Inches away from me, Olly was making some kind of muttering noise in his sleep – the kind that was garbled, mostly indecipherable. Amidst all of the darkness of the unknown you can find a curious instinct to find meaning or intention where there may not be any. Still, sandwiched between it all – in the mess of vowels that almost entirely bypassed a real vocabulary – there was the possibility that he was trying to say my name.
Just from the melisma of his voice I could detect that my friend still hadn’t come down from the hand-picked mushrooms we’d taken hours earlier. That flash of spontaneity had been drawn into something else, a sort of absolution, a ten second lapse in thinking where my childhood friends pushed psychedelic targets onto their tongues – some of them slick in a calamity of sweat and moisture from the oppressive atmosphere. A week earlier the boys had bragged to me, on the bus into the city, that they’d downloaded wickr specifically to seek out a neighbours neighbour and get the hallucinogens. Our double-decker picked up speed as it turned out behind a corner. I can’t say why, but the details of the trip were strangely distinct, the blurring of trees and buildings beside us becoming paintings, my heart rising in my throat as I tried to pretend my sterile, catholic upbringing wasn’t making me sound too concerned or alarmed at their proposition. I didn’t want to betray myself. They had spoken about the idea so light-heartedly that I couldn’t bear to be a dead weight and ask about inconsequential things like “safety.” It had happened though, at last, the kind of stupidity we’d been giddily wanting to make for ourselves, only possible after many months of painstaking planning, and some very annoying back and forths, egging on one another. As I was beginning to realise, other boys managed these things in their own bizarre and idiosyncratic patterns and I was often the last to discern how to place myself.
That was earlier though. In that glade, Arcturus and Billy were laughing loudest, pushing against each other, scuffing their boots and kicking up the bush soil, sharing random and exaggerated anecdotes from friends of friends to tempt each other into participation. “Are you up for it?” one of them roared, breaking the social contract. Another made some kind of “bleeuauuaurgh!!” response, spit flying, sticking his tongue out and pushing the other one back. Voices echoed on down through the trees and ricocheted off into some unseen valley. They dressed in their familiar mix of work wear, mambo and palace and thrasher attire. The colours had clearly aged from years of wear, though some just from the last day. I was seemingly possessed by a pheremonal energy having stood and laughed from afar; a violently strung voltage ran through them, and as I watched, passed itself over me. Billy was the one I’d known since primary school, circumstance having kept us apart for most of that time; it had been an inclusion into this trip that really crossed an invisible barrier. “Arcturus” was a fake name that had been applied due to an in-joke about World of Warcraft that extended into real life, becoming what could almost pass as an affectionate label. Given the opportunity to ritualise amongst the people I knew best, I’d chosen to pass because I wanted the privilege of voyeurism. I slid into it like some refurbished second-hand leather. I did want to be tugged into the fold, and to feel my blood pressure boil, but instead lived vicariously through the octane highs of my friends as they went from 0 to 100. As it turns out that sort of thing can be more than enough.
After dumping equipment into a flatland we had taken off into the ridges of wood that circled the greater Wollongong area, past the coast, among the biodiversity of shrub, trees, and foreign implantations, bubbling into some kind of weird frenzy. We were running past eucalyptus down untouched hills, trying to find the nearest water source. Tell-tale marks and wilted trees told of an intense wildfire that had passed through the area just over a year before, but the land regenerated quickly, the brush and the natural materials fighting back into prominence.
When we arrived at a deserted lake in the middle of a quiet paddock we’d unsheathed ourselves, tossing belts and clothes to the sides. My breathing was laboured, my lunch gurgling rudely in my stomach, organs seeming to manoeuvre themselves into unexpected positions. Billy had shrieked and quickly intaken air before bombing, disrupting the once pristine surface of that translucent water. For a split second, I imagined the sharp pellets of water that covered us were reckonings, of rain that had yet to come. I remember noticing, clearly, the tensed arms and bends of my friends, Yasir’s hair a tousled mess perfectly carving his face into a Rembrandt silhouette. I remember feeling only momentarily confused at the electric shock that passed through my body as he turned, fully in the moment, to pat my shoulder and encourage me into the water. He bombed seconds after, making me look cowardly in comparison.
Now, in our industrial grade sleeping quarters, hearing Olly mutter into the quiet, I was jolted, right back into that moment. In the night, the sun had lost itself and exchanged hands with a temperate cold. There was a chill cast over the nature of our camping tent and it held out for recognition. My hair was almost fully dry. I heard something dropping forcefully into the same lake over from our spot. A branch, a stranger, an animal perhaps, a kind of bird skimming the surface – it triggered a feeling in me that was ASMR-like in nature.
“J-j-jackson … bud-ddy…” Teeth noticeably chattering, I responded by silently grabbing the towel next to me and reflexively tugging it over Olly’s side. It struck me that he was really there in all his fullness, the golden brown skin observable in a way that I previously might not have been able to realise. I shifted it to cover his body and exhaled a relief, his eyes fluttering open on briefly to catch my stare before returning to their pinched close. Just like that, once calm waters began to move inside me.
I squinted, traced the ridges of his coat, the roughage of his sweater, it’s folds and creases and the lint that unfurled from it’s unwieldy surface. I knew that behind it were more layers, severed hoodie and another t-shirt, and I knew that his warm body with undulating skin lay at the end of that wandering. Maybe it would be warm, sweaty, soft to touch. I felt increasingly guilty for imagining these things.
There was a senseless chaos that coated my consciousness and breadth of understanding, a culmination of many years of uncertainty that had lain unspoken between us – it fracked away the foundations I’d built up for so long, leading to a kind of confused question: what was this, this bright and heady nausea I was feeling? Where air was thin and opportunities to draw a lungful were taken cautiously, I lay in stillness. Cold drew my breath out until I could see it’s material, – I could recognise it parting ways as it entered the atmosphere, could see the misshapen lump of my friend jittering beside me unsteadily. There were images of mothers that had once taken care of me, and of my friends, their power contained in the harm they would never do. I saw them through the past and through the haze of memory, lowering their lips to foreheads. I imagined doing that to him, right there, myself. To have the privilege to meet in an unfamiliar way, to care, to ask him what crossed his mind as we lay there, what he was longing for beyond our shared time, and whether his thoughts always had consequences. It beckoned forward a silent motion, tugging a once hidden impulse, to indulge all the opportunities that hung abundant in this subterranean place. I didn’t quite comprehend why this impulse had become heightened in this moment of closeness, where before it was only momentary. I was convinced my need to be close was just a standard, albeit slightly concentrated, version of the friendship I shared with others. The high velocity beating in my chest said otherwise.
It served to fill my atrophied fantasies, revived from their liminal patterns and tiny cameos, to assuage me that all I had thought was true: that I was the girl, yes, a teenage girl full of evident longing, stranded in the crest of the movie. The girl who had finally understood and dived into yearning, the one who had waited fruitlessly for years. How could that be me? Did it make any sense? It was only a glimmering instinct but it said yes, this is yearning. That distance had once stood before me, and I was at the long end of a trail to bring something back to me. That there was something in the exchange that said something about us, about me as I had previously existed in the world – that in some future I would be standing on an unfamiliar hill, my body having undergone some strange alternate puberty, garters high and hair long and buoyant. My face would be round, soft and weirdly opaque, my arms and shoulders far less prominent than they were now. In the tent we now shared, Olly lay curled into himself, a shiver of clothes and blankets, hair still slightly wet. In my indistinct visions, I saw him across the hill from mine, standing with perfect poise, fully grown, naked and full. A man in the future, who had the capacity to meet me in the valley in the middle with complete and utter confidence – no apprehension, no fear – no longer frozen in the totalising snap of winter.
Jonno Revanche is a writer and critic based between Adelaide and Sydney.