Searching for Water
I am almost done being a teenager. I meet Vodka in a dark parking lot outside of la Torretta Italian restaurant, and we drive south until we end up in the kind of place where the hotel secretary has bulletproof glass shielding her face. I would have seen my nerves reflected if I hadn’t been so blinded by infatuation. So sightless was I that I could not see whether the source of the light was internal luminescence or cheap streetlight fluorescence, but it didn’t really matter because the moth had already caught sight of the flame. Inside the hotel room, Vodka looks like gasoline and tastes like trouble…but that doesn’t stop me from drinking three tall glasses and drowning myself in the bed sheets. The last things I remember were hands like water striders on my skin.
I’m finally legal to drink, sitting on a dark beach in the Caribbean, and it doesn’t matter where I turn, there’s always more sand, more merengue, more tigueres calling out to me. Sweet Rum sticks to my tongue the way seawater sticks to skin. Sticks like back alley kisses, like the shadows to my footsteps, like the scent of the city to my clothes. Rum feels like dancing with strangers who speak Spanish, and gives me butterflies in my stomach like the guy at the colmado who thinks I’m muy linda. Rum is the cool breeze on your face after a long day and old women smiling in doorways and boys next door that grow into good men in the blink of an eye. When you mix it with orange juice, you’ll swear it tastes just like home.
The apartment is dim, and with another glass of red Wine, I realize how soft the leather of the couch is. I cradle the bottle in my hands like I’m seeing a newborn child, nicknamed “Quality.” Staying at his house on the better side of the tracks, I always feel like I’m being sheltered, and in exchange for his cultural capital, I try to even the score by washing dishes and cooking breakfast. Wine dulls the sharp edges of my tension and unravels my anxiety until I am left with handfuls of thread, something to spin into bright new cloth. I never knew you could taste difference in socio-economic status in something as small as a grape, but one long, thick, smooth taste and I am affirmed in my 23 years of chasing “something better.”
Jukebox lights glow harshly in the dark bar, and I slam down another shotglass. As Whiskey slips down my throat, I remember what it means to burn. I am out of patience, out of time, out of words, and I realize that I have nothing left to give. Whiskey says nothing, but she plays drinking games with me, listens to all my favorite secrets, and kisses me in the bathroom when I’m not paying attention. Whiskey tastes like the things old country songs are made of…hard days and dirt roads, and broken hearts with wounds that can only be cleansed with river water and moonshine. It dulls my anger and brings warmth to my face, and I can smell every strong feeling in the people around me. I take another shot, and let my regrets and inhibitions burn up in the Fireball.
And then now is now, the light has grown, and I have met you, Water. Nothing is as clean and clear to me as you are. You support me, keep my voice strong, and for the first time in a long time I remember what healthy love looks like. You are like refracted sunshine through the running stream of the sink faucet, the burbling of happy brooks, and quiet wisdom in the way ocean waves ebb and flow. I can’t quite understand how you balance out my fire-starting ways, but you do. You make it easy to wash off the grime and the dust, and you remind me of what skin looks like before it carries hardship. I have trouble connecting with my bright side, but you never fail to bring the sunshine closer, creating rainbows off your surface for the sole purposes of making others smile. You have always been Water, and I have been waiting forever to find you.