Phoenix Park Confluence - m4w - 28
I saw you in the afternoons occasionally, playing with a dog by the confluence on the shores where the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers meet. What first struck me about you was your style: a sort of post-punk thing. Short cut-off jeans with threads left haphazardly dropping down your long legs at different angles. Tight tank tops that revealed your love for the outdoors and exercise. You know the thing. And yet, you had no tattoos or "grunge factor." You seemed to have it together, always had your hair done nicely and such. I assumed you had a night job of some sort and preferred the solitude of spending your afternoons in the park alone with your one loyal companion. Why you didn't have someone with you, I couldn't say: you were beautiful, tall, and seemed to have a loving countenance.
At first, I mostly just glanced in curiosity from the old railroad bridge as I enjoyed taking walks along the bike path that followed the river, but as time passed, I started to wonder more about why you were there in the middle of the day, why the dog was so lucky to have someone who was always so willing to be down by the water for extensive hours during the day. Eventually, I would stop at the middle of the bridge, pretend to gaze out towards the Grand Avenue bridge and beyond, and I would watch you out of the corner of my eye--smoking cigarettes while sitting on rocks, skipping stones, and entertaining your dog while seemingly ambivalent to the world around you. I became fascinated with how you seemed to leave everything else behind you when you walked up and down the shores. Sometimes you would wade as far as ankle deep then turn and look longingly down-river as if something was waiting for you there. I had to laugh because I, of course, was behind you looking the same way at you. I would always leave before you though; I couldn't spend as much time away from my friends, away from society-at-large.
For many weeks, this same scenario played out: the dog, yourself, and the river always interacting in a way that made me envious of your contentment to have routine. You would smoke a cigarette or two, casually throwing stray branches into the current, while your pet jumped into the river carelessly after them. I would stand on the bridge hoping you would see me, but your eyes always strayed downstream. I would continue with my walks, but something had changed in me now; I preferred those moments of watching from the bridge to the walks themselves. I didn't know how to talk to you about this, because, well frankly, we had never even made eye contact. Isn't love at first sight a two-way street?
One day, I stayed longer than I should have, mesmerized by your seductive, care-free routine. The day turned into dusk, and you still kept on playing with the dog. Finally, it seemed you had had enough. You took off your sunglasses and kneeled down next to the dog, rubbing behind his ears and allowing him to lick your face. You lit one last cigarette and settled it between your lips, but then something strange happened.
Instead of turning and heading up the path towards South Barstow, you started walking straight into the river. The sun had gone down below the horizon behind us, but as you waded knee-deep, I could've sworn I saw your legs start to grow closer together than before, your skin seemed to have accumulated an added luster that wasn't natural during dusk hours. You waded waste-deep then, and slowly but surely, you were up to your shoulders and neck. Before your head submerged, you finally turned your gaze up to greet me, but instead of the unbridled joy I thought I might see, you looked shocked, as if someone might be seeing, for the first time, a secret you've kept for so long from this world. Then suddenly, with a cunning smile, you ducked your head under, holding the smoldering cigarette above water for just a moment, then flicking it defiantly into the river some distance from you. I swore I saw a translucent film growing between your fingers as your hand and arm disappeared along with the rest of you.
The dog whined impatiently on the shoreline, its leash dragging pathetically beside it. I stood on the bridge in shock for what seemed like an eternity, but then a mild bark of dejection snapped me out of my trance, and I hurried down to gather up the dog and his leash, taking him back to my apartment.
I looked after the dog for a while, hoping that you might return and that I might emerge the hero. I thought, selfishly, that you could never leave your lifelong companion behind, that you would surely need to come back for the one soul that understood who you truly were and your fixation with the river. The months turned into seasons, the seasons into years, and the years turned over again. Your dog grew content to watch the river from my balcony but always seemed to want to return home. I'm not sure where you went--perhaps you followed a watery path down the Mississippi, past Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, out into the gulf. I like to think you're somewhere around New Orleans, coming up for air every once in a while, perhaps grabbing a beignet in the French Quarter or sharing spirited nights with new companions strolling down Bourbon Street arm-in-arm. In any case, I hope you are well. I think it was Neruda who said, "Es tan corto al amor, y es tan largo el olvido." Love is so short, forgetting is so long. I just want you to know that I think I loved you in that moment that our eyes briefly met, and your dog misses you.