You were drowning. The more your teenage arms flailed, the rippling black creekwater offered no signs that your struggle disrupted the steady inevitable swift gravity of a rain swollen stream. But you weren’t a teenager–you misremember, or more to the point, this dream misremembers. You were younger–barely into elementary school— behind the township firehall, while the neighbors picniced and poured their way through Sunday afternoon pitcher by sweaty pitcher, you were drowning.Secondhand sneakers fill with river. Sun crescent cloud cover.
Half-awake, I can hear the neighbors upstairs arguing. It’s sometime after midnight. Menthol smoke snakes into my room through an open window. They are on their deck. Voices with edges soft enough to avoid waking their daughter but loud enough to know where there’s chain smoking there’s fire. She throws a bottle into the treeline behind our building. Its explosion contained slightly by anemic pine needle arms. I crawl to the end of the bed and shut my window. Stillness. One last burst of obscenities, then feet trudge inside.
Child seat left on the hood of their sedan. It rained all night.
You have had several dreams of drowning lately. Each time it is the same rippling black creekwater. The same township firehall. The same sounds of a weekend drawing its curtains back to reveal friends and neighbors slowly getting drunk. All that changes is you. Tuesday, you were you in your sixth grade summer–the June where you decided to shave your head and resembled a tiny Buddha. Last weekend, you were barely treading water in your houndstooth blazer and Michael Kors shirt and bow tie–so focused on the cold seeping through your argyle socks. Last night you were sixteen–singularly obsessed with the Plymouth Voyager’s keys slipping out of your grasp–a slow motion wrestling away by invisible watery hands.
Muddy cornfields. Footprints create their own bodies of water.
I am slowly becoming aware of the amassing body count which comes to each and every one of us. Sidelined to hometowns, I have become more and more disconnected from former lives. It’s not out of anything malicious–it’s just the unyielding bend of calendar pages and highway miles. Funerals and weddings and births and divorces become not much more than a stack of unopened letters and half-sent sentiments. Updates on an ever-scrolling social feed. The free streaming statuses roam and range and ramble. It’s been raining here in town but we are still under drought warnings. I am torn between the urge to push against the tally of acquaintances I can count in the past tense with my own inability to be anything deeper than trading smiles in social settings. Yet, while I’d like to romanticize how easy it was to make friends when I was younger, the truth is so painfully in contrast. I wrote and haunted record stores. I wallflowered all ages shows because I couldn’t relate. Sweating razorwire. Self-aware and clumsy. Like you. And I probably would’ve liked you back then–maybe would like you now. My hand passes through cotton sleeves in late summer. Buttons fumble through my hands like time and opportunity.
Her second hand smoke. So much sickness in this river.
You finally crawled out of the water alone. That was the last time you dreamt of drowning. That last night months ago, you removed a waterlogged trench coat, peeled off your jeans and Ramones t-shirt. Hanging from the retaining wall is a fresh white pinpoint oxford and some glen plaids. A silk tie moved effortlessly around your neck–almost tying itself. There is a poetry in the way dress shoes walk. You are only half dreaming when you come across the firehall–and it’s not a firehall. The brass doorknob is warm in the palm of your turn.
Black coffee in a dirty mug. The needle skates into vinyl grooves.
Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and The Minnesota Review. Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.