Floating, Drifting, Swimming
An old story about addiction, recovery, and an old friend
“He always listened to you,” your mother says to me and I don’t have the heart to tell her that wasn’t so. She doesn’t know about the time we were 25 and you jumped off the moving train and I picked gravel out of your back for hours or the time we were 30 and you got caught in the rip current and I knelt praying by the sputtering campfire as you disappeared into the waves.
So I pack a sandwich and a change of clothes and drive across two states and through three thunderstorms to your grandmother’s house where she is standing in the dust of the driveway motioning me to the backyard.
You are floating on a log raft down in the pond. I’ve seen that raft before one winter when I found you here — was it 2007? 2008? The raft was against the shed wall and you were crouched under it crying, cobwebs in your hair, crushed cans by your bare feet, a daddy longlegs on your thigh. That’s when you told me your brother made it, felled the trees and lashed the logs together, Boy Scout knots, two summers before he died.
Now you are lying face down on it with your forehead nearly touching the water as if you are seeing right through your own reflection, through the red water, through the roots and algae, down to the bottom of the pond where the mud is thick and light does not reach.
I know you would not look up if I call out to you, so instead I inch quietly down the hill to the pond, sliding on grass still slick from the afternoon rain. At the water’s edge I watch you for a moment, your shirt off and your long lean body limp over the logs, one arm trailing down into the dark water so that your hand has disappeared. I wonder if this would be what you would look like dead.
I get in the old metal rowboat with water sloshing in its belly and row out to you, sliding up only feet from you before you lift your head. “Hey.”
“I drove four hours to get here,” I say before I remember this is not about me. It wasn’t meant as a complaint, but an offering; hoping that the hours and gas and convenience store snacks rotting in my belly are arithmetic to tell you that you are loved.