these constellations of selves we are

My body is having a hard time right now — let me not get into all the details, just stretch into the results, which are that I’m fatigued and somewhat anxious and did not swim in the ocean at all today. Granted, it was a grey and chilly day — there was a walk around the long beach at low tide with dearest friends from way back, and the chill in the air made the water seem warmer. It seems like you’ve gotta swim for sand dollars this year anyway. I should’ve had my suit on, but I think my body would have complained.

Time with friends from school is good and tenderizing in ways I don’t have easy words for. Always, at some point during our time together, I notice myself splitting in a way, peeling apart: one half the self I was when we were regularly in each other’s lives — the just-post-trauma, the just-coming-out, the just-discovering-alcohol, the just-discovering-life self — and the other part the me I have become these twenty-some-odd (ahem) years later. I find myself trying to speak, to engage with them, through both of these lenses/selves at the same time. This makes conversation a disconcerting, vertigo-inducing adventure. No wonder I can get kind of quiet when I’m hanging out with these old friends who knew me When, around whom I become more whole because they carry parts of me — memories, conversations, nighttime walks through deserted streets, drunken and revelatory conversations over empty pool tables or across a candle-lit roughhewn tavern table — that are not complete when I’m away from their company. Perhaps I carry similar parts for them, too.

It is maybe not surprising that my body went wonky. Plus the other thing that I can’t mention. Plus this body’s predisposition. Plus all that sea water. So today I took it easy, piled on the holistic treatments and attempted to cut back on my sugar (which is difficult on this vacation, let me tell you) so that my body could begin to find a way toward rebalancing itself.

All these constellations of selves we are — inside and outside, swimming within us, networks of necessary flora, undulant and symphonic in their responsibilities, and, too, the entanglements of social selves, perceived selves that we have to perform, or even (is it possible?) just be.

Just once I’d like to have a conversation with my oldest friends and not fall apart somewhere inside. These are the people who love me most deep, who apparently still want to spend time with me even though they have seen me at my worst. How terrifying.

For all this might sound catastrophic, please let me say right now that it was a wonderful visit. There was good food and a walk through an absolutely deliciously terrifying seaside thunderstorm (complete with hail and bolt lightning) and candlelit conversation with everyone huddled together around cups of tea after stripping off our soaked clothes and changing into whatever dry wear to be had. There was much tastiness, a dessert to celebrate a birthday, talk of books and bodies, aging and work, politics and race and writing and sex and school.

This evening, after they left and I rested, I went down to the beach and walked just a bit of its length, the tide as high as I’d maybe ever seen it here. I listened to how my body was drawn to the water. I listened to the mosaic of myself begin to settle into something more akin to a singularity again (though it never quite gets there). I felt a little like crying, felt embarrassed, felt grateful, all the while scanning the surf for sand dollars. Then I biked back to the cottage and, while cardinals and goldfinches sang to one another and dive-bombed across the driveway from one birch tree to another, took a couple of hours to get work done on my book.

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