from "SO MANY OF YOU WANT TO DIE"*
Your canoe was red and beautiful. I don't know what I expected, but sitting at the bow facing the stern, facing you with a paddle in your hands and a case of beer at your feet next to a lifejacket, I felt at peace in a way I had never felt before. I smiled.
"You don't have to paddle if you don't want to," you said.
How did you know that all I wanted was to sit and watch you paddle while surveying the beaches we passed and the places where the trees grew all the way into the water, as if they didn't realize the water would spread and rise up their trunks? Those trees that stood waist-deep looked so much happier than the ones on land. Would they die sooner that way? I didn't know. There was so much I didn't know about the world, even though I had been alive for so long.
"What are you thinking about?" you asked me.
"The trees. The ones in the water," I spoke and signed and then pointed to them.
"Trees?" You used one hand but you signed the word back to me with a smile.
"Yes, that's it. That one's nice, huh?"
"Yeah. It's really intuitive. I like sign language. I wish I had time to—"
You stopped short, not realizing that I knew what the rest of your sentence was anyhow, oblivious to the fact that I would feel you then, I would feel everything you've ever done in your life as you died.
You looked at the trees and in that gaze I knew you didn't entirely want to die. You loved the Earth, you loved trees and canoes and lakes. You loved to drink beer on the water and paddle around for hours, dreaming up poems in your head.
"Is it okay if we stop and float for a while?" you asked.
"Of course," I said and signed.
I wished I had a pen and paper then. I felt awkward just watching you take your journal out and start writing feverously. You wrote for five minutes and then you read what you wrote, ripped the page out of the journal, and dropped it into the water. You turned your poems into lily pads floating together in clusters. I saw a word here and there but I couldn't read them. The water dissolved your lines too quickly. I realized how fast you'd dissolve as a person.
I looked around. You paddled us to a hidden cove at the northernmost point of the lake. There were no other boats around. Only water slapping lightly against the pine and maple trees leaning over it. I crawled to the middle of the canoe.
"What are you doing?" you asked.
"I don't know. I'm not used to boats. Is it okay to be in the middle?" I spoke and signed.
You tilted your head to the side in consideration. I wasn't sure if I was being clear enough. I wanted you to love me, but I knew humans were not really able to control that emotion. I knew I'd likely fail. I should have chosen a prettier body. A nicer face.
"It's easy to flip the boat over," you eventually said, "I can paddle us over to that island, and we could tie off to that tree."
"Sure," I said.
"You don't have to move back to the end," you said and moved your left foot forward so that it rested against the side of my right calf. You knew what I was thinking. I was sure of it then. I felt such a gorgeous current of electricity between us, even though we weren't touching skin to skin.
"I wasn't going to," I signed, forgetting to use my voice.
You laughed. "I think I understood that one!"
I smiled back as the end of the canoe hit against the roots of the pine tree behind you that were sticking up out of the dirt. That tree looked as if it was trying to take a step forward into the water, trying to move instead of staying in one place for a hundred years. I understood it. I wanted to move, too. I wanted something more than death after death.
"So do you want to stay in the boat—or look around the island?" you asked.
"The boat," I signed, knowing you'd understand me because of how much the sign for "boat" looked like a boat itself.
"Okay. Do you want another beer?"
"Not yet," I said instead of signing, while staring at you with so much hunger in my eyes I must have looked desperate.
"Okay," you said.You kneeled in the boat and moved toward me until we were both kneeling face to face. The boat rocked, but with one end against the shore, it didn't threaten to topple us into the water. You took my face in your hands. You leaned in.
"Is this what you want?" you asked me softly.
I kissed you in response.
I wasn't sure how to do it. I had never kissed someone before. Your lips tasted faintly of cigarettes and beer. You seemed to know what you were doing with your tongue, so I kept my lips slack and let you kiss me back so beautifully I felt you like a shimmer over my skin, from my mouth down my neck, down my chest, down my legs, all the way to my toes. My whole body hummed.
You pressed your body against mine so tightly, I fantasized that we were already one person—our clothes were just more skin, that's all. You peeled off your shirt slowly while kissing me, but when I moved to pull my own shirt off, you stopped my hands. You shook your head. You lifted your hand up inside my shirt to my belly. You stroked me there and the tremor it caused below your hands was so intense I had to grasp the sides of the boat to steady myself.
Humans did this all the time?!
Why had I never thought to try it?!
I was losing sense of myself, of you, of the boat and the water, of the world. I felt free for the first time. I wasn't reliving someone's life, I was living a life of my own, however briefly, and finally—I was making love like a person—I was making love with a person.
We lay down in the bottom of the boat and you did things I had only seen through windows, through your movies and poetry. I never realized what ecstasy could feel like. It wasn't like suicide at all.
*"So Many of You Want to Die" is from Kristen Ringman's recent book I Stole You (Handtype Press, 2017). A review of I Stole You can be read in the current issue of Wordgathering.