by Sam Carpenter
There is a place in the world. And that place disappears and appears as it is necessary for it to be there. Most thoughts, memories, and recollections aren’t strong enough to give a physical location; for most thoughts, the wind is enough, but for some they need a place to live, and do their thing, when the thinkers of those thoughts aren’t in their own lives enough.
And in the unlikely situation that two individuals who doubt their own existence to the extent that they hardly live at all, something else, somewhere else will live in the world for them because the life handed to them is constant, whether they like or not.
This is one of those unlikely situations. Here Charley is 28 and Charlie is 27. Charlie is very anxious and thinks from one thing to another very quickly, and wrings his body dry of its innate ability to work itself up into hysteria. Charley tries very hard to be quiet and still in order to see things and hear things, and when she can’t hear or see things she gets very worried and starts to feel like she isn’t real. In their own ways Charlie and Charley are both very bent on suppressing themselves; they see their self as a dangerous thing… The consequence of these two temperaments is that Charley has gone to a cabin in upstate New York lent to her by her friend’s parents. She thinks that by going here she will isolate sounds and things from one another so that she will be able to distinguish them more clearly from one another. Charlie, on the other hand, lives in the city, a graduate student, and keeps himself busier than he needs to so that he is always a victim to something, and thus keeps himself from himself.
But, sometimes the both of them in trying to get away from themselves either through busyness or through stillness can’t help thinking about themselves. But in their shared dislike of having to face their selves, by thinking about themselves or thinking to themselves, they have found it useful to divert their thoughts to one another, harmlessly, quietly, secretly, but not ineffectually.
It is October…
Charlie on the subway home from work:
Don’t know why you came across my mind today, but I remember I used to fantasize about you giving me head when I was a teenager. You had the same name as me, and all I could do was dream about you giving me fellatio, like crazy, out-of-the-movies, hands-on-my-head, clutching-my-hair fellatio. And in my fantasies I was calling your name! My name!
I don’t know if we ever even hugged in real life.
There was that one day. That one day…
I was friends with your best friend, and she asked me if I wanted to go to the beach with her. That was like 10 years ago.
And the whole memory is gone now besides you. I know I was picked up by you (you were driving) and Lisa, and one other girl, but I can’t remember who that other girl is. You were driving a truck. A gray truck, a stick shift. And to be honest I can only really picture Lisa in the memory ‘cause I know she was there; otherwise all the images that memory has saved are just you, in beach light. You were wearing a blue bikini. I thought you were so hip, everything you owned was yours, completely yours somehow, you know, like all the clothes of yours weren’t brands or anything but just your clothes. But I remember you were wearing an American Eagle bikini. And it made me see you as real. You know like everything else was goddessly untouchable, but that, the fact that you bought your bikini at American Eagle, just any other girl who wanted to look cute… It looked incredible on you. I remember the way your hair looked, and I don’t know if I am making this up, my memories, mixing together with other ones, but I remember a brown birthmark, a circle, a little one, cute, to the right of your belly button.
That seems so small, it really does. But consider this. I remember nothing else, from that specific time. As if, if my memory was the only thing that actually happened, or like if time moved backwards, and the written future of events was my memories of my past ones, then in this time, the new, now reversed version of time, would only be me looking at you and that’s it, and only thinking about you. Because nothing else is there. Nature isn’t there; I vaguely remember how cold the water was, and that was it – no sunshine, even though it was sunny. But certainly none of your friends would be there, and I wasn’t really there either in my memory, maybe a little bit, but only a little bit.
And that’s why individuals don’t write history. Ha! Because we are so selective and incomplete on our own. Imagine that! A reversed history, where your memories, yes yours! were not impressions of a past but blueprints for a future. Everything would be spotted and falling apart…ugly, maybe, or maybe the world would be purer, no not that, simpler…
I remember on the way home. The only memory I have of the drive home, was that you pulled over to pick up hitchhikers. I never would have done that. I thought you were so adventurous. I was trying to play it cool so you’d think I was cool. The whole time I was looking at you. In this hypothetical reverse time, there’d be Bob Marley, ‘cause I remember that was playing on the radio.
We danced once, at an end of the year dance in my junior year of high school.
I guess that mean that I could have loved you, or that I did love you.
I wonder where you are now.
I wonder if you’ve ever wondered where I am, or how I am.
You were quiet; I don’t remember us ever talking.
I won’t be thinking of you tomorrow morning, nor will you probably be thinking of me. But maybe sometime you thought of me, and recalled some memory that I don’t have.
Like I am thinking of you now.
Maybe we exist there together in the overlap of our memories.
In my idea of the reverse time, where our memories aren’t memories but things yet to happen, you would have been the love of my life.
When time is negotiable, but plods on anyway like it isn’t negotiable, does that kind of thing only exist in the imaginary?
Or maybe in this universe, just,
Charley on the porch by the lake in the early afternoon, lying in the sun, drying off after a swim:
I wonder when it is that I will look at my body and no longer feel like it’s in its prime. Like when it’s decaying.
Maybe someday I’ll get a disease.
Maybe you will too.
Diseases seem to me things that we already know now that we are going to get.
Recently I’ve been swimming in a lake, without any clothes, ‘cause nobody is around where I live now. I kind of wish there were people around. Maybe there are.
I don’t care if they see me naked. Maybe if I were younger I would care.
When I get out of the water, I plop down on the warm wood of the dock, and sometimes I lay back, full spread, but most of the time I prop myself up on my elbows and stare down at my feet, and I can see that they are shaking a little bit, maybe trying to get the cold out of them. At that time of day the sun is in front of me and when it shines down on the lake it makes the little laps of water, the almost waves, twinkle—but with the whole lake twinkling like that it kind of blinds me as I look down at my feet, persistently altering my vision from a different angle, as if the still the stillness of the sun and the movement of the water aren’t supposed to be looked at clearly. With my vision blurred by all the twinkles my feet seem kind of see through, transparent almost, like they are disappearing right in front of me, their edges fading, and little twinkles of light replace their occupied space. You know, of course I know it’s just the light playing tricks on the water and my eyes, but sometimes I get so freaked out that my feet are actually disappearing there, that I just get up and go inside….
There are thunderstorms here.
I get scared of them. There is never a time that they don’t scare. I’ve actually come to depend on them scaring me. Sometimes I let the claps of thunder conduct me and my emotions, and let them guide me to tears.
But I’m not sad.
I just feel hollowed out. I thought that maybe if I were deprived of everything else around me, whatever was left would be like true self or something. But all that’s happened so far is that I get scared of the thunderstorms and the way the sunshine makes it so my feet look like they are disappearing.
I do the same things every day. I read. I swim. I sleep. I wake. And sometimes the thunderstorms come.
Sometimes when it’s raining heavily like that, in a storm you know, I like to picture these mystical creatures that I never see, running around in the forest, like glowing deer and stuff, and flaming birds, or even things quieter, subtler than those things. Like, I like to imagine that the temperature is a being in and of itself, and it is kept calm by how calm everything is around it, and when an electric storm comes and stirs things up, the temperature can’t help itself but to move around, so that certain parts of the ground are hot and others are cold.
There’s that U2 song. My mom used to listen to it. The first words are something like
The sea it swells like a sore head
And the night it is aching
Two lovers lie
With no sheets on their bed
And the day it is breaking
I love that song.
Charlie something sad happened the other day.
Do you remember when we were at the beach together, when I drove us? Do you remember, and you found a sand dollar and I didn’t know what a sand dollar was. I guess I still don’t. But I guess you’d found them before, but I thought it was so beautiful, and you handed it to me, and you just kept walking along the shore, picking things up. I remember the way that your back still looked like you were a boy, but you were becoming a teenager in your face.
I kept that sand dollar Charlie.
And I was moving things around the other day on my desk, and I dropped it on the floor by accident, and I was at first terrified that I broke it. The sand dollar. I was so relieved when I looked down to see that only a little bit of the edge had broken off. But when I reached down to pick it up, sand started pouring out of the chipped off end!
Does everybody know this?
I guess it makes sense, I mean that sand is in a sand dollar, but I guess I just thought…well I don’t know what I thought. But it’s been on my desk, for over a decade. It has just been something I’ve kept over the years, and sometimes it makes me think of us there, walking on the beach, as strangers, still strangers now, but you are more familiar to me than so many other people in my life just through revisiting this memory over and over, just by looking across my desk and seeing that sand dollar propped up there.
I wonder sometimes, if you have any memories of me, like I do of you.
Well the sand all poured out, and it nearly looks the same. I’ve propped it up again, in the same spot. But every time I look at it now, it feels like I am looking at something corrupted or gross, or fake, or not real, just something that once had something but now doesn’t.
But it doesn’t make any sense to me! How I wince a little when I look at the chipped sand dollar now, because for 10 years I never even knew that sand dollars had sand in them, and yet I liked its outer shell all the same. And basically the outer shell is completely preserved, except for just a tiny little chip out of the edge, but now that I know that for those 10 years it had sand, a little pocket of its own unique sand in it, holding it in there, protecting it from the world…I don’t know Charlie…I just don’t look at it the same any more. I keep my windows open, so the breeze always comes through. I like that. But as soon as the sand came out I didn’t even have a chance to collect it up, or look at it, or even touch it, because it all blew away in one little gust, in what seemed like a million different directions…I don’t know Charlie…
…I guess I’m thinking of you now, because I’ve been thinking about throwing out the shell, or at least just putting it out in the woods somewhere. But I guess for me, that feels like I would be getting rid of the one thing that, in the now, truly testifies to that memory I have with you, and it’s not that its real romantic or anything, but it is one thing I have and have had through much of my life. It feels like something that lets me know I exist. ‘Cause often I wonder about that Charlie, about how much I exist, you know, and there are times that I don’t think I exist at all, that my brain just carries a certain amount of RAM storage or whatever its biological equivalent is, and that that spaces just gets filled up with a certain amount of memories, because those are the compatible files with the storage space.
This must sound like nonsense Charlie. But my memories feel weak Charlie, and for some reason, for some random reason, looking at that sand dollar takes me to one memory that isn’t weak, but strong and fortified.
But now that it’s all emptied out, I guess I have just been wondering if it’s time to let its shell go, to let that memory die, to let you and your little boy back just die.
Ha. I never thought I’d tell anyone this. Well I guess I’m not really telling anyone this, but I guess I never thought I’d even really tell myself this.
But you know that day we went to the beach? We got back, after the hour drive home or whatever, and I don’t know if you remember this, but I ended up dropping everybody off, and we all said our goodbyes, you know. I got home last, and nobody was home. My mom and brother had gone up to Oregon for the weekend, and I was so tired, but it wasn’t even that late – it was maybe 6 o clock or something – and I was so tired from driving all day, that I got into bed and fell right asleep. And on the car ride home I dropped you off first. After you got out, it was just me and Lisa and Maddie, and they immediately started in, like birds, on their perfected high-school-girl boy chatter, and were saying “Charlie did you see the way that he was looking at you all day?” “He is crushing on you Charlie!” “How weird is it that you both have the same name?” “Are you into him Charlie?” “I remember I asked him a question and he didn’t even hear me, because he was just watching you change the CD, it was like he was hypnotized or something!”
And I told them something like “Charlie? No way, he’s too young, and yeah it would be way too weird that he has the same name as me.”
Anyway when I got home, I fell asleep with the biggest smile on my face. I didn’t lie to them, you know; I’d known we were never going to date or anything, be boyfriend and girlfriend or anything, but what I could remember from that day was so little, everything seemed to have disappeared, or I could see it disappear before my eyes with each passing second. The words of Maddie and Lisa, I couldn’t even remember them, ha, I couldn’t even remember by that night which one of them was sitting next to me on the way to the beach. All I knew for sure was that you were in the backseat. I remember that we were stuck in traffic halfway there, and you opened the back window and asked if you could crawl out into the bed of the truck, and that I kept looking at the rearview, keeping my eyes on the road, only turning around once or twice, and seeing your thighs in the window, ‘cause you were standing up. I pictured you with your eyes closed. The wind hitting you in the face. We were moving pretty slow, and we were all laughing. I thought that you did it to impress me. You did. Impress me.
But that word, I think we take it to mean like some sort of boasting, or showing off or something to woo someone… You didn’t impress me like that.
You impressed me.
An impression upon me.
My form had changed, in that little day, because of you, because all the things I could remember of that day just somehow or another had to do with you… And everything else just blew away in my memory.
Anyway I woke up at like 9. And you know that feeling when you take a long nap that late, and you’re super awake, but it’s late like that, and you’re kind of bummed out because you know you won’t be able to sleep, but you’re also kind of excited…well that’s how I was. And I don’t think I had this like cutesy dutesy crush on you or something, but I just noticed exactly what I am describing to you now, the way that things happen, and most of them leave no impression at all, but somehow you had left these little impressions all over my mind from that day.
It started to rain. Peacefully. I remember I could hear it on my roof.
I got sad because I’d felt for the first time, the limits of the things I could perceive and remember – that certain things happening right now, now being then, I just wouldn’t recall; that no matter what I did, time would move on and leave certain details, emotions, images, things, and people, and names, and sicknesses, and comforts, and materials, behind. Time would do away with most of them. And my mind absorbent and as limitless as I believe it to be could only pick up so much. Somehow I convinced myself that I wanted to remember the things that I so firmly remembered about you that day – you standing up in the truck, you laying down your towel next to mine, the way you flipped your head up in a rehearsed manner out of the water, the way you got nervous when I picked up those hitchhikers, and your back, warm I could tell, by the sun, and the way you looked at me – and in order to remember those things I had to do something now, in the physical world, with those abstract things. It doesn’t make as much sense to me now, but I felt like I would make the impressions that you made on me that day in my mind even deeper by tying them back to the physical…
As I was waking, the rain going pat pat pat on the windows, it was kind of blue outside because it wasn’t fully dark yet. I reached under the covers in between my legs, and lifted the band of my underwear, and I could feel my skin, slightly tender there from the sun and sand that day, the way you feel after being at the beach, and I reached further down, and I made myself come, looking out the window, but thinking about those little memories, those foot sized impressions you’d made that day upon my teenage being, those little pat pat pats of your quiet feet on my mind. It hardly felt sexual to be honest. It just felt like I had to tie my body somehow to the memories to make them more real. To take the pat pat pat of the rain outside now and tie them together with the pat pat pat of your feet on the sand… My hand didn’t really feel like my hand rubbing myself, but more like an instrument, spinning, weaving, mixing things together, at the center of myself, tying a knot in the space of my groin, making two thoughts into one with this knot, this knot that I believed wouldn’t come untied, ever. I guess some part of me believed that if I could tie those two pieces of my life, then there would be something that held them together that wasn’t just the straight rope of time…
I’m confusing myself now thinking about it. I don’t really know what I thought but I know it felt so peaceful, as I lay there on my side, under the covers, and watched the last blues of the day turn to black. It felt like I’d done something right…
I guess you could say that technically, yes, I masturbated to you.
I never really told anybody that, even myself. I guess that’s one of those things that kind of go unsaid. Nobody asks what other people get off to when they’re on the own…
I was still wearing the blue and white flannel that I’d worn that day, and as I rolled over I felt something hard press on my breast. I’d forgotten that’s where I put that sand dollar you handed me as we were walking on the shore. The thing though is that in the weird headspace I was in at the time, when I pulled it out of my shirt pocket I didn’t think “oh yeah” or “that’s where I left that”, instead I looked at it like it wouldn’t have been there in my pocket if I hadn’t done what I just did. It felt like God or the poetry of the universe or whatever handing me a piece of material to say that I’d done something right, like if I had watered a plant, and it had grown or something. The sand dollar just seemed to say to me “yes this day happened, and you know it did, and here I am to remind you if you ever forget that you tied a knot together, and that this day will forever exist somewhere”.
I took it out and put it on my bed stand. I remember walking out to the kitchen and looking at the window, content as all get-out, watching it rain, and eating out of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
I don’t remember what flavor.
And I guess that’s the story of the sand dollar, about how I thought that was the universe telling me I had done something, one thing, that would last forever outside of time, and so I guess you can see why I was so upset when all the sand came out. Anyway that’s what made me think of you, and even though you don’t know about any of this, and we haven’t and probably never will, there’s a part of me that had to think to you the words “Sorry about the sand dollar Charlie”.
I haven’t decided if I am going to throw it out yet, but it’s definitely hard to look at it. It doesn’t comfort me like it used to.
I wonder if you’ve got anything like I do, you know, like your own kind of sand dollar. For some reason I don’t think you do, at least about that day…and I guess I think that’s why I feel sorry about it, because I was the keeper of that day and now all I’ve got is a little shell.
Anyway I haven’t thrown it out yet. And even with no sand in it, it still makes me think of us then, that one day, when you must have been 15 or 16 and I was 17. I look at it and know that that day happened, it really happened, because there, right there on my desk, is the shell of it, hollow or not.
Let me know if you happen across any misplaced sand,