author’s note: i am genuinely unsure as to which draft this is
It was three years back, on a searing July evening. It was perhaps the blackest evening I had ever experienced, save for the summers in rural Jamaica where there were no lamp posts, or homes beaming out with lights and it seemed like the entire country, and honestly, the determinable world was lit by blinking starlight. I was in central Pennsylvania with a young man I can now call my first love. It was my first time visiting central Pennsylvania and I noted how lush and green everything was. It was the opposite of New York and, unlike other places that try to boast their innovation, their bigness, this place, Dauphin county, was contented by it’s minute importance.
He said, “I have somewhere to show you. Somewhere special.”
“You’ll see. It’s nothing like New York. It’s the place where my friends and I would hang out when we were growing up.”
We drove through Dauphin county with a slight urgency. His arms were slightly bent at the elbows and his hands were sweating and his fingers jittered as he swiveled the steering wheel both left and right. He was unembarrassed, so he sang loudly with his large, perfect white teeth beaming. I kept my hands squeezed together in my lap.
“July! July!” he sang, and he looked at me smiling. I wanted to smile too—there are so many moments when I want to emote back—but continued to squeeze my hands until they became as hot as it was outside.
“Look at this,” he said.
We were suddenly consumed by the night time. He turned off the head lights and my pupils widened. He slowed down the car. There was nothing but the sound of the car’s air conditioner and our breathing.
“Feel that,” he said.
I don’t know how long we sat in that darkness—probably seconds.
He turned his high beams on and the night became a stark and ugly representation of what I had momentarily imagined. The high beams revealed the woods (lining that particular long, windy, see-sawing road) to be emaciated branches that were bent and broken. The woods were gaunt and seemed to extend backwards into a small infinity.
He pulled the car up to a tiny clearing.
“Be quiet. We’re not supposed to be here this late,” he said as he reached across my lap and into the glove compartment. He pulled out a flashlight.
I stepped out of the car and was submerged in the sound of chirping cicadas and the rustling of unseen creatures and water lapping upon rocky shores.
“Be careful. We’re going to have to go through a bushy spot. Try to keep your arms close to your body and follow me.”
He led me down a narrow path that was covered in overgrown plants. I tripped over my own feet. It got more steep as we walked further down the path and for the last ten meters we quickly shuffled down to even land.
In front of me was the Susquehanna river.
“Come, let’s sit here,” he gestured to a large, uneven, angled rock. It was grooved in such a way that when we sat, our bodies sank into the eroded fissures of the massive rock.
In front of me was the Susquehanna river charging, separating our land mass from what looked like a small and uninhabited island. To the left was Three Mile Island.
“It had a major meltdown in 1979,” he said. He told me about how people fled to the bars when it was an absolute certainty they’d be exposed to radioactive materials.
“They just drank and drank,” he said.
Honestly, I would drink too. To efface my awareness of a looming death; to reassure myself, after the incident is over, that I, along with everyone else, was left unharmed and perhaps tiny miracles are performed everyday.
He talked to me more about Three Mile Island and the Susquehanna. The sky was dotted with blinking stars. He put his arm around me. I felt a flush and put my hands together again.
The cicadas were chittering and were similar to grasshoppers, I thought, because they act as an insouciant drone to which nature kindly keeps time.
He and I looked at each other.
“Where is it coming from?” he said.
“I have no idea. Maybe behind us?”
We slid off the rock and into the marshes of the river. We waded through the muck and I touched the plants I thought were leafy and silky but could never really know because it was so dark. We searched for the RIBBET-ing. We would stop when the sound drew down to a lull and would hurry when the sound rung like a gong—mud caking up on the calfs of our jeans, sweat gliding down our necks—and we searched and the river rushed and the uninhabited island across the river grew wider and more colossal.
“We’re never going to find him,” he said.
“Let’s give him a name,” I said
“Got anything in mind?” he said.
“I’m not sure. Something regal,” I said.
“No, no. Too common. How about…how about Tiberius?”
He said that was a perfect name. We climbed out of the morass and stretched our muddy legs on the rock. The mud from our jeans left prints on the rock I hoped would have lasted forever. We sat together, staring at the blinking light of the sky, holding hands and he told me stories about what it was like to grow up in Pennsylvania and I told him stories about what it was like to grow up in New York.
We were children then dancing along the precipice adulthood. We raked and stared into the vastness of the sky and prodded the world until it was nothing but a sweeping river, smoke billowing out of now defunct reactor towers and an island across from us that grew larger with every new glance. And we, two young people preparing ourselves for the nights when we would drink ourselves into oblivion because the ground of reality would become too much to bear, may have fallen in love in that moment. We were presented with a perplexingly enormous world and we took that evening to find a nook within it and play.