Ember and I spent half our last day together watching our friend the Botanist collect wildflowers for her field guide. I took them both to my favorite place to hike to—property that rich people owned and let us use, God knows why. But it’s beautiful, and neither of them had ever been, so there we went. We talked a lot about work, and life, and the two were interchangeable, the way they always are at Ramapo. As the Botanist paged through her guide, I asked if they had ever heard the story of the man who had built the stone ampitheater where we sat. They said no.
"His idea," I said, "was that nature reclaims everythng in the end. And so everything he built was built to be grown over."
Neither of them seem quite as impressed by this as I had been when I first heard about Skip’s philosophy. They shrugged. Ember lowered himself into the recessed bench and fussed with his glass pipe, which had broken under the strain of one too many hits with a blowtorch the night before. (What does it say about me, I wondered, that I love people who need blowtorches on a daily basis?) The Botanist continued examining the wildflowers growing around us, and I thought of the Real World, so quickly impending. I was still thinking of it, with a growing sense of despair, when Ember returned to his spot next to me and tucked his head, catlike, into the hollow of my neck. I smiled and ran my fingers through his hair.
I decided that, for better or worse, I liked this world better. I am building myself to let my own nature reclaim me.
People seem to enjoy my wildflowers, after all.
I spent nine weeks glancing at the Nomadic Carpenter out of the corner of my eye and forty-five minutes trying not to stare at the jut of his hipbones in the shadows of a streetlight before he said, “Let’s go on an adventure.”
"I’m always up for adventures," I joked, pulling down the collar of my t-shirt to show him the tattoo on my right shoulder. "Where to?"
"Anywhere. You know this place better than me."
The idea felt strange, like an unfamiliar word—I was still the newbie, wasn’t I? But it wasn’t true anymore, I realized—I had three summers under my belt, and was gunning for a fourth. Oh. I decided to show him the small part of the high ropes course I was familiar with, and we marveled at the height of the elements and the idea that someone, somewhere, had enough money to build giant wooden climbing things in honor some some kid’s thirteenth birthday. We emerged from the trees in a glow of phone flashlights, moonlight, and tension.
"Let’s go make bad decisions," he said, and I felt my face burn. It was a joke, on the one hand; on the other, it was a reminder that he knew both the men I’d been sleeping with had left.
"The fun kind?" I asked.
We ended up in the back of his car, and for a second I braced myself to be uncomfortable and to regret every moment as soon as I was back in my own bed. And then I stopped, and looked at his shadowed face. I know his son, I thought. I know one of his other partners. I know the ways he loves this place. He is not going to hurt me. Then his hands were on me and his voice was growling in my ear and I was glad I’d made the decision before I lost all willpower.
He called my mouth exquisite. His orgasm was unrestrained and gorgeous.
When we stood outside the fogged windows of his car with cigarettes in hand, I couldn’t help but grin, and wonder if he knows how beautiful he is.
I once traced the freckles on your arms at two in the morning. I said,
You are the sky, and apologized
for covering you in black lines. You said
not be sorry. You said
that you liked it.
When you fell on your longboard and lost
half the skin on your left arm,
I could still see the constellations underneath.
Every time I said fuck you for three months, you said
We already played that game, and you
The night you left you never said goodbye,
only looked up at me from that rock in the parking lot
where we’d spent so much time avoiding work
and other people,
and said, oh, fuck you,
and I think maybe that meant I made you feel something
other than the emptiness you try to fill.
So I said that we already played that game
and you hugged me
and as I walked away, you shouted out,
rematch, next year! and all I could think was, oh,
The main Ramapo summer ended today. Most counselors and campers are gone. The Girl with the Waterfall Laugh and the King of Bad Decisions are leaving tomorrow; the Man with the Ember Heart leaves Sunday morning.
I have nine more days here.
The King of Bad Decisions is currently sleeping off a particularly bad decision on a couch, and Ember is out with friends. Waterfall is sleeping. I am, for a brief moment, alone with my thoughts and the very real idea that the Lifeboat will never be all in one place ever again.
I have never learned so much from one place. I have never bonded so hard and so quickly with so many people as I have at Ramapo.
I really hope I can supervise next year, so I can spend the summer giving back to a place that has taught me so much, and inspiring a new set of staff to love their kids and themselves, and expand their minds the way The Godfather taught me.
I am so tired. But I am so alive.
There are moments that his face lights up and you think again, as you always do when confronted with his smile, of bright golden sunlight; of midsummer breeze; of a perfect moment cast in glass, a cottonwood puff caught in resin.
We were thirteen and stupid and skipping class and I fell in love with you every single day. We were fourteen and your arms were cut up and you were drunk and surfing couches. We were sixteen and your hair was pink and I already knew I had lost you. Eighteen and we pretended it was okay that I got out and you hadn’t yet, like we both knew you were the one who was supposed to be growing up and out but we decided not to talk about it.
We are twenty and the numbers don’t add up anymore.
I refuse to believe in reincarnation but I refuse to rule it out because if there is a life out there in the multiverse where we grew up and old together I want to accept it the way I’ve accepted that it’s easier to think of you like a ghost than to come to terms with the fact that I may never see you again.
I wonder if somewhere, we got out together, and we were both happy at once.
I wore your serenity prayer around my neck until the string broke. I gave it to my brother and then took it back when he didn’t pick it up again. Sometimes he reminds me so much of you, I wonder if you and I actually related. Other times the person I see most in my memories of you is myself. There are times when I wonder how real you actually are, and if maybe you only existed when I needed someone to reflect off of.
Even broken mirrors are better than nothing.
I think of you when I’m happy. I think of you when I’m drunk. I think of you most when I reflect on the gulf of years growing ever larger between me and you and that spring we spent telling the world to fuck itself with all the venom thirteen-year-old hearts can muster. Every time I think I’m done thinking of you, there you are, freckles and switchblade nose and crappy guitar playing in your basement.
I wonder if I’m half a ghost in your heart, too.
Your number is in my phone but I won’t call you because you won’t pick up. It’s four in the morning and I’m shouting into the void just like every time I’ve ever missed you.
It’s four in the morning and I’m thinking that maybe there are some people in this world you’re made to love and others you are made to miss.
Happy twenty-first, big brother.
You are elbow-deep in deja vu and just writing that down drags you under some more. Black type like small cracks in cement aligns in blocks as if prophesied to be this way half a dozen times before and you’re wondering if you’re writing this all down or just scrubbing away the blank space to find the words where they always were.
You see time like a glowstick, all lit up at once, filled with bubbles and phosphorescence, and you are in three apartments, a townhouse bedroom, and a picnic table all at once. There are voices around you but you can’t place them, and you are about to get up to do something important but you can’t remember what it is. You turn to the person next to you to ask them but their face is angled away and all you can do is think of the outline of their profile in the artificial light.