waistband. They pelted him with pretzels. He ignored it, head resting on his stacked fists.

When I can’t sleep, when I flip onto my stomach, I remember this image of him.

On the drive from Cambridge to the Route 128 train station, my mother listed the three best financial decisions she and my father made. Number two on the list was opting to stay in the Whippany house, and not move to Trailwood, which they had thought about doing. That was news to me.

I still want to go to the desert, all because of learning about Georgia O’Keefe in fifth grade. The desert tugs at me when it appears in other art. I shopped around for coloring books for my nieces’ birthdays, and again I was dismayed that all the adult coloring books contain page after page of small, intricate patterns, gardens and Mansard roofs. I want to color a giant fucking flower!

You told me about a high school friend. She wrote a fantasy? The characters were based on your cohort. She cast you as the dreamer, or the wanderer, or the knight.

But now I’ve wandered far from shore. It brings to mind the Jack Spicer poem “Any fool can get into an ocean…”, which ends:
Any Greek can get you into a labyrinth
But it takes a hero to get out of one
What’s true of labyrinths is true of course
Of love and memory. When you start remembering.

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