On the Heads of Kings
I took her to the lake because I knew she was sick of the phone calls and the two-hour movies. I didn't mind any of that really, but since I had mentioned the lake to her sometime earlier during one of those nightly, blurred phone calls—I can't remember when, exactly—I felt obligated to take her. I suppose I'd rather say that I felt obligated to accompany her there when she asked me to. She would've gone alone. I would bet anyone a million dollars that she would have gone alone and hid it from me until the perfect moment to make me feel guilty. She would have kept it hanging on those pretty little lips until I stepped out of place. Then she would have said, You know Nicholas, I went to the lake by myself and it was beautiful, even though you weren't there. Then she would have smiled and smiled and broken my heart. So I took her to the lake...although I can't lie and say that I didn't want to go. There was a huge part of my mind that was crying out much too loudly because it wanted so desperately to go.
I'm not entirely sure what she told her parents. All of the lies that she tells me about are jumbled up in my head. She just told them something that would free her long enough to finally satisfy her, though I could never accurately tell someone what it takes to satisfy her. I don't think she could even truthfully tell anyone. Discreetly high maintenance, is what I like to call her. Whenever I call her a princess she laughs and shakes her head and insists that she's not, but I can see it in her eyes: she expects to be treated like one, especially by me.
I first discovered the lake when he demanded that I go fishing with him there. I'm not sure how he found it because I was never curious enough (nor did I care enough) to ask. I'm just glad that I let him mercilessly drag me out of bed on that dreary morning previously filled with the promise of an unproductive Saturday. This is not to say that I had fun by any stretch of the imagination. No, I'm not glad he took me. But I am glad because when she found herself in tears, screaming over the phone that all she wanted was a chance to be alone, I knew what to do. That little black box in our minds—into which we shove things like memories of unpleasant preteen fishing trips with our fathers—finally came to my aid. The image of the lake, secluded and beautiful and semi-deserted and just far enough, jumped to the forefront of my thoughts. I'm fairly certain it was the tears and the sound of her desperation that brought it there.
The lake has now become a sexual symbol for me. I am no longer condemned to remember the tedious minutes standing beside my father, fishing rod in hand. Now, whenever anybody even stumbles upon the world 'lake,' I think of spreading out a blanket with kings on it against the tall grass (the kind that tickles your ankles in summer when you're wearing shorts). I think of being alone, as one, listening to running water as I hungrily lose myself. The lake itself is the symbol. The sensations are overwhelming.
We thought it would be easier to drive two cars. We agreed that it was the safest route. Since she didn't know where the lake was, I drove in front while she followed, practically tailgating with that lead foot of hers. When I looked in my rearview mirror, I could see her singing and bobbing her had and banging on the steering wheel. So then I started singing, no doubt to a much different song. I just wanted to savor each moment so badly. As I drove on, singing my favorite Reel Big Fish song and gentling hugging the shoulder of the highway, I mentally prepared myself for the beating I was going to get. Every time she drives behind me, every single time without fail, she takes the time and wastes her breath on complaining about how slow of a driver I am. I, in a form of pure self-defense, try to tell her that it's dangerous driving twenty miles per hour over the speed limit, but she's not usually one to take my warnings to heart. So I was fairly surprised when I anxiously opened her car door for her, braced myself, and was greeted only by the warmth of her lips against mine in a grateful, unexpected movement. It was the first (and only) time I was spared the complaints of my elderly driving.
The lake isn't very big. But with our combined instincts and that shared, unsung desire—
which I'm still too squeamish to bluntly explain—we found areas that seemed completely innocent. Pure. Untouched by human hands. But we were ready to touch everything. The grass was long enough to make her squeal as she adventured in that blue summer dress; though I've tried time and time again to remember, I've forgotten where she bought the dress. When I looked down at my feet, they were lost in the bed of rising plants. The sun seemed too hot, the sweat on my skin was bothersome, and I was still plagued there by the feeling of fish scales on my palms. But she basked in it all. She said that with the sun and the water and the secret pathways through trees and makeshift kingdoms, she truly felt like she was in an adventure from a book. She was an explorer, and I her loyal assistant.
I don't know how long I trailed behind her eager steps, watching her jump and twirl around, each time hoping that her dress would fly a little bit higher. She was like a bird that had just discovered its ability to fly. Curious, excited, amazed, beautiful. So I admired her longer than most boys at my age and with my impulses would bear. But when we emerged from the trees into a little field, our secret discovery, I pulled the blanket out of my bag and spread it out on the bouncing grass. With one last flutter of her wings, she dropped to her knees on the heads of the kings that decorated the tapestry-like blanket. I could already sense this image replacing that of my father, portly and flushed and trying to teach me how to reel in fish that we weren't even going to eat. That had always been the most frustrating part of the trip: we weren't going to eat the fish. I had sat on the riverbank and watched with disinterest as my father, expertly in his own mind, reeled in fish and praised himself. He had looked down at me expectantly, waiting for compliments and flustered questions to rush from my lips, only to be disappointed by my musing about how we were going to cook the fish.
"Grilled? Fried? Raw?!"
"We're not going to eat it, Nick. We're going to throw it back."
Then he had thrown the fish back, waited a couple of pointless moments, and thrown his line out again. And my desire to crawl back into bed and never look at another fish again had grown stronger.
We began with the iced tea I had in my bag. She decided then and there, as we opened the bottles and let the edges of our legs brush, that next time we would have a complete picnic, with turkey sandwiches and Nutella and potato chips. I told her—though I was thinking aloud more than anything—that I was slightly worried about having a picnic. I admit now a bit begrudgingly that it was a ridiculous apprehension, but at that time, there was nothing in the world that was more important than that random, powerful little thought that had crashed through my mind. I told her that I was worried about the crumbs. Eating sandwiches wouldn't be too bad, and if we were to eat Nutella the way she wanted (with spoons, straight out of the jar) it would've produced absolutely no crumbs...but potato chips would completely soil the blanket and those regal kings that adorned it. She didn't hear me, though; if she had, then she made no acknowledgment of my doubts because she was busy asking me if the iced tea she was drinking was diet.
I knew she was nervous, so I didn't pressure her into anything. Not that she would have let me. In the movie theaters, and over the phone, there was always a tension. The lake changed a lot in both of us, but I can sense it in the way she talks now, the tone of voice and the way she unconsciously bites her lip when she's telling me a story, she has changed more than me. The best way to put it at this point would be to say that she's more aware. Whether she's more aware of herself or of the people around her is still a mystery to my clouded and constantly muddled mind. But there, on the riverbank, she let herself fall into the abyss just as willingly as I did, albeit with skin a bit more pink and new. I say now with certainty that there was more for me to discover than there was for her. I knew it from the moment I kissed her there and she pulled back, with a shaky smile, and asked me to play John Mayer for her on my phone.
Thinking back, I can't help but laugh. She was more sheltered and more innocent, more wholesome, than she even realized. When she tried to whisper sensually in my ear, I heard her uncertainty. When she felt my hands on her skin, she shrank away from her own pleasure. She nibbled on my ear so softly that I barely felt it. She was tense without noticing. She wasn't sure what to say, what to do, when I led her fingers to the zipper of my jeans. And still...I was undeniably seduced. I couldn't say why. Whether by the innocence itself or her innate beauty, I was seduced. With the silky hair in my fingers and the taste of the salty skin and the smell and sounds, what she was doing didn't really matter. She as a personality disappeared into that little black box along with the memory of my first trip to the lake. In a cruel twist of events that I never could have expected and never could have wished for, I forgot her name. She could've been anyone with brown hair and brown eyes and beautiful skin.
I shocked myself down there at the lake. I allowed myself to stop loving her. When I found myself staring at the dress-less figure, so unsure and so gorgeous, I forgot to love her. I forgot to feel any emotion at all, and though the shock was at first one filled with pain and disbelief at the machinations of my own mind, it became one of acceptance. I am indifferent now to the fact that for that precious period of time I was more animal than human. That's why the lake is a sexual symbol for me rather than a symbol of love. Ravenous human instincts replaced passionate human emotions on the untouched shores of that lake. There are symbols for love and symbols for hatred and symbols for pleasure and symbols for pain; the lake is not a symbol of any of those things. And though the lake is where my love initially wanted so eagerly to go, that love was ultimately left behind, snagged on the tall grass.
I never took her back. She asked to go, and still tries to make me feel guilty for not taking her, but it has lost its novelty, admittedly too early. We've done all there is to do there: explore, drink iced tea, listen to running water and John Mayer, make love on the heads of kings. What was previously untouched lost the magic of being new. There is nothing there to be seen by our eyes or touched by our lips. And I know that the lake means something different to her than to me, but I have too much pride and (right now) too much compassion toward her to admit that. But I remember that day often and I can't help but wonder what would've happened if anyone had stumbled through the grass and fallen upon us.
I tend to tell myself that those kings would have protected us, even while my compassion as a human being slipped into the river. They would have nobly defended what had become theirs, what had become a part of their existence. In the end, it was on their heads that a young boy and a young girl went on a secret journey to discover. And discover, on the heads of kings, they did.