If It Doesn’t Drown You
The night is hot. Heavy and thick. We lie on our backs on the trampoline under a cloudless sky. This is where we sleep during our summertime slumber parties, gently bouncing toward the center whenever one of us shifts. In the morning, we’ll wake with our bodies pressed against each other for the last time ever. My family is moving away.
In the field behind her house, a low moo echoes from a single cow and the sound startles me. I roll into her and bury my face against her chest. She laughs while pushing me away. It’s too hot for close contact.
It isn’t fair that boys can go around with their shirts off in hot weather, I complain. She agrees.
We should be allowed to do that too.
Why don’t we?
I’ll do it if you do.
My joke is followed by silence, but then I hear the quiet rustle of fabric shifting, her shirt being pulled over her long hair.
Without looking, I toss my t-shirt on top of hers and they form a small pile between us, a tiny wall of fabric, easy to breach if we wanted to.
We stare up at the stars, our bare skin disappearing in the dark.
“Watch this.” I put down my scissors and clear a space in the middle of the rug.
We are cutting pictures out of magazines. Leo and Brad. Ben Affleck. Devon Sawa. This is my first time at her house. Her bedroom walls are covered in posters. Every inch, a smiling or smoldering face.
I stand up and bring my heels together.
I’ve been trying to teach myself how to stand on my toes like Kate Winslet in the dancing scene of Titanic.
We just got back from seeing the movie. My third time already. When I mention how beautiful Kate is, she agrees and says she’d kill for those dresses.
I press up onto the balls of my feet.
She has to catch me if I fall, I tell her. Like in the movie, the way Kate collapses into Leo’s arms.
She nods, but I make her promise.
I am nervous. I shake out my legs and then steady myself once more. I take a deep breath and focus on the spot between her eyebrows, for balance.
When I come crashing down on top of her, we fall to the floor, laughing.
I am one of the guys. Often the lone girl in a group of four or five boys. I watch them play video games. Pretend to like their garage band. Joke and poke fun like we’re all part of a comedy group. One of them is my boyfriend. If not now, soon. If not now, up until recently. Every day after school we raid some mother’s kitchen and laze about in a basement where there’s a TV or a Ping-Pong table. One of them owns Wild Things on VHS and has memorized the timestamp of the threesome scene.
“You guys are gross,” I say, as the scene ends and someone immediately rewinds it. They are sitting on the couch, a worn threadbare castoff from the living room that smells faintly of wet dog, all of them leaning toward the small TV screen.
I am alone on the floor, spread out on my back so that I can easily divert my gaze and stare up at the ceiling.
I shake my head disapprovingly as the scene begins to play for a second time, but I don’t take my eyes off the screen. Neve Campbell pulls off her shirt to reveal the soft line of her spine; a river gently parting the landscape of her body.
“I love Neve Campbell. She was so good in The Craft,” I say. I could say anything. I know they aren’t listening.
No matter where my family moves, I always end up with one close girlfriend. A best friend. We sleep curled together in twin beds. Talk about boys. About life. About our dreams for the future.
We try on clothes and assure each other that we are beautiful. We take pictures. Give advice. Hold each other close when we cry. Stroke each other’s hair. Kiss each other’s foreheads. Make a promise to live together someday. Maybe we’ll get married if we never find anybody else. The two of us, growing old together, best friends forever.
Except this time we rip apart like a busted ship, split through the middle and devoured by darkness when I fall in love with the boy she likes.
I can’t help it. Won’t stop it. By the time I realize what I’m feeling it is already too late. The collision can’t be avoided and I must live with the aftermath.
Years down the road I tell another friend this story when she asks me how I met my husband. We are walking with our children along a path through the woods. Her little boy is my little boy’s best friend. “I love him so much,” my son says of her son. He wants the two of them to be a family someday.
“I stole my best friend’s crush,” I tell her and her mouth drops open, shocked and amused.
“Wow,” she says, and although I’m not proud of this history, there’s a small thrill in eliciting surprise.
Titanic is on TV one afternoon while we’re flipping through channels. It’s almost over, the ship’s already sinking. I cry harder than ever at the scene of the mother in third class tucking her children into bed. The old lovers wrapping their bodies around each other one last time, surrendering.
“What would you have done?” I ask, but my husband only shakes his head. Who knows?
It took two hours and forty minutes from the collision with the iceberg to when the ship finally disappeared into the ocean. That’s less time than it takes to watch the movie but is still a slow-moving disaster as far as disasters go. It’s long enough to shift from calm, to panic, to resignation. To reflect back on your life, the scenes playing over again in your mind like a movie montage, hazy and disjointed. Your fondest memories. Your biggest regrets. The people you loved and the people you hurt. The lies you told. The truths you left unspoken.
It’s long enough to spill your secrets.
Kate tells Leo she’ll never let go and then releases him into the water. His body disappears into the darkness. My head is resting on my husband’s shoulder and I turn to wipe my tears against his shirt.
What if it sinks me, I wonder. The secret or the revelation?
One day I tell him and he doesn’t even flinch. “Thank you for sharing that with me,” he says and we go on with our lives, happy.
Then I say it again to someone else. Casually, like I’ve always known this part of me. I repeat it to myself. Again and again. Let the truth trickle in like water slowly rising.
Claire Taylor is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lost Balloon, Flash Frog, Literary Mama, and more. Her micro-chapbook, As Long As We Got Each Other, is forthcoming from ELJ Editions. Claire is the founding editor of Little Thoughts Press, a magazine of writing for and by kids. You can find more of her work, as well as her published collections at clairemtaylor.com, and connect with her on Twitter @ClaireM_Taylor.
© Variant Literature Inc 2021