A picture of us

Dear Reader,

First, stop.

Stop and take a breath of crisp Maine morning.

Don’t just see it. See it.

Be with me and Erica for a moment. For the medicine. Our medicine.

This is a picture that nearly died on Instagram, where everything’s already half-dead on arrival and full-on comatose in a matter of days. Billions of memories. Vegetables. Rot. The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

But I’m going to save this one. Because there’s not a cloud in the sky and because I like the way we look - in a word, happy.

It lasts just second, maybe a few, the whole thing, the taking of it (the picture, I mean) and the looking at it. I can’t stop thinking about “take” these days. You can take something for yourself, again and again (and again) if you want. I recommend the fence. Really, it’s yours if you want it. Just look and think and be. Keep practicing. Look harder. Be deeper. You’ll see, I promise.

You’ll see us, me and Erica, and you’ll see our soul(s). If you take it slow enough, you’ll catch the little punctuation marks that change the meaning. “We” equals me and Erica, me and you, me and you and Erica, average people, an average fence.

Everything is average and nothing is average.

Stare at us and you’ll see. We’re staring at you. We’re staring at you staring back at us, in the sun, squinting the way that people squint, apparently, in the sun in Maine.

And then, whoa, there’s actually some other guy here too. The guy who took the picture.

At least I think it was a guy, a non-white guy, Indian maybe, and maybe with his family, a wife and one son, a young one, in a stroller, and when he grabbed the camera with a smile I said, “horizontal” and I lifted my hand to indicate: Turn it to the side, sir, we want the landscape.

The fence, in retrospect, is a bonus, a second horizon line. A thing that reminds me of my youth, of beauty, of truth, and of the way that everything is everything. Quiet and confident and solid.

I’ll give you the metaphors straight, on a silver platter: Chain-link. Ode on a Grecian Urn.

What we talk about when we talk about the fence is… nothing. Because we don’t talk about the fence, the jagged edges. A wall. Co-mingled with Earth, like all walls. All things.

This fence reminds me of the ones I went up and over as a kid. Before pain. Before loneliness. Before Erica. Before things stopped always making sense. I climbed short ones, tall ones, but always the same idea, getting from one side of a thing to another, the feel of my foot in the mesh, maybe even the feel of my bare foot in the mesh, my weight on the fence post. Yank. Lift. Yank. Lift. Jump.

This is what happens when I sit with a picture like this. And this (whatever this is) is me trying to share it with you. Share. What a word! What a promise! In a world where people share a ton and care very little, I’d rather share a little and care a lot.

By the way, a tennis ball, if you whack it hard enough, will stick in a fence like this. Almost every time.

95 million photos, per day, lost in the ‘gram. The feed. A thing that’s only vaguely a thing, more like a concept. You can’t feed yourself with the feed. You can’t brew a cup of coffee on the feed. What kind of thing can’t make a relationship, but can ruin one? A devilish thing, that’s what.

The fence is a thing. You can touch it and it works. A hard kick wouldn’t take it down. A tsunami, even, might not sweep it away. I could probably kill you, quickly, with the fence, if I wanted to.

Walk with me, Reader. To the lighthouse. To this lighthouse, past the chain-link fence that threatens the softness of skin under my skinny little forearm. To Erica. To the illusion that this is what we really look like. Perfect, basically. Penelope the Greek, mine, steadfast, beautiful, a waterfall of hair.

You, Erica, in my all-time favorite top, the pink one. A strawberry costume, practically. I hope to remember it on my deathbed, the negotiation between shoulder and torso, the power beginning where the fabric frays to an end. You, this shirt, this day. I want to put my face in your face. I can do that, actually, usually, whenever I want. It’s how I know that God is real.

Unlike the photo, the day is a blur. The whole trip. The whole state of Maine. There was definitely an epic breakfast, and I definitely can’t remember it. I do, however, remember hopscotching around the rocky shoreline, climbing down into a full, naked, fetal-position submerge, and you (not you, Reader) at the edge of the tide pool, holding my clothes, my underwear. You’re always laughing in my memories.

And there was walking. And talking. And standing. And silence.

This is it. Us, then.

And me. My best life. God knows where we picked that up - “#bestlife” - but it’s a thing we say now, about ourselves in perfect outfits with perfect people at perfect sunsets, dangerously similar to best-looking life, but definitely not the same thing and not worth getting all cynical about right now. On the night of our engagement party at my parents house in New Jersey, we danced in the rain and Jeff yelled and beat his chest like a madman and tried to pull bamboo out of the ground and when our cat darted through everyone’s bare feet and up into a tree we held each other and said, “Puck is living his best life,” and, of course, actually, we were talking about ourselves.

My hand rises and a shadow creeps across the plane of my Pride-died Point Pizza tee, the ghost of my fingers on a fold of pink at your side. But I’m distracted. Thinking. Decade, suddenly, is a relevant unit of time.

Me, before the click, and some final requests for the photographer:

Is the lighthouse in the shot? Take a few. Sideways. Horizontal. How’s the sun? Are we squinting? Tell us if our eyes are closed. Tell us, stranger, if we’re doing this wrong.