I have to warn you: I don’t know what this story is about — exactly, anyway. But sometimes small details are worth recording. Maybe just because otherwise I might forget. But I think there’s also a story here that I can’t see yet, and I have to tell it before I understand it.
Saturday morning. I wake up a couple times before I get up. First is at 10:30, with my stomach faintly aching and my body feeling cold — don’t know why either of these things are happening. I stumble to the bathroom to settle myself down, read mindlessly through a book for maybe 45 seconds.
I chalk it up to sleeping in too fetal a position and, probably more importantly, the odd combination of a burger from Tony Roma’s House of Ribs (lunch with a high school friend) and Chinese with my parents for dinner yesterday. Who knows, really. I climb back into bed, pull on my sleeping bag, and sleep another hour.
The dreams are sweeter this time, though I don’t remember much of anything afterwards except that I was at an amusement park and that I was sheep-wrangling from the family that owned the place. I no longer believe in dream interpretation these days. It’s just random neurons firing, pure anticausality.
Finally get up around noon, grab my iBook and curl up on the couch to read e-mail, look on the Web, and generally waste time before I ought to actually do anything with myself.
I still feel anxious but I’m willing to believe it’s just food, not any of the seven things I could list right now that I should be worried about. And I’ve worried so much this week. Today, the plan is to forget everything. Everything in the past and everything in the future — just have a nice day.
Kate arrives three minutes early. How long has it been since we saw each other? A year? I don’t have enough fingers to count it out and so the moment right before I open the door is a weird one, with half-memories crashing into each other and dissolving finally into a face and a person who isn’t quite who I remembered her being.
What to say first? I know I thought about it once, and probably came up with a great answer too, but the only thing on my lips is a safe start: Did you get here alright?
She says yes.
We drive into the city together, talk about the kind of thing people who haven’t talked in a long time talk about. Old stories that you still like telling and odd observations that have been stuck in your head for too long now. The roads feel empty, like it’s Sunday and no one is bothering to do anything important. Overcast sky and a strong wind — the pit between winter and spring. A few days ago, someone left a back door at work propped open, and this beautiful warm breeze came pouring through, all the way up through the fluorescent lights, all the way through the Ethernet cables buried in the walls, all the way through the echoes of all our footsteps.
Today the wind is just cold, almost bitter. We park near the Inner Harbor and walk to the National Aquarium. We have free passes today, courtesy of her mom who volunteers there. I love the place myself. It’s the second-coolest field trip a kid in the Baltimore area can go on — the first being the Science Center, where if you’re lucky, you can take in an IMAX movie on a five-story-tall screen.
The Aquarium is great because it doesn’t try to teach you. I mean, sure, there’s the by-the-year-2080-there-will-be-no-rainforests message lumped in beside all the exhibits, but at its core, the Aquarium just lets you look at things and absorb what you want. There are little plaques that explain what everything’s called, but that’s all you really need to appreciate it.
We manage to make it to feeding time in the manta ray tank, where one volunteer narrates a long-dead speech about something I didn’t pay attention to while other volunteers, the lucky ones, put on scuba gear and feed lettuce to Calypso, a recently-rescued turtle who lost his front left flipper to the ravagaes of the world.
But he swims alright, and he seems pretty lovable, even on the turtle scale of lovability. The divers wave lettuce in his peripheral vision and he turns, thrilled — and though it’s hard to tell for sure, I think they give Calypso’s shell an affectionate rub as they pass him.
It turns out manta rays have fish for their mid-afternoon meal, which puzzles me. How do they eat them normally? Their beaks are so small. Do they sneak up on them? The manta rays greet the divers as best friends. After all, who can you love more than someone who gives you food for free, all the time?
We decide to skip the dolphin show — the whole concept seems a bit dated now, as if we have passed into some era beyond shows of any kind — and just go to the parts we both like. It’s for the best, too. It’s crowded today, and getting close enough to see the mini-dioramas of different eco-systems (Alleghany Pond, Coastal Beach, Atlantic Shelf) seems impossible.
Instead we blow by all of this stuff, pausing to take in the puffins (who, to my twenty-four-year-old eyes, no longer look cute but kind of slow-witted) and cave fish, who start off with eyes but lose them as they grow into childhood. Instead they have some kind of weird fluid bladders that respond to vibrations in the water.
It’s sort of funny to catalog all this information now, because I have to admit it all sort of went in one ear and left the other back when I was a kid. I just liked looking at the fish swim. It’s relaxing now to learn about things that won’t necessarily be important later on, to be amused with simple weird facts.
And also to talk to Kate about simple weird facts. When I tell her I’ve never seen the two-toed sloth in the rainforest — a tiny little animal, the kind that people always point at and ooh over as I still don’t see where it is I’m supposed to look — she says she hasn’t either. We look today, but we don’t find it. And I’m kind of glad. Sometimes wanting is better than having.
We grab pizza for dinner — I drink roughly three glasses of Pepsi and promptly turn argumentative about the merits of portabella mushrooms and chicken as pizza toppings (her: maybe; me: probably not) — and drive back to my apartment. It all happens quickly now. Caffeine and clicking of the CD player buttons on my car. She chooses:
I was glad that it didn’t destroy you
How sad that would be
’Cause if it destroyed you
It would destroy me
My song goes:
Tell everybody waitin’ for Superman
That they should try to hold on
Best they can
He hasn’t dropped them
We go up to my apartment, where I promptly begin babbling. Babbling is different from just plain bullshit: With bullshit you’re just trying to satisfy whoever it is you’re talking to. Babbling is when you have a point you’re trying to make but don’t know how to make it. When words are just screwing things up but you don’t any other way.
And this isn’t even today, not even just with Kate. There’s a message I’ve been trying to say to everyone now, a story I’ve wanted to write for some time now. There’s a lesson I’ve half-figured out myself these past few weeks, something I’ve managed to come up with amid all the glummer and trumble I feel these days, but I don’t know how to talk about it yet. I want so badly to be able to say a single sentence that says everything I need to. Just one.
I keep babbling until I’m supposed to be somewhere else, with other people, playing a different role. We get up, stuff is grabbed, jackets retrieved.
We hug for a long time.
I’ve missed you so much, I say, and maybe that’s good enough for now.