It’s was eighty-five today and I can remember a time in my life this was almost cool weather. Take away air conditioning and the body gets so used to heat that it takes upper nineties to be really hot. When I was growing up in South Georgia it was never too hot. We kids ran around half naked and barefoot from the time school let out until it started again. From June to September we were rarely fully dressed, never fully shod, and we never once complained about the heat. Some families owned a fan. That was pretty damn good when you had the cash to own a fan and to run it, too.
We lived next door to the city pool and when the pool opened we were always the first in line. That first day in the pool was like the salmon returning to their home waters. We kids would line up to jump off the diving board and it always seemed an incredibly long time to wait even when it wasn’t crowded. I remember learning how to dive, head first, and that first dive of the season, to enter the water so cool, clear and seemingly blue, was always incredible.
Not once did it ever occur to me that this moment in time would be lost forever. The little girl crowding up behind me is gone from my life forever. The little kid in front of me is lost. We were like sardines when we were together in the water, long before anything sexual began, and we sat together, close together, our half naked bodies always in contact, and everyone smelled the same.
In kindergarten we would all put our mats on the floor and nap like dogs. One body next to another, touching and warming, would be so common no one ever thought anything of it, for what was there to think? Human contact was a commonality. Life was like that. You simply touched the person next to you and there was never a lot of fuss or commotion about it.
Then we grew up. It happened suddenly. Guys never came in contact with other guys unless it was sports or violence. We never touched girls again except to seduce them. Okay, that’s really exaggerated but in the end, touching nearly ended. When we stood in line there were more clothes and less incidental contact. We stopped sleeping on the floor together as a class. I bet that would be a great thing to do again, really.
I can remember a good half dozen of us that were always together and another six or seven that were always close by. It’s been decades since I saw any of them at all. I lost a friend of forty-five years in 2013 and I wonder when was the last time he and I sat down and talked about the things we first talked about when we were kids. Our last conversation was of cancer and dying and how he wasn’t going to stop fighting and maybe he didn’t. But he is still just as dead.
There was a time when what you found in a box of Cracker Jacks was important. It was like the local news when the other kids found out. You had to show it off, talk it up, and if it was something we had never seen before, there might even be a trade. I got a fake tattoo of a dragon and I remember one of the older boys helped me put it on my arm. I was dangerous. I was special. I could feel the power radiating from my body and it’s amazing I didn’t burst into flames.
No one cared if they were sprayed with a hose or got dirty or was hit in the head with something that was thrown. We bled each day. We jumped out of trees, landed on nails, fell on top of broken boards and we let the dogs lick our wounds. There was no time for being doctored on any other way and to go to the parents with an injury was to risk being blamed for it. No one ever died, no one was ever maimed, and there wasn’t a damn soul that ever lost an eye from a pointy stick.
The first pubic hair I ever saw in my life was from a nineteen year old girl who was hanging out of her swimsuit. A few stray hairs had escaped her attention but as she stood in line at the board I stared at her and something inside of me stirred. I was only ten or eleven but there was something about that part of her body that drew my attention like shade draws a dog. I got in line behind her the next time, and the time after that, and then my buddies began to notice that I was staring. We whispered and pushed one another and tried not to giggle. Suddenly everyone knew. It wasn’t long before she caught on and realized something was amiss. The lifeguard made us all sit on the side of the pool for fifteen minutes and we sat in silence; we were muted by the experience.
I didn’t realize that one day I would be eleven years older than a nineteen year old and I would talk her into drinking with me. Very nearly, almost, I told her the story of how a woman her age once enraptured me with a slip of a bathing suit and how the age nineteen meant something to me. But I wasn’t sure, there was another beer, maybe two, before there were signs that she had joined me in more than drinking, and the verbal intercourse we refer to as flirting got very serious at the wake of a twelve pack. The story seemed trite at the end of the night.
Later, the thought occurred to me that the woman from my past might have taken an older man as a lover. It occurred to me the woman next to me had shocked and shaken someone much younger. It occurred to me that we’re all lined up in front of the diving board, awaiting our turn to fly through the air before we land in the water, and then come up gasping for air, flailing, and wanting to do it all over again.