Passing Robitussin, my girlfriend guides the Bronco across the beach with her knee driving the wheel. Driving through night. Through black. She passes it to me. I take it, take some, pass it back. She takes it from me, takes a drag from her cigarette. Sweat against her face, hand against the wheel, small hairs, sweat, wet, out the rolled window to a rolling tide rolling across a sandbar I cannot see in the darkness. But I know this sandbar is there. Out under a foot of ocean. Under the darkness. Out there is what I know.
Where we are right now, right this instance, I know. But I’m not here, I’m thinking a lot of things not here, not on this night drive.
I’m thinking thoughts only I know, and only I will ever know unless I say them.
So let me say them.
When I pass my girlfriend the bottle I’m thinking back to before she was my girlfriend. Before I knew her how I know her now. I think back to when I was in high school. When I first had a license. I’m thinking back to when I and some older guys I was friends with in high school would drive out to Hosier Road and play in the dark. Play chicken with the lights. The kind of playing you do when you’ve got no one else and nowhere else. The kind of playing you do on old roads with old lights that don’t work anymore. You take a car, preferably something fast and preferably something you aren’t afraid to crash. Preferably you aren’t afraid. But that’s the game. That’s how you play. You get in your car. Sometimes someone is in the passenger with a little timer on their phone. Sometimes it’s a guy up the road smoking and drinking whose got his phone out listening for the engine, waiting to see the lights turn. Sometimes this is how it goes. When I set the record, I drove a 2015 Ford Mustang. New at the time. My buddies. He owed me. I took it up with a ride in his car. I got in. The lights were already off. He came over, said, “Ready?” and I said, “Ready.”
I hit fourteen seconds. Fourteen at ninety. It wasn’t because I had some gift. Some innate lack of fear. Some death wish. I just couldn’t find the light switch. I spent thirteen of fourteen seconds, sweating, cursing, looking for a fucking switch. When I found it, I slowed, stopped. My friends at the time all thought this was very cool. That I was someone to beat. I never got back in again, and I never said that to anyone. I never said that I couldn’t find the light switch. I didn’t say anything.
And I haven’t said anything since.
Since, I’ve just been sitting here, rolling, looking out into the glow of headlights over sand tracks until my eyes close and I let myself into the roar of rolling waves. Into the grind of the serpentine belt going round inside the engine, the glow of the beams over sand tracks. I just lean back into the leather, my hand through my hair, through sweat.
I feel her hand take mine and squeeze it, her other working the wheel. She’s taken her shirt off and the sweat across her chest glows in moonlight. She squeezes my hand, says, “It’s okay.” We have been here before. Both of us. “Wherever you go, know I’m here. Know you’re not alone,” she says.
Where we were.
Our first time, it was the first for both of us. It happened here. At the beach. In my beach house. We’d been talking about it for a little while, for long enough that there wasn’t much left to talk about. It was either going to happen or it wasn’t. Down here it did. I remember the three-hour drive down. A lot of her music. A lot of Rae Sremmurd. A lot of not talking about it. A lot of thinking about it.
I remember having jerked off three times the day we drove down. I remember thinking this would be the secret to pretending to know something I didn’t. The secret to not cumming in two seconds. I remember thinking this. I remember fucking and not cumming for an hour and thinking, I’m an idiot. No one cumming. Not her. Not me. Awful. An idiot. An hour. An hour that we look back on and laugh about.
It’s not like that anymore.
When we fuck now it’s not as special. Not as foundational. There is still fun, still something to laugh about, but it is different. Now, she will text me some position she wants to try, some new position she watched, and I’ll respond with haha, react with a heart, I’ll say of course, I’ll say fine, I don’t think it will turn out exactly how it looked, but sure, and sure we will, and sure it will not come out how it looks when professionals are at work, but we will laugh, and we will fuck, but it is not the same as that first time when you don’t know how good or bad it can get. You don’t know anything yet, you just know the years of dreams you’ve had about how it could go. How you really want it to go.
What I want to say is this. Once you know what you want there’s not much fun in finding out what you don’t.
In Italy, I didn’t know how an open relationship worked. Could work. I didn’t know how being with an escort went. I didn’t know a lot of things over there. I barely knew the language. The language of the transaction. I didn’t understand all that it came with.
I jerked off three times before I met him in Rome. Three hundred euros. Hour and a half. I came in with this fur coat on. This fur coat I’d bought for a hundred out of a vintage shop. I wore Versace earrings, and Versace necklaces, and Versace jewelry. I wore a lot of things to be someone else. I wore clothes to be the kind of person I thought he usually had. I wore a lot of things I still wear.
He took off my coat when I went in. I paid before. That’s just how it went. He talked to me for a while, Slavic accent, glass of wine, hotel room. He asked me what I did over email before this. I said, screenwriter. He talked to me about screenwriting, and I talked to him about what I thought a screenwriter would say about screenwriting. Studio interference, writer’s block, drinking, pregnant girlfriend, all very tedious. This is what I said. This is how all of it went. I was paying him to nod. I did this because I thought this is how someone who knows, who actually knows what they’re pretending to know, would do.
I know when I lived in Tuscania. The city, not the region. When I lived there, I went to San Marco, this bar I got a lot of discounts at because I went every day. And at night, with some friends and my host brother, we drank and smoked hash, and I sat drunk talking in Italian, and this woman at the table next to me put a hand on my shoulder, and said, “American?” in English.
“What gave it away? The Italian or the drinking?” I said.
She spoke English because she worked as an English teacher in the area and said she wanted to practice her English with someone who spoke English. I couldn’t complain. She was hot. She wanted to speak English. A language I could speak.
We went to her apartment. Had a bottle of wine. She had an apartment with a balcony, and after we would fuck, I remember going out on this balcony to smoke. I remember one in particular. One where I was out there in the early morning thinking I don’t really think I can do this open relationship with my girlfriend. I remember thinking about the guy my girlfriend was fucking back home. This guy who played D1 baseball at ODU and whose English essays I wrote on train rides. This guy who she said didn’t matter. I remember thinking, I don’t know if I’m this open. She’d send me videos of herself masturbating while saying our names. She kept telling me about how hot he was and asking me who I was seeing. She liked to remind me that everything wasn’t serious. Not any of it. It’s just sex. And what was I to say? Maybe I should have just called her and said, Hey, I’m so happy for you, I think that’s so hot, I’m currently fucking a thirty-five-year-old English teacher and spending an extra hundred on escorts so they don’t wear a dental dam. It’s everything I thought it was.
And as I stood on her balcony thinking this I remember looking back inside at her empty bed and dreaming vignetted pipe dreams about never leaving this woman. I imagined us smoking spliffs and driving around in golf carts on a small villa. I remember imagining her doing all of what I dreamed me and my girlfriend would. I remember too a singular image of how this woman ate cereal and coffee out of a coffee mug with a spoon every morning. I remember believing small specific memories were indications of love.
I remember too when it snowed for the first time in a long time in Tuscania. I was at the English teacher’s apartment. We watched snow fall through open windows. Through the balcony. She passed me a joint, and it roached, and I asked if she wanted the rest, and she shook her head and said, “Yours.” And I did. And the snow came down white outside, blowing across the windows. The streets. She took a drink from her glass, told me she had something to tell me.
“I’m leaving for Argentina tomorrow,” she said.
“For how long?” I said.
“You won’t be here when I get back.”
“Family,” I said.
“I’m sorry it’s got to go like this,” she said.
“It’s all right. Really, it’s cool.”
I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t know if I should say I think I’m into you, I really like you, I don’t know what I want, but I think I want you right now, even though I’ve known you for maybe two weeks. I didn’t know if this was a wise thing to say, so I didn’t say this. I just put my hand along her face and kissed her, and fucked her like I hope she knew was the kind of fucking one does when it’s the last time, and when I left for the last time, I let the snow fall on my hair, and I pretended it was ash.
White volcanic soot.
Burning sweat, my girlfriend holds my hand in against her thighs as we drive down the beach. Mile marker twelve. She says I feel hot. Hot. Burning. She says this and lights a cigarette from mine. I say to her it’s kicking in. I can feel it driving to my brain. Spiraling up. She says she doesn’t really feel it yet, and I say I am, so it doesn’t really matter what she’s feeling. I take her phone and put on Black Sabbath. I see the lights of the homes behind, the dunes blur and trace, and I see the reflectors on the pylons at the end of the beach glow and oscillate, and out at sea, as we drive, is a troller with blinking blue and red lights, communicating with me through color. And when she parks next to the pylon and gets out, I take my clothes off and start to work on the bonfire we like to light late at night when there aren’t cops or any people to tell us to put it out.
She waxes her board as I watch flames dance around her, embalming her in flame. She looks at me. Smiles. There is a certain understanding that we are both on the same plain, and she laughs and wipes hair from her face. I get up and go to the Bronco and play “Heaven & Hell” again. On repeat. I play my trip song, which has become her trip song, or at least she says it has, and we like seeing our bodies, and seeing each other naked, and seeing each other’s muscles flex across flame as the solo screams. The one at 3:09. This one. We listen to it until we don’t need to listen to it to hear it. Until we hear it reverberating through our minds, and through our brains, and through our hearts, and through our planets, we take our boards and paddle out into the darkness and into the lineup.
Out where the Bronco’s halogens ricochet off ocean and night, and I sit there on my board too high for it all. Too fucked up for it all. I look around. Down the distant row of blacked-out houses. Blacked out. Invisible.
I turn and listen to the crash of the waves, the jostling up and down of the board under me. I hear her barreling down waves, carving past, and in the distance, cutting back through the surf and paddling back out again.
She likes to ride, and I like to be high. I like to sit, and turn out to the sea, and watch the full moon face down over high tide, blasting spume into my eyes as I watch Iommi’s mangled fingers strum the solo across the black horizon. And still, I like to sit there and take it in. And when it is all in me and she is finished for the night, she will paddle up to me, and take my hand, and sit her board next to me, and we will sit in the waves and not say a word because she knows what I know, and I know what she knows, and together we know we will end.
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