I’m an insomniac, it’s a lifelong thing. And lesbian. I’m sick when I say this, a little envious of a body that can fit through anything, a lifelong thing, steady hands but a little shaky otherwise, getting hurt in everyday ways, we joke about it, I’m sensitive. Growing up together it’s years of tangled up arms or conversations and no one touches me as an on my own grown-up but for hugs and comings and goings or across my hair when I’ve just cut it, I’ve grown all arms and head. I say to students in art class, do I look like an octopus? And when did we all know I’m gonna know you forever, and the times we were wrong and the wet weather of being teenagers or losing touch, moving back, it felt like we were fully formed forever ago sweetie. We kept returning to the ocean with varying levels of expertise.
There’s a girl freshman year I still wonder about you, I don’t want to seem vulnerable, said something about misdirecting and hiding. Her cracking, daily voice. You share so many things I’d like to think your openness hides something else you won’t tell me. I’m flooded with sudden possibilities that are in the past. I say who knows, I don’t know. Remembering her like when I finally found an octopus below me but you turn to tell your sister bobbing next to you and looking back I can’t.
I don’t know what I’m looking at and I’ll know it when I see it, I’ve known you guys forever. In my marriage I had no friends there but nowhere to be solitary, you have to share everything, it was in a roughed up old country that knew everyone else better. We had a stuffed animal octopus from some country’s aquarium in our bedroom, it could have been Australia or mine from home or some trip, as a married grown-up what do you do with stuffed animals when you want them, because IT’S AN OCTOPUS, but it’s not for anything. In the divorce, apparently I got the stingray. It’s on a bookshelf now, or maybe never see you again, ever.
After divorce I kept finding myself ranting laps in the pool, back in my own country, foreign again differently now. Could no longer say my wife to uncamouflage myself in the straight world. I’m back with my childhood friends, grown-up together who all live there now they have husbands. The other night we were laughing about the little mermaid. There’s something else.
In England, Ursula was a real name, a friend, friendly, I met her at the lesbian Uni group. Then I got married and she was my wife’s old friend and first girlfriend, my friend their friend Emily’s first girlfriend too, they had such history I just dropped into it, no one was ever solitary, we would laugh about the history all the time or just forget it. I realize later she’s a widow with children. At the pool, there were paintings on the wall that recently disappeared and reappeared more colorful, dolphins sprouting with enthusiasm out of coral and sponges but the octopus picture never came back. I never say the plural, I don’t want to look foolish unless I know you know I saw it coming and know what happened and I’m ok with it, and breezy. I don’t know if you see this in me and there’s no point in hiding. I know it wasn’t realistic but it was my favorite, a group of them orange and floating blithely in the open blue chlorinated wall.
I also worked briefly at a rare bookstore in Cambridge for a woman, forget about it, her own kind of cartoon Ursula, brutal in an impotent small way, learned to describe what kinds of books as octavo to please her but she never explained what it meant, the work ended, it’s hard to think about when I needed her job so badly. It turns out I have a few good friends back here to rush around me. I’m the only one on my own but they are here for weeks and years. This time last year I told you I was coming here and so delighted, what I learned about cuttlefish as well, my grandma just died and the weekend had to let go of everything, rush to family for something huge and unspecified, but I came out on Monday as promised. You asked about donations to remember her. The death lurking in each funny moment, and I picked up some stickers for you, and I remembered intriguing facts for you, and I also have to be reminded about the facts. The last time snorkeling was your fairy tale wedding at the beach. I had food poisoning and thought I was dying like a small child on Friday nights when your parents got divorced. I’d still go back, it was beautiful.
Now we’re all back here I think in the fairy tale version, I’d be Ursula. It’s my body, I’m a nice person. I don’t want to hurt anyone, on the phone I don’t ever say it, I just listen and laugh let her feel we could be close because she won’t notice that we’re not, why uncover myself again. I have no evil plot but I’m not the other characters. You’d be Ursula because when I came back here for visits you suddenly grew up without me, as a grown up you wear dramatic red lipstick sometimes and it surprised me then but now I live here and it’s you of course, normal and glamorous. You’d be Ursula because of the greyish purple color I see when I think of you sometimes, and weekends together, and because of your octopus shirt that I love, and you’d be Ursula a casually flamboyant performer, and wicked sense of humor anyway and we were talking about it to begin with. At the end, I realize I’m Ursula because the sound of my other dead grandmother, I felt like she was family. When I’m sick I wonder if I sound like her. Her deep mysteriously broken voice, so ordinary to me but shocking to my wife then over the phone, no future partner will know it now just throwaway moments. Thought it was a grandfather, but only her normal everyday voice like a million ordinary things breaking and settling.