For the girls on Owles
Liz gave me a book to read called Everything Matters. It's about a boy who knows from birth that a comet is going to destroy the earth when he is 32 years old. His whole life is a struggle to attach himself to a world that he knows is doomed and fleeting. After the many twists and curves of the novel, he eventually arrives at the conclusion that Everything Matters.
After the rigorous, rain soaked, blistering trip through the mountains came the warm, peaceful days on the water. We struggled with our gear-laden boats through the sucking, knee deep mud of the salt flats and started paddling up the current, towards Mascongus Bay. We spent four days like that, gliding through the bright, ramshackle harbors of fishing villages and riding the swell of the open ocean. We charted the tides and the currents and the light in the sky, and at the end of the day spread our gear on the grey, pebbled beach of our own islands. Storms hit the bay and we watched them roll in; lighting bit into the skyline and rain the size of pearls pocked the surface of the ocean.
Nights were full of sudden, hard rain showers and fat blue flies that chewed through clothing and burst into blood when slapped. Liz and I fixed my broken tent pole using a SAM splint and a bandana, mended the vinyl with a roll of duct tape. I slept inside its very crooked walls, thankful to be dry and itching with salt. The girls slept poorly, their painfully sunburned bodies turning uncomfortably on foam mats. They winced every morning as damp bikini strings bit into their shoulders. They loved to comb the water for curious things, gnarled driftwood and long streams of glossy seaweed. They hoisted these things onto their boats and arranged them to dry on the bow or drag behind them like sea dragons. Around us, sleek heads of seals poked out like little dogs and then disappeared.
One night on an island, a group of boys paddle up to our shore. They were young boys from a Maine camp. We invited them to our fire and the leaders took great pleasure in forcing them to play those camp games that mostly involve pretending to be animals. The head leader of the boys was the most enthusiastic person I'd ever met in my life, one of those guys who says Howdy! to everyone he sees. We watched the kids melt into the shadows of the fire, sitting very close and quiet as Liz told them a long, drawn out ghost story about being chased by a coffin. She swore up and down that it was true, and the best thing was that they all believed her, right until the very end.
One day, we pulled up onto a beach for a swim but found ourselves stuck at an impasse between the broiling sun and the stunningly cold sea. Finally the girls decided to brave it together, they waded out into the water screaming until the water was up to their waists. There they stood, holding hands in a ring and waiting to go down. They called and called my name as I stood on the sand and swore they wouldn't go under until I joined them, but they wouldn't come back to shore either. They'd stand out there and go numb and die if I didn't swim with them. So off I went and took their hands and we counted to three and went under. The water was a jarring, salt shock as it closed over our heads.
Everything matters. This is how I think about Stephen dead and the girls living. Everything matters.