Let The Lake Define You
The summers were what we had. So we accepted it as if it had always been our only option. As if we all weren't well-read enough to know what to take (and take for granted) when we ran away. As if we never could've created, in our own simple design, an endless summer. As if we were jailed by our situations and outsiders felt pity on us. The summers were what we had. So we grabbed that and ran with it.
I remember the smell of her hair. In reality, it could have been her scent or that of her twin, because I never could tell them apart. Justine and Justice, the forgotten twin females. The story goes something like this: their mother took a few long looks at them after she'd given birth, and at one point had an immaculate surge of feeling, similar to a spiritual awakening, and decided she didn't want them. Not only that she didn't want them, but that she couldn't have them. I thought of that when I would smell her hair. A lonely, beautiful disgrace of a human, I pictured. A lovely young whore with the worst of luck, who hadn't shown much during her pregnancy and had a pimp waiting for her in the hospital entrance. The automatic doors would open and close every time the pimp paced by, like they had been meaning to crack a joke, but reluctantly thought better of it. And in the next room, the woman, still a child really, whom in my mind looked like a Jessica, was sweating and bawling, but somehow it was delicately pretty. And the new mother, after her decision, turned on her side and wished for one of those big strong men to come cradle her like a newborn with a lost twin, and as she dreamt this, she could smell her own stench, which to her surprise, was also delicately pretty.
Although, that was not the truth of the matter. The mother was extremely well-to-do and had had every intention of keeping the result of her pregnancy. She was comfortably married and her name wasn't Jessica, but something more strong like Harriet Presscot. I used to tell Justine that that meant she had good genes and she would most probably bloom into something great. But I also used to tell her that her own head of hair didn't look or smell like her birth mother's, and when she didn't seem disappointed in this matter-of-fact statement, I was internally joyful. My insides lit up like the fireworks we saw about three times in one summer.
I was glad that she couldn't see my thoughts. I couldn't help picturing my Jessica when we would lie on my grandma's pull-out couch bed after dark, and her long hair would be sprawled over my face. And my Jessica picture made me happy, and it only would have made me feel more guilty if she had known about it.
We wouldn't talk because we were both racing to fall asleep first, but the night would've seemed no more than empty without the sound of my deep intakes of breath. I think they calmed her. I couldn't even sense her breathing, but I felt confident in my guess that she was. Although I really wouldn't have been surprised if she had told me, softly, that she wasn't. I don't know if it was her or Justice, but one of the twins could stay under water for an inhuman amount of time. When we would jump off the floating dock at our lake, my aunt would sometimes sit up from her tanning position, throw her sunglasses off the top of her head where they normally rested and say, "Danny, go find her! Find her this instant!" as if I was responsible for her large lungs. I wonder what we must've looked like – the other twin and I – out heads bobbing in the baby waves with looks of confusion on our faces.
Of course, we only saw each other during the summers. It seemed to me that our feelings should change in the long school months, but they never did. I had no protection from the world outside of the summers, yet somehow I managed. I don't know how the twins did it. They had less than no protection. But I like to think that I never got full of myself and thought they couldn't survive without me just because I dreaded to depart from the cabin in early September. But it wasn't so much a departure from the cabin as a departure from the summer. We were tossed into the dark season so quickly. Too quickly. My mom and dad didn't like winter much either. But it wasn't because they had to pry their oldest son away from his family and friends, it was because of their distaste for cold. In other words, I did a lot of crying, they did a lot of complaining, but we all called it the dark season.
Usually I would forget the smell of her hair a few weeks after I'd gone. And the warm memory wouldn't come back until the next summer. But that excludes the summer I left for good. The farewell summer. My last summer. I hadn't made a special note to remember or anything (I didn't even know it was my last) but I was very glad when – a month later – the aroma was still caught under my nose.
What I did has nothing to do with the twins. Although, I must admit, most of the time I wish (and fantasize) it did. If it had been that way, it would've seemed far more passionate and necessary, and been easier for jurors to forgive.
I write this from a jail cell. A tangible, actual one. I am surrounded by unrusting metal and tiny bits of cinder. My standard outfit is orange, though sometimes when we're overcrowded the men let me wear gray sweat pants. I rot on block D, 3rd cell over. I call where I preside jail rather than prison because it sounds so much less harsh. The boys that surround me are not nearly as bad as I feared they'd be. They're all pretty decent people, and most of them dream of having pets to care for when they get out of this joint. That's all they want, they say. That's all.
I write to my two younger half-brothers Padraic and Casey like it's my job. I ask them how our mother is, and I admit to them that I'm terrified to write to her myself. I picture their expressions as they read them, though I only have a vague idea of what their faces look like. They don't have time enough to reply to my letters before I write more. The "mom worrying" is just a ruse. I mostly just want them to know that I had imagined protecting them with love when I got older, and I'm sorry that all the bad stuff went down before that could happen. I try to convey that as much as possible in my letters and cards, but I'm not sure if they believe that I'm truly sorry for what I did. As I'm a murderer, they see me as the color red. A violent red. And all they really need to do to believe me is see me as something gentle like yellow or peach.
The smell gets stronger in my sleep. Sometimes I swear I feel her hair resting lightly on my forehead. Sometimes I swear I can actually sense her breathing, which is a new experience for me, and I enjoy it...until it's over.
Sometimes the men like to talk to me. The top men. I guess they're trying to get into my head, for research of the profile of a murderer or something. They ask me if anything went wrong during my childhood, and I tell them that as far as I know, it was normal. "But you've never known anythin' different, son," they usually reply. One time they brought my mother into a small glass room to question her, like she'd be more honest or something. That was the day it dawned on me that she didn't think highly of me like she used to. I suppose it should have dawned on me much earlier.
So the man asked my mother if, through her perspective, there was or had been anything abnormal about me at all during the life she'd had with me. She glared in the air as if the floating words could see her, "Course," she said, "When I first married Van, Dan told him he'd kill him. Just out of the blue. When he was a kid, he used to whine to me about wanting to be adopted. He was nuts. And to top it all off, he lost his virginity to a hooker at fifteen and came home drunk. Drunk! He's slimy. That's what he is, slimy!"
The night that followed that day I physically felt like I was going to die. I wrote two long letters on a legal pad to Padraic and Casey about how I was okay. And how I could love. I really could. And then, when the smell got stronger I wrote a letter to myself. And I realized that I had initially fallen in love with Justine, but Justice tricked me into falling in love with her.