The interest of a photographer lies in experiments with transparency, explorations of the frame, and interrogations of perception. I first toyed with these ideas in September, when I took a photo of my friend wading into a pond. He wore only boxers and looked out at trees reminiscent of summer time. James’ emaciated body bore the mark of the previous weekend’s punk show, where he’d fallen through a window and glass cut a deep hole in his back. After I took the photo, he dove in the water. Despite the fact that it was still warm, I didn’t get in the pond. At that point the water scared me; it still does sometimes.
Throughout the fall I would find James swimming in the pond. He often spoke of how it was necessary to document everything in order to not forget. I did not know what he worried about forgetting. He took videos at uncanny moments, and the songs he composed carried a tinge of longing for everything but the present. He covered “My Kind of Woman” once, and almost brought me to tears when he sang the lines, “I really don’t know why you stick right next to me wherever I go.” I knew he felt whatever sorrow it was that I lived with.
Then winter came, and no one swam for months. During this time, we visited the pond once, when James led a group of us across the ice. Isaac was there as well, a friend I’d made since the days had gotten shorter. It was that winter that Isaac and I spent hours together, lying on the floor and talking as we stared at shadows from yellow street lights.
Isaac kissed fifty people that winter but held me close if anyone dared come near me. I stopped him once to ask why he did this, and he told me he never touched me unless it was necessary. That was the first untruth.
It wasn’t until late April that any of us tried to swim again. We planned a trip to the pond on the weekend, and the night before a group of friends and I went to a concert on campus. A few of us—Isaac included—ended the night in James’s room. We spoke about how my roommate had taken medical leave a few weeks prior.
“The day she left,” James said of her, “it was raining, but I’d already told her I would stop by, so I walked across campus to see her, and I showed up wet, and I was late, and all I had to say was ‘goodbye.’ It felt so,” he shook his head, “wrong.”
“I know that was important to her,” I said from the windowpane. “Even if you showed up late, even if you dripped on her floor, and especially even if all you have to say is ‘goodbye.’ I know she understands the importance of that.”
The room fell silent, and I moved to be closer to James. He rested his legs near mine, and everyone else got up to leave. I slept over, and we kissed for the first time. In the afternoon, no one could make the trip to the pond aside from James and Isaac. I met Isaac on the lawn in the middle of campus. He sat across the grass wearing a film camera around his neck. He did not move when he saw me. I asked where James was.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I saw James earlier. He looked depressed.”
When we got to the pond I stripped to my underwear in order to swim. I quivered taking off my shorts.
James stepped into the water, wearing only boxers, putting his arms around his torso, shivering though he’d barely touched the water. I followed this time, falsely declaring my own indifference, and submerged my body almost immediately. I felt both their eyes on me as I shivered from the cold. Numb, I twisted my body so as to float, and when my neck touched the water’s surface I inhaled sharply.
Isaac did not bother taking off his clothes; he did not plan to go in the pond, even though he’d made the trip with us. He took a photo with his film camera.
“Was I in that one?” I asked.
The photo was from behind James. Isaac photographed the two of us in our underwear: James standing on the bank and me floating on the surface as my breasts, stomach, and face bobbed above the water.
“It’s quite cold,” James said. He had never not gone entirely in the water.
I put my ears under to hear my heartbeat more clearly, and reminisced that yesterday Isaac had turned 19, and yesterday I’d kissed James for the first time, and yesterday I’d hoped that I would not still be thinking about those two things today.
My feet sank, and I almost shrieked with what I found at the bottom—water that hadn’t been touched in months. The last person who’d braved the pond was James, but I always knew he accepted everything that lay beneath the surface. That day he stared at the water from above.
“That’s enough for today,” James said. He got out and sat on a tree stump. I followed, and the ripples that emanated from our bodies gave way to a calm surface. We sat opposite each other and did not speak, though yesterday he’d told me “perhaps in the future, it would be nice to have sex with you.”
“I’m going to the stream,” Isaac said.
Isaac’s inability to look behind once he walked away, the trees without leaves, the immediate stillness of the pond once the bodies left it—it all seemed to imitate those complex sentiments that at one’s worst moments war with another’s heart. They also revealed the past slicing through to the somber present, those muted splendors of ice, and the impossibility of the desire to conquer and take your pleasure of another.
Brianna Di Monda recently graduated Oberlin College with a degree in French and comparative literature. She works at The Studio Museum in Harlem, and has written for Flaunt Magazine, The Cleveland Review, and The Oberlin Review.