Riverswimmer

In the winter of my senior year, I would drive around for about an hour everyday after school. In the fall I had Cross Country, and so I thought I’d replace it with Chess club, and I did go for like a week, but everybody there was either a try-hard or they barely knew how to play. So I stopped going pretty quick, and instead I started driving around town until around 4:30, when I’d head home before Mom and Dad got back from work. You know, that sounds more boring than it is: one day I got all the way up to Hamilton. And there were times I’d go and visit places too, like the natural food store on Smoketown. I liked the way it smelled in there. They had a whole wall of fresh coffee beans in glass containers and it always smelled familiar (if that makes sense). They always thought I was a shop-lifter though, saying stuff like “Can I help you with anything?” and watching me walk around. People get really stressed out if you walk into a store and don’t buy anything. So I didn’t go in there too often.

Anyways, it was during one of those drives that I ran into your old friends again. It was this really rainy day in April, and I saw them all, Lacy, Grace, Krissy, and Zeb, running down the sidewalk on Market without umbrellas. Lacy started waving and yelling for me to stop. There was a car behind me, but I can’t resist when people are all loud like that, so I did. Grace, Krissy, and Zeb opened the back-door on my side and started climbing in, and Lacy ran around the side and got shotgun as usual. They were drenched, and dripping water everywhere on the floor. I know you hated it when people got the seats all wet, but there was nothing I could do. They were crazy. Lacy was yelling “SPRING BREAK” when she climbed in and the rest of them were cracking up. I asked them where they wanted me to drop them off, but they weren’t listening. Zeb was drying his hair in the back by shaking his head and he was splashing Grace and Krissy, who were shouting and cackling about it. And Lacy was doing that thing where you act so excited about seeing someone that it sounds like you’re babying them. “Noah, it’s been so long! How are you?? Have you heard back from colleges yet???” 

I said that I wasn’t sure, and they all thought that was a really funny answer. Zeb asked for aux and started playing Rex Orange County. I didn’t stop him. I asked them again where they wanted me to drop them off, but they didn’t care much, so I just turned when I felt like it. As we drove, they talked and laughed about all kinds of silly things, and I listened silently. Krissy had met some crazy people at college and was telling us about an old friend that had anger issues. Lacy was totally turned around in her seat to face the back, and she and Zeb were laughing along to Krissy’s story.  Grace pretended to be listening, but I could tell she wasn’t. I could see her in the rearview mirror, and she looked a little sad. But then she looked up and we made eye contact, so I stopped staring. 

We were taking the winding road that leads from downtown to the riverfront, and we were just getting close to the river when Krissy ran out of things to say. Lacy saw the vast expanse of the river, risen high and mighty by the rainfall, and it fascinated her; she put her hand on my shoulder and told me I had to stop the car. I parked on the side of the road and she got out. Krissy and Zeb followed her, running down the grass to the bank of the water. They were getting soaked again, just after drying off and soaking the seat cushions of your car.

Me and Grace hung back and stayed in the car for a minute. She leaned forward to talk to me, but didn’t say anything. I didn’t like the silence, so I asked her how her semester was. She said that it was fine, but that nothing really interesting happened to her like it had for Krissy. I said that was okay. There was a pause, and then she said “I’m here if you ever want to talk.” I said I was alright. “Are you sure?” I said yeah. I looked out through the side window and saw Lacy, Zeb, and Krissy taking off their shoes and socks. Grace looked out too and laughed: “They’re so stupid sometimes.” I told her that she should go out there, and she said she’d only go out if I did too, so we opened the car doors and walked out into the torrent.

I had an umbrella in the trunk, but I didn’t bother fetching it. Me and Grace were already as soaked as the other three; we looked at each other and laughed. Lacy called out to us, cupping her hands: “SPRING BREAK!!!!” Grace yelled back “SPRING BREAK!” and everybody laughed. Lacy explained to us that we absolutely had to swim in the river right now because of the “spirit of spring break,” and Grace said it was stupid but agreed. She leaned down to untie her sneakers, while I stood in place awkwardly. Lacy and Zeb tried to convince me to take off my shoes but I said I didn’t want to. They didn’t push it on me or anything; I watched from dry(ish) land as they wildly ran into the water. 

They laughed like maniacs as they swam in their sopping-wet clothes and splashed each other. I sat on the grass watching the crazy beauty of it all, until my legs got too cold and I walked back to the car. I opened the trunk and found an old white towel in the back, then I laid it out on the driver’s seat and sat down. From in the car, I couldn’t hear your friends anymore: I could only hear the sound of cars driving by and of pouring rain on the windshield. I turned on the car to listen to music, but my phone was dead, so I just listened to the Elliot Smith CD. It’s been in the car for years at this point. I remembered when you found it in dad’s old box of CDs from the 90s and how you got so excited to put it in your car. Then I thought about Zeb, and how he would always insist on using aux, so we’d only get to listen to the CD for the first couple minutes of the ride to school. I thought about how your friends never liked your music and how they still don’t. They’re not like us: they swim in rivers and never drown. They’ve never stared at the ceiling for hours, caught in the depths of their own uselessness. They laugh when things are funny and don’t worry too much when they aren’t. I thought about how they would get home fine even if I drove away, how they would cherish the memory of walking home together as some cinematic, youthful moment. And then I saw that it was almost 4:30, so I switched the car into drive and left.

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