Swimming Through Fog

I learned to swim in the ocean. I know this cannot be true, but my memory is attached to this dark and deep place. This water—it trickles out of my pores; it is part of me. I tell myself that I learned to swim in the ocean because this is where I want my story to begin—with something wild and untamed and impossible to completely know.

The morning sky is a pale shade of gray when I get to the pool, and I can hear the foghorns by the Embarcadero. I jump in, my hands slicing through the water on repeated rhythm with my breath. Swimming soothes me—reminding me of where I can return.

Later, I walk the steep incline to our place above the Castro. The air comes in gusts, milky white, billowing down around me. I imagine the breaststroke, gliding my way toward the yellow lights of the lit windows, toward Asa. But then I see them on the balcony, figures I recognize anywhere. Everything sinks, the cement underneath my feet, now slush. Now mud.

Wes is here. A malevolent Hermes, my own winged messenger delivering my past in bundles, in brutal addicting packages.

Wes and I had been friends first. It was spring and the black squirrels darted across the sweet green lawns. The sun shone like a ripe lemon, glinting off the Spanish-style buildings, the red-tiled roofs. Wes sat in front of me in class while I counted the curls on the back of his head.

“We bury our feelings—like the characters,” Wes said. “Their happiness is an illusion. The truth is a threat to their survival.”

His cherubic face, pink cheeks, gleaming wide eyes, hid what was underneath. The brokenness.

“You’re the swimmer,” he said. “The one they call Saltz.”

“Yeah.” I shrugged. “But you can call me Abby.”

We went dancing together, swallowing magical pills that made us soft and happy. My friend Bambi, hairdresser, drag queen, and drug dealer, painted my face—covering my eyelids with a twinkling turquoise, streaked sequin silver—my eyes glowed, round and electric in my reflection.

Bambi pressed a star to my cheek. “Marked with beauty,” she whispered. And the floor beneath us moved and pulsed. I plunged, swimming the hundred-meter freestyle, my best, into the deep end of crowded, sweaty bodies. I grinded with girls and Wes kissed boys. We danced until we fled to the water facing east. Wes told me about the night his mom killed herself and how he’d always liked girls, but how he liked boys just a little bit better. And I held him. I saw his beautiful, bruised, violet heart that beat so softly, purred so gently—it was like I held a tiny kitten in my hand. I told Wes how my brother left when I was thirteen and I hadn’t seen him since. And how my mother became so angry, a gas stove bursting into flames, that finally my father couldn’t take it and he’d left too.

My tears fell, long and black, as we watched the palest pink and gold alchemy of the sunrise illuminate the early morning sky.

But that was all before. Before Reed.

The voices rise and fall through the stairwell as I climb to the front door cracked open. I inhale, already smelling the booze and drugs. White rows of snow line up on the glass table where we eat breakfast. I look away and Asa catches my eye, beseeching. Wes and Meesh are on the balcony, smoking.

“I’m Abigail.” I wave at the one guy I do not know.

“Oh, so you’re going by Abigail now.” Wes chuckles, walking in, like I don’t know my own name.

I bite the inside of my cheek, chewing on the wet flab. My jaw hurts, my temple throbs. “How’s LA?”

Wes blabbers on, everything covered in Hollywood Spin. He seems more and more like a distant stranger, and yet I know him so much better now. I could never see him clearly on the pedestal I built for him years ago.

“Sallllltzzzzz…” Meesh drools toward me; his stumpy arms and toad face strain as I recoil.

“Don’t call me that.” My cheeks and neck turn hot at the sound of his vile voice, fists clenched, sweaty under my armpits and upper back from my walk.

“Hey.” Asa is beside us, touching my neck where it feels the hottest. His eyes the grayest green behind his tortoise-framed glasses, like moss clinging to a rock on the bank of a lake somewhere. His mop swept back in one deft wave away from his face, his long, elegant fingers drawing me away, through the living room, onto the balcony, sliding the glass door shut until it clicks. He smells like cedars and smoke. My tall tree in the forest I can lean against and rest.

“I thought Wes was coming next weekend.” I want to ask him for a cigarette, but I’d made him promise not to let me smoke.

Asa looks sheepish, touching my chin. I am already a gate swinging wildly off its hinges. “He’s in one of his moods. He needed to come—the divorce isn’t moving along.”

I lick my lips. “Come on. Jen moved out four years ago.”

We don’t say anything. I count the cars flying down the hill toward Market Street.

“He lies about everything.” My own voice is taut. I bite my fist, then push it on my throat, then bite it again, sniffling. Asa sighs. He knows I’m right.

“You don’t have to go with us.”

“I’ll go.” It’s too tempting what Wes dangles in front of me—his knowledge of the past. Those memories wash over me, lap my face, like waves, pulling me, tugging me. The water beckons.

“And Meesh?” My eyes twitch. “I hate him.”

“I know,” Asa says again.

“He named his dog after his car. Who names their dog Porsche?”

Asa grins. “He got another one.”

I half smile. “Lambo.”


We laugh and the wind carries our laughter away like a thief.

“You still smell like chlorine,” he whispers. Hugging me. My tree. My cedar. But I think of Reed. I can’t help it.

“I’m sad,” I say as we release.

“About what?” Asa always wants to fix it. Fix me.

I hate it when he asks me this, as if there’s an on and off switch. The depression shrinks and then blooms until I can feel it in the back of my eyelids. I can see the magenta glowing tumor I imagine it to be.

He touches my back and I flinch. “I thought the new medication was helping.”

I look at the ground. He is wearing new sneakers, navy with red stripes. He designed them. Asa’s a designer. He designed my ring. A thin rose-gold band dotted with sapphire and aquamarine rectangles. We eloped last year.

It was the water. Our birthstones. It was pools and lakes and every color of the ocean.

I don’t tell him I’ve stopped taking my medication. I don’t want to gain weight. My binge-and-purge jaw, pronounced cheekbones, and sunken blue eyes. I can still see that face if I look hard enough.

I step into our pea-green tub and bash my shin on the metal top. I grit my teeth, feeling the start of the blue-fuchsia bump form, breathing the almost opaque steam as I get in. I let the pelting water cover my face and drench my hair before dousing it with shampoo, scrubbing my scalp, scrubbing my body. The film of sadness I can never quite clean from my skin lingers. What comes from within cannot be washed away.

I am out of conditioner. I throw the empty bottle down hard and trace the crack in the mauve tile on the shower wall with my finger, sticking a lump of dark brown hair at the end of it.

“Asa,” I yell. “Asa!”

But the only answer is the heavy thump of music. I could stay in the shower, my fingers shriveling to stumps, and he will never hear me.

There is more conditioner in the hall closet. I hear the muffled laughter. I will have to walk out in a towel, dripping, in front of Meesh. I open my mouth and swallow hot rain, remembering.

My past and present are colliding. Wes has already peeled back my skin and imprinted upon my raw flesh, and I absorb it all—the tentacles of his pain invading and awakening my own pain.

We’d been in Miami—the last time I’d seen Reed. Meesh and Wes were expensing a “business” dinner at Nobu. Soon the table was covered with seared Kobe beef, caviar, and salmon tartare. We passed the plates, ignoring the food, palming the bags of powder on the way to the bathroom. The servers kept bringing mojitos. I can still taste the mint, clean and fresh on my tongue.

Meesh was to my right and Asa my left, the licks of blow lighting me up like electric snakes. I stared, mesmerized by Meesh’s tiny hands—his chubby fingers waving while he told a story. Wes had worked for Meesh since college. Media. Marketing. The industry. Bullshit.

Meesh kept poking my ribs, squeezing his hand high on the inside of my thigh. I couldn’t speak, my mouth frozen into a wordless smile. Asa sat silent next to me, and Reed was at the other end of the table. I couldn’t look at him, fearing I would fall apart. He was already engaged to Olivia; they were to be married later that year at his parents’ country club.

Meesh reached the climax of the story, putting his face on my chest—on my breasts, his hand grazing all the way up now. The breath went right out of me—as if I’d fallen into the deepest part of the ocean, the coldest, blackest waters, and I could only watch the mound of salmon on its plate, quivering and peach. His tongue. I felt it.

I switched to bourbon then.

I get out of the shower and my eyes fall on the blood-soaked tampon in the garbage, streaking the white sides scarlet. Asa has asked me to wrap them in tissues so they won’t stain. But I leave it.

Asa comes in as I sit on our bed rubbing lotion over my clavicle. He fiddles with his glasses—a gesture that means he wants to say something.

“Yes?” My hair hangs in tangled knots down to my waist.

Asa coughs. “Just so you know. Reed and Olivia moved to LA last month.”

My heart beats loudly and I turn my head. I see our neighbors through the window. They are laughing, trying to hang a painting, cream and black, a woman’s face on a contorted body.

“That makes sense,” I say, braiding my hair, feeling the wet tail on the last bone of my spine—a trail to the very top of my pale ass crack. “Reed’s work.”

I don’t say the other part, that Wes has always been in love with Reed, and he’s never forgiven me for it.

Wes and I went to a party one Friday afternoon. The house had a front porch. His fraternity brother lived there. Reed. Wes’s eyes were sparkling.

I walked up to the keg for a beer. Reed took the cup from my hand and filled it. He had a scar down the side of his face.

“Skiing accident.”

I was nineteen. Our fingers brushed. His eyes were the color of another world—the pure azure blue of crystal alpine springs.

“I’d like to see you again.”

The fragrance of sweet white roses is what I remember. I was wearing a dress of indigo denim and tan wedge sandals. When you never know love and then you do, it spins you until you can’t see.

“I’ve wished for you a thousand times.”

And maybe he had.

“I love you more than anyone will ever love you.”

And maybe he did.

For years I believed Reed was mine. I still think of him as mine. But we could never quite cross over into the real world. We hovered, together, in a blurry space that didn’t exist.

The red wine hits my lips like smoked chocolate and velvet.

“A heavier Pinot Noir…” Wes pontificates even though he knows nothing about wine and Asa knows everything about wine, a point I’m sure needles Wes—Asa’s quiet stride since high school, drawing out the poisonous insecurity darting through Wes’s bloodstream. I don’t trust him anymore. It’s been so long since I have. I’m no longer Saltz, that girl in the indigo dress.

He’s been working out. “Equinox is the king of gyms,” Wes is saying now. I know Asa is trying not to laugh, and I am trying not to roll my eyes. Wes tugs at the deep V of his black T-shirt, exposing a long leather cord with a dangling lapis lazuli stone.

My chest contracts ever so slightly. I remember another necklace. I was twenty and with Reed in Sevilla. I’d seen it on a card table and swiped it, a stolen token of my love. I hung it around Reed’s neck. A picture of us from that night exists somewhere in a cardboard box.

“…and you have parking at your place in Venice?” Asa asks.

Wes looks at me when he answers. “Yeah. It’s great for when Reed and Olivia come over with the boys.”

My heart leaps, tongue dry. He said it. I shouldn’t want to hear his name so much. It’s already dragging me down. If I stay there, I’ll drown. I’ll die.

I drain my glass, tapping the stem. Waterford crystal. They were gifts from Asa’s parents. I let Meesh refill my wine, but I refuse to even glance at him. Soon it doesn’t taste like anything anymore.

“Wes, can I bum a cigarette?” I can feel Asa’s eyes boring a hole into me.

The first drag turns my head into a balloon on a string, lifting away from my neck. I’m looking down. Wes and I are standing together. I see the years gone by. I exhale a cloudy stream.

He’s talking about Jen again. She hasn’t changed her name back on Facebook. It’s driving him crazy. She wants to go to counseling, but they already have the lawyers. She wants more money.

I can’t take it anymore.

“Jen sucks,” I say finally.

Wes gives me that look of pure unadulterated pity. “No she doesn’t, Abby.” His voice is soft and singsong. I am a toddler, an idiot who can never get to his level. The condescending tone makes me want to scream. Instead, I pick the yellow daffodil paint peeling on the railing and smoke my second cigarette. The fireworks are going off in Oakland, but we can only see illuminated clouds tinged purple. Remember when I held your beating kitten heart. I choke on the words.

Wes and I stand there, an uncomfortable curtain of faded friendship falling heavily between us. But he inhabits me because he knows all my weak exposed spots—soft and pink.

Pink. Everything in Miami had been pink. I am there again, feeling Meesh’s tongue darting in and out on my chest. The entire table stared, laughing.

We scattered after dinner. I sat on a long lounge chair at the Delano, alone, clutching my bourbon. I gripped the glass, waiting for it to shatter my hand and cut open the thin blue line I could see on the inside of my wrist. I watched one of the couples from dinner arguing. She was a model—shockingly beautiful. Tall and thin like a long piece of wheat waving in the wind. He was yelling, red-faced. She smoked, looking bored. I had seen the way she’d touched Reed’s arm earlier.

They’ve fucked, I thought. Jealous. Reed had always made me jealous. I could never turn my back for a second. I remember that part.


Reed was there, next to me. The breeze moved us together. My legs were jelly. I unstrapped my heels and stumbled with no direction. Reed and I were alone beneath the white stars in the navy sky.

“I miss you.”

I shook my head. Appear and disappear. This is what he did. It was over. It had been gone and done for so long now. Years and years.

“Don’t start.”

Reed took my hand, and a sob broke from my lips. I wanted to go with him so badly. But I couldn’t. I took my hand back and stared at his shirt, the color of lilacs.

“Please let me be.” I had definitely said that and walked away into the night air. I remembered the hibiscus flowers blooming as I walked. But I could feel him behind me and then we were kissing. His mouth warm like the hot sun had been that day and his hand cold and soothing on my burnt shoulder.

“I still love you,” Reed had said. And I believed him.

I ran though. I ran because I couldn’t go back there again.

Wes came to San Francisco after Reed and I broke up. He was in town for a “hot minute from Manhattan.” We were meeting for lunch.

“Do you mind if my buddy from high school joins us? He just moved here.”

It was Asa.

I’d locked myself out of our hotel room, lying on the carpeted hallway by our door, the fibers rough on my cheek. I woke up in the king-size bed. Asa curled around me, like a long neck of a swan resting on my shoulder.

We swam on the beach, saltwater cleansing our bodies. We went back to the room, ordered eggs Benedict and Bloody Marys, nursing our hangovers, sand in the sheets. Asa’s hair was streaked red from the days we’d been in there. I can still taste the olives on the toothpicks.

We are at dinner now. I drink a dirty martini, watching Asa’s fingers drum the table. Wes is talking about his last trip to New Orleans, and all I can think about is when Reed and I had gone there in college. Wes knows that story too.

I lost my fake ID and Reed lost his temper, leaving me alone on Bourbon Street. I searched the strangers’ faces, frightened, waiting for him to return. This was the mean side of Reed, the hot-fuse temper and bubbling anger. But I could only see it through watercolors—the inside of a seashell. We’d driven to the Gulf the next day and eaten conch fritters, drank Miller Lights, and made love in the back of our rental car.

“I haven’t been since before Katrina,” I slur now. I know what I’m stirring up, why I came here. It will do nothing but hurt, but I keep going.

“With Reed? When you went there with Reed, right?” Wes smirks.

I see the three of us on spring break, our senior year, buying sombreros and maracas. Reed and I are laughing so hard our eyes water. Wes’s shorts are too tight—the vibrant outlines in his cutoffs making us hysterical. We laugh until Reed pulls me away, into an alley. We press against one another.

I look up. The sun beating down on my cheeks where there will be new freckles tomorrow, gasping. Wes stares at us. A look I don’t want to understand in his eyes. Envy. Hatred.

The conversation is getting away from me now, spiraling. Wes arches his eyebrows, fingering the cord of the necklace. We will never watch another sunrise together. I feel Asa touch my hand. He’s not angry, just worried, his touch says.

“Reed’s always been such a connector…” Wes is smug. “We’re working together now. Reed knows everyone…”

I clench my jaw. It clicks and pops. As if I didn’t know Reed. The man I knew like the back of my soul.

Why do I do this to myself?

As if I didn’t have Reed’s love letters piled away, tied up with a white ribbon. As if I couldn’t remember the blue of his eyes or the sound of his voice when he’d answer the phone. As if I couldn’t remember the long black satin dress with my hair piled up in twists the night I’d lost my virginity. First love only happens once, like a strike of lightning, cracks you right in two. And even though it had come close, there had never been another Reed.

“You know Reed and Olivia split up,” Wes says suddenly. “They’re divorcing.”

“But.” I put my hand to my mouth. The shock rattles me. “They just had the twins.” Reed had always wanted to stay married forever. I won’t be like my parents.

“People get divorced all the time.” Wes’s voice is dripping with arrogance.

“It’s so sad,” I blubber.

“Sad?” Wes asks. “Reed’s never been happier.”

The last line falls like a dagger. Happier than when he was with you. This is what is behind Wes’s words. I feel it. And it hurts. I do feel sad though, sad for them all. Sad for the perfect family I’d seen online. I had always believed Reed had it better.

“It’s for the best.” Wes swirls the wine in his glass. “Divorce can be a good thing, Saltz.”

“I guess you’re the authority, Wes,” I spit at him. Wes has to be the authority, on everything.

But there is something else that stings me. Burns. You were my friend first. You were supposed to be my friend too. I study Wes’s face. His purple heart hardened with cruelty into a midnight shade. He’s right where he wants to be, right next to Reed. And he does not see me. Or he does not care. He is not who I remember.

I want to tell him what I see, but there are pools of water in my eyes and metal in my mouth. I stand and leave without another word.

Asa follows me onto the street, grasping my elbow.


I break free and run blindly away. He chases me. I run and run, gasping through the mist, before I stop, panting. He catches me and I throw up all over his new shoes. He holds my braid and steadies me until it’s all gone. All the toxic garbage of my insides piled, steaming on the curb.

“You didn’t say anything,” I bawl. “You saw Meesh touch me that night and you didn’t say anything.” I’m whimpering now. “Why didn’t you do anything?”

Asa doesn’t answer—he sways back and forth. We have never talked about Miami, only talked around it.

“I don’t know.” He wipes at his face. “It’s in the past, isn’t it?”

“Is it?”

“They’ll never come back here,” Asa says softly. “I promise.”

I cry wet, hard heaves into his T-shirt. Virginia is for lovers. Asa is crying now too. He pulls away slowly. I can feel him, gathering, collecting.

My ragged breathing is the only sound. I want to see the moon. I’ve never wanted anything more than to see the silvery white moon, but the fog hides the sky.

“I saw you with him that night.”

Reed circles us now, fine as dust, wavering in the dark.

“I saw you two together. But it didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter.”

I listen, my throat so raw I cannot imagine speaking again.

“I love you, Abby.” Asa looks up at the sky. “I didn’t say anything about Meesh. I didn’t say anything about Reed. I just wanted to forget it all. You returned to me and…”

He doesn’t finish the sentence.

We stand there, not moving, feeling the droplets form on our faces. I stretch out my arm, and our fingers graze each other. Finally, we walk toward home, and I cannot see anything through the fog.

Cynthia Singerman’s work has recently been published in HerStory and Streetlight Magazine, and is forthcoming in Menda City Review.