Fishing, or the future of others
It’s hot near the equator and the heat made me feel alone, like I’d been alone for a while and would be for some time. In truth I’d only been traveling for a month. With a stranger’s eye I waded through the days looking at moments rather than lives, and it slowed time. Facts seemed dumber than usual, assumptions more tedious.
I didn’t bring a suitcase, just a bag that I could carry over my shoulder, with bug spray, a camera, and a few shirts. I got off the plane with a dull sense of dread, but not because I was scared. The driver who picked me up had a red cap on that said, “Yes Jesus.”
I worked very long days reporting on the NGO’s project, covering every conceivable detail and angle. Each night, I went to a shack by the water that sold beers from a window cut out of plywood. It was near the place I was staying, where a strange mix of missionaries and journalists shared bunk beds in a concrete room.
Without basis, I had always imagined that most fishing takes place in the mornings. I’d never been fishing. I watched a group of around 35 Haitians every night from a hammock about 40 yards away, with a book propped open on my lap. Their silhouettes moved slowly, first gathering on a narrow peninsula, watching for fish, then drawing spears and casting nets when the fish arrived. It seemed strange that the fishermen always got there before the fish, and the fish always came soon after. After they were done for the night I liked to walk by the water. I liked the salt in the air, I liked how dirty I always felt in Haiti. I told a girl I met on the beach that I would help her learn French and English, and she asked me to take her photo. The next night I brought her a textbook. She told me she was ugly and I told her it didn’t matter.
Back in New York expectations were the same as they were when I left but I didn’t feel that anything was urgent. For a few days even singing or crying seemed inauthentic.
I decided to take a different job and moved to a shitty studio to accommodate my lower pay grade. Even though I wasn’t really sure I wanted company, I invited the man I’d been dating before the trip over. We held hands on the futon all night, sweating in the accumulated heat of the day, and commented on the fact that bedrooms are kind of silly if you live alone. It was too hot for sex.
We went on a date that weekend. He was kind and soft, and only ordered a bowl of soup at dinner. I wondered why, but not critically. I didn’t feel anxious or sad. He invited me to come over to his place afterward, to eat chocolate ice cream, and I agreed. I changed my mind on the walk, but I guess it was too late. His apartment was sparse and clean; the cabinet under the sink was filled with many varieties of cleaning fluids, an ironic site for clutter. It was endearing because anything is endearing when you’ve forgotten what you used to compare things to. I asked him if he’d like to watch a baseball game or something and he laughed, and we eventually made relatively meaningful love. In the morning I congratulated myself for being neither hung over nor horny.
That night I fantasized about a woman. She was younger; a figure that had popped into my head a few months ago, faceless. I was attracted to her track socks. The fantasy made me feel immature and far away, as though everything I thought I knew was false, decisions shapeless, and memory simply endured. I felt as old as the girl. I felt as young as the girl. For a moment, it was like being cast into a world of discovery that mimicked the awful coming of age. Perhaps it was a second chance, maybe even something redemptive. I liked the girl.
But over the next few weeks a problem arose in the fantasy. I could no longer climax just thinking about the socks and the possibility of her. I had to think all the way into her vagina, but I was very disappointed to find that I didn’t have much feeling once I got there.
The waiter at the café on the park told me that sometimes bad skin is sexy. I looked at him startled, because I didn’t think I had bad skin. He said that even though he kept his attraction to girls with acne a secret, it had proved to be a fruitful and meaningful obsession in his life. I said that I didn’t understand. He just spun around briskly and said he’d bring my coffee. This was when I realized that the whole comment had begun as a metaphor, or a placeholder for compassion, and I wondered what about me that day made me look as lonely and unloved as a girl with bad acne.
When he returned I said, let me get a slice of that new lemon pie. He giggled and said he’d refill my water.
On the way home I stopped on the corner nearest my building and looked out at the park. It looked endless when I peered in through the northernmost gate. There was a wedding party having their photos taken by the fountain, which gave me a brief sentimental feeling. I monitored such feelings like one might medication. The bride was thin and sickly, and the groom was focused and nervous. The black and white wardrobes of all involved against the green landscape was stifling and definitive, but for the first time in a while, imagining the future was less deadening. Even the future of others. The rest of the park was strangely vacant, and I imagined myself to be the only person looking at that scene from the outside, and surely that was even more important than participating.