I met Tasha late last year at the rec center pool. I was doing my usual laps, and forcing myself to remain submerged as long as I could bear it. When I surfaced at the pool’s edge, her ankles were the first things I saw. Tasha stood there with a look I could only interpret as expectation, like she was close to remembering me from somewhere else, and only hoped that I would make it easier by remembering first. I could only shrug. “Sorry?” I said.
“No,” she said. “I was just admiring your submarine-like abilities.”
“Ah,” I said. “Yeah, it kind of runs in the family. That and a copious bladder. None of the men in my family urinate but once a week.”
“Which makes you excellent pool material all around, I’d say.”
We hit it off right away. Our rhythm was curiously free of the usual newborn fawn clumsiness, and I felt not the slightest hesitation when she asked whether I was hungry. “Your people do eat, I assume?”
“Of course,” I said. “But I eat only things that I’ve caught and shaken to death in my own teeth.”
“I can’t wait to meet your family,” she said.
It was about a week later, when work week poisons had attained dangerous levels once more, that I paid another visit to the rec center. My routine there is fairly regular, more ritual than relaxation. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see Tasha there again by the pool’s edge as I surfaced from my last lap.
She had that same look on her face–it’s unique to her, somewhere between private humor and deep confusion–and I didn’t have it in me to spoil the drama. So I shrugged. “Sorry,” I said.
“No, I was just admiring your submarine-like abilities,” she said. I felt that momentary mental tug that happens whenever I’m pitched out of the moment. That’s pretty much what she’d said the first time we’d met, wasn’t it? And I was immediately won over.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “It kind of runs in the family. That and a copious bladder. None of the males in my family urinate more than once a week.” I hoisted myself up and tilted my head to either side to clear out the water.
“Which makes you excellent pool material all around,” said Tasha. So this is how it would be then.
And I was more than equal to it.
That second time around was more an unspoken challenge than anything else. Could we pull it off? An entire afternoon, repeating our first conversation word for word? It was unheard of, but how thrilling it was too! Twenty minutes later, as we entered the restaurant’s air conditioned dining area, there was no longer room for any nervous sense of mystery, save for a sort of performance-oriented curiosity. I knew what she was going to order, but how rigidly could she stick to a script? What if the salmon were off? What if there were someone at the table we shared last time?
“Window or aisle?” I asked.
“Hm. Well, the emergency exit has more leg room,” she said.
“True, but you have to be able to pull the latch.”
Getting to know each other took on another dimension. We were still getting to know one another, but it was no longer about the stories we told, but rather the way we told them; how gracefully they came, and what words we chose.
And the thing I ask myself is: Why didn’t I see it then? Surely I had enough information to anticipate that ours was the type of friendship that could, without transition, reveal itself as an inescapable prison. Possibly it was too improbable a situation for me to imagine until the fifth or sixth time, but that’s exactly what happened.
“I was just admiring your submarine-like abilities,” she would say, her enthusiasm not at all dulled. Or, “I’ve been admiring your submarine-like abilities.” Or sometimes she’d say “skills.” Occasionally, between sentences, my mind would wander, and I wondered if there were a code in the variances themselves. I wondered whether it might be possible, if I concentrated hard enough, to divine a pattern in her very word usage, and therein yet another level of communication. What could she be saying to me under the surface? “Help, I am trapped in a perpetual encounter!” Or perhaps merely, “Here be dragons.”
Whatever her motivations, I simply couldn’t break out of the cycle. Flirty banter had become dogma, and our chance meeting had become scripture. I went swimming every Thursday with the sure knowledge that we would spend three hours meeting each other again for the first time, and while the thought of it struck a note of fear in me, it was only the fear of the misplaced word. I feared what might happen outside the confines of our traditions.
“How about Crossroads?” Tasha would ask. “How about Crossroads?” And again, “How about Crossroads? They have a pretty good menu there, from what I remember.”
After all, I rationalized, how many other things in life do we do just to pass time? We swim laps or play the same new song fifteen times in a row or greet the same strangers at the elevator, all without the prospect of varying from the routine. And still we continue happily to punctuate our days with routine tasks. The only things that distinguish our days–the only things that bear remembering–are the infinitesimal instances of change between the vast gulfs of repetition. But those times are like suns in the depths of space.
“True, but you have to be strong enough to pull the latch,” I would say.
And how long would it be before others noticed? Someone who happened to be in the same place two weeks in a row, their curiosity piqued after seeing the same thing both times. How long before we had our own little audience who followed us around, thereby becoming a part of our self-styled cult? And would they make the same comments to each other? “He changed that one word there, but the nuance was the same,” one of our acolytes would whisper to another.
But until that day there is little change indeed. I meet Tasha to this day–today, in fact–and we have our little afternoon lunch. I neither dread it nor look forward to it at this point. I only miss that initial promise of something more. Or less–I’d take either at this point, if I had the mettle to change it.