Last summer I spent a week at the Outer Banks recovering from the Virginia bar exam. A group of us had rented a house with a porch and in the course of a week we had picked up a share of stragglers; hard drinkers and all-night carousers, poker players all, with drugs and little money; they were forever mooching pizza. One of them was a guy named Stephen.
One morning I was awake very early, due to not sleeping. I was nervous about starting over again in a new city with no friends. I was excited, don't get me wrong. I couldn't sleep. The poker players had been smoking and laughing all night in the living room. The TV was forever on, forever unwatched. Volume down, colors flashing mute while someone was playing the Strokes for awhile, then the Allman Brothers.
I couldn't sleep so I walked out to the beach and that's where I ran into Stephen. Someone had met him at some oyster bar and he had been at the house a lot the last few days. It was dawn and there were reddish mackeral skies. Stephen's clothing was in a pile. He was out at the sandbar, motioning me to join him. The beach was quiet and chilly. I undressed and moved through the breakers into deeper water, water warmer than the morning air. I'm not really a swimmer, but I love the pull of tide against my body. It is a reminder of things bigger than yourself. The alcohol found its way into a dark corner of my brain and stayed there, as if plotting a grand Elvis-like comeback.
We emerged at the same time and were chatting while I dressed. As I awkwardly reinserted myself into wet, sandy boxers, I felt the wet pthunk of thrown seaweed between my shoulder blades and there was Stephen, naked and grinning. He was young. Thin. His skin was brown. His hair was dark and sleek. It reminded me of an otter. My own skin tasted of salt water and imagine his must have tasted the same. Water clung to his hipbones that led down to his soaked pubic hair. He had another piece of seaweed in his hand, ready to throw. He was laughing.
So, there followed much splashing and chasing, a throwing and re-throwing of seaweed. I had him by the arm when he stopped and his breathing was short. It all became theater. It was so staged. His forearm in my hand, he wanted me to kiss him right there on the beach, salt skin to salt skin. But it was too much. It was too artificial, too like a game. The whole thing was less play than a plan, a strategy that inevitably led to this breathless still moment and I have to tell you, it rubbed me wrong. It was too hungry and weirdly insincere. I felt like I was being fucked with so I broke it off. Laughed and grabbed my clothes. We went home shivering, goose-bumped and shirtless.
I crawled into bed as the sun poured harder through thick curtains. I slept until four.
Two days later, at a different house, Stephen cut his wrists open with a razor blade but he did it the wrong way and nothing bad happened, not really, just some bandages. Everyone on the beach was talking about it. I saw him the day after that had happened, my last day at the beachhouse. He had been released ffrom the hospital early for some reason and was very drunk and playing poker in his bandages. He looked up at me and didn't even nod. Just kept drinking and laughing and from the look of his pile of chips on the table, not doing very well. He was losing his shirt.